How to Transition from CPA to Accounting Professor


After years of working as a CPA either in the public or private sector, you might eventually start wanting a change of pace and considering an alternative career path. Or, maybe you have an inner calling to teach others what you have learned working in the profession and want to help others become CPAs.  Becoming an accounting professor provides an amazing opportunity to do just that. And, as an accounting professor who already has the CPA credential, you’ll be able to demonstrate to accounting students what it’s like to walk the CPA path and set the correct expectations for their future careers. Leading by example is a great way to encourage students to become CPAs. 

The Shortage of Accounting Professors

CPAs can make up to $119,000 per year and CPAs with more than 20 years of experience average $152,000 per year. Coupled with the fact that accounting offers challenging and variable work with flexible schedules, accountants rarely want to give this up to teach in a classroom. For this and other reasons, universities have a difficult time attracting and keeping lecturers and professors in accounting. So, many schools have been forced to increase the sizes of existing classes because of the shortage of accounting professors. The need for more professors in the accounting field creates an excellent opportunity for those CPAs looking to transition into a career in academia.

Steps for Transitioning Into Teaching

The good news is that because accounting professors are in such high demand, many schools will easily work with future accounting professors to make the transition from working at a firm to teaching as a professor as easy as possible. Below are steps to consider when looking into becoming an accounting professor. 

1. Start Teaching Now

If you hold a master’s degree with your CPA, you can apply to existing teaching opportunities at both universities and colleges.  The benefit of teaching now is that you can keep your day job while putting in a few hours in academia to see if you like it or not. Generally, you might end up working as an adjunct member of a college accounting faculty. This is a great opportunity to work in your future field and to get teaching experience. 

2. Consider Tenured or Non-Tenured Track

If you decide you want to proceed with full-time employment in academia, you’ll need to consider which path you’ll take as a professor – tenured or non-tenured. Keep in mind that tenured professors typically make more money and have more job security than non-tenured professors. However, if you take the tenured professor route, you must pursue a Ph.D. 

3. Research Scholarship Opportunities

There are several programs at both state CPA societies and academic institutions to financially help CPAs transition into new careers as accounting professors. These programs can significantly reduce the cost and risk of the transition into academia. The American Institute of CPAs (AICPA) offers several scholarships to assist CPAs in pursuing their Ph.D. in accounting. A list of available scholarships from the AICPA can be found on their scholarship Webpage

4.  Choose a Doctoral Program That Aligns with Your Goals

It’s important to look for a graduate program that is willing to help you easily get started towards working on your Ph.D. in accounting. Also, look specifically for schools that align with both your academic and overall career goals before submitting application materials. You want to ensure that your journey to becoming a professor is at an institution that will be supportive of you throughout the entire process. 

Finally, if you’re a current accounting professor who is considering working towards your CPA credential, keep in mind the value the credential will have not only for you but your future students as well. When students in a classroom setting can visualize how a job is conducted in the real world and how to challenge and find resolutions in the business world from their professor, it makes the field both more relevant and relatable. 

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