Accounting Schools in California
This overview of accounting schools in California will equip you with information on the top schools for accounting study in the state, as well as school profiles, career outlooks, and more. California has numerous colleges and universities serving accounting students from the undergraduate to the graduate levels, through which students can access a high-quality education in general and specialist accounting skills. Other students might find that an online degree in accounting, like the MS in Accounting from Our Lady of the Lake University, offers educational opportunities better matched to personal needs.
- There are 195 colleges and universities with accounting degree programs in California.
- 19 schools offer a master’s or advanced degree in accounting.
- Highest graduation rate*: Claremont McKenna College 91%1
- Highest transfer-out rate*: Pacific States University 33%1
- Highest net price per year*: Santa Clara University $33,8901
- Lowest net price per year*: California State University-Los Angeles $3,2301
- Annual undergraduate tuition range for accounting programs in California*: $10,620-$40,2342
- 12 Schools in the Kiplinger’s Best Values in Public Colleges in 2013: University of California-Los Angeles (6), University of California-Berkeley (8), University of California-San Diego (14), University of California-Santa Barbara (14), University of California-Irvine (16), University of California-Davis (23), California Polytechnic State University-San Luis Obispo (40), University of California-Santa Cruz (54), San Diego State University (77), California State University-Long Beach (82), California State Polytechnic University-Pomona (89), University of California-Riverside (92)
- Six schools in the Businessweek’s Top Business Undergraduate Programs in 2013: University of California, Berkeley (11), University of Southern California (31), Santa Clara University (38), University of San Diego (46), California Polytechnic State University (64), Loyola Marymount University (65)
- 12 Schools ranked in US News National Universities Rankings in 2013 (top 100): Stanford University (6), California Institute of Technology (10), University of California-Berkeley (21), University of California-Los Angeles (24), University of Southern California (24), University of California-Davis (38), University of California-San Diego (38), University of California-Santa Barbara (41), University of California-Irvine (44), Pepperdine University (54), University of California-Santa Cruz (77), University of San Diego (92)
*For 4-year colleges and universities with accounting degree programs.
Keep reading this page to find out more about what accounting schools in California have to offer and how accounting graduates can continue on to rewarding careers.
Schools with Highest 2013 First-Time CPA Exam Pass Rate with an Advanced Degree
- University of California, Los Angeles 82.4%
- Santa Clara University
- Loyola Marymount University
- University of California, Berkeley
- University of California, Davis
- San Diego State University
- California State University, Fresno
The pass rate for schools in California ranged from 0% to 82.4% for first-time candidates with an advanced degree (there were 32 schools in California that had candidates). The CPA exam pass rate can be a good indicator of the quality of preparation of a CPA degree program, although the percentage can be misleading if there were a small number of candidates at a school. For all candidates in the United States, the first-time pass rate was 54.6% in 2013 according to Nasba.org. You can find more information and specific statistics on the 2014 NASBA Uniform CPA Examination Candidate Performance report.
Top Masters in Accounting Programs in California
San Diego State University
San Diego State University offers a Master of Science in Accountancy (MSA) as one of over 70 graduate programs of study. Three specializations within the degree are offered: Accounting Information Systems, Financial Reporting, or Taxation. Other specializations are possible through different combinations of electives. All students benefit from the practical and professional emphases of the curriculum, which also focuses on developing leadership skills and ethics. Select core business classes may be waived for students with an undergraduate degree in accounting, which creates an opportunity for further degree customization through electives. Graduates of the San Diego State MSA program are prepared to sit for the California CPA exam, and students may also customize their education plan to qualify for other certification exams such as those for Certified Management Accountants and Certified Internal Auditors. San Diego State has been awarding graduate degrees for over sixty years and is a competitive national doctoral research university. US News ranks San Diego State #149 among National Universities.
Stanford University in Stanford offers two graduate programs that can be customized to the needs of professional accountants, the Master of Business Administration and the Master of Science in Management. These full-time programs can be completed in one to two years and focus on leadership, innovation, and management in practice and in theory. The highly personalized curriculums in the Stanford Graduate School of Business allow students to take graduate-level courses from other graduate schools within the Stanford institution for further learning or dual graduate degree programs. Stanford University is ranked #6 by US News among the best graduate accounting schools in the nation and the #1 Best Business School overall. Stanford places a heavy focus on leadership and technology, even filming students as they grapple with real world simulations for later critiques. The average base salary of graduates is $133,406 and 71.7% of students are employed at graduation.
University of Southern California
University of Southern California in Los Angeles administers a Master of Accounting (MAcc) program through its Marshall School of Business and Leventhal School of Accounting. The average class size for MAcc program courses is 35 students. The curriculum is designed to help students develop technical and conceptual problem-solving and research skills as well as ethical and professional standards in a global context. Program courses include Professional Responsibilities in Accounting, Fair Value Accounting, Methods and Motivations of Financial Reporting Fraud, and Global Accounting Experience. In addition to the MAcc program, the University of Southern California Marshall School of Business offers a Master of Business Taxation program tailored to the needs of working professionals. The university has an active and close-knit student body that gathers for weekly programs based on area of study and progress in their degrees. University of Southern California (Marshall) is ranked #9 out of all US graduate accounting programs by US News.
Top Accounting Firms for Graduates in California
Holthouse Carlin Van Trigt LLP (HCVT) is the largest CPA firm in Southern California, and is regularly ranked within the Top 100 CPA firms by Public Accounting Report. Serving individuals and business in virtually every sector of the economy, HCVT has multiple metro locations within California where recent graduates may start work. Vavrinek, Trine, Day & Company, LLP (VTD) has offices across California from Sacramento to Laguna Hills, and is ranked among the top five CPA firms in California. VTD encourages students to learn more about working for their firm at one of their many campus visits and recruiting events. Gallina LLP, formerly known as Burnett + Company LLP, is also a regional employer of recent graduates, serving the construction, real estate, manufacturing, wholesale, and professional industries.
How to Become a CPA in California
The California Board of Accountancy oversees the licensing of Certified Public Accountants in the state. There are five main steps to complete in order to earn a CPA license in California.
- Complete 150 semester hours of college-level education in accounting.
- Accumulate the required hours of experience.
- Pass the Uniform CPA Examination.
- Apply for a license.
- Complete the California CPA Education Foundation ethics exam.
1. Complete 150 semester hours of college-level education in accounting.
To be eligible for a California CPA license, candidates must have at least a bachelor’s degree and have completed a total of 150 semester hours of college or university education. This must include 24 semester hours of accounting. Qualifying study areas include:
- External or internal reporting
- Financial reporting
- Financial statement analysis
Students must also complete 24 semester hours of business coursework in topics such as:
- Business administration
- Business law
- Computer science/information systems
- Business communications
- Business management
Candidates must also complete a second core of 20 semester hours of accounting related subjects. This requirement can be met by earning a Master of Accounting or Taxation or by taking a minimum of six semester units in accounting; up to 14 semester units in business-related subjects; and nine semester units in supportive courses such as communications and foreign languages that include cultural study. Candidates must also have completed 10 semester hours of ethics.
2. Accumulate the required hours of experience.
Applicants must complete at least 12 months or 2,040 hours of experience in general accounting, to include 500 hours of attest experience, to be eligible to apply for a California CPA license. Experience in public, private, or government work qualifies if completed under the supervision of an individual licensed or otherwise authorized to engage in public accounting practice. Experience in academia will not be counted towards the experience requirement.
3. Pass the Uniform CPA Examination.
The standardized, four-part Uniform CPA Exam is a prerequisite to CPA licensure in all 50 states. Applicants are required to pass the Uniform CPA Exam before applying for a CPA license in California. All four sections of the exam must be passed within 18 months for the exam to be considered successfully completed.
4. Apply for a license.
Applicants must provide their US social security number and evidence of completing the required education and experience hours with the application for a CPA license. Additionally, a fingerprint-based background check must be completed and passed for a license to be issued. You can find additional information and required forms at the California Board of Accountancy website.
5. Complete the California CPA Education Foundation ethics exam.
Prospective California licensees must pass the California CPA Education Foundation ethics exam prior to a license being granted. This exam is currently the only ethics exam recognized and accepted by the California Board of Accountancy. The exam can be ordered through the CalCPA Education Foundation. Candidates must pass the exam within two years of the application for a CPA license.
After a license is issued, CPAs must complete 20 hours of continuing education for each six months that the license remains in effect. Additional information about continuing education and California CPA license requirements can be found on the California Board of Accountancy website.
(Source: California Board of Accountancy)
California Accountant Salary and Job Outlook
Projected Job Growth
Accountants and Auditors in California from 2014-20243
California is one of the top states for accountants to find work as throughout the state, 144,540 accountants are currently employed, more than any other state in the US. This does not mean that there is less demand for accountants here, however, since accountants in California also command salaries at the top of the US Bureau of Labor Statistics’ range, between $80,860 and $86,030 per year, most of whom are employed in the greater San Francisco and Los Angeles metro areas. In fact, the Los-Angeles-Long Beach-Glendale metro area employs more accountants per thousand jobs than any other area in the nation except New York, making this a great place for entering accountants to start a career.
California Accounting Program Student Reviews
California State Polytechnic University, Pomona: “Cal Poly Pomona has a very good accounting program that while difficult, I have enjoyed so far. I especially liked the forensic accounting course; it is one of the main reasons why I have decided to pursue auditing. I feel that the professors are very good, although a lot of them have trouble communicating their knowledge effectively to the students. The accounting clubs on campus regularly work together to bring a variety of guest speakers from many different areas of accounting so that we are exposed to all of the choices that we have available to us in the accounting field. I feel that while it is a good program, the staff could have developed better ways to make us feel like we were really doing real world accounting instead of just textbook problems. I would have also liked for them to give us more options on the teachers available to take classes with, some of the teachers were not very good at communicating and it made an already difficult class even more difficult.” -Evelyn L., student at Cal Poly Pomona
California State University Northridge “The California State University-Northridge accounting program is the one of the best of Southern California. The professors are helpful and provide hands-on assistance in preparing their students for real life work. Moreover, the professors orchestrated clubs that held mock-interviews for practice and real interviews with Big 4 firms. With a community of peers that are supportive and helpful with school work, the possibility of academic excellence is a reality. Lastly, the ambiance of the school provides a comfortable environment for me to take leisurely walks or focus on my studies. No other school gives the hands on experience that CSUN provided me.” -Student at California State University Northridge
California State University, Sacramento: “The California State University, Sacramento accounting program was an all right experience. There are both positive and negative aspects. The core curriculum was definitely informative but I feel like the teachers don’t really care whether or not you get any information. When I would apply myself I would receive the same grades as when I would find short cuts. The campus is incredibly beautiful and has a lot of amenities for students. We had an enormous lab where you could go almost 24/7 to study. We also had the library, the union, the riverfront center (other dining options), a dining commons, the gym, and tons of activities going on on-campus to get the students to be more involved. It is an excellent school, I just feel like the teachers have given up on their students.” -Student at California State University, Sacramento
Humboldt State University: “I would have to say that my experience at Humboldt State learning accounting was excellent. The class sizes are smaller than at major universities so I was able to get more attention if I had any questions in class. The teachers were able to get me engaged in my learning instead of just staring at a Powerpoint or other presentation during lecture. It is nice that they actually teach the courses unlike bigger schools where some professors use recent graduates or TA’s to teach the class while they do research.” -Jacob Z., student at Humboldt State University.
San Francisco State University: “The best part about the accounting major at SFSU is that they prepare you very well for the CPA exam. The entire major is built to focus on the specific parts of the exam. In addition, it prepares the student for professional accounting work with various classes such as federal/state taxation, auditing, and accounting software. I have had nothing but good experiences with the faculty in the accounting department who taught the classes. Many of them are CPA-certified and give much insight into tips on the types of questions that appear. The department also offered many opportunities to embark on internships to obtain experience to further market ourselves once we graduated. Doing the actual work was very pleasant despite the many challenges I faced because there were many tutors that were available to assist students. In addition, the facilities such as the study rooms and business computing labs were excellent as they allowed me to do assignments efficiently with the business software installed.” -Student at San Francisco State University
University of California, Irvine: “The accounting program at University of California, Irvine was good. The teachers used to work at Big 4 Public accounting firms and most of the teachers were past partners of the firm. It is great that you learn from the people who have experience in the field of accounting. The teachers taught us the accounting lessons that they use everyday in public accounting and they do not teach us the materials that they never touch in the real world. I would say that the teachers could be better. The teachers need to improve their curriculum and to not allow students to have cheat sheets on the exams. By having cheat sheets, it discourages students from studying and learning the material. I would get an A because of the cheat sheet, but five weeks after I learned the material, I didn’t remember any of the accounting rules.” -Gail L., student at University of California, Irvine
University of California, Los Angeles: “The accounting program at the University of California, Los Angeles is only a minor program. However, their business economics program is essentially economics and accounting put together. The accounting minor went very well with this major, since a lot of the requisites were very similar. As a result, I was able to take all these courses and some additional fun courses. This accounting program was phenomenal. They constantly had job fairs coming through campus to recruit interns for huge accounting firms such as those in the Big 4. This program also helped me learn things that supplemented the accounting profession, such as how business actually works and really helped me gain a deeper understanding of accounting. Overall, this was a fantastic program to go into, and the opportunities provided by the school and program are by far the best.” -Calvin H., student at University of California, Los Angeles
University of California, Santa Barbara: “I believe that UCSB’s accounting program is one of the top accounting programs in the nation. While I did not know or believe this going in, I have come to realize this through my three years in college. While the curriculum was somewhat challenging, I believe I have learned a lot during my college experience not only in general knowledge of accounting practices but also about the career itself. All the professors have extensive history working with large public accounting corporations and in private practice leading them to have a wealth of information and advice for students. Furthermore, the career center was indispensable when it came to helping students plan out the courses required to sit for the CPA exam. Overall, I would highly recommend the program to anyone considering a career in accounting.” -Eric T., student at University of California, Santa Barbara
University of Phoenix: “The accounting courses through the University of Phoenix were a very enlightening experience. I learned many things throughout the courses about the accounting processes as well as ethics. The courses were challenging but very rewarding. There were many different things that were incorporated into the courses that helped prepare me for an accounting career, such as the team assignments. Also, many assignments had to be completed like presentations (something that would have to be done in an accountant’s career at some point). Each of the instructors that I had were very informative and helpful. The academic and financial advisors were also very helpful and responded quickly to any questions or requests. I would definitely recommend the accounting courses through University of Phoenix to a friend or family member.” -Student at University of Phoenix
1. National Center for Education Statistics: https://nces.ed.gov/collegenavigator/
2. Niche College Search: https://www.niche.com/colleges/?degree=4-year&state=CA&major=finance-accounting&sort=best
3. State of California: http://www.labormarketinfo.edd.ca.gov/data/occupations-data.html