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I am an accounting major and I expect to become a CPA. I do not necessarily want to be a multi million dollar hedge fund manager or anything like that, but from what I expect to do is 200k-400k yearly salary as a CPA obtainable over the course of my career? If so how long? I would be more than happy with the ultimate upper middle class lifestyle is this possible as a CPA? I do not mean like my own firm but working for a corporation or audit firm I suppose. Please also keep in mind I live in north Jersey so when I graduate I would most likely be working in the NYC/NJ area.

Thank you.

Comments (129)

  • thecoldburns's picture

    Most CFOs that I work(ed) with easily attain salary of that level (note: with a much lower tax bracket of 20% compared to the US) have a CPA and come from an accounting backgound.

  • In reply to thecoldburns
    Mps721's picture

    thecoldburns:
    Most CFOs that I work(ed) with easily attain salary of that level (note: with a much lower tax bracket of 20% compared to the US) have a CPA and come from an accounting backgound.

    Besides the tax brackets, so you are saying that here in the states that is certainly obtainable correct?

    Mps721

  • Latrell Sprewell CFA's picture

    Out of college 60ish, work up from there. Public accounting has a very structured pay scale, if you stick in it long enough (15ish years), you can earn 400+ as a partner. Thing is, most people with any hint of social skills jump ship well before that point to go to industry. Once you are outside of public accounting pay scale can be pretty much anything, totally dependent on you.

    CPA is like any professional designation, it's not a golden ticket to a guaranteed lifestyle. You need to prove yourself no matter how many letters you put behind your name.

  • Latrell Sprewell CFA's picture

    Also, any recruiter at a big 4 firm would be happy to answer these questions for you. I remember reading some of your posts in the past. Ask real life people some of these questions, you will get an answer that is much more tailored to your situation.

  • AsianMonky's picture

    You can make 200K if you enter Big 4 and stay ~10 years until you become a very experienced Sr. Manager. To make 400K you'd need to spend 15 to 20 years in Big 4 and become a partner, which is hard to do. Keep in mind that those years will be very long and you will work a lot of hours, probably more than a HF manager until you become a partner, then I think it's more relaxed. That's the reason why most people end up leaving for accounting gigs at F500 and probably max out their salary at 150K.

  • In reply to Latrell Sprewell CFA
    Mps721's picture

    Latrell Sprewell <span class=keyword_link><a href=https://www.e-junkie.com/ecom/gb.php?ii=1145861&amp;c=cart&amp;aff=44880&amp;ejc=2&amp;cl=175031>CFA</a></span>:
    Also, any recruiter at a big 4 firm would be happy to answer these questions for you. I remember reading some of your posts in the past. Ask real life people some of these questions, you will get an answer that is much more tailored to your situation.

    Where would I be able to get in contact with them?

    Mps721

  • In reply to AsianMonky
    Mps721's picture

    AsianMonky:
    You can make 200K if you enter Big 4 and stay ~10 years until you become a very experienced Sr. Manager. To make 400K you'd need to spend 15 to 20 years in Big 4 and become a partner, which is hard to do. Keep in mind that those years will be very long and you will work a lot of hours, probably more than a HF manager until you become a partner, then I think it's more relaxed. That's the reason why most people end up leaving for accounting gigs at F500 and probably max out their salary at 150K.

    What does Big 4 typically look for from kids right out of college?

    Mps721

  • Latrell Sprewell CFA's picture

    If your university doesn't have recruitment, just go to their websites and find a contact on the careers section... Come on man, these are questions that have a really easy answer.

    I was an accounting major early in school and did some research into this. Job definitely wasn't for me, but accounting is a good background to have.

  • In reply to Latrell Sprewell CFA
    Mps721's picture

    Latrell Sprewell <span class=keyword_link><a href=https://www.e-junkie.com/ecom/gb.php?ii=1145861&amp;c=cart&amp;aff=44880&amp;ejc=2&amp;cl=175031>CFA</a></span>:
    If your university doesn't have recruitment, just go to their websites and find a contact on the careers section... Come on man, these are questions that have a really easy answer.

    I was an accounting major early in school and did some research into this. Job definitely wasn't for me, but accounting is a good background to have.

    I understand your advice on looking on their website, which I have but I just like to get other opinions.

    Mps721

  • In reply to Mps721
    AsianMonky's picture

    Mps721:
    AsianMonky:
    You can make 200K if you enter Big 4 and stay ~10 years until you become a very experienced Sr. Manager. To make 400K you'd need to spend 15 to 20 years in Big 4 and become a partner, which is hard to do. Keep in mind that those years will be very long and you will work a lot of hours, probably more than a HF manager until you become a partner, then I think it's more relaxed. That's the reason why most people end up leaving for accounting gigs at F500 and probably max out their salary at 150K.

    What does Big 4 typically look for from kids right out of college?

    Solid GPA- above 3.5 preferably. Leadership qualities, involvement in extra curricular activities. For example, being a Vice President of Community Service of a Frat or something like that. Also, you must show a lot of energy and social skills in the interviews. They want people they wouldn't mind spending 80 hours in the office with.

  • In reply to AsianMonky
    Mps721's picture

    AsianMonky:
    Mps721:
    AsianMonky:
    You can make 200K if you enter Big 4 and stay ~10 years until you become a very experienced Sr. Manager. To make 400K you'd need to spend 15 to 20 years in Big 4 and become a partner, which is hard to do. Keep in mind that those years will be very long and you will work a lot of hours, probably more than a HF manager until you become a partner, then I think it's more relaxed. That's the reason why most people end up leaving for accounting gigs at F500 and probably max out their salary at 150K.

    What does Big 4 typically look for from kids right out of college?

    Solid GPA- above 3.5 preferably. Leadership qualities, involvement in extra curricular activities. For example, being a Vice President of Community Service of a Frat or something like that. Also, you must show a lot of energy and social skills in the interviews. They want people they wouldn't mind spending 80 hours in the office with.


    Do you think 4.0, pretty good social skils, no extra curricular would cut it?

    Mps721

  • AsianMonky's picture

    Hard to say, if you have a lot of big 4 recruiters at your school then maybe if you network enough.

  • Accrual Dictator's picture

    CPAs can expect to make bout tree fiddy.

    This is a ridiculous question OP. There are so many factors such as cost of living, experience, etc. that'll make a difference. Plus the fact that CPAs can do anything from being public accountants to fraud examiners with the FBI to being a CFO of a F100 company will also skew things depending on what industry he or she is in. But to answer your question as generally as possible, I'm sure that if you put in work and have a good amount of luck in that you go to the right places at the right time, you can make 200-250k in salary by the time your career is over.

  • In reply to Accrual Dictator
    Mps721's picture

    Accrual Dictator:
    CPAs can expect to make bout tree fiddy.

    This is a ridiculous question OP. There are so many factors such as cost of living, experience, etc. that'll make a difference. Plus the fact that CPAs can do anything from being public accountants to fraud examiners with the FBI to being a CFO of a F100 company will also skew things depending on what industry he or she is in. But to answer your question as generally as possible, I'm sure that if you put in work and have a good amount of luck in that you go to the right places at the right time, you can make 200-250k in salary by the time your career is over.

    Thank you, I understand there are so many career routes so that is why I said working for a corporation or auditing firm. I am not really interested in working for the FBI or federal government.

    Thanks for your response.

    Mps721

  • jon1987's picture

    Assuming around 3-5 years WE at a Big 4, what kind of exit opps would a CPA have?

    "There are only two opinions in this world: Mine and the wrong one." -Jeremy Clarkson

  • In reply to Mps721
    reformed's picture

    Mps721:
    AsianMonky:
    Mps721:
    AsianMonky:
    You can make 200K if you enter Big 4 and stay ~10 years until you become a very experienced Sr. Manager. To make 400K you'd need to spend 15 to 20 years in Big 4 and become a partner, which is hard to do. Keep in mind that those years will be very long and you will work a lot of hours, probably more than a HF manager until you become a partner, then I think it's more relaxed. That's the reason why most people end up leaving for accounting gigs at F500 and probably max out their salary at 150K.

    What does Big 4 typically look for from kids right out of college?

    Solid GPA- above 3.5 preferably. Leadership qualities, involvement in extra curricular activities. For example, being a Vice President of Community Service of a Frat or something like that. Also, you must show a lot of energy and social skills in the interviews. They want people they wouldn't mind spending 80 hours in the office with.


    Do you think 4.0, pretty good social skils, no extra curricular would cut it?

    The big 4 does not take people who ask really fucking annoying questions.

  • In reply to reformed
    Art.Vandelay's picture

    reformed:

    The big 4 does not take people who ask really fucking annoying questions.

    Except ones like "what made you choose your firm" lol

    BTW, to the OP, the answer is not enough money for this website.

  • In reply to Art.Vandelay
    Mps721's picture

    Art.Vandelay:
    reformed:

    The big 4 does not take people who ask really fucking annoying questions.

    Except ones like "what made you choose your firm" lol

    BTW, to the OP, the answer is not enough money for this website.


    I dont understand.

    Mps721

  • In reply to Mps721
    Zzari's picture

    Mps721:
    Art.Vandelay:
    reformed:

    The big 4 does not take people who ask really fucking annoying questions.

    Except ones like "what made you choose your firm" lol

    BTW, to the OP, the answer is not enough money for this website.


    I dont understand.

    CPAs, on average, make a hell of a lot less than bankers. While you *can* make a lot with a CPA, the same argument can be made for practically any professional/STEM degree. However, most CPAs don't make that much. As others have stated, many of them max out at corporate middle management making ~$150k, which is less than a first year IBD/PE associate.

    I go to a stop state school that I consider to be a "Big 4 Factory" (about ~15-20% of our graduating business school class goes to Big 4 every year), and I don't really think the people who go into Big 4 know what they're getting themselves into. The hours generally suck (not compared to banking, but certainly more than 40hrs/wk), less than 1/1,000 make it to partner, and the exit opps are pretty "meh" if you're just an average Big 4 accountant. Sure, if you are top of your class and/or network hard, you can get a better exit opportunity and/or move up faster, but like above, the same could be said of any professional/STEM degree, not just CPAs/accounting.

  • Accrual Dictator's picture

    ^An average person in any field, be it finance, accounting, engineering, academia, etc. will only have "meh" exit ops. The key to being successful in any industry is to make oneself valuable/irreplaceable to a firm. Being average won't lead to big bucks anywhere as far as I know. The main difference is that some fields, such as high finance, may leave you higher up on the pay scale just due to how the industry works (i.e. the 50th percentile worker in IB will be wealthier than the 50th percentile accountant).

    tl;dr version: Be the best/most valuable person in your field and you'll make money.

  • In reply to Zzari
    GED or Bust's picture

    Zzari][quote=Mps721][quote=Art.Vandelay][quote=reformed:

    I go to a stop state school that I consider to be a "Big 4 Factory" (about ~15-20% of our graduating business school class goes to Big 4 every year), and I don't really think the people who go into Big 4 know what they're getting themselves into.

    Who places well on the West Coast? USC and UC-Berkeley?

  • West Coast rainmaker's picture

    It's not terribly hard to start your own accounting firm, given some decent social skills to generate business. Even better if you have a unique practice area. You can do very well if you own the equity in your firm.

  • In reply to West Coast rainmaker
    JoeyZazza's picture

    I was considering doing this in California or even in Austin, TX. I have my CPA license but ultimately don't want to do accounting, I'd prefer to do banking.....well that's why I'm doing a Master's now....if it doesn't work out I can do accounting I guess.

  • TheBlueCheese's picture

    I've met Sr. Managers that make around $150k and they've worked at the Big 4 company for over 30+. Partners can make $300k+ depending on the industry... some make millions

    While the audit industry's hierarchy and promotion levels are very structured, the road to partnership is not. There are MANY people who've worked in the industry 30+ years failing to make partner...

    Float like a butterfly, sting like the bee.

  • packmate's picture

    Currently interning at a big 4: salary out of college = around 52-57k. You won't be making 200k until at least director(10 years in). Partner salary is heavily skewed and can get to as high as 3m by retirement. Also a ridiculous retirement package for partners. The average of your three best years of salary every year until you die.

  • CountryUnderdog's picture

    I think certain auditors at the higher levels could get this. best best would be consulting. that being said, CPA is pretty versatile and respected across industries.

    "They are all former investment bankers that were laid off in the economic collapse that Nancy Pelosi caused. They have no marketable skills, but by God they work hard."

  • In reply to Zzari
    Art.Vandelay's picture

    Zzari:

    CPAs, on average, make a hell of a lot less than bankers. While you *can* make a lot with a CPA, the same argument can be made for practically any professional/STEM degree. However, most CPAs don't make that much. As others have stated, many of them max out at corporate middle management making ~$150k, which is less than a first year IBD/PE associate.

    I go to a stop state school that I consider to be a "Big 4 Factory" (about ~15-20% of our graduating business school class goes to Big 4 every year), and I don't really think the people who go into Big 4 know what they're getting themselves into. The hours generally suck (not compared to banking, but certainly more than 40hrs/wk), less than 1/1,000 make it to partner, and the exit opps are pretty "meh" if you're just an average Big 4 accountant. Sure, if you are top of your class and/or network hard, you can get a better exit opportunity and/or move up faster, but like above, the same could be said of any professional/STEM degree, not just CPAs/accounting.

    The thing is, that for most of us, who either didn't know about the whole notion of target schools, or couldn't go for one reason or another (keep in mind MANY of the folks at these Ivies or other Targets have rich parents financing it, a luxury most people in the real world don't have), the Big 4 is the absolute best option. Its our BB IBD or M/B/B. And topping out at $200k with a reasonable amount of effort isn't something that the normal population in this country would scoff at.

    We have to remember that the individuals frequenting this website are a very small percentage of the population. It may seem like a lot because they're all concentrated on one website, but if you notice, only a few actually work in the industry. Most are college students hoping to break in. All I'm saying is don't think you're a failure if you're going into Big 4 audit with the hopes of breaking out and eventually being in a role making close to $200k a year working 50 hrs a week at mid career. It may be a joke compared to HF or PE, but that kinda job is a lot harder to get into than it may seem like on a site like this where everyone is concentrated in one area talking about it. For the overwhelming majority of the country, Big 4 exit opp money is way more than they support their entire family on. You'd still be in the top 10% of earners in the country pretty easily.

  • In reply to Art.Vandelay
    VitoCorleone's picture

    I kinda knew this but someone putting it on the surface that "only a few visit this website compared to the general population and getting $200k per year job is very hard in real life" just made everything clear.

    BTW....interned at a Big 4 Audit last summer and going back full time this year!

    "A good plan today is better than a perfect plan tomorrow."

  • In reply to Art.Vandelay
    VitoCorleone's picture

    Art.Vandelay:
    Zzari:

    CPAs, on average, make a hell of a lot less than bankers. While you *can* make a lot with a CPA, the same argument can be made for practically any professional/STEM degree. However, most CPAs don't make that much. As others have stated, many of them max out at corporate middle management making ~$150k, which is less than a first year IBD/PE associate.

    I go to a stop state school that I consider to be a "Big 4 Factory" (about ~15-20% of our graduating business school class goes to Big 4 every year), and I don't really think the people who go into Big 4 know what they're getting themselves into. The hours generally suck (not compared to banking, but certainly more than 40hrs/wk), less than 1/1,000 make it to partner, and the exit opps are pretty "meh" if you're just an average Big 4 accountant. Sure, if you are top of your class and/or network hard, you can get a better exit opportunity and/or move up faster, but like above, the same could be said of any professional/STEM degree, not just CPAs/accounting.

    The thing is, that for most of us, who either didn't know about the whole notion of target schools, or couldn't go for one reason or another (keep in mind MANY of the folks at these Ivies or other Targets have rich parents financing it, a luxury most people in the real world don't have), the Big 4 is the absolute best option. Its our BB IBD or M/B/B. And topping out at $200k with a reasonable amount of effort isn't something that the normal population in this country would scoff at.

    We have to remember that the individuals frequenting this website are a very small percentage of the population. It may seem like a lot because they're all concentrated on one website, but if you notice, only a few actually work in the industry. Most are college students hoping to break in. All I'm saying is don't think you're a failure if you're going into Big 4 audit with the hopes of breaking out and eventually being in a role making close to $200k a year working 50 hrs a week at mid career. It may be a joke compared to HF or PE, but that kinda job is a lot harder to get into than it may seem like on a site like this where everyone is concentrated in one area talking about it. For the overwhelming majority of the country, Big 4 exit opp money is way more than they support their entire family on. You'd still be in the top 10% of earners in the country pretty easily.

    I kinda knew this but someone putting it on the surface that "only a few visit this website compared to the general population and getting $200k per year job is very hard in real life" just made everything clear.

    BTW....interned at a Big 4 Audit last summer and going back full time this year!

    "A good plan today is better than a perfect plan tomorrow."

  • allysan1027's picture

    Accounting is better than people (at least on this site) think, given that there are a number of options.

    If you have the talent/ability/work ethic/luck, you can easily make more than 400k as a partner, tax director, CFO, etc.

    If you're talented and want an easy 45-50 hr a week job making ~150k - 200k, that's doable too at a F500.

    If you're dumb as rocks but still manage to get into the Big 4 (which isn't hard at all), you can stick around basically forever or get a job with the government or whatever.

    Banking is really only for those who are crazy talented/hard working. Accounting you can make big bucks if you have what it takes, but you also have some nice cushy fallback options in case you aren't as good as you think (not that banking doesn't)

  • Ruskii's picture

    Audit and Corp may be challenging to break 200K. If you go into Tax, even a regional firm and become a subject matter expert(SaLT, International Tax), you can easily break 200K around 10 years.

    Or you can work for a couple years, get your PHD and be sitting at 130K+ after schooling and raking in whatever you want from your side consulting/tax/book publishing deals.

  • Asmith14's picture

    Mps721:
    I am an accounting major and I expect to become a CPA. I do not necessarily want to be a multi million dollar hedge fund manager or anything like that, but from what I expect to do is 200k-400k yearly salary as a CPA obtainable over the course of my career? If so how long? I would be more than happy with the ultimate upper middle class lifestyle is this possible as a CPA? I do not mean like my own firm but working for a corporation or audit firm I suppose. Please also keep in mind I live in north Jersey so when I graduate I would most likely be working in the NYC/NJ area.

    Thank you.

    I'm not an expert on CPAs, but from what I understand of general census' taken on the industry, the basic answer is "not very much" relative to the area you plan to live in (NY) and the amount of hours you will be expected to work. It's certainly not a profession (long term) for those who want to put their kids through Exeter and Harvard.

    The fed Gov produces stats collected in the Occupation Outlook, which can be found here: http://www.bls.gov/ooh/

    Of course, there is always a chance you might make partner or become a CFO, but I don't think that was really your question.

  • In reply to Asmith14
    Art.Vandelay's picture

    Asmith14:

    IIt's certainly not a profession (long term) for those who want to put their kids through Exeter and Harvard.

    I hope this doesnt seem like I'm singling you out, Asmith14, I'm just using your words to show what many people think, but this is exactly what I was trying to say in my earlier post. A lot of people on this website associate being well-off financially as having a vacation home, a new benz every two years, and paying for your kids to go to private school and Harvard. By that standard, yes CPAs don't make shit. But that kinda lifestyle is top 2.5% of the country type of living. I don't know if the students in the IB section realize that or not, maybe not because a lot of them (I'm generalizing terribly, as I know this isnt the case with MANY of them) lived this way growing up. That's big time money that only a handful of people actually see, yet there are a ton of others who are successful, work hard, and top out at $200k a year, which is a lot of money, as hard as that is for some people on this site to see.

  • Bobby Hurley's picture

    I have worked in tax for 1 year, audit for 3 years, and now work in Corporate (F500).

    In general, public accounting (B4) does not pay that well, but you get some great experience. Partners make a killing ($350K+) - but you have to bust your tail for ~15 years to make partner. It's an 'up or out' culture, so people aren't really sticking around for 20 years at Sr. Manager level (as previously mentioned). You will start at around $60-$65K in NYC. Raises are roughly 10% each year.

    Corporate culture is much more relaxed, but climbing the corporate ladder is not as easy/the route is not as defined as public accounting. It is very possible to make $200K in corporate after being with the company for several years. You will still need to work hard and prove yourself.

    I would recommend trying to get into the Transaction Advisory Services practice if you are interested in M&A and finance. Audit can get really boring and it's easy to get burnt out due to the nature of the work and long hours. TAS also can provide some cool exit options if you play it right.

    Government accountants are underpaid, but don't do much work at all. They have nice retirement benefits. These jobs are usually reserved for the bottom-of-the-barrel bean counters.

    Get some extra curriculars (volunteer, clubs, sports..) on your resume. Firms like well-rounded candidates. Good luck!

    CPA/investor/bballer

  • In reply to Art.Vandelay
    Asmith14's picture

    Art.Vandelay:
    Asmith14:

    IIt's certainly not a profession (long term) for those who want to put their kids through Exeter and Harvard.

    I hope this doesnt seem like I'm singling you out, Asmith14, I'm just using your words to show what many people think, but this is exactly what I was trying to say in my earlier post. A lot of people on this website associate being well-off financially as having a vacation home, a new benz every two years, and paying for your kids to go to private school and Harvard. By that standard, yes CPAs don't make shit. But that kinda lifestyle is top 2.5% of the country type of living. I don't know if the students in the IB section realize that or not, maybe not because a lot of them (I'm generalizing terribly, as I know this isnt the case with MANY of them) lived this way growing up. That's big time money that only a handful of people actually see, yet there are a ton of others who are successful, work hard, and top out at $200k a year, which is a lot of money, as hard as that is for some people on this site to see.

    Alright, so here's how I break down your argument:

    1. You agreed that working as a CPA would not bring the kind of income necessary to put your kids through Exeter and Harvard.
    2. You pointed out that 2.5% of the country can afford to put their kids through Exeter and Harvard.
    3. "Big time money" is only seen by a handful of people.
    4. Those who do not make over $200k per year still work hard and are successful.

    I'm not going to address the merit of statements 2-4, because they don't even apply to what I said. You conceded the point I made in your first claim; given that, what is your problem? I didn't disparage those who can't put their kids through Exeter and Harvard (my parents couldn't). You can't disagree with what I literally and actually said, because I'm right. Someone who goes into accounting long term probably won't make that kind of money.

    If you took it the wrong way and thought I was speaking down to accounting professionals, I apologize. Maybe that's a reflection of your personal insecurity over your chosen industry, or you just feel obligated to champion those who make less than 200k, in which case that would be quite arrogant and hypocritical for you to think that just because they don't make $1m+ per year, they need someone to defend their work integrity and successfulness.

    Or, perhaps you just need to clarify your point.

  • In reply to Art.Vandelay
    Zzari's picture

    Art.Vandelay:
    Zzari:

    CPAs, on average, make a hell of a lot less than bankers. While you *can* make a lot with a CPA, the same argument can be made for practically any professional/STEM degree. However, most CPAs don't make that much. As others have stated, many of them max out at corporate middle management making ~$150k, which is less than a first year IBD/PE associate.

    I go to a stop state school that I consider to be a "Big 4 Factory" (about ~15-20% of our graduating business school class goes to Big 4 every year), and I don't really think the people who go into Big 4 know what they're getting themselves into. The hours generally suck (not compared to banking, but certainly more than 40hrs/wk), less than 1/1,000 make it to partner, and the exit opps are pretty "meh" if you're just an average Big 4 accountant. Sure, if you are top of your class and/or network hard, you can get a better exit opportunity and/or move up faster, but like above, the same could be said of any professional/STEM degree, not just CPAs/accounting.

    The thing is, that for most of us, who either didn't know about the whole notion of target schools, or couldn't go for one reason or another (keep in mind MANY of the folks at these Ivies or other Targets have rich parents financing it, a luxury most people in the real world don't have), the Big 4 is the absolute best option. Its our BB IBD or M/B/B. And topping out at $200k with a reasonable amount of effort isn't something that the normal population in this country would scoff at.

    We have to remember that the individuals frequenting this website are a very small percentage of the population. It may seem like a lot because they're all concentrated on one website, but if you notice, only a few actually work in the industry. Most are college students hoping to break in. All I'm saying is don't think you're a failure if you're going into Big 4 audit with the hopes of breaking out and eventually being in a role making close to $200k a year working 50 hrs a week at mid career. It may be a joke compared to HF or PE, but that kinda job is a lot harder to get into than it may seem like on a site like this where everyone is concentrated in one area talking about it. For the overwhelming majority of the country, Big 4 exit opp money is way more than they support their entire family on. You'd still be in the top 10% of earners in the country pretty easily.

    I completely agree, which is why all the comparisons I draw in my post are specifically to IBD/PE/Banking. Big 4 is a "great" job option by the standards of the vast majority of people in this country. However, compared to the jobs that WSO users are gunning for, Big 4 is definitely a couple tiers down. Big 4 is considered a relatively prestigious career path at my school, and there's nothing wrong with that. My point is simply that kids at "non-target" schools (for banking) don't seem to know that there is the whole banking/consulting world out there.

    The Big 4 salary trajectory is, on average, much lower than banking, but it's still a good living and can definitely place those who work even remotely hard within the top 10% of earners in the country. What bothers is me is the sort of "delusion" people have when thinking about Big 4 - that they will make partner, become a controller/CFO, etc. when in reality the vast majority don't make it past middle management. However, the same could arguably be said for banking in the sense that many people don't make it to MD/VP, but the compensation for bankers even at the 3rd year associate/VP (~$350k+) level is much higher than the senior associate/manager level (~$120k+) in Big 4 accounting.

    Also, as for West Coast Big 4 target schools, these are some I can think of off the top of my head (no specific order): BYU, USC, Berkeley, UofWashington, UofOregon. That said, Big 4 recruit (whether on-campus or not) from pretty much every state school. Like any other job, networking is important, though the competition is not nearly as intense as banking (since each Big 4 hires ~20k people per year).

  • In reply to Bobby Hurley
    Mps721's picture

    Drewbles:
    I have worked in tax for 1 year, audit for 3 years, and now work in Corporate (F500).

    In general, public accounting (B4) does not pay that well, but you get some great experience. Partners make a killing ($350K+) - but you have to bust your tail for ~15 years to make partner. It's an 'up or out' culture, so people aren't really sticking around for 20 years at Sr. Manager level (as previously mentioned). You will start at around $60-$65K in NYC. Raises are roughly 10% each year.

    Corporate culture is much more relaxed, but climbing the corporate ladder is not as easy/the route is not as defined as public accounting. It is very possible to make $200K in corporate after being with the company for several years. You will still need to work hard and prove yourself.

    I would recommend trying to get into the Transaction Advisory Services practice if you are interested in M&A and finance. Audit can get really boring and it's easy to get burnt out due to the nature of the work and long hours. TAS also can provide some cool exit options if you play it right.

    Government accountants are underpaid, but don't do much work at all. They have nice retirement benefits. These jobs are usually reserved for the bottom-of-the-barrel bean counters.

    Get some extra curriculars (volunteer, clubs, sports..) on your resume. Firms like well-rounded candidates. Good luck!


    Thank you for the advice!

    Mps721

  • In reply to Art.Vandelay
    Mps721's picture

    Art.Vandelay:
    Asmith14:

    IIt's certainly not a profession (long term) for those who want to put their kids through Exeter and Harvard.

    I hope this doesnt seem like I'm singling you out, Asmith14, I'm just using your words to show what many people think, but this is exactly what I was trying to say in my earlier post. A lot of people on this website associate being well-off financially as having a vacation home, a new benz every two years, and paying for your kids to go to private school and Harvard. By that standard, yes CPAs don't make shit. But that kinda lifestyle is top 2.5% of the country type of living. I don't know if the students in the IB section realize that or not, maybe not because a lot of them (I'm generalizing terribly, as I know this isnt the case with MANY of them) lived this way growing up. That's big time money that only a handful of people actually see, yet there are a ton of others who are successful, work hard, and top out at $200k a year, which is a lot of money, as hard as that is for some people on this site to see.


    I would be more than happy with 200k a year.

    Mps721

  • In reply to Asmith14
    Mps721's picture

    Asmith14:
    Mps721:
    I am an accounting major and I expect to become a CPA. I do not necessarily want to be a multi million dollar hedge fund manager or anything like that, but from what I expect to do is 200k-400k yearly salary as a CPA obtainable over the course of my career? If so how long? I would be more than happy with the ultimate upper middle class lifestyle is this possible as a CPA? I do not mean like my own firm but working for a corporation or audit firm I suppose. Please also keep in mind I live in north Jersey so when I graduate I would most likely be working in the NYC/NJ area.

    Thank you.

    I'm not an expert on CPAs, but from what I understand of general census' taken on the industry, the basic answer is "not very much" relative to the area you plan to live in (NY) and the amount of hours you will be expected to work. It's certainly not a profession (long term) for those who want to put their kids through Exeter and Harvard.

    The fed Gov produces stats collected in the Occupation Outlook, which can be found here: http://www.bls.gov/ooh/

    Of course, there is always a chance you might make partner or become a CFO, but I don't think that was really your question.


    I checked BLS I personally think the numbers are skewed, I know people in my area who are CPA's and they make over 100k and according the the BLS accountants cannot really break six figures.

    Mps721

  • In reply to Bobby Hurley
    Mps721's picture

    Drewbles:
    I have worked in tax for 1 year, audit for 3 years, and now work in Corporate (F500).

    In general, public accounting (B4) does not pay that well, but you get some great experience. Partners make a killing ($350K+) - but you have to bust your tail for ~15 years to make partner. It's an 'up or out' culture, so people aren't really sticking around for 20 years at Sr. Manager level (as previously mentioned). You will start at around $60-$65K in NYC. Raises are roughly 10% each year.

    Corporate culture is much more relaxed, but climbing the corporate ladder is not as easy/the route is not as defined as public accounting. It is very possible to make $200K in corporate after being with the company for several years. You will still need to work hard and prove yourself.

    I would recommend trying to get into the Transaction Advisory Services practice if you are interested in M&A and finance. Audit can get really boring and it's easy to get burnt out due to the nature of the work and long hours. TAS also can provide some cool exit options if you play it right.

    Government accountants are underpaid, but don't do much work at all. They have nice retirement benefits. These jobs are usually reserved for the bottom-of-the-barrel bean counters.

    Get some extra curriculars (volunteer, clubs, sports..) on your resume. Firms like well-rounded candidates. Good luck!


    Would you recommend taking a few months off when I graduate to study full time so that I can pass all four parts of my CPA exam, or should I go right into Big 4 if I get the opportunity right from college?

    Mps721

  • 808's picture

    There are three common paths that ambitious CPAs typically try to take:

    1) Big 4 audit staff/senior/manager (50-70k starting) for 3-7 years -> F1000 Corporate Finance Senior/Mgr (65-110k starting) for 3+ years -> F1000 Finance Director/VP/Executive (100k-400k+).

    2) Big 4 or Regional Public audit staff/senior/manager (50-70k starting) for 4-7 years -> Small/Mid-cap Finance Director/VP (65-110k starting) for 3+ years -> Small/Mid-cap Finance Director/VP/Executive (80k-400k+).

    3) Big 4 audit staff/senior/manager (50-70k starting) for 3-7 years -> F1000 Corporate Finance Senior/Mgr (65-110k starting) for 1+ years -> Corporate Ops (65-120k starting) -> Ops Director/VP/Executive (100k - 400k+).

    4) Big 4 or Regional Public audit staff/senior (50-70k starting) for 5-6 years -> Manager (70-90k starting) for 3 years -> Senior Manager (100k - 150k starting) -> Partner/Director (Big 4 is 250-350k starting - senior partners can make several million).

    Keep in mind that many, many people will get stuck somewhere in middle management making 70-100k. The mindset of the vast majority of public accountants is to stick it out in public accounting as long as you can bear it, then score a cushy middle management job in industry with an upper middle class lifestyle and maybe move up towards upper management (Director/VP) towards the end of your career. Most people value "work/life balance" more than a high salary, and don't have anything close to the drive and hustle of the average IB/consulting ->HF/PE person. Some will do something completely unrelated - anywhere from humanitarian aid to private equity/entrepreneur. To make it to the top in any of the paths I listed, you are going to have to go above and beyond - be a top performer in public accounting, stay late every day once you move to industry, etc. That being said, I will echo Mr. Vandelay in saying that the average CPA is in the top 0.5% of earners worldwide, and top 10% in the U.S. In business, if you can't make it into high finance or you're not willing to make the personal sacrifices necessary, being a CPA is the most well-worn path to the top.

  • In reply to Mps721
    808's picture

    Mps721:
    Drewbles:
    I have worked in tax for 1 year, audit for 3 years, and now work in Corporate (F500).

    In general, public accounting (B4) does not pay that well, but you get some great experience. Partners make a killing ($350K+) - but you have to bust your tail for ~15 years to make partner. It's an 'up or out' culture, so people aren't really sticking around for 20 years at Sr. Manager level (as previously mentioned). You will start at around $60-$65K in NYC. Raises are roughly 10% each year.

    Corporate culture is much more relaxed, but climbing the corporate ladder is not as easy/the route is not as defined as public accounting. It is very possible to make $200K in corporate after being with the company for several years. You will still need to work hard and prove yourself.

    I would recommend trying to get into the Transaction Advisory Services practice if you are interested in M&A and finance. Audit can get really boring and it's easy to get burnt out due to the nature of the work and long hours. TAS also can provide some cool exit options if you play it right.

    Government accountants are underpaid, but don't do much work at all. They have nice retirement benefits. These jobs are usually reserved for the bottom-of-the-barrel bean counters.

    Get some extra curriculars (volunteer, clubs, sports..) on your resume. Firms like well-rounded candidates. Good luck!


    Would you recommend taking a few months off when I graduate to study full time so that I can pass all four parts of my CPA exam, or should I go right into Big 4 if I get the opportunity right from college?

    Most people won't be given the opportunity to start straight out of college. You have to 1) Ask for it 2) Impress the interviewer 3) Get lucky - the office has to have a need. Generally, you also have to graduate off cycle (i.e. not in April/May). I started straight out of college, and it was extremely difficult to pass the CPA exam. I was working 12 to 18 hour days for five months straight, and it was tough to have the mental capacity at the end of the day to study. I had to kill it during the summer to pass. Having said that, I was able to jump a year ahead in title, compensation, and responsibility by starting in January instead of October.

    I would probably recommend taking a few months off (i.e. going with the normal recruiting cycle) and passing the CPA, but it's a tradeoff.

  • In reply to Mps721
    808's picture

    Mps721:
    Asmith14:
    Mps721:
    I am an accounting major and I expect to become a CPA. I do not necessarily want to be a multi million dollar hedge fund manager or anything like that, but from what I expect to do is 200k-400k yearly salary as a CPA obtainable over the course of my career? If so how long? I would be more than happy with the ultimate upper middle class lifestyle is this possible as a CPA? I do not mean like my own firm but working for a corporation or audit firm I suppose. Please also keep in mind I live in north Jersey so when I graduate I would most likely be working in the NYC/NJ area.

    Thank you.

    I'm not an expert on CPAs, but from what I understand of general census' taken on the industry, the basic answer is "not very much" relative to the area you plan to live in (NY) and the amount of hours you will be expected to work. It's certainly not a profession (long term) for those who want to put their kids through Exeter and Harvard.

    The fed Gov produces stats collected in the Occupation Outlook, which can be found here: http://www.bls.gov/ooh/

    Of course, there is always a chance you might make partner or become a CFO, but I don't think that was really your question.


    I checked BLS I personally think the numbers are skewed, I know people in my area who are CPA's and they make over 100k and according the the BLS accountants cannot really break six figures.

    The OOH figure of $61k (http://www.bls.gov/ooh/Business-and-Financial/Acco...) is three years old, and represents a median. This includes entry level and staff level accountants - i.e. the average accounting grad who never worked in public accounting. Most importantly, it does not include those who have made the logical career progression after a few years, which is OUT of the accountant/auditor role and into a finance role (equipped with extremely valuable accounting knowledge).

  • In reply to Mps721
    Bobby Hurley's picture

    In an ideal world, you will intern with the firm during the summer following your junior year of college.. During your internship, you will work hard and earn an offer to start in the fall after you graduate. You'll start your career as an associate in September-October of the year you graduate. This gives you from mid-May to your starting date to knock out a couple of exams. I only finished one before my start date. I dicked around way too much though.

    Studying for the exam while you are working sucks.. but the reward is worth it! I would recommend over-studying for your first exam. You want to pass that first exam so you feel confident and excited to knock out the rest. If you fail, don't get down on yourself - get back up and study, study, study. Also, I took BEC first (generally regarded as the easiest). Don't make excuses and don't procrastinate. If you work for a larger firm, they will provide you with Becker study materials. You can also access some tough questions at cpareviewforfree.com if you're curious as to what the exam will be like.

    You sound pretty green at this point. B4 usually have leadership programs for students during the summer following your sophomore year. I recommend participating in this program - it gets you exposure to different service lines and facetime with recruiters and firm members. Takeaway: get involved as early as you can.

    CPA/investor/bballer

  • In reply to Bobby Hurley
    Mps721's picture

    Drewbles:
    In an ideal world, you will intern with the firm during the summer following your junior year of college.. During your internship, you will work hard and earn an offer to start in the fall after you graduate. You'll start your career as an associate in September-October of the year you graduate. This gives you from mid-May to your starting date to knock out a couple of exams. I only finished one before my start date. I dicked around way too much though.

    Studying for the exam while you are working sucks.. but the reward is worth it! I would recommend over-studying for your first exam. You want to pass that first exam so you feel confident and excited to knock out the rest. If you fail, don't get down on yourself - get back up and study, study, study. Also, I took BEC first (generally regarded as the easiest). Don't make excuses and don't procrastinate. If you work for a larger firm, they will provide you with Becker study materials. You can also access some tough questions at cpareviewforfree.com if you're curious as to what the exam will be like.

    You sound pretty green at this point. B4 usually have leadership programs for students during the summer following your sophomore year. I recommend participating in this program - it gets you exposure to different service lines and facetime with recruiters and firm members. Takeaway: get involved as early as you can.

    So essentially senior year make studying for the CPA exam just as much as college? Thats what I sort of planned on doing. I even thought about graduating in December so that I would have about 6-8 months to study full time. Is that a good idea?

    Mps721

  • In reply to Mps721
    packmate's picture

    Mps721:
    Drewbles:
    In an ideal world, you will intern with the firm during the summer following your junior year of college.. During your internship, you will work hard and earn an offer to start in the fall after you graduate. You'll start your career as an associate in September-October of the year you graduate. This gives you from mid-May to your starting date to knock out a couple of exams. I only finished one before my start date. I dicked around way too much though.

    Studying for the exam while you are working sucks.. but the reward is worth it! I would recommend over-studying for your first exam. You want to pass that first exam so you feel confident and excited to knock out the rest. If you fail, don't get down on yourself - get back up and study, study, study. Also, I took BEC first (generally regarded as the easiest). Don't make excuses and don't procrastinate. If you work for a larger firm, they will provide you with Becker study materials. You can also access some tough questions at cpareviewforfree.com if you're curious as to what the exam will be like.

    You sound pretty green at this point. B4 usually have leadership programs for students during the summer following your sophomore year. I recommend participating in this program - it gets you exposure to different service lines and facetime with recruiters and firm members. Takeaway: get involved as early as you can.

    So essentially senior year make studying for the CPA exam just as much as college? Thats what I sort of planned on doing. I even thought about graduating in December so that I would have about 6-8 months to study full time. Is that a good idea?


    I know someone who graduated a semester early and passed his CPA exam in 4-6 months

  • In reply to Asmith14
    Art.Vandelay's picture

    Asmith14:
    Art.Vandelay:
    Asmith14:

    IIt's certainly not a profession (long term) for those who want to put their kids through Exeter and Harvard.

    I hope this doesnt seem like I'm singling you out, Asmith14, I'm just using your words to show what many people think, but this is exactly what I was trying to say in my earlier post. A lot of people on this website associate being well-off financially as having a vacation home, a new benz every two years, and paying for your kids to go to private school and Harvard. By that standard, yes CPAs don't make shit. But that kinda lifestyle is top 2.5% of the country type of living. I don't know if the students in the IB section realize that or not, maybe not because a lot of them (I'm generalizing terribly, as I know this isnt the case with MANY of them) lived this way growing up. That's big time money that only a handful of people actually see, yet there are a ton of others who are successful, work hard, and top out at $200k a year, which is a lot of money, as hard as that is for some people on this site to see.

    Alright, so here's how I break down your argument:

    1. You agreed that working as a CPA would not bring the kind of income necessary to put your kids through Exeter and Harvard.
    2. You pointed out that 2.5% of the country can afford to put their kids through Exeter and Harvard.
    3. "Big time money" is only seen by a handful of people.
    4. Those who do not make over $200k per year still work hard and are successful.

    I'm not going to address the merit of statements 2-4, because they don't even apply to what I said. You conceded the point I made in your first claim; given that, what is your problem? I didn't disparage those who can't put their kids through Exeter and Harvard (my parents couldn't). You can't disagree with what I literally and actually said, because I'm right. Someone who goes into accounting long term probably won't make that kind of money.

    If you took it the wrong way and thought I was speaking down to accounting professionals, I apologize. Maybe that's a reflection of your personal insecurity over your chosen industry, or you just feel obligated to champion those who make less than 200k, in which case that would be quite arrogant and hypocritical for you to think that just because they don't make $1m+ per year, they need someone to defend their work integrity and successfulness.

    Or, perhaps you just need to clarify your point.

    I think the last statement is where we're at here, because I didn't mean for you to feel the need to go off on me. This is why I hesitated to quote you, because I didn't want you to think I was calling you out, upset at your comment, or anything of the like. Although to be fair, I did state before I even started that I wasn't trying to single you out. I was just using your words of a good example of what people view as the only way to view financial success.

    To clarify, I think a lot of people (again, not necessarily you or any one individual in particular, just observations being a member here for a while) think that $400k a year, vacation homes, new cars every year, kids in private schools, etc, are things that are common among successful people, when in fact even among successful people this is rare. Its just that some people get skewed views of it either from this site or from how they grew up or maybe from a rich cousin they knew.

    Ultimately what I meant was, when people say "Big 4 will rarely lead to $500k a year" (a statement I 110% agree with), some people think "Oh well, I'm just gonna be stuck being middle class now because my kids won't be in private school." I'm just trying to get the point across that a CPA who did time with a Big 4 will lead a lifestyle that is still in the top 10% of earners in this country with a CHANCE if they work hard and get lucky to earn a lot more than just that. You can call it my insecurity about the profession I chose if you'd like, but its not that. I'm just trying to make others who may not know this understand that, while cruising this site it may seem like everyone and their mother is doing IB and doubling your salary, in reality it is a tiny, tiny percentage of people that are actually able to break into that path and make $500k a year, which I don't think anyone would disagree with.

    I hope my intentions of my original post are clearer now, and sorry for the misunderstanding.

  • In reply to 808
    Art.Vandelay's picture

    808:
    There are three common paths that ambitious CPAs typically try to take:

    1) Big 4 audit staff/senior/manager (50-70k starting) for 3-7 years -> F1000 Corporate Finance Senior/Mgr (65-110k starting) for 3+ years -> F1000 Finance Director/VP/Executive (100k-400k+).

    2) Big 4 or Regional Public audit staff/senior/manager (50-70k starting) for 4-7 years -> Small/Mid-cap Finance Director/VP (65-110k starting) for 3+ years -> Small/Mid-cap Finance Director/VP/Executive (80k-400k+).

    3) Big 4 audit staff/senior/manager (50-70k starting) for 3-7 years -> F1000 Corporate Finance Senior/Mgr (65-110k starting) for 1+ years -> Corporate Ops (65-120k starting) -> Ops Director/VP/Executive (100k - 400k+).

    4) Big 4 or Regional Public audit staff/senior (50-70k starting) for 5-6 years -> Manager (70-90k starting) for 3 years -> Senior Manager (100k - 150k starting) -> Partner/Director (Big 4 is 250-350k starting - senior partners can make several million).

    Keep in mind that many, many people will get stuck somewhere in middle management making 70-100k. The mindset of the vast majority of public accountants is to stick it out in public accounting as long as you can bear it, then score a cushy middle management job in industry with an upper middle class lifestyle and maybe move up towards upper management (Director/VP) towards the end of your career. Most people value "work/life balance" more than a high salary, and don't have anything close to the drive and hustle of the average IB/consulting ->HF/PE person. Some will do something completely unrelated - anywhere from humanitarian aid to private equity/entrepreneur. To make it to the top in any of the paths I listed, you are going to have to go above and beyond - be a top performer in public accounting, stay late every day once you move to industry, etc. That being said, I will echo Mr. Vandelay in saying that the average CPA is in the top 0.5% of earners worldwide, and top 10% in the U.S. In business, if you can't make it into high finance or you're not willing to make the personal sacrifices necessary, being a CPA is the most well-worn path to the top.

    Great post by 808 as usual.

  • In reply to packmate
    Mps721's picture

    packmate:
    Mps721:
    Drewbles:
    In an ideal world, you will intern with the firm during the summer following your junior year of college.. During your internship, you will work hard and earn an offer to start in the fall after you graduate. You'll start your career as an associate in September-October of the year you graduate. This gives you from mid-May to your starting date to knock out a couple of exams. I only finished one before my start date. I dicked around way too much though.

    Studying for the exam while you are working sucks.. but the reward is worth it! I would recommend over-studying for your first exam. You want to pass that first exam so you feel confident and excited to knock out the rest. If you fail, don't get down on yourself - get back up and study, study, study. Also, I took BEC first (generally regarded as the easiest). Don't make excuses and don't procrastinate. If you work for a larger firm, they will provide you with Becker study materials. You can also access some tough questions at cpareviewforfree.com if you're curious as to what the exam will be like.

    You sound pretty green at this point. B4 usually have leadership programs for students during the summer following your sophomore year. I recommend participating in this program - it gets you exposure to different service lines and facetime with recruiters and firm members. Takeaway: get involved as early as you can.

    So essentially senior year make studying for the CPA exam just as much as college? Thats what I sort of planned on doing. I even thought about graduating in December so that I would have about 6-8 months to study full time. Is that a good idea?


    I know someone who graduated a semester early and passed his CPA exam in 4-6 months

    What do you mean by " I seem green"?

    Mps721

  • AsianMonky's picture

    Before I learned about IB, I planned on doing Big 4 until I make Manager and jump to F500 as Accounting manager. However, now that I've learned so much about the interesting finance careers, dominating in stock market exchange, reading the WSJ, I don't think I can stomach going on that path. It will probably provide the most security and I will probably never be unemployed and make north of 100K, but life is about the experience. If I don't get into IBD after college I'll definitely go into F500 or something more interesting and hopefully get into a top MBA for the experience of meeting incredible and passionate people, gaining a valuable network, and having more interesting job options opened up for me.

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