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With the economy still sputtering and the job market as competitive as ever, students are looking for every edge they can get.

Here's tip No. 1: Major in accounting.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics says the accounting field should see employment growth of 22 percent by 2018.

Couple that with data from Sageworks that shows accounting, tax preparation, bookkeeping and payroll services now make up the fourth most profitable industry for private companies, with a pre-tax profit margin of 13.61 percent.

Long story short: If you want a job in a profitable industry, study to become a CPA.

But where should you study?

If it can't be at one of Maryland's fine accounting schools, you might want to check out the 2011 edition of Candidate Performance on the Uniform CPA Examination, shared by Maryland's State Board of Public Accontancy at its October 2011 meeting.

The publication is based on testing information collected during calendar year 2010. Among first-time candidates without an advanced degree, the schools with the top CPA exam pass rates were:

  1. Wake Forest
  2. The University of Virginia
  3. The University of Wisconsin (Madison)
  4. Cornell
  5. Trinity
  6. The University of Missouri (Columbia)
  7. Kansas State
  8. Western Washington
  9. Texas Christian University
  10. Notre Dame

Among first-time candidates with an advanced degree, the schools with the top pass rates were:

  1. James Madison
  2. Brigham Young
  3. The University of Georgia
  4. The University of Kentucky
  5. New York University
  6. Baylor
  7. The University of Michigan (Ann Arbor)
  8. The University of North Carolina (Chapel Hill)
  9. The University of Wisconsin (Madison)
  10. State University of New York at Buffalo

In the interest of full transparency, that final entry is my beloved alma mater. Go, Bulls!

So there you have it: A blueprint for what to study and some options for where to study it.

Regardless of the school, though, all signs indicate that an accounting education and CPA license are starting points to future success.

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