Accounting Schools in California
This overview of graduate-level accounting schools in California will equip you with information on the top schools for accounting study in the state, as well as school profiles, top programs, 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. Several hybrid and online degrees in accounting are offered for students who need more flexibility. 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.
- There are 166 colleges and universities with accounting degree programs in California.1
- 33 schools offer a master’s or advanced degree in accounting.1
- 6 schools were ranked in Forbes’ Best Business Schools 2019.2
- 1 school was ranked in the Princeton Review’s Great Schools for Accounting Majors.3
- 1 school was ranked in the Public Accounting Report’s 2019 Top 50 Master’s Accounting Programs.4
- 5 schools were ranked in US News & World Report’s Best MBA Accounting Programs 2021.5
- 14 schools had a 2018 CPA exam pass rate at or above the national average of 51.9%.6
- 24 universities and business schools are accredited by the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB) International.7
- 4 schools are accredited by the Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs (ACBSP).8
- 2 schools are accredited by the International Accreditation Council for Business Education (IACBE).9
For not-for-profit colleges and universities with accounting degree programs.
Table of Contents
- Steps to Become a CPA in California
- California CPA Salary and Job Outlook
- Top Master’s in Accounting Programs in California
- California Master’s in Accounting Program Comparison
- Select Schools in California with Master’s in Accounting Programs
- Additional Resources
- Frequently Asked Questions
- Student Reviews
Steps to Become a CPA in California
The California Board of Accountancy (CBA) oversees the licensing of Certified Public Accountants (CPAs) in the state. There are six main steps to complete in order to meet the California CPA requirements and to earn a CPA license in California.
- Complete 150 semester hours of college-level education in accounting.
- Accumulate the required hours of experience.
- Apply for and pass the Uniform CPA Examination.
- Apply for a license.
- Complete the California CPA Education Foundation ethics exam.
- Receive a CPA license from the Board.
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 hours in accounting; up to 14 semester hours in business-related subjects; and nine semester hours 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, including 500 hours of attest experience. 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 must meet strict standards set by the Board in order to qualify for the experience hour requirement.
3. Apply for and pass the Uniform CPA Examination.
The standardized, four-part Uniform CPA Exam is developed by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) and administered by the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy (NASBA). The Uniform CPA Exam is a prerequisite to CPA licensure in all 50 states, including California. Once you have completed the required 24 units each in accounting and business subjects, you may apply to take the exam on the CBA’s website. All four sections of the exam must be passed with a score of 75 or higher 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, along with an application fee. 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 on the CBA’s website.
5. Complete the California CPA Education Foundation ethics exam.
Prospective California licensees must pass the California CPA Education Foundation Ethics Examination (PETH). This exam is currently the only ethics exam recognized and accepted by the California Board of Accountancy. The PETH exam can be ordered through the CalCPA Education Foundation. Candidates must pass the exam within two years of the application for a CPA license.
6. Receive a CPA license from the Board.
After their test scores have been reviewed and their application accepted, applicants must pay an initial CPA license fee (in addition to the application fee) and submit public contact information to the CBA. Approved applicants will receive their CPA wall certificate and a congratulatory letter from the CBA. Only after a CPA license number has been issued from the CBA can applicants begin practicing public accountancy.
CPA License Renewal and Continuing Education Information
After a license is issued, CPAs must complete 20 hours of continuing education (CE) for every six months that the license remains in effect (totaling 80 hours per each two-year license renewal period). The 80 CE hours must include the following:
- 40 hours minimum in technical subject areas
- 24 hours in government auditing or accounting auditing (A&A)
- Four hours hours in ethics education
- Four hours in fraud prevention and reporting
About 90 days before the license expiration date, applicants will receive a license renewal application in the mail. Along with the renewal application and fee, they must complete a Continuing Education (CE) Reporting Worksheet which documents the completion of the CE hours required. Additional information about continuing education and California CPA license requirements can be found on the California Board of Accountancy website.
California CPA Salary and Job Outlook
California is one of the top states for accountants to find work, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).10 Across the state, 148,500 accountants and auditors are currently employed, more than in any other state in the US.10 This does not mean that demand is lower for accountants here, however, since accountants in California also command average salaries at the top of the range, at $83,910 per year as of 2019.10 The Los-Angeles-Long Beach-Glendale metro area employs more accountants per thousand jobs than any other metro area in the nation except New York City, suggesting that this might be a good place for entering accountants to start a career.11 The job outlook for accountants, including CPAs, is also bright, with a 7.7% increase in jobs expected between the years of 2018 and 2028, faster than the national average of 6.4%.12
California CPA Salary by Metro Area
|Metro Area||Number Employed11||Average Annual Salary11|
|Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim||60,610||$81,310|
|San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara||13,820||$90,750|
Top-Ranked Schools with Master’s in Accounting Programs in California
Forbes’ Best Business Schools* 2019
- Stanford University (#2)
- University of California-Berkeley (#11)
- University of California-Los Angeles (#16)
- University of Southern California (#21)
- University of California-Irvine (#43)
- University of California-Davis (#56)
*With master’s in accounting programs.
Princeton Review’s Great Schools for Accounting Majors* 2020
- University of Southern California
*With master’s in accounting programs.
Public Accounting Report’s Top 50 Master’s Accounting Programs 2019
- University of Southern California (#5)
US News & World Report’s Best MBA Accounting Programs 2021
- Stanford University (#8 tie)
- University of Southern California (#8 tie)
- University of California-Berkeley (#17 tie)
- Loyola Marymount University (#25 tie)
- University of California-Los Angeles (#40 tie)
California Master’s in Accounting Program Comparison
Below we have compiled a table including information about all not-for-profit California colleges and universities offering a master’s degree in accounting. The graduation rate is for first-time undergraduates seeking a bachelor’s degree, but since it is widely considered to be an indicator of a school’s overall success, we have included it for comparison. Also please note that tuition per credit is based on in-state, on-campus tuition; per-credit rates may vary for out-of-state and online students.
|School Name||Accreditation||CPA Exam Pass Rate6||Master’s in Accounting Degree(s)||Acceptance Rate13||Grad Rate1||Online Options?||Tuition per Credit|
|Azusa Pacific University||IACBE||N.Av.||Master of Professional Accountancy (MAcc);|
|Biola University||ACBSP||62.5%||Master of Professional Accountancy (MPAcc)||N.Av.||73%||—||$725|
|California Baptist University||ACBSP||N.Av.||MS-Accounting (MSA);|
|California Polytechnic State University-San Luis Obispo||AACSB||67.6%||MS-Accounting (MSA)||N.Av.||82%||—||$572|
|California State Polytechnic University-Pomona||AACSB||50.0%||MS-Accountancy (MSA);|
|California State University-East Bay||AACSB||66.7%||MS-Accountancy (MSA);|
|California State University-Fullerton||AACSB||57.7%||MS-Accountancy (MSA);|
|California State University-Long Beach||AACSB||72.7%||MS-Accountancy (MSA)||N.Av.||69%||—||$1,230|
|California State University-Los Angeles||AACSB||44.0%||MS-Accountancy (MSA);|
|California State University-Northridge||AACSB||54.1%||Master of Professional Accountancy (MPAcc);|
|California State University-Sacramento||AACSB||68.2%||MS-Accountancy (MSA)||N.Av.||51%||Yes||$630|
|California State University-San Bernardino||AACSB||26.7%||MS-Accountancy (MSA);|
|Chapman University||AACSB||27.3%||MS-Accounting (MSA);||N.Av.||79%||—||$1,520|
|Golden Gate University-San Francisco||—||46.7%||MS-Accounting (MSA);|
MS-Accounting Data & Analytics (MSADA);
|La Sierra University||—||N.Av.||MS-Accountancy (MSA)||N.Av.||45%||—||$777|
|Loyola Marymount University||AACSB||N.Av.||MS-Accounting (MSA)||N.Av.||84%||—||$1,100|
|National University||IACBE||41.9%||Master of Accountancy (MAcc);|
|Pacific States University||—||25.0%||MBA-Accounting||N.Av.||14%||—||$380|
|Saint Mary’s College of California||AACSB||40.5%||MS-Accounting (MSA)||N.Av.||77%||Yes||$1,326|
|San Diego State University||AACSB||62.2%||MS-Accountancy (MSA);|
|San Francisco State University||AACSB||50.0%||MS-Accounting (MSA);|
|San Jose State University||AACSB||51.9%||MS-Accounting (MSA);|
|Touro University Worldwide||—||N.Av.||MBA-Accounting||N.Av.||50%||Yes||$500|
|University of California-Berkeley||AACSB||N.Av.||MBA-Accounting||17.7%||91%||—||$1,735|
|University of California-Davis||AACSB||71.6%||Master of Professional Accountancy (MPAc);|
|University of California-Irvine||AACSB||52.4%||Master of Professional Accountancy (MPAc)||N.Av.||83%||—||$1,303|
|University of California-Los Angeles||AACSB||64.3%||MBA-Accounting||30.5%||91%||—||$1,607|
|University of California-Riverside||AACSB||32.3%||Master of Professional Accountancy (MPac);|
|University of La Verne||—||N.Av.||MS-Accounting (MSA);|
|University of San Diego||AACSB||70.6%||Master of Accountancy (MACC)/Master of Taxation (MTAX)||N.Av.||80%||—||$1,565|
|University of Southern California||AACSB||69.7%||Master of Accounting (MAcc);|
- — indicates none.
- N.Av. indicates no data available.
Select Schools in California with Master’s in Accounting Programs
San Diego State University (SDSU) 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 CPA exam in California, 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. Graduates have joined prestigious companies such as KPMG, PwC, Deloitte, and EY. San Diego State has been awarding graduate degrees for over sixty years and is a competitive national doctoral research university. US News & World Report consistently ranks San Diego State among top national universities.
Stanford University offers two graduate programs that can be customized to the needs of professional accountants, the Master of Business Administration (MBA) and the Master of Science in Management (MSx). 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 curricula 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 consistently ranked by US News & World Report among the best graduate accounting schools and the best business schools in the nation. Stanford places a heavy focus on leadership and technology, even filming students as they grapple with real-world simulations for later critiques. A PhD in Accounting focusing on analytical and empirical research is also offered at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business.
The University of Southern California (USC) 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 (MBT) program tailored to the needs of working professionals. University of Southern California (Marshall) is consistently ranked among the top graduate accounting programs by US News & World Report.
Online and Hybrid Programs
California Baptist University (CBU) offers a fully-online Master of Science in Accounting (MSA) that prepares graduates to meet the California education requirements to become a CPA. The graduate accounting program at CBU’s School of Business prepares students to advance their careers as innovative financial leaders in their organization. It is also suitable for students who wish to become accounting educators in higher education. Nine units of business courses are required including Organization Behavior and Leadership; Financial Management; and Quantitative Business Modeling. In total, 21 units of accounting coursework are required to round out the degree, including Contemporary Issues in Auditing and Assurance; Taxation for Business Entities; Advanced Topics in Managerial Accounting; and Ethics and Professional Responsibilities for CPAs. A total of 30 credit units are required to complete the program, and most students finish in 12 months of full-time study. A bachelor’s degree is required for admission, but no GMAT or GRE test scores are required.
California State University-Sacramento’s (Sacramento State) College of Business Administration offers an online Master of Science in Accountancy (MSA) that meets California’s 150-credit hour education requirement to become a CPA. Students are adequately prepared to take the Uniform CPA exam in the four primary areas. Courses at Sacramento State are offered using streaming video and instant messaging components for a 100% online program. With a year-round, accelerated, and asynchronous format, the 30 credit hours of coursework can be completed in as little as 18 months. Each class is six weeks long and meets once a week online. Sacramento State’s MSA is fully accredited by AACSB International. Admission is competitive with a minimum 2.5 GPA required, as well as a GRE or GMAT score within the top 30th percentile. Applicants who meet certain requirements may have the GMAT/GRE score requirement waived.
At the University of La Verne’s College of Business and Public Management, students can earn a Master of Business Administration for Experienced Professionals (MBAX) with a Concentration in Accounting entirely online or at one of several locations across California. Course content is the same whether taken on campus or online and the majority of faculty is the same for both options. The MBA for Experienced Professionals is designed specifically for people with at least three years of experience who are looking to move into leadership roles and advance their careers. Foundation coursework (up to 15 semester hours) includes Accounting Fundamentals; Quantitative and Statistical Analysis; and Business Marketing. Core courses (18 semester hours) include Managing Financial Resources, Designing Effective Organizations, and Management of Business Operations. Elective and concentration coursework makes up 12 semester hours, with the final three semester hours being a culminating Strategic Management course. Courses offered in the Accounting Concentration include Corporate Accounting and Reporting; Accounting for Specialized Accounting Entities; and Federal Taxation Concepts and Practices-Individual. The University of La Verne also offers a Master of Science (MS) in Accounting degree that can be completed on campus.
Top Accounting Firms for Graduates in California
- Holthouse Carlin Van Trigt LLP (HCVT): The largest CPA firm in Southern California and regularly ranked among the Top CPA firms by Public Accounting Report.
- EideBailly: Has multiple offices across California and is ranked among the top CPA firms in the state; the firm also regularly receives national recognition.
- Clifton Larson Allen (CLA): A regional employer of recent graduates, serving the construction, real estate, manufacturing, wholesale, and professional industries.
California Accounting Associations
- California Society of CPAs (CalCPA): Made up of 14 chapters, CalCPA seeks to promote the integrity of the profession of CPAs by advocating for issues that affect them, enhancing the visibility of the profession, and offering engagement opportunities to CPAs of all career levels.
- California Board of Accountancy: Sets the licensing standards for future and current California CPAs.
Frequently Asked Questions
How much does a CPA make in California?
According to the BLS, accountants and auditors in the state of California earn an average salary of $83,910 per year.11 California is the fifth highest-paying state for this BLS category.10
What is needed to become a CPA in California?
To become a California CPA, you will need at least 150 semester hours of education with coursework requirements in accounting and business. You will also need to accumulate one year of supervised experience and pass the Uniform CPA Examination as well as the California CPA Education Foundation Ethics Examination (PETH) before being eligible for your CPA license.
How long does it take to become an accountant in California?
To become a certified public accountant (CPA) in California, you first have to get a bachelor’s degree, which typically takes four years of full-time study. Since bachelor’s degrees comprise 120 credit hours, you will need to complete study beyond the bachelor’s degree to meet California’s 150-hour requirement, which could take around a year depending on the method you choose. In addition, you will need to complete one year of supervised experience, during which time you will likely study for and take the CPA exam. At a minimum, from the start of your postsecondary education, becoming a certified public accountant in the state will probably take around six years.
California State Polytechnic University, Pomona
3801 W Temple Ave
Pomona, CA 91768
Student review: “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
Matador Bookstore Complex
18111 Nordhoff St
Northridge, CA 91330
Student review: “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
6000 J St
Sacramento, CA 95819
Student Review: “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 shortcuts. 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
1 Harpst St
Arcata, CA 95521
Student Review: “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
1600 Holloway Ave
San Francisco, CA 94132
Student Review: “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
Irvine, CA 92697
Student Review: “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 every day 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
Los Angeles, CA 90095
Student Review: “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
Santa Barbara, CA 93106
Student Review: “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 an 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
1. National Center for Education Statistics College Navigator: https://nces.ed.gov/collegenavigator/
2. Forbes Best Business Schools 2019: https://www.forbes.com/business-schools/list/2/
3. The Princeton Review. The Best 385 Colleges, 2020 Edition. The Princeton Review, 2019.
4. Public Accounting Report 2019 Top 50 Master’s Accounting Programs: https://wpcarey.asu.edu/sites/default/files/par-grad-2019.pdf
5. US News & World Report Best MBA Accounting Programs 2021: https://www.usnews.com/best-graduate-schools/top-business-schools/accounting-rankings
6. National Association of State Boards of Accountancy. The NASBA Report on the CPA Exam: Candidate Performance on the Uniform CPA Examination, 2018 Edition. National Association of State Boards of Accountancy, Inc., 2019.
7. Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB) International: https://www.aacsb.edu/
8. Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs (ACBSP): https://acbsp.org/
9. International Accreditation Council for Business Education (IACBE): https://iacbe.org/
10. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment Statistics, May 2019 Occupational Employment and Wages, Accountants and Auditors: https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes132011.htm
11. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment Statistics, May 2019 State Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates, California: https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes_ca.htm
12. Projections Central, Long Term Occupational Projections: https://projectionscentral.com/projections/longterm
13. US News & World Report Best Business Schools 2021: https://www.usnews.com/best-graduate-schools/top-business-schools