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What is dual certification?

Simply put, preparing for and obtaining multiple certifications is a way to get ahead of the competition and make you stand out as an expert with specialized accounting knowledge. Many accounting certificates share similar education, experience, and ethics requirements, so if you plan carefully, you can earn more than one certificate for relatively little additional work—sometimes just studying for and passing a certification exam.
As an added bonus, once you have your certificates, you’ll get additional bang for your buck when it comes to continuing education, because many continuing education courses can count for multiple certificates.

Benefits of dual certification

No matter what certifications you combine, some benefits are universal.

An impressive resume

Future employers will look very favorably on a potential employee who has demonstrated so much determination and discipline. Plus, having additional certifications shows your skills have been certified and makes your resume stand out.

A high level of industry expertise

Your deep knowledge of accounting topics will prepare you for a variety of jobs and to earn widespread respect.

Increased salary

While the numbers differ depending on the certification you have, salary reports consistently show that on average, dual-certified employees earn more than their peers. For instance, having both the CMA and CPA will boost your annual salary by an average of $4,000 over just having one of these designations.

In the next section, we detail how having additional certifications can apply for some of the major accounting certifications.

Can I combine two certification programs without being a CPA?

While this section focuses on combining the CPA with other certifications, dual-certification can be valuable even without the CPA designation. Most of the benefits that apply to CPAs apply to other accounting certificates as well.

Dual certification as a future CPA

As a Certified Public Accountant (CPA), you’ll demonstrate your expertise in accounting. The CPA is the standard for accountants, and it serves as a general certificate that all accountants benefit from receiving. Because the certificate is so broad, gaining an additional certificate offers a way to refine and specialize your accounting knowledge.

What do CPAs gain by becoming a CMA?

The Certified Management Accountant (CMA) certification shares its core accounting curriculum with the CPA, but it is geared more toward management roles.

  • If you aspire to a managerial or more strategic role in your organization, the CMA will give you the necessary skills and leverage to get there.
  • A CMA knows more about business than most accountants and more about accounting than most business people. Even if you stay in public accounting, this will position you to better understand your client and increase the value of your advice.
  • The CMA certification is globally recognized, so the credentials are a valuable career-booster no matter where you choose to live and work.

What do CPAs gain by becoming a CIA?

The Certified Internal Auditor (CIA) certification focuses almost entirely on conducting internal audits on a company’s financial and internal controls.

  • With the combined CPA and CIA knowledge, you’ll be well positioned to manage an internal audit staff. This can open up new career possibilities for you.
  • As an internationally recognized certification, CIAs are able to certify their audit work outside of the U.S.

What do CPAs gain by becoming an EA?

Enrolled agents (EAs) are tax experts, and some of the core subject matter for the EA exam is shared with the Regulation section of the CPA.

  • If you plan on working in tax, the EA designation will give you additional tax expertise and authority.
  • An EA can complete tax returns and represent taxpayers in all 50 states and not restricted by one state board.
  • Enrolled agents are able to work internationally and help prepare U.S. taxes for international clients.

How to earn multiple accounting certifications

To begin with, you’ll have to meet the requirements for each certificate. This means all education, experience, and examination requirements must be met for each certificate (i.e., none of the certificates discussed on this page can waive any requirements of the others). While this may seem daunting, as you’ll see from the chart below, many of the requirements overlap a great deal.

CPACIACMAEA
Education required to sit for exam:120 semester hours*Active senior-year + college student or Associate’s degree or higherNoneNone
Exam Content Summary:Ethics
Audit
Data analytics
Governance
Information security
Information technology
Internal controls
Risk management
Financial management
Financial reporting
Business/Corporate federal taxation
Individual federal taxation
Representation rights
Attestation
Business law
Cost accounting
Economics
Financial accounting
Regulatory frameworks
Ethics
Audit
Data analytics
Governance
Information security
Information technology
Internal controls
Risk management
Financial management
Internal audit
Engagement planning
IT Infrastructure and Control
Fraud risk
Ethics
Audit
Data analytics
Governance
Information security
Information technology
Internal controls
Risk management
Financial reporting
Internal audit
Budgeting
Corporate finance
Cost management
Decision analysis
Financial statements
Financial planning
International finance
Investment decisions
Performance management
Strategic Planning
Ethics
Business/Corporate federal taxation
Individual federal taxation
Representation rights
Tax practices
Tax procedures
Education required to receive certificate:Bachelor’s degree + 150 semester hours*Bachelor’s degree**Bachelor’s degreeNone
Work experience:2 years of public accounting experience2 years of internal audit experience**2 years of financial management or management accounting experienceNone

*The CPA requirements are set at the state level. Some states have slightly different requirements than the standard ones listed above. Check out our state requirement page to receive a more comprehensive list of the CPA requirements.

**The CIA has scaling education and experience requirements. The above requirements are based on the most common path to the certification. Check out our CIA Exam Guide to see the full details on the tiered education and experience requirements.

NOTE: The exam content listed above is a general summary of many of the main topics covered by the respective exams. It is not a complete list of every topic that can be tested on the exam.

Passing the certification exams

As you can see, many of the requirements (such as education and experience) are shared between multiple certifications. This means that the most significant hurdle in becoming dual certified is passing the certification exam. Thankfully, this task can be overcome by creating a good study plan and working with a great review provider.
The most significant way to reduce the difficulty of passing the certification exams is to have your exam preparation build off of your classroom experiences. For this, planning your exams around related courses can drastically increase the odds of passing on your first try.

Creating a plan for dual certification as a student

As a student, you are uniquely positioned to earn some certificates or sit for their exams before you even graduate from school.To save you the most time and frustration, create your study plan early. The more semesters you have until graduation, the more likely you’ll be able to plan your exams and study time around relevant courses.

To create a dual-certification study plan:

Determine which certification(s) you’d like to pursue as a student.

Map out your required class schedule. These are the classes which must be taken in a given semester, whether due to a firm requirement of your program, course prerequisites, or availability.

Compare your course subject matter to the topics tested on your certification exams.

  • We’ve provided a list of suggested courses in the section below.

Plan to take your certification exams after you’ve taken similar courses. It is important to factor in adequate study time for each exam. This can range from 3-7 weeks depending on the exam you’re taking, your available study time, and your existing knowledge.

Use your available elective slots to shore up any weak areas you may have. For instance, if you’re going to be taking CIA Part 3, you’ll probably want a firm understanding of internal controls and IT, so taking an additional course on that subject before you sit would be well-timed.

Meet with your academic advisor to go over your plan, make sure no courses are missing, and discuss any options you may have overlooked.

To see a sample of a study plan, check out our CPA & CMA Study Plan.

CMA certification course suggestions

There is no education requirement to sit for the CMA exam. As long as you meet the CMA’s education requirement within 7 years of passing the exam, you can take the exam regardless of the courses you’ve taken.
All of that said, using your college courses to help prepare you for the CMA exam is highly recommended. For that purpose, IMA recommends completing the following courses prior to sitting for the CMA exam.

CMA Part 1CMA Part 2

Cost Accounting

Business Law

Auditing Accounting Capstone

Business Capstone

Federal Income Taxation

Advanced Accounting

Free Electives

Intermediate Accounting I

Intermediate Accounting II

Corporate Finance International Finance (Elective)

Management/Organizational Investments (Elective)

Behavior Business Ethics

Accounting Information Systems Operations Management

Marketing

Due to the order these courses are often completed in, students may find they’re prepared to take CMA Part 2 before CMA Part 1.

CPA certification course suggestions

In most states, you will need a minimum of 120 semester credit hours to sit for the CPA Exam. Since becoming a CPA actually requires 150 semester credit hours, you’ll be able to sit for the exam while you’re still a student.
Because the CPA Exam covers such a broad range of subjects, it is important that you have a firm foundation to build your studies on. The following courses will help you prepare for each part of the CPA Exam, so planning your studies around these courses can maximize your exam day success:

AUDBECFARREG

Basic Statistics

Internal Controls

Introduction to Auditing and Attestation

Introduction to Financial Accounting

 

 

 

Cost/Managerial Accounting

Information Technology in Accounting

International Business

Introduction to Finance

Macro/Microeconomics

Operations Management

 

Advanced Financial Accounting

Governmental Accounting

Intermediate Financial Accounting

Introduction to Financial Accounting

Not-for-Profit Accounting

Business Law

Corporate/Business Taxation

Individual Taxation

Introduction to Taxation

 

CIA certification course suggestions

If you’re an actively enrolled student, you can sit for the CIA exam during your senior year of college.
If you’ve already graduated or will not be able to sit for the exam as a student, the CIA exam’s education requirements become a bit unique. Rather than having one education requirement, it has tiered requirements. You can sit for the CIA exam once you have an associate’s degree, a bachelor’s degree, or a master’s degree, but each one has a different experience requirement to receive the license.
Taking the classes listed below will give you something to build your studies on before you sit for the CIA exam:

CIA Part 1CIA Part 2CIA Part 3

Internal Controls

Introduction to Auditing and Attestation

Introduction to Financial Accounting

Basic Statistics

Introduction to Auditing and Attestation

Introduction to Financial Accounting

Advanced Financial Accounting

Information Technology in Accounting

Introduction to Finance

Operations Management

EA certification course suggestions

The enrolled agent certification does not have any education requirements, so you can sit for the exam at any point in your studies. That said, if you’ve already completed the courses listed below, you’ll have an easier time studying for the exam:
In addition to taking tax courses, the IRS’s Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program is a great way to learn more about taxes and help prepare for the EA exam.

EA Part 1EA Part 2EA Part 3

Introduction to Individual Taxation

 

Intermediate Individual Taxation

Introduction to Business/Corporate Taxation

 

Intermediate Business/Corporate Taxation

Business Law

 

Ethics

Sample dual certification study plan: CPA & CMA

To begin with, you’ll need to plan your course schedule. For this example, we will begin to course plan in your junior (3rd) year.

Junior year

After completing the accounting courses in your junior year, you will be well-prepared for CMA Part 2. By the end of your junior year, you should also have completed economics and statistics. These courses are helpful for the BEC section of the CPA Exam, which tests economics and time-value of money concepts.

Junior Year
FallSpring

Intermediate Accounting

Corporate Finance

Management/Organizational Behavior

Marketing

Advanced Accounting

International Business/Finance

Business Law/Ethics

Operations Management

Senior year

The course work of your senior year fall semester will have you ready for CMA Part 1 by winter break. This is also a good time to sit for Part 1 because major course assignments are usually due later in the semester. You can carve out more time for Part 1 by requesting a late January start date for your internship.
The tax course and advanced course you take during the spring semester of your senior year will get you ready to take BEC and REG the summer after graduation. Furthermore, your recent CMA exam studies should shorten your preparation for BEC by 56 – 72%! Taking individual taxation and business entity taxation would also be ideal for your BEC and REG studies. Scheduling a second auditing course during your senior year would be very useful for taking the AUD section.

Senior Year
FallSpring

Cost Accounting

Auditing

Accounting Information Systems

Elective

Accounting/Business Capstone

Federal Income Taxation

Two Electives

After graduation

With the content of your auditing and advanced financial courses fresh in your mind, you can prepare for AUD and FAR at the same time, as a solid understanding of accounting processes (such as journal entries) is required for both. The CMA review you completed earlier that year will also simplify the study process for passing AUD and FAR in the fall, as the CMA exam will have prepared you for the intermediate accounting topics tested on FAR and the financial and analytical ratios covered by AUD.

Student Study Plan for CMA Exam

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