The accounting field is growing at a rate faster than the average career field while providing those who pursue it opportunities for stability and room for professional and financial growth.  Landing a job in this field, however, may call for professional certification beyond a degree. This is where it can become confusing for students deciding which top accounting positions to take to their future career.

Three of the most popular certifications for accounting professionals are the Certified Public Accountant (CPA), Certified Management Accountant (CMA) and the Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) credentials. Each offers professionals who obtain certification advantages as they work to advance their careers, but it can be difficult to choose which credential or credentials to pursue. The best route to take often comes down to personal preference in regard to the desired working environment.

A Closer Look at the CPA

CPA certification is the gold standard for accountants. This certification enables accountants to work in both the public and private sectors, but is most beneficial for those working in the public sector. This certification is often required for positions that go beyond the entry level in accounting.

The requirements to sit for a CPA exam can vary by state. In most cases, a bachelor’s degree in accounting or a related field along with a certain amount of professional experience will open the door to take the exam.

Understanding the CFA

This credential is most widely sought after by financial analysts, especially in the investment management field. It is designed to set investment professionals apart from others in the field. The designation is ideal for those in the accounting field looking to switch careers, students hoping to enter the finance or investment profession or financial professionals already working in the field who seek to advance their careers.

In order to sit for the exams required for the CFA designation, professionals must have four years of experience working with investments. They must also be members of the CFA Institute, pledge an oath of ethical conduct and pass three six-hour exams that focus on such topics as economics, ethics, accounting, security analysis and money management.

About the CMA

The CMA is ideal for both accounting and finance majors who wish to work in the corporate arena. This certification demonstrates a professional’s ability to make strategic decisions based on the financial situation at hand. While many CPAs also hold CMA certification, having a CPA isn’t a requirement for this certification. The CMA covers such areas of expertise as decision support, financial planning, control, analysis and professional ethics.

Eligibility for the CMA requires a minimum of a bachelor’s degree. Applicants must also be members of the Institute of Management Accountants, the Association of Accountants and Financial Professionals in Business, or IMA for short.

An accounting or finance degree can open the door on a career in the financial arena, but professional certification is important for advancing in the field. The right certification path to choose depends on personal career goals and desired employers. In some cases, two or all three certifications can give professionals the competitive edge they seek.

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