How Do You Become a CPA?

A Certified Public Accountant (CPA) enjoys a high salary, reasonable working hours and steady career advancement. How can students become CPAs? What educational or work background is required to take the CPA test? The answer to these questions varies by state, but here is a general breakdown of how to become a CPA.

Testing Requirements

A CPA must pass a national exam to become licensed. This test is called the Uniform CPA Examination, and its results are recognized in all 50 states. The exam consists of four parts. Luckily, testers do not have to pass all four parts of the exam in one sitting. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, accounting employers will often pay the exam fee for their employees. Some colleges and universities can arrange for discounts on the exam fee or on study materials.

Licensure Without a Degree

A handful of states allow experienced accountants to become CPAs without completing 150 hours of coursework. Currently, there are five states with this exception to the rules: Alaska, Georgia, Hawaii, Maine, and Massachusetts. Each state has its own rules about how many hours of accounting work a test-taker must have. Each state also has different definitions of what counts as relevant work experience. In general, it’s easy for long-term accountants to sit for the CPA exam in one of these five states. Many employers will want to see relevant coursework from new graduates. A master’s degree is often required for career advancement. Overall, it’s simpler to complete relevant college courses than to try and accumulate thousands of hours of accounting experience without college-level training in the field.

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Undergraduate Studies

It’s possible to start a career in accounting with an associate degree. Two-year courses can prepare graduates for routine, entry-level accounting work at major firms. Companies in rural areas are more likely to accept applicants without a 4-year degree. However, a bachelor’s degree in accounting is often required for job seekers. Coursework typically covers bookkeeping, tax law, accounting ethics and relevant software like Quicken and Microsoft Excel. It’s possible to earn a B.S. in a related field like economics or finance and complete a minor in accounting.

Graduate Studies

The easiest way to become eligible to take the CPA exam is to earn a master’s degree in accounting or business. This is because most states require test-takers to have 150 hours of relevant college education, and a traditional bachelor’s degree is only 120 credits. Some CPAs pursue a graduate certificate to earn the remaining 30 hours. More career opportunities are available to those who earn a full master’s degree. Some programs offer combined undergraduate-graduate degrees in accounting that condense the final year of undergraduate studies and the first year of graduate studies. These programs allow students to graduate in five years with two degrees.

State licensing boards can provide the most up-to-date information about CPA eligibility. Overall, the best way to become a Certified Public Accountant is to complete a combined 5-year program and graduate with a B.S. in Accounting and either an M.S. in Accounting or a Master’s of Business Administration (MBA).