How to Become a CPA (Certified Public Accountant)

Wonder how to become a CPA? Certified Public Accountants (CPAs) are licensed by their state’s Board of Accountancy. To achieve the CPA credential, one is required to pass a national exam and meet state-set requirements. There are several ways to prepare oneself academically to take this step forward

Learn How to Become a CPA

To become a CPA, college students may start out with a bachelors degree in accounting or internal auditing. However, there is a caveat in all states and jurisdictions (with the exception of the US Virgin Islands). This stipulates that to earn a degree in accountancy, candidates must complete at least 150 semester hours of postsecondary education from an accredited college or university.

As the usual 4-year bachelor’s degree is 120 hours, this leaves a 30-hour gap. To make up the extra credits, some schools offer a 5-year combined bachelor’s and master’s degree.

For those who do not want to take more undergraduate accounting courses, another option is to pursue a master’s degree or MBA. A master’s degree is not required to sit for the uniform CPA examination. But, it is another way to accumulate the 30 hours. Or, for non-accounting students to make a transition from another related field.

Do You Have to Have an Accounting Degree to Get a CPA?

Is it possible to pass the CPA exam without an accounting degree? According to the BLS, a few states may allow professional public accounting experience to substitute for a college degree. 

That stated, it may not be easy for those without an accounting degree to gain the necessary accounting experience. As a rule, one should contact their state board to help figure out the nuances of this pathway.

DID YOU KNOW?

Many public accounting firms and law offices will only hire CPAs because of their expanded practice rights and privileges.

What is a CPA Degree?

There is no single “CPA degree” but rather, several options. Ideally, each student needs to decide how to prepare for the rigors of the CPA exam and when in their career trajectory to do so.

Here are four degree paths which may help you earn the 150 semester hours needed to sit for the CPA exam.

  1. Complete a bachelor’s degree in accounting, followed by a master’s degree in accounting or an MBA with a focus in accounting
  2. Complete a bachelor’s degree in accounting (120 semester hours), followed by 30 semester hours in post-bachelor’s accounting courses without completing a master’s program
  3. Complete a bachelor’s degree in another discipline, followed by a master’s in accounting or an MBA with a focus in accounting
  4. Complete a five-year combined professional accounting program that leads to a bachelor’s degree and master’s in accounting

On the fence? Job applicants who have a master’s degree in accounting or a master’s degree in business administration (MBA) with a concentration in accounting may have a competitive edge.We’ve compiled a synopsis below which may be useful as you search for the perfect format (online, campus), school, and degree.

Bachelors in Accounting

Bachelor in Accounting programs are considered foundational. Students in these programs may develop the analytical, conceptual and technical accounting skills. These 120-hour programs typically include substantive coursework in areas such as:

  • Cost Accounting
  • Reporting Procedures
  • Financial Accounting
  • Tax Accounting
  • Legal and Ethical Guidelines

Since the minimum education in accounting is a bachelors degree, grads might use it as a springboard to a career.

Graduate Certificate in Accounting

A graduate certificate in accounting is a non-degree award. Usually, applicants need an undergraduate degree, earned at an accredited college or university to enroll. Some certificates of this nature might include preparation for the CPA exam and to count towards the 150-hour mark. Importantly, an accounting certificate is not equal to accounting (CPA) certification.

Masters in Accounting

Masters in Accounting programs are usually designed as 30 to 36 credit programs, and may take from 1 to 2 years to complete fulltime. Usually, these programs are technical, include research and advanced topics. There may also be room in the course plan to delve deeper into a specific area such as federal taxation. Popular courses might include:

  • Advanced Auditing
  • Advanced Managerial/Cost Accounting
  • Business Communications
  • Corporate Financial Research and Reporting
  • Corporate Tax Decisions and Strategies

Reports show that employers may prefer to hire applicants who have a master’s degree, either in accounting or in business administration with a concentration in accounting. I Interested students could weigh options between the Master of Science (MS), Master of Accountancy or MBA with a focus in accounting.

PhD in Accounting

At the terminal level, students who prefer a research-focused degree might earn a PhD. Many schools offer a PhD in Business Administration – Accounting. This pathway may interest corporate executives who strive towards thought leadership

However, the PhD is not alone in its class. Some business professionals and masters/MBA graduates may want to enhance their credentials in finance. Or build managerial and leadership skills. For this reason, many universities offer degree programs such as:

  • Doctor of Accounting and Financial Management
  • Doctor of Business Administration - Accounting/Financial Management Concentration
  • Doctor of Professional Studies in Business - Finance Concentration

The CPA Exam

The CPA exam has four parts to it.

  • Business environment and concepts
  • Financial accounting and reporting
  • Regulation
  • Auditing and Attestation

Candidates do not have to pass all four parts at once. However, most states require that candidates pass all four parts within 18 months of passing their first part.

About CPA Certification

All 50 states and five extra jurisdictions have their own Board of Accountancy. Yet, there is a great deal of uniformity about CPA licensing standards. The Uniform Accountancy Act is a product of joint efforts of two agencies.

  1. National Association of State Boards of Accountancy (NASBA)
  2. American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA)

Accountants earn their CPA once they have passed the Uniform Certified Public Accountant Examination and met state or jurisdiction-specific education and experience requirements.

CPAs in every state and jurisdiction must follow the same general outline which is referred to as the "Three Es" - education, examination, and experience. Stacked onto this foundation, state boards may decide individually on:

  • how to distribute credit hours among accounting, business, ethics, and law classes
  • qualifications necessary to sit for the CPA Exam
  • unique stipulations for fulfilling experiential requirements

Maintaining Your CPA Credential

To renew a CPA license is often contingent on continued education. All state and jurisdiction boards require candidates to stay abreast of new developments, changes in laws, and reporting requirements.

Why Pursue a CPA Credential?

Many accountants pursue the CPA credential as a career move. Per the BLS, Accountants and Auditors who have earned professional recognition, especially as Certified Public Accountants (CPAs), should have the best prospects.

What is the average salary of a CPA? In May 2017, the average salary for accountants and auditors was $69,350. On the pay scale though, the highest 10 percent earned more than $122,220 in the same time frame.

Furthermore, there are certain services that only licensed CPAs are legally able to perform. What could a CPA do that other accountants cannot? CPAs may:

  • File reports with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC)
  • represent clients in front of the Internal Revenue Service (IRS)

If you want to potentially expand the scope of your responsibilities, a CPA credential may be necessary.

Get Matched with a School & Study to Become a CPA

Find an accredited college or university to pursue the education needed to become a CPA. Get matched with the school, degree and format that you prefer today!

Is an Online Accounting Degree PROGRAM FOR YOU?

With online CPA schooling, you can study and prepare for coursework without disrupting important parts of your lifestyle. Online courses allow you to design your own schedule, learn at your own pace and prepare for the steps CPAs must take to pursue employment, such as the meeting state requirements and passing a national exam

Wonder how to become a CPA? Certified Public Accountants (CPAs) are licensed by their state’s Board of Accountancy. To achieve the CPA credential, one is required to pass a national exam and meet state-set requirements. There are several ways to prepare oneself academically to take this step forward

Learn How to Become a CPA

To become a CPA, college students may start out with a bachelors degree in accounting or internal auditing. However, there is a caveat in all states and jurisdictions (with the exception of the US Virgin Islands). This stipulates that to earn a degree in accountancy, candidates must complete at least 150 semester hours of postsecondary education from an accredited college or university.

As the usual 4-year bachelor’s degree is 120 hours, this leaves a 30-hour gap. To make up the extra credits, some schools offer a 5-year combined bachelor’s and master’s degree.

For those who do not want to take more undergraduate accounting courses, another option is to pursue a master’s degree or MBA. A master’s degree is not required to sit for the uniform CPA examination. But, it is another way to accumulate the 30 hours. Or, for non-accounting students to make a transition from another related field.

Do You Have to Have an Accounting Degree to Get a CPA?

Is it possible to pass the CPA exam without an accounting degree? According to the BLS, a few states may allow professional public accounting experience to substitute for a college degree. 

That stated, it may not be easy for those without an accounting degree to gain the necessary accounting experience. As a rule, one should contact their state board to help figure out the nuances of this pathway.

DID YOU KNOW?

Many public accounting firms and law offices will only hire CPAs because of their expanded practice rights and privileges.

What is a CPA Degree?

There is no single “CPA degree” but rather, several options. Ideally, each student needs to decide how to prepare for the rigors of the CPA exam and when in their career trajectory to do so.

Here are four degree paths which may help you earn the 150 semester hours needed to sit for the CPA exam.

  1. Complete a bachelor’s degree in accounting, followed by a master’s degree in accounting or an MBA with a focus in accounting
  2. Complete a bachelor’s degree in accounting (120 semester hours), followed by 30 semester hours in post-bachelor’s accounting courses without completing a master’s program
  3. Complete a bachelor’s degree in another discipline, followed by a master’s in accounting or an MBA with a focus in accounting
  4. Complete a five-year combined professional accounting program that leads to a bachelor’s degree and master’s in accounting

On the fence? Job applicants who have a master’s degree in accounting or a master’s degree in business administration (MBA) with a concentration in accounting may have a competitive edge.We’ve compiled a synopsis below which may be useful as you search for the perfect format (online, campus), school, and degree.

Bachelors in Accounting

Bachelor in Accounting programs are considered foundational. Students in these programs may develop the analytical, conceptual and technical accounting skills. These 120-hour programs typically include substantive coursework in areas such as:

  • Cost Accounting
  • Reporting Procedures
  • Financial Accounting
  • Tax Accounting
  • Legal and Ethical Guidelines

Since the minimum education in accounting is a bachelors degree, grads might use it as a springboard to a career.

Graduate Certificate in Accounting

A graduate certificate in accounting is a non-degree award. Usually, applicants need an undergraduate degree, earned at an accredited college or university to enroll. Some certificates of this nature might include preparation for the CPA exam and to count towards the 150-hour mark. Importantly, an accounting certificate is not equal to accounting (CPA) certification.

Masters in Accounting

Masters in Accounting programs are usually designed as 30 to 36 credit programs, and may take from 1 to 2 years to complete fulltime. Usually, these programs are technical, include research and advanced topics. There may also be room in the course plan to delve deeper into a specific area such as federal taxation. Popular courses might include:

  • Advanced Auditing
  • Advanced Managerial/Cost Accounting
  • Business Communications
  • Corporate Financial Research and Reporting
  • Corporate Tax Decisions and Strategies

Reports show that employers may prefer to hire applicants who have a master’s degree, either in accounting or in business administration with a concentration in accounting. I Interested students could weigh options between the Master of Science (MS), Master of Accountancy or MBA with a focus in accounting.

PhD in Accounting

At the terminal level, students who prefer a research-focused degree might earn a PhD. Many schools offer a PhD in Business Administration – Accounting. This pathway may interest corporate executives who strive towards thought leadership

However, the PhD is not alone in its class. Some business professionals and masters/MBA graduates may want to enhance their credentials in finance. Or build managerial and leadership skills. For this reason, many universities offer degree programs such as:

  • Doctor of Accounting and Financial Management
  • Doctor of Business Administration - Accounting/Financial Management Concentration
  • Doctor of Professional Studies in Business - Finance Concentration

The CPA Exam

The CPA exam has four parts to it.

  • Business environment and concepts
  • Financial accounting and reporting
  • Regulation
  • Auditing and Attestation

Candidates do not have to pass all four parts at once. However, most states require that candidates pass all four parts within 18 months of passing their first part.

About CPA Certification

All 50 states and five extra jurisdictions have their own Board of Accountancy. Yet, there is a great deal of uniformity about CPA licensing standards. The Uniform Accountancy Act is a product of joint efforts of two agencies.

  1. National Association of State Boards of Accountancy (NASBA)
  2. American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA)

Accountants earn their CPA once they have passed the Uniform Certified Public Accountant Examination and met state or jurisdiction-specific education and experience requirements.

CPAs in every state and jurisdiction must follow the same general outline which is referred to as the "Three Es" - education, examination, and experience. Stacked onto this foundation, state boards may decide individually on:

  • how to distribute credit hours among accounting, business, ethics, and law classes
  • qualifications necessary to sit for the CPA Exam
  • unique stipulations for fulfilling experiential requirements

Maintaining Your CPA Credential

To renew a CPA license is often contingent on continued education. All state and jurisdiction boards require candidates to stay abreast of new developments, changes in laws, and reporting requirements.

Why Pursue a CPA Credential?

Many accountants pursue the CPA credential as a career move. Per the BLS, Accountants and Auditors who have earned professional recognition, especially as Certified Public Accountants (CPAs), should have the best prospects.

What is the average salary of a CPA? In May 2017, the average salary for accountants and auditors was $69,350. On the pay scale though, the highest 10 percent earned more than $122,220 in the same time frame.

Furthermore, there are certain services that only licensed CPAs are legally able to perform. What could a CPA do that other accountants cannot? CPAs may:

  • File reports with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC)
  • represent clients in front of the Internal Revenue Service (IRS)

If you want to potentially expand the scope of your responsibilities, a CPA credential may be necessary.

Get Matched with a School & Study to Become a CPA

Find an accredited college or university to pursue the education needed to become a CPA. Get matched with the school, degree and format that you prefer today!

Accountants and Auditors (i)

Accountants and auditors prepare and examine financial records. They ensure that financial records are accurate and that taxes are paid properly and on time. Accountants and auditors assess financial operations and work to help ensure that organizations run efficiently.

  • Median Salary: $69,350 per year 
  • Job growth through 2026: 10%  (Faster than average)
  • Typical Entry-level education: Bachelor's degree

Budget Analysts (ii)

Budget analysts help public and private institutions organize their finances. They prepare budget reports and monitor institutional spending. A Budget analyst can work in a variety of settings like: government agencies, universities, and private companies. 

  • Median Salary: $75,240 per year 
  • Job growth through 2026: 7%  (As fast as average)
  • Typical Entry-level education: Bachelor's degree

Loan Officers (iii)

Loan officers evaluate, authorize, or recommend approval of loan applications for people and businesses. Most loan officers are employed by commercial banks, credit unions, mortgage companies, and related financial institutions. 

  • Median Salary: $64,660 per year 
  • Job growth through 2026: 11%  (Faster than average)
  • Typical Entry-level education: Bachelor's degree

(i) bls.gov/ooh/business-and-financial/accountants-and-auditors.htm | (ii)bls.gov/ooh/business-and-financial/budget-analysts.htm | (iii) bls.gov/ooh/business-and-financial/loan-officers.htm