CPA vs CA: Which qualification should you choose?

An experienced CA’s practical career advice for junior accountants

Are you an accountant considering studying to become a Chartered Accountant (CA) or a Certified Public Accountant (CPA)? It’s a question our Head of CFO Advisory, Carly Chant, is asked regularly by Dexterous’ team, mentees across the industry, and candidates. Here, Carly shares her advice formed from years or mentoring accountants throughout various stages of their careers. She also lists practical tips to help you manage your study during full time employment.

CPA vs CA: Which is better?

Traditionally, the decision to choose a CPA or a CA was dictated by the career you sought. If you wanted to be an accountant within a commercial business you were encouraged to do your CPA, if you wanted to be in a tax or audit practice then do your CA. However, these distinctions have evolved. For example, a CA or a CPA can be a CFO, a CEO, COO, a Board member, and Partner in Practice, and Team Leader and more. In addition, the salary each qualification attracts is comparable at different levels and industries across commercial and public practice. So, when both qualifications involve considerable time and cost, and both can help you to achieve the same senior role – how do you choose?

Both courses offer:

  • examinations and practical skill attainment through experience
  • various subjects (compulsory and elective)
  • the choice to study online or in person
  • high-quality content – both are more difficult than a university degree!
  • Are internationally recognised

Based on the mentorship or numerous junior accountants studying to become a CA or a CPA, it’s Carly’s opinion:

  • The CA content is geared towards in-depth technical accounting (auditing, finance and tax). Whereas the CPA content is broader.
  • The failure rates for a CA are slightly higher than a CPA.
  • CA is rumoured (this could be down to clever marketing!!) to be harder than the CPA. Therefore, potential employers may prioritise candidates with a CA.

How should you choose between a CPA or CA?

Studying for your CA or CPA when you work full time can have a big impact on your family, social life and stress levels. It’s your responsibility to proactively manage your study schedule during busy periods in your day job (like financial year end). For example, the CPA program suggests a minimum of 10 hours per week of study. So, if you commit to study, ensure you can create this time throughout your work week.

As you consider which course is the best one for you, we recommend that you take a step back. Put down the CA and CPA course descriptions. Instead, speak to your mentor. If you don’t have a mentor, go to a trusted advisor. A conversation with your mentor can help shine a torch on your career path. It’s the key to unlocking your future potential. With this advice in hand, you’re better equipped to decide whether the CA or CPA course is right for you.

Tips for studying for your CPA or CA during full-time work

Regardless of whether you choose a CPA or CA, the content is high-quality and internationally recognised. Either qualification will set you up for a brilliant career in accounting, finance, management and entrepreneurship.

At work

  • Make sure you discuss your intention to study with your employer. This conversation gives them the opportunity to offer you advice and support you throughout your study.
  • Apply for annual leave as soon as you know your exam dates. This ensures you will have ample time to prepare for your exams.
  • Book in regular meetings with your mentor throughout each subject.
  • Find ways to apply the theory of what you are learning, practically in your work. Using theory in your everyday life will help you cement concepts in your mind and understand their application. Build them into your KPIs at work and conquer both professional and study goals at once.

At Home

  • Write up a study plan for the course content and be prepared for the exam.
  • Don’t leave study to the last minute!
  • Form a study group with people at work or people you meet through the course. This can be invaluable in concreting concepts and working through questions.
  • Use the online forums the institutes provide.
  • Practice past papers for your exam preparation.

About Carly

Carly Chant is a CA – a member of the Chartered Accountants Australia and New Zealand: CAANZ. Carly is also a Certified Fraud Examiner and a Graduate of the Australian Institute of Company Directors (GAICD). Carly is the Head of CFO Advisory at Dexterous Group and has proven expertise in team development, complex finance and profitably scaling businesses. She is a passionate advocate for women in business and has the unique ability to align the goals and visions of various stakeholders and team members.

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