If you’re considering accounting programs, it’s important to understand CPA pass rates by school. Why? Well, the schools with the highest CPA Exam pass rates can give students a strong background for a variety of accounting certifications. Plus, accounting firms can directly recruit from top CPA schools. So, let’s break down CPA passing rankings by school.
To become a Certified Public Accountant, you must first meet the requirements of the CPA license. And although the specifics vary slightly depending on your jurisdiction, you need to pass the CPA Exam and gain 1 or more years of relevant experience. Plus, you must have at least a bachelor’s degree and 150 education hours, which you gain in a few ways:
Additionally, some jurisdictions want CPA candidates to have certain college courses, like tax or accounting classes. And although being an accounting major isn’t always necessary to pass the CPA Exam, an accounting degree can prepare you for a career as a CPA.
At today’s universities, you can pursue accounting as an undergraduate and a graduate. Therefore, let’s look at some common choices.
Some colleges and universities have specific accounting degrees, like a BS (Bachelor’s of Science) in Accounting. At other schools, however, students major in a related field like business and take as many accounting classes as they can.
If you’re thinking about graduate school, you have several decisions to make.
Firstly, many accountants go for a MAcc or a Masters in Accounting. After all, the Big Four accounting firms often seek out graduates from the top MAcc programs. So if you’re thinking about a MAcc, definitely consider the CPA pass rate by school because they can act like a Big 4 feeder school.
Some schools, like the McCombs School of Business, offer unique master’s degrees, like an MPA or Master’s in Professional Accounting. In contrast, the Wake Forest University master of accounting degree is an MS, or Master of Science.
However, others go for an MBA in accounting or a Master’s of Business Administration with an accounting focus. The Wharton School, for example, only has an MBA, and students can opt for an accounting focus. Besides, Big 4 accounting firms also hire potential employees with MBAs. But if you’re thinking about how to become an accountant, I suggest starting with this article about CPA vs MBA: Which is a Better Qualification for Your Career.
You’ll probably notice that some master’s programs are labeled “traditional” while others are “integrated.” If you pick one school for your undergrad degree and a different one for grad school, you’ll go into a traditional track.
However, integrated programs are designed to seamlessly move students from undergraduates to graduates. Therefore, students start school to pursue a bachelor’s and stay for their master’s, too. But the programs are cohesive and flow from one to the other. In fact, some of the best graduate school programs for CPA candidates have integrated programs, like BYU’s Marriott School of Business and UT Austin. Plus, integrated programs often save students a little time and money.
And finally, before you pick an accounting program, consider the type of class you need. For example, some programs offer online accounting classes. Other schools, in contrast, do not offer an online accounting degree and require students to attend in-person classes. Among the top 4 schools by CPA pass rate, online MBA programs are more common than online MAcc programs, however.
Each year, NASBA (the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy) issues the publication “Candidate Performance on the Uniform CPA Examination.” Basically, it reports how candidates did on the exam. Then, it breaks down that data by jurisdiction, number of candidates, average age, and the percentage of candidates who passed. Plus, the report provides CPA Exam pass rates by school based on first-time candidates.
Therefore, according to this report, the top schools by CPA pass rate are (drumroll, please!):
So, when looking at the CPA Exam first-time pass rate by school, you’ll notice that the top 5 have really strong results. But does this mean that the University of Pennsylvania is the best school for CPA candidates? Or that the BYU CPA pass rate is really that much higher than Wake Forest’s score? Well, really, these stats suggest that all of these programs are doing a good job of preparing students to sit for the CPA Exam. Plus, some programs specifically design the curriculum to help students study for this challenge.
In the chart below, you’ll find some basic information for the top 5 CPA Exam performances by school. However, since some programs offer minors and bachelor’s degrees as well as several master’s (like a MAcc and MBA), I’ve made notes to keep things clear. And although the chart just highlights master’s programs, you’ll find information about bachelor’s programs at these accounting best CPA schools below this chart.
|University||Average GPA||Average GRE or GMAT||CPA Exam Pass Rate||Program Length||Online Classes Available?||Average Tuition|
|BYU Marriott School of Business: MAcc||3.7||Average GMAT = 650-680||89.4%||36 credit hours||Not for MAcc; see comments below||$6,930-$13,860 per semester (not including fees)|
|Jones Graduate School of Business at Rice University: MAcc||3.51||Average GMAT for Jones Graduate School = 689-710||90.8%||36 credit hours||No; on-campus requirement||$55,625 per year (not including fees)|
|University of Texas at Austin McCombs School of Business: MPA||3.71||Average GMAT = 652||89.5%||31-43 credit hours||No; on-campus requirements||$6,630-$22,688 per semester (not including fees)|
|Wake Forest University School of Business: MSA||3.56||Average GMAT = 618||88.8%||30 credit hours (more if you need to take foundational classes)||No, although online options are available for MBA students||$51,916 for 2 semesters (not including fees)|
|The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania: MBA with accounting focus||3.6||Average GMAT = 722; Average GRE: 161 verbal, 161 quant||90.9%||36 hours||No; only non-credit courses are available online||$80,432 per year (tuition + fees)|
Let’s break down these stats a little.
Brigham Young’s Mariott School of Business is known for its rigorous programs and experimental curriculum. Plus, the BYU accounting program ranking has consistently been strong for several years. Therefore, a MAcc degree from BYU and a CPA certification could be a good step for your career. Or, you could think. about a CPA and MBA from BYU, too.
Students can choose from several BYU accounting degrees, such as a Bachelor of Science (BS) in Accounting. BYU offers master’s degrees, too, including a Master of Accountancy (MAcc) and an MBA. Plus, BYU offers both integrated and traditional MAcc programs. And the MAcc has two tracks—tax and professional accountancy—depending on your career goals.
The BYU school of accountancy is frequently ranked, and accounting BYU students usually have a strong showing on the CPA Exam. For example, U.S. News and World Report proclaimed that BYU had the #2 accounting program in the country in 2021. And that’s just the beginning of a long list of BYU accounting rankings. The BYU CPA first-time pass rate is ranked #4 right now, so BYU’s students seem to be well-prepared for the exam and careers as professional accountants.
Although we don’t know the exact Brigham Young University acceptance rate, we can report on how many people apply versus the total program enrollment. For instance, in 2020, BYU’s BS in Accountancy program had 374 applicants and 286 enrolled students. Similarly, in the same year, the MAcc track received 197 applicants and had about 165 students enrolled in the 36-hour program.
In the 1990s, the BYU program pioneered a revolutionary teaching model for undergraduates. At the junior level, BYU accounting major students are divided into five cohorts. Each section receives the same education and participates in the same curriculum with different professors. In this way, each student is guaranteed the same high level of education.
The BYU MAcc and MBA programs are on-campus. In fact, BYU online classes are only available through BYU-Idaho. However, that campus has a limited number of BYU online accounting courses through a Bachelor’s of Applied Business Management.
The BYU tuition rates are different for students who are members of the Latter-Day Saints versus non-members. Church members have made contributions that help offset the collegiate expenses. So therefore, if you’re a Latter-Day Saint, the BYU programs are more affordable than some of the other top accounting schools.
The Rice University MBA ranking and MAcc ranking are consistently high. Why? Well, they place a strong emphasis on small class sizes and helping students excel in their careers after graduation.
Unlike some of the other best schools with CPA pass rates, Rice does not offer an undergraduate degree in business in accounting. Students, however, can minor in business. But after that, students can enroll in the Rice University Masters in Accounting (MAcc) or Rice University MBA programs. Although many CPA candidates choose the MAcc, the Rice MBA in accounting plus a CPA credential could still be a winning combination for you.
The Rice Masters in Accounting program, however, really works hard to make sure it keeps its high CPA first-time pass rate by school ranking. In fact, the Rice University Master in Accounting faculty boosts they can prepare students to sit for the CPA Exam in just 10 months. And that’s impressive.
The Rice University Master of Accounting program accepts students with any bachelor’s degree, even if it’s not in accounting. But this is an aggressive curriculum, so don’t plan to have time for a job. In fact, students can only enroll on-campus for the Rice University Masters of Accounting. And no online classes are available for that program.
The McCombs School of Business at the University of Texas at Austin is highly respected among accounting and finance professionals. In fact, the University of Texas-Austin ranking is normally strong. Plus, the University of Texas-Austin has unique degrees, like the Master’s in Professional Accounting, that aren’t offered at other universities with top-5 CPA school rankings.
Students can pick from several University of Texas at Austin accounting programs. For example, UT Austin accounting students can pursue a BBA, or Bachelors of Business Administration, with a focus on Accounting. The University of Texas at Austin accounting masters is an MPA, or Masters in Professional Accounting. And of course, the University of Texas-Austin MBA is another option. In fact, there is even a University of Texas-Austin accounting Ph.D. option for professionals who want to pursue research agendas.
Plus, there is an integrated option for the UT Austin masters in accounting that’s referred to as the iMPA. If you get a BBA from the McCombs School of Business, you can take advantage of the integrated UT Austin accounting degree plan. Therefore, students can move through the undergrad and graduate programs in 5 years.
However, keep in mind that the MPA program is only offered full-time and on campus. Therefore, part-time enrollment is not allowed. Additionally, the UT Austin accounting programs, at least at the masters level, do not offer online courses.
The UT Austin CPA candidates (consistently) do well on the CPA Exam. In fact, among the University of Texas-Austin Masters in Accounting candidates last year, 89.5% of them passed the CPA Exam on their first attempt. Actually, the UT Austin CPA pass rate is almost always strong, and the program is highly rated.
For in-state students, the University of Texas-Austin tuition is more affordable than some of the private institutions. Plus, in-state students can expect a big discount in comparison to out-of-state students. The iMPA accounting UT Austin students can even take graduate courses at undergraduate rates.
The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania is known as one of the world’s premier business schools. In fact, it’s the first collegiate business school. Today, Wharton stresses entrepreneurship, building leadership, and fostering a global perspective.
Wharton offers a BS in Accounting, which is a 4-year program that requires broad classes in subjects from economics and finance to the humanities and science. Therefore, as a University of Pennsylvania accounting major, you’ll get a comprehensive background in both business and the liberal arts.
But unlike many of the other programs I’ve highlighted in this article, Wharton only offers an MBA at the master’s level. In contrast to other schools, it does not offer a MAcc or similar degree. But still, MBA students can choose an accounting track.
Since so many students apply to Wharton, the University of Pennsylvania’s acceptance rate is tough. For example, for the Class of 2022, they had 7,158 applications but had an enrolled class of 916 students.
But once you’re accepted, the accounting classes at the University of Pennsylvania will give you a strong background for a professional career. For example, the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania masters accounting program recognizes that many graduates go on to take the CPA Exam. Therefore, the accounting department has developed a flexible curriculum that evens allows students to take classes toward the CPA or CMA exams. Certain upper-level accounting classes even cover about 20% of FAR, or the Financial Accounting and Reporting section of the CPA Exam. This is just one way that Wharton CPA candidates become prepared for the CPA Exam and keep the Wharton CPA pass rates high.
Like the other programs we’ve highlighted, the Wake Forest University accounting programs are consistently ranked among the top CPA Exam pass rates by school. The Wake Forest University business school has tracks for both undergraduates and graduates.
Through their accounting programs, Wake Forest stresses integrity and works to build ethical business leaders. Plus, Wake Forest is a little unique because graduate students can pick from tracks in assurance services, financial transaction services, or tax consulting. And the financial transaction track is something that only Wake Forest offers.
Also, you should note that the Wake Forest master’s degree is a Master of Science in Accountancy instead of a MAcc. But still, the focus is on getting students ready for careers in professional accounting.
The Wake Forest University accounting ranking is usually strong. Last year, just over 88% of their students who sat for the CPA Exam passed. Although they are #5 on our list of top schools, their student pass rates are just below the other programs on the list.
Right now, the Wake Forest MSA degree is only offered on campus. However, if you’re looking for an online degree in business, you could consider an MBA. Wake Forest has an MBA program that is totally online. Or, you can look into the Wake Forest Master in Science in Business Analytics, another online option.
Actually, all of the top 5 programs by pass rate have on-campus programs.
No. Of the 5 schools in this article, none have 100% online programs. In fact, most require students to take classes on campus. If you’re looking for an online program, you could consider the online Wake Forest MBA and take additional upper-level accounting classes if needed.
Some accounting programs place a higher curriculum emphasis on passing the CPA Exam than others. However, no programs have been specifically accredited for CPA candidates by NABSA, the AICPA, or the state boards of accountancy.
Since they keep the class size small, the Rice University acceptance rate is tough. You can find more information about Rice’s admission requirements online.
If you’re thinking about going to school in Florida, check out the University of Florida, the University of Miami, and Florida State University. Although their CPA school rankings are lower than the other schools I’ve highlighted, they still make “best schools” lists by publications like Forbes and the U.S. News and World Report.
I hope this breakdown of CPA pass rates sheds a little light on the top accounting programs. And keep in mind that these are just 5 of the many strong accounting programs in the U.S. After all, plenty of CPA candidates go to lower-ranked schools and still go on to have great careers.
But still, is the CPA Exam hard if you went to a good accounting school? Yes, most candidates think the exam is challenging. And that’s proven by the historically low pass rates. Therefore, it’s still essential that you study, regardless of the name of the university on your diploma.
If you have questions, please let me a comment below!
Susan L. is one of the biggest cheerleaders on the I Pass the CPA Exam team. She loves seeing our readers succeed. You'll often find her writing about all things accounting.