Find accounting schools near you

Accounting Careers in California

Written by Brad PrescottMarch 8, 2011

Examining Accounting Careers in California

California is a great place to be an accountant! For one thing, it’s one of only four states where you can qualify to pass the CPA exam with only 120 semester hours of college coursework instead of 150. And accountants in California tend to make more money than they do in other states. In 2009, the median wage for accountants in California was over $12,000 higher than the national average.

Although some California accountants are Certified Public Accountants (CPAs), many professionals in this field work in tax prep, payroll, or forensics, as well as other specialties. To become an accountant in the state of California, you must have a bachelor’s degree, but elsewhere, some employers prefer a master’s degree in either accounting or business administration with a focus in accounting.

Salary Trends for Accountants in California

In May 2009, the median annual salary for accountants nationwide was $59,430. In the state of California, the median annual wage was $72,170. The median annual salary for California accountants is less than New York ($84,280), but higher than the nation’s other largest states including Florida ($62,260), Texas ($60,340), and Illinois ($69,660).

Annual median salaries for accountants living in the largest metropolitan areas in the state of California range from $70,680-$79,910 in comparison to the national median annual wage of $59,340 and the overall median wage for California, $72,170. Median annual salaries for accountants living in the largest metropolitan areas in California are:

  • San Francisco: $79,910
  • Los Angeles: $70,680
  • San Diego: $70,160
  • Sacramento: $66,010
  • Riverside: $63,340

In the accounting field, both bachelor's and master's degree holder's fare well with starting offers. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (, bachelor's degree candidates in accounting received starting offers averaging $48,993 a year in July 2009; master's degree candidates in accounting were offered $49,786.

Employment Trends for Accountants in California

In the state of California, 30 percent of accountants are Certified Public Accountants. Roughly 11 percent of accountants are self-employed. The other 59 percent are management accountants, internal auditors, government accountants, and forensic accountants.

Employment growth for accountants is not too far behind the national average of 22 percent. At 19.2 percent, California is expected to have 26,900 accounting jobs available over the next seven years. The estimated current number of California accountants is 140,200, projected is 167,100 over the next eight years. Most geographic areas in the state of California will experience job growth in the accounting industry in the coming years, however, some areas will experience significantly higher growth than others. High job growth areas include:

  • Los Angeles County: 1,381 total annual openings
  • Orange County: 506 total annual openings
  • Sacramento Metro Area: 218 total annual openings
  • San Diego County: 388 total annual openings
  • San Francisco: 445 total annual openings

Career Outlook

So why the high demand for CPAs in the coming years? Thanks to increased public and private scrutiny of companies’ financial activities and an increase in unlawful financial pursuits by companies, crime syndicates, and individuals, the demand for accountants, specifically forensics accountant, will be high. Forensic accountants are responsible for investigating white-collar crimes such as money laundering, bankruptcies, securities fraud, embezzlement, and contract disputes. Forensic accountants are also often called upon to appear as expert witnesses during trials.

For more information about what it takes to become an accountant in California, visit the California Board of Accountancy Website at