To become a licensed Certified Public Accountant (CPA), you must fulfill the “Three E’s”: education, experience and examination. Although they are generally the same across the United States, some requirements vary by state, so be sure to check with your own state’s board of accountancy.
The first thing you will need to become a CPA is a 4-year bachelor’s degree. Although it is not necessary to have an accounting degree, there are specific accounting requirements that must be met in order to become certified. For example, some states require a bachelor’s degree with at least 24 hours of accounting at the undergraduate or graduate level.
Other states list specific courses you must take, such as Financial Accounting and Reporting, Taxation, Managerial Accounting, and Auditing. If you are fairly certain that you’d like to become a CPA, it would be smart to go for an accounting degree to be sure you meet the education requirements. If you decide to pursue a different degree, make sure you research your state’s education policy so you can meet the requirements.
Another education requirement is to complete a 150-credit degree program at an accredited college. Most states will not even let you sit for the CPA Exam without having passed 150 credit hours. Because many accounting degree programs require less than 150 credits, you will need to take a few extra courses to fulfill this requirement. Once again, make sure you research your state’s requirements as early as possible.
The next step to become a CPA is to have professional accounting experience. Most states require at least two years experience in public accounting, although some states will accept non-public accounting experience. If your experience is not in public accounting, like government or industry, the time requirement is generally longer and may be closer to five years. Most states also require that your work experience be under the supervision of a person licensed to practice public accounting. Once again, make sure you check with your state’s board of accountancy for specific requirements.
The final requirement to become a CPA, and arguably the most difficult, is passing the Uniform CPA Exam, or CPA Exam. According to the CPA Exam Mission Statement, the purpose of the exam is “to admit individuals into the accounting profession only after they have demonstrated the entry-level knowledge and skills necessary to protect the public interest in a rapidly changing business and financial environment.”
The exam is made up of four sections: auditing and attestation; business environment and concepts; financial accounting and reporting; and regulation. Each section can be taken at a different time. With an average passing rate of less than 50%, the CPA Exam is known as one of the most difficult licensing examinations around.
As previously stated, you must meet your state’s education and experience requirements before you can take the CPA Exam. When this has been done and you are ready to sit for the exam, you need to register through your state board of accountancy. After your qualifications have been reviewed and approved, you will receive a notification to schedule your exam.
There are certain testing periods that are closed for scheduling, including March, June, September and November, so make sure you plan ahead. You can expect to learn the results of the exam a few months after you’ve taken the test.
Zeshawn is a doctoral student in the Accounting & Management Department at the Harvard Business School. His research uses archival and field methods and covers managerial accounting topics including employee and organizational incentives, cost management and profitability analysis...