CMA vs. CPA: Which Path is Right for You?

If you’re interested in the field of accounting or finance, you’ve probably heard of Certified Management Accountants (CMAs) or Certified Public Accountants (CPAs). They’re both essential accounting professionals, separated by their scope of work and, of course, the exams needed to earn the title of CMA or CPA. 

Both the CMA Exam and the CPA Exam can lead to a successful career in accounting or finance, but choosing between becoming a CMA or a CPA can be challenging. Both offer their own unique benefits, so it’s important to understand the differences before making a decision. 

In this post, we will discuss the key differences between CMAs and CPAs so that you can make an informed choice about which path is right for you! 

What is a Certified Management Accountant?

A Certified Management Accountant (CMA) is a professional designation granted by the Institute of Management Accountants (IMA). To earn this designation, individuals must pass the CMA Exam. Certified Management Accountants are most often associated with corporate financial planning, analysis, and control.  

What is a Certified Public Accountant? 

A Certified Public Accountant (CPA) is a professional designation granted by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA). To earn this designation, accounting professionals must pass the CPA Exam. Certified Public Accountants are responsible for auditing financial statements, preparing tax returns, and providing consulting services to individuals and businesses. 

CMA vs. CPA: What’s the Difference?  

Both CMAs and CPAs are accounting professionals, but there are some key differences between the two. CMAs are more frequently involved in financial planning, budgeting, forecasting, and performance measurement, while CPAs are typically experts in auditing, taxation, and consulting.  

Passing either exam can be a useful tool in building a career in the world of accounting and finance, but they do have a couple integral differences. Mainly: scope of work and requirements. 

CMA vs. CPA: Requirements 

The CMA Exam and CPA Exam have different requirements from one another, most notably education and time commitment.   


To become a CMA, you will need a bachelor’s degree in any field from an accredited university or college. If you do not have a bachelor’s degree, you can supplement that with a related professional certificate. 

To become a CPA, you need a bachelor’s degree in accounting, along with at least 150 hours of related coursework.  


The CMA Exam typically takes 12-18 months to complete, in addition to the time it takes to earn your qualifying degree or certificate. And once you become a CMA, you will need 30 hours of continuing education per year to maintain the certificate. 

To complete the CPA Exam, you will likely spend 6-12 months, in addition to time spent earning a qualifying degree. You will then need 40 hours of continuing education per year to maintain your CPA status.  

It should also be noted that the CMA Exam and CPA Exam each have varying degrees of difficulty, with a pass rate of 45% and 54%, respectively.  

CMA vs. CPA: Scope of Work  

Another key difference between the CMA and CPA exams is what you can do with the credential you’ll earn. Professionals who earn a CMA will likely deal more in higher-level concepts and business applications. The CPA, though, will deal more with laws, governance, and technical components of accounting. 

But how do those differences translate to career paths and scope of work? To make it clearer, here’s a list of popular careers for both, with varying degrees of seniority: 

CMA Careers: 

  • Cost Accountant 
  • Consultant 
  • Chief Financial Officer 
  • Corporate Controller 
  • Management Accountant 

CPA Careers: 

  • Public Accountant 
  • Auditor or IRS Agent 
  • Tax Accountant 

How to determine if a CMA or CPA designation is right for you  

No matter which certification you choose, both CMAs and CPAs are well-respected accounting professionals with excellent job prospects. So whichever certification you decide to pursue, you can be confident that you will have a successful accounting career. 

And if you’re a hiring manager attempting to find the right CMA or CPA for your team, our experts know how to help. Just start by filling out the form below! 

Need Accounting Professionals?

We know how to find them. Questions? Call us toll-free: 855-485-8853