Your Path to Become an Accountant Without a College Degree

How to become an accountant without an accounting degree

Is it possible to get accounting certifications without a college degree in accounting, or will you have to go back to school? 

You can, in fact, become an accountant without an accounting degree. If your bachelor’s degree is in something other than accounting, having at least two years of work experience can qualify you to take the CMA exam. If you don’t have any bachelor’s degree, there are accounting certifications you can get instead that will qualify you.

So, if you are a detail-oriented numbers person, and think a career in accounting might be perfect for you, there are several paths to success. If the only problem is you don’t have an accounting degree, don’t let that hold you back from exploring CMA Accounting and making a career move.

Let’s break down some of the ways you can become an accountant without a degree.

Originally published July 6, 2016, this article was updated and republished on Dec. 16, 2020.

Become a Management Accountant

get into managerial accounting

If you have a college degree in a field other than accounting, or you are in the process of getting one, pursuing a CMA certification may be a good choice.

What is a CMA

It’s a certification issued by the IMA that opens a lot of doors in business and finance. CMA careers include high-level accounting positions and executive roles like CFO. The typical salary for a CMA is considerably higher than without these credentials.

The CMA education requirements allow candidates with any 3 or 4-year bachelor’s degree, but the degree can be completed any time within 7 years of passing the qualifying CMA exam. Whether you studied business, psychology, or anything else, as long as you graduated from an accredited institution, you are eligible.

Obviously, the CMA study material will be easier to master for someone with a finance and accounting background, but if you prepare for the exam properly, you too can pass.

Better yet, taking the CMA exam fast tracks your career because you learn the skills and knowledge that once was only acquired from years of working experience. 

Now, instead of spending 3, 5, even 10 years of working to learn the ropes of the industry, you can jump ahead by devouring the CMA exam curriculum. As a result, the CMA work experience requirement is only 2 years in a relevant full-time position. You have seven years after passing the CMA exam to meet this requirement. 

If you are looking for an accounting job, a CMA certification is a great way to get your foot in the door with high-paying, high-profile jobs at any firm or business.

Can You Get Certified as an Accountant If You Don’t Have a Bachelor’s Degree of Any Kind?

what if you don't have a bachelors degree

You’d be surprised how common this is, but more good news — there are exemptions.

If you want to become a CMA without a degree, some alternative accounting certifications, listed here, are recognized by the IMA as an equivalent.

The first exemption is available for candidates who are fully qualified ACCA members. The Association of Chartered Certified Accountants is an international accountancy qualification that is recognized across the world. 

There is a substantial difference between CMA and ACCA certifications. However, the IMA and ACCA have a mutual agreement allowing fully qualified ACCA members to qualify for the exam regardless of whether or not they hold a bachelor’s degree.

To become ACCA qualified you must complete and pass 14 papers in total. There are several papers that offer exemptions based on past educational experience. You can learn more about the ACCA and how to become qualified at ACCAGlobal.com.

The second exemption is stated in the CMA Handbook. Candidates who do not hold a bachelor’s degree can plead their case to the IMA and explain why past educational or work experience, and any other credentials they may have, qualify them. For details on the education qualifications or alternatives, see the CMA Handbook from the IMA.

If accepted, the IMA will allow you to take the CMA exam without holding a bachelor’s degree.

showcase your accounting related skills

How else can you become an accountant without an accounting degree? On top of earning credentials like the CMA, you will want to highlight any related skills.

Any experience you have with finance or accounting based software, examples of bookkeeping or detail-oriented work, and so on can be valuable when applying to accountant positions. 

If you have attended any seminars or conferences that were accounting-related, you will also want to mention these on your resume. This sort of experience can really appeal to potential employers.

Accounting Certifications Without a College Degree

There are numerous accounting certifications or qualifications that can be pursued before you have a college degree. Most of them require you to get a degree at some point, but you can take a qualifying exam and move toward certification before your studies are complete. 

All of this gives you time to make strategic decisions and shift into an accounting field before or even without an accounting degree. Here are some examples of accounting certifications you can test for before you have completed your degree:

  • CMA: Certified Management Accounting. You can sit for the CMA exam before you have a four-year degree, although the CMA education requirements will require you to get a degree.
  • EA: Enrolled Agents. You can take the EA exam without an accounting degree.

In recent years, some regulatory bodies have made allowances for substituting work experience for a degree. For example, you can become a Certified Internal Auditor (granted by the Institute of Internal Auditors) with seven years of verified experience to replace education requirements. 

If your goal is to be a professional accountant, as a CPA or CMA, you can still work in an accounting office before you’re finished. For instance, you may be able to work in collections, tax preparation, or bookkeeping at an accounting firm while you work toward a college degree in accounting or study for your exams.

Can you be an accountant without a degree?

You can’t be a certified accountant like a CMA without a bachelor’s degree. However, you may be able to work in the accounting field as an accounting clerk. You can also begin the CMA certification process before you complete a degree or even if you have a degree in a different field, by passing the exams and gaining the required work experience.

Accountant Jobs Without a Degree

When you want to work in accounting without a college degree, you have numerous options. Some of them include the listed options above, which are accounting firm jobs that don’t require a professional certification or license. 

Additionally, you may be able to work as an administrator at an accounting firm, accounts receivable or payable clerk, and other supportive roles.

These positions will enable you to learn more about the industry. If you’re unsure which career path to pursue, CPA, CIA, or CMA, working while you decide will give you first-hand knowledge and connections.

Taking Your Career to the Next Level

Taking your accounting career to the next level

Accounting and finance is a great industry to go into if you are looking for a stable career. Now, more than ever, is the best time to work towards an accounting certification like the CMA. Employers are in desperate need of the skills and knowledge CMAs possess, yet there is a lack of qualified people to fill these positions.

Although it’s a difficult test, there’s a low barrier of entry to register and take the CMA exam. You can start to earn your designation with the right study plan and CMA review course, whether or not you have completed the education and work experience. 

Don’t let your lack of an accounting degree hold you back from a promising career as a management accountant. For more information on how I can help you go from zero accounting background to becoming a Certified Management Accountant, visit CMA Exam Academy.

Thanks for reading!

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39 Comments on “Your Path to Become an Accountant Without a College Degree”

  1. Hello I’m kaleem from Pakistan I wants to join cma I have only 1 year Bachelor degree ( Bachelor in Arts) BA will it full filled my ima requirements. Replay will be very appreciated thanks

    1. Hi Kallemjan,

      Please reach out to the IMA to confirm with them directly. They have the last say in this.

      Good luck!

    1. Hi Amritesh, I’ve helped candidates with no prior accounting background pass the CMA exam via my coaching course at the Academy. This program includes a Fundamentals of Accounting textbook for candidates who need to learn basic accounting concepts before diving into the more complex CMA subject matter.

      It’s a great course for those who are new to the accounting world and are determined to earn the CMA certification.

  2. Pingback: CMA vs CPA - Find out which one is the right track for you!

    1. Hi Sai,

      Are you preparing for the Indian CMA exam?

      Currently, I only offer coaching support for the US CMA exam. You can learn about it here.

  3. Hello Nathan,

    I have a 8 year hotel accounting experience and currently I’m in a financial accountant position at one of the 04 star chain hotel in UAE.
    And I’m really interesting to go for the CMA but unfortunately I have no any degrees and I only have passed the A/L and the CBF ( Certificate in banking and finance) has complete partly .
    Would it be possible for me to apply for CMA. Kindly advise.

    Best Regards

    Dinusha

    1. Hi Dinusha,

      Thanks for reaching out.

      In order to meet the education requirements for the CMA certification you’ll need to get a Bachelor’s degree. You can, however, try reaching out to the IMA to check if they would be able to exempt you from this requirement.

      Best of luck!

  4. I am from a medical background did bachelors outside USA and masters in USA. However after that took a diploma course in CSBA( computerized small business accounting) in USA. Will I be able to pursue a career in accounting what will be the steps?

    1. HI Nila,

      Yes, of course. At the CMA Exam Academy we provide coaching support for candidates at all accounting levels and we’ve also had students from no accounting background who had successfully completed the course and passed the CMA exam.

      The first step is to enroll in a coaching course. Within the course, you’ll be guided through your entire CMA journey and my team and I will be there to help you whenever you have any questions or feel stuck.

      Check also this roadmap to becoming a CMA for more info about the CMA certification and what you need to do to obtain it.

      If you have any other questions, just hit reply 🙂

      Thank you

  5. Pingback: CMA Exam Changes Coming in 2020 - CMA Coach

    1. Of course, not all candidates who pursue the CMA certification come from an accounting background. For candidates who come from other professional fields the CMA certification is the fast track to getting into management accounting.

  6. Hi
    I am a finance professional with an experience of more than 14 years holding a senior position in listed bank in finance department.
    I have a diploma in accounting, diploma in IFRS by ACCA and have attended different seminars in financial and tax updates.

    I am looking forwards to be certified and I know I have the capabilities to do so. How can I use the food of IMA in being exempted from holding a degree by using my experience.

    Need to know who write to gain this examption and to be certified.

    1. Hi Yasser,

      I recommend you to email directly to IMA. You can reach them at ima@imanet[dot]org.

      Good luck!

  7. Hi
    Ive battled with finishing any sort of degree.
    Do to family commitments and work commitments.
    I handle an accounting office about 4 staff
    We doing data capturing to submission of vat returns to compiling financials for the accountant to sign off.

    I have the experience.. Being in the industry for 8 years. I have passed spme first year modules in tax financial accounting and business management in the accounting diploma.

    Im registered as a saipa trainee and completed my 3 year articles aswell. Just it holds no value cause i have no completed my degree.

    I wish to open my own small accounting practice. Please help to obtain a certificate or something with my experience and prior learning modules.

    Advise.

    Thanks

    1. Hi Mohamed,

      The CMA certification requires a bachelor’s degree, but I recommend you to email directly to IMA and share your experience with them and see if they can exempt you from the education requirement.

      Good luck! And if you have any other questions, please don’t hesitate to reach out.

  8. I do not see job prospects from the CMA? will my background of IT and customer service work and passing the CMA change my prospects for accounting jobs? I have a Finance degree

    1. Yes, passing the CMA exam will pave the way for you to get into management accounting and will open new career opportunities for you.

      As a CMA you’ll have the necessary management skills to make financial decisions for a business or corporation, and hence be able to obtain an executive role and a higher salary.

    1. Yes, absolutely. If you don’t want to get an accounting degree, then the CMA certification would be the fastest route to a career in management accounting. I recommend you to enroll in a coaching course though, so you can get all the coaching support you need to fully grasp the tough concepts and pass the exam on your first attempt.

  9. Hi Nathan,

    I’m on my way to earning an AAS degree in accounting within the next several years. Would I be able to sit for the CMA exam or would I be disqualified? I don’t currently possess industry experience, but I’m on my way to working with small businesses in that department once I complete junior college.

    Thanks!

    Yvette

  10. Hello Nathan,
    I have only completed Exec Diploma im Accounting conducted by the University Malaysia CCED. In order to achieve my goal to become an accountant i have come across this article about CMA. Currently i am working as a treasury executive in a mnc company. Not considering my promotion my qualification is one of the reason holding the management back. I need you advise. Thank you.

    1. Hi Kalaivani,

      I recommend you to send your resume to the IMA to see if they’ll accept your work experience. If they do, then your are cleared to prepare for the exam and get certified.

      You can also fulfill the experience requirement within 7 years after passing the exam.

      Let me know if you have any other questions.

  11. I am a Pharmacist with a Masters degree in Pharmacy. I want a change in my career and wondered if this would apply to myself?

    1. Hi Inderjit,

      If you want to get into the management accounting field, then the CMA certification will be the fast-track to it.

      Check the roadmap to becoming a CMA to find all the steps you need to take to become certified.

      If you have any other questions, please don’t hesitate to reach out.

  12. Hi this is salil am not able to finish b com degree due to several family reasons but am having experience in same field more than 17 years so is it possible to do CMA ON THAT BASIS

    1. Hi Salil,

      Besides the experience requirement, you also need to meet the education requirement (a bachelor’s degree) in order to qualify for the CMA certification.

      You could try reaching out directly to IMA explaining your situation to check whether they can make an exception for you.

      Best of luck!

  13. I was studied BE. but i have experience in accounts field (2 years). still i have lot of doubts. so how to clear. which book suitable to refer.

  14. Thanks for sharing this post. I am an Economics major and also did a Masters in Operational Research. Both of this are outside the USA. Currently I am about to complete MBA Finance in the US and I am waiting for my results for CMA Part 2. As you can see I have zero accounting credits. I wanted to do the CPA after my CMA but for the lack of accounting credits. I was trying to find out if the AICPA accepts the CMA in lieu of the 24 credit hours of accounting. Thank you.

    1. Hi Felix,

      There are IMA CPE credits which is also recognized by NASBA. Log in your IMA account and check this link.

      Thanks and Regards,
      Nathan

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