About 80% of the 1.8 million accountants in the U.S. work in businesses other than public accounting firms. So if you’re an accounting professional working–or planning to work–in industry, you’re in the same boat with about 1.44 million other accountants, and need to differentiate yourself from your peers.

The Certified Management Accountant (CMA) designation is a great way to demonstrate competence in critical skills in demand today: planning and budgeting, financial analysis, and managerial decision making.

About 30,000 people have taken and passed the CMA exam since it was established in 1972 by the Institute of Management Accountants(IMA). The number of people taking the exam has been trending up in recent years as hiring managers are looking for people skilled in the key areas covered in the CMA exam – and are willing to pay them. On average, CMAs earn $22,000 more per year than their non-certified peers. If you have your sights set on moving up the corporate ladder, the CMA designation is a definite competitive advantage.

A few years ago, the IMA made some changes to the exam, reducing it from four parts to two parts. Don’t be fooled, though. The shorter exam is very challenging and hard to pass. For 2011, the IMA reported a Part I pass rate of 53% in the Americas, 51% in Europe, and 42% in Asia-Pacific. Given the difficulty of the CMA exam, taking an exam prep course has become an essential step for those making the attempt.

If you are ready to add CMA to your accomplishments, but feel finding the time to study on your may prove to be a challenge, then a guided online review course could be your solution. An instructor-led course can make the difference between passing and failing. Tom Coghlan, CMA, MBA, has been teaching CMA review courses for over 10 years, and these comments are typical of those he has received from participants.

“I’ve purchased self study CMA exam prep materials in the past and found that I just never got around to taking the exam. I enrolled in CPE University’s online CMA review course in the fall of 2011 and passed Part 1 the first time! The combination of live and rebroadcast webcasts made it easy for me to keep up, and between classes the “Problem of the Week” and the test prep software helped to reinforce what I had learned. Most of all, the instructors promptly responded to my e-mailed questions, right up to the day I took the exam.” (Theresa Lennon, Nevada).

“I just wanted to let you know that I PASSED Part 2!!!! I sincerely appreciate all of your help, flexibility & support in helping me achieve my goal of becoming a CMA. You provided great support,motivation, and acted as a mentor for me in passing the exam. I felt your class sessions were very informative and focused on the key areas needed to pass the exam.” (Carmine Tedesco, Massachusetts)

Given the difficulty of the CMA exam, the few people who attempt it, and the significant impact that the credential has on lifetime earnings, the CMA designation could be well worth your investment.

Good luck!