Help your students choose the right credentials

By Cheryl Meyer

January 18, 2022

Earning the right credentials can give accounting graduates an advantage when seeking jobs or progressing in their careers. Having earned a credential “is a signal to the market” that you are hardworking, “have [certain] basic skills, and are able to complete something from start to finish”, said Wendy Tietz, CPA, CGMA, Ph.D., accounting professor at Kent State University, in Kent, Ohio, in the US.

But knowing which, if any, credentials to pursue isn’t easy. Students have many questions: What is the difference between a licence and a designation? What’s the best option for the kind of accounting I want to practise?

"Students are confused," stated Monte Swain, CPA, CGMA, Ph.D., professor of accountancy at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah. "It's a rare student who comes in and knows exactly what he or she wants to do." That is why, Swain said, it's vital to counsel students and ask them a pointed question: "What are your professional aspirations, and what kind of work do you want to be able to do in your life?"

Faculty can best advise students by learning about different credentials and knowing which might be the best option for a student given his or her life circumstances and desired career path.

But faculty themselves aren’t always aware of the options open to accounting graduates. In the US, for instance, students are generally most familiar with the CPA (certified public accountant), and aren’t as aware of the CGMA designation. Outside the US, though, CIMA membership with the CGMA designation is better-known.

The CGMA designation can be a good option for students looking to pursue careers in management accounting, as it is “essentially a designation that allows you to expand your knowledge base within corporate finance and accounting”, said Patrick O'Meara, CPA, an assistant professor of accounting and finance at Niagara University in Lewiston, New York. Most students in his department plan to earn the CPA, he said, but noted there is also a need for students to develop skills associated with the CGMA designation since employers are looking for management ability and other related attributes.

Overall, the credential gives students a solid background of management accounting, finance, and knowledge of International Financial Reporting Standards, and the required case-based exams build their critical thinking, O’Meara said. He recently began using the CGMA Finance Leadership Program (FLP), a case-based digital assessment programme that helps students earn the CGMA designation, in his Advanced Management Accounting and Strategic Accounting Analysis courses, and is initiating the CGMA pathway into an undergraduate Cost Management Systems course this semester.

The CGMA designation might be a good fit for:

  • Students who aspire to leadership roles. The CGMA designation can give students "bench strength" by teaching them how to "think like a manager" and understand how a company works, and can help them move forward into management and leadership positions, either at public accounting firms or other types of organisations, said Swain. His department has begun offering a CGMA component to undergraduate and graduate students in conjunction with the FLP.
  • Nonaccounting majors. Bachelor’s degree graduates with majors other than accounting are still eligible for the CGMA designation. Students without a bachelor’s degree may also pursue the CGMA designation after earning a CIMA Certificate in Business Accounting.
  • Holders of US CPA licences who desire an additional credential. Having both a CPA licence and a CGMA designation "opens up a few more doors and builds and integrates a significant set of tools", Swain said.

Key facts about the CGMA designation

Here are some key points to know about the CGMA designation in order to better advise your students:

  • The CGMA designation was created by the AICPA and CIMA. Students receive the designation along with CIMA membership by completing CIMA Professional Qualification and proving they have three years’ relevant work experience.
  • Students complete CIMA Professional Qualification through one of two routes: self-directed learning or the FLP.
  • The self-directed route consists of three levels: operational, management, and strategic. Students must pass nine objective tests and one case study exam in order to complete each level.
  • The FLP has three levels: operational, management, and strategic. Students must pass a case study exam after completing each level.
  • Candidates may be able to start either the self-directed learning programme or the FLP at a higher level depending on their education and credentials.
  • CGMA candidates may receive the CGMA designation through either the AICPA or CIMA. There are different pathways to the CGMA through CIMA, depending on the country they live in. Students can visit this site and select their region for more details.

Cheryl Meyer is a freelance writer based in the US. To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact Courtney Vien at