What are the Top Career Paths for CPAs?

Guide to the Best Career Paths for CPAs

top-cpa-career-pathsFor Certified Public Accountants (CPAs), the career possibilities are vast and varied. With a strong foundation in finance, accounting, and business, CPAs have the unique ability to delve into diverse fields, bringing value and expertise wherever they go.

In this article, we’ll explore some of the top fields for CPAs, helping you to understand where your CPA journey might take you.

Top 11 Career Paths for Certified Public Accountants

Here are the top career opportunities for CPAs in all industries.

1. Public Accounting

Public accounting is often the first stop for many new CPAs. Firms range in size from small local offices to large international entities, and they offer services in auditing, tax preparation, and consulting.

Within public accounting, you can specialize in areas such as forensic accounting, environmental accounting, or international tax. Working in public accounting provides a great training ground, as you will be exposed to a variety of accounting practices and industries.

Salaries can range from $50,000 to over $150,000, with partners at large firms earning significantly more.

2. Corporate Accounting

Corporate accounting, also known as private accounting, is another popular field for CPAs. In this role, you would work for a single company, managing its financial records and statements, budgeting, and internal auditing.

There are opportunities for advancement to positions such as controller, chief financial officer (CFO), or even chief executive officer (CEO) with the right experience and additional education.

Corporate accountants typically earn between $50,000 and $120,000, with those in senior positions or with significant experience earning higher wages.

3. Government Accounting

Government agencies at the local, state, and federal levels all require the expertise of CPAs.

Working in government accounting, you might be responsible for auditing government agencies or private businesses, managing budgets, and ensuring compliance with laws and regulations. This field offers stability, good benefits, and the satisfaction of public service.

Government accountants and auditors can expect salaries in the range of $50,000 to $100,000, depending on federal, state, or local levels and specific agencies.

4. Forensic Accounting

Forensic accounting is a specialized field where CPAs investigate financial discrepancies and fraud.

This might involve working with law enforcement, legal teams, or within a corporation to uncover financial misstatements or fraudulent activity. Forensic accountants need to have a keen eye for detail and strong investigative skills.

Forensic accountants typically see salaries ranging from $60,000 to $125,000 or more, especially those with considerable expertise in legal matters or consulting.

5. Environmental Accounting

Environmental accounting is a growing field as more companies focus on sustainability and environmental responsibility. CPAs in this field might work on cost analysis for environmental projects, compliance with environmental laws, or the development of strategies to reduce a company’s environmental footprint.

Environmental accountants can earn between $50,000 and $110,000, depending on their role and the organization’s size.

6. International Accounting

With the global economy, there is a growing need for CPAs who understand international accounting standards and foreign tax laws.

International accountants may work for multinational corporations, accounting firms with international clients, or governmental agencies.

CPAs with expertise in international accounting and cross-border finance can earn between $60,000 and $130,000, with opportunities for higher earnings at multinational corporations.

7. Managerial Accounting

Managerial accounting focuses on providing financial information to the managers of a company to aid in planning and decision-making. CPAs in this field analyze financial data, create budgets, and develop strategies to improve financial performance.

This field requires strong analytical skills and the ability to communicate financial information clearly to non-financial managers.

Managerial accountants, or management accountants, often earn between $60,000 and $120,000, with those in executive positions earning more.

8. Internal Auditing

Internal auditors examine and evaluate their firms’ financial and information systems, management procedures, and internal controls to ensure records are accurate and controls are adequate. CPAs in this field need to have an in-depth understanding of both accounting and business operations.

Internal auditors have a salary range from $55,000 to $120,000, with chief audit executives earning at the higher end.

9. Tax Accounting

Tax accounting is a field that focuses on the preparation, analysis, and presentation of tax payments and tax returns at all levels. CPAs in this field need to stay current on the changing tax laws and regulations, and they often work long hours during tax season.

Tax accountants can expect salaries of $50,000 to $120,000, with those specializing in tax strategy or working for large firms often at the higher end.

10. Non-Profit Accounting

Non-profit organizations have unique accounting needs, and CPAs in this field focus on fund accounting, financial reporting, and compliance with non-profit laws and regulations. Working in non-profit accounting offers the opportunity to contribute to organizations with meaningful missions.

Accountants in the non-profit sector may earn less on average, with salaries ranging from $45,000 to $90,000, depending on the size and budget of the organization.

11. Academia

For CPAs who have a passion for teaching, academia offers the opportunity to educate the next generation of accountants. This might involve teaching at a college or university, conducting research, or writing textbooks.

CPAs in academia, such as lecturers or professors, can earn between $50,000 and $150,000, with tenured professors potentially earning more.


The CPA designation opens up a world of opportunities in various fields. Whether your interests lie in investigation, corporate finance, government service, or teaching, there is a place for you in the accounting profession. The key is to find a field that aligns with your interests, strengths, and career goals.

Frequently Asked Questions

Which CPA field is the most lucrative?

Corporate accounting and internal auditing tend to offer higher salaries, especially as you advance to executive positions like CFO or Director of Internal Auditing.

Do I need additional certifications or education for certain CPA fields?

While the CPA certification is a strong foundation, additional certifications like Certified Fraud Examiner (CFE) for forensic accounting or Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) for corporate finance can further enhance your job prospects and expertise in specific fields.

How do I decide which CPA field is right for me?

Consider your personal interests, strengths, and long-term career goals. You might also seek internships or entry-level positions in various fields to gain hands-on experience before making a decision.

Is there a demand for CPAs in non-traditional fields like environmental or forensic accounting?

Yes, there is a growing demand for CPAs in specialized fields like environmental and forensic accounting, as companies and government agencies recognize the need for financial expertise in these areas.