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Key Infor­ma­tion:

  • Most states require 150 cred­it hours for CPA eli­gi­bil­i­ty, which often leads can­di­dates to pur­sue addi­tion­al course­work or a master’s degree despite hav­ing a bachelor’s.
  • Pass­ing the CPA exam is essen­tial, which tests knowl­edge across sev­er­al account­ing domains.
  • Each state has spe­cif­ic licens­ing require­ments, which may include ethics exams and ongo­ing education.

If you’re think­ing about get­ting a degree in account­ing and becom­ing a CPA, you like­ly have a lot of ques­tions about the process. While the require­ments to becom­ing a CPA may be slight­ly dif­fer­ent from state to state, most states have the same basic require­ments on how to become a CPA. If you’re inter­est­ed in how to become a CPA, read on to learn more about the steps to becom­ing a NASBA or AICPA cer­ti­fied pub­lic accoun­tant, edu­ca­tion require­ments, the job mar­ket for CPAs, get­ting a CPA license, and more. One of the best-pay­ing careers you can get with a bachelor’s degree, earn­ing the CPA cre­den­tial is a smart choice.

How to Become a CPA

If you’ve been inter­est­ed in how to become a CPA for a long time, it’s like­ly that you already have a degree in account­ing. How hard is it to become a CPA? You know your per­son­al path on how to become a CPA, and it’s like­ly been cov­ered in many of your col­lege class­es. If you’re curi­ous about how to become a CPA with­out a degree in account­ing, know that it’s pos­si­ble — but will take a bit longer than if you had your account­ing degree. Let’s take a look at some of the dif­fer­ent paths you can take to become a CPA. We’ll also answer some of your ques­tions, like how long does it take to become a CPA, and how to become a cer­ti­fied accountant.

If you’re won­der­ing how do you become a CPA, you’re in good com­pa­ny. This career choice is always in high demand. The exact amount of time that will take you to become a CPA will depend on your pri­or expe­ri­ence and the rules in your state. In most states, you’re required to have 150 hours of col­lege cred­it, as well as two years of pro­fes­sion­al account­ing expe­ri­ence before you can sit for the CPA exam. A big part of how to become a pub­lic accoun­tant is meet­ing the time require­ments set by your state. In most areas, it takes sev­en years before you can ful­fill all the require­ments of becom­ing a pub­lic accountant.

The require­ments for study to sit for the CPA exam are dif­fer­ent from state to state, but most states require that the expe­ri­ence comes from work­ing in pub­lic account­ing. Some states allow future CPAs to com­bine pub­lic account­ing expe­ri­ence with oth­er types of account­ing expe­ri­ence, such as cor­po­rate account­ing, before they sit for the exam. Typ­i­cal­ly, it’s required that the major­i­ty of expe­ri­ence pri­or to the exam comes from pub­lic accounting.

If you’re won­der­ing, “how do I become a cer­ti­fied pub­lic accoun­tant?” or “how do you become a cer­ti­fied accoun­tant?” there are three main aspects to con­sid­er: edu­ca­tion, expe­ri­ence, and pass­ing your CPA exams. As you study for your CPA exams, you may want to take advan­tage of online or in-per­son cours­es that can help to bet­ter pre­pare you for your exams. While you’ll have all the infor­ma­tion you need from your edu­ca­tion and expe­ri­ence, par­tic­i­pat­ing in a test prep course can help you to under­stand the types of ques­tions you’ll encounter on your exam, as well as the best ways to approach these questions.

The process of becom­ing a CPA can be hard, but CPAs agree that going through the edu­ca­tion, expe­ri­ence, and test­ing required to become a CPA are well worth it. Let’s take a look at exact­ly what you’ll need from your edu­ca­tion in order to qual­i­fy to sit for the CPA exam.

Education Requirements to Become a CPA

Will account­ing firms take you seri­ous­ly with just a bach­e­lor of sci­ence? When you’re search­ing for the edu­ca­tion­al require­ment to be CPA, it’s like­ly that you’ll find vary­ing infor­ma­tion. The Amer­i­can Insti­tute of Cer­ti­fied Pub­lic Accoun­tants rec­om­mends a master‘s. How­ev­er, the require­ments for CPA edu­ca­tion have changed in recent years, so it’s impor­tant that you ensure you’re look­ing at the most up-to-date infor­ma­tion in your area.

The main require­ment to be a CPA is to have at least 150 hours of full-time or part-time col­lege cred­it. Course­work for CPA degree pro­grams includes mate­r­i­al like man­age­ment account­ing, non-prof­it account­ing, book­keep­ing, busi­ness admin­is­tra­tion, cost account­ing, and more. A good account­ing pro­gram that meets CPA require­ments should also offer spe­cial­iza­tions like foren­sic account­ing. CPA can­di­dates look­ing for licen­sure should pre­pare for the uni­form CPA examination. 

While many peo­ple who sit for the CPA exams have their mas­ter’s degrees, this is not nec­es­sar­i­ly a require­ment. Most states allow you to sit for the CPA exams with just a CPA bach­e­lor’s degree. The rea­son that so many peo­ple who are work­ing toward their CPAs have their mas­ter’s degree is because the 150-hour require­ment for col­lege cred­it lends itself to more than a bach­e­lor’s degree. While it’s pos­si­ble to earn your bach­e­lor’s degree and take addi­tion­al cred­its to meet the 150 cred­it hour require­ment, many stu­dents find that it makes more finan­cial sense to sim­ply start work­ing toward a mas­ter’s degree instead. Earn­ing a mas­ter’s degree can also make it eas­i­er to land a job in pub­lic account­ing, allow­ing you to begin to work toward your two year of ser­vice require­ment before sit­ting for the CPA exams.

There are a few dif­fer­ent rea­sons why most peo­ple who are work­ing toward edu­ca­tion require­ments for CPA find that just get­ting a bach­e­lor’s degree is no longer enough to feel ful­ly pre­pared for the exam. Sev­er­al new tax laws have come into play in recent years, mak­ing the exam more com­pli­cat­ed than ever. In order to be ready for the exam and ful­ly under­stand the com­plex­i­ties of cur­rent tax laws, most pro­fes­sion­als agree that a four-year bach­e­lor’s degree (even if the degree is in account­ing) is sim­ply not enough to be ready for the CPA exams. Changes in tech­nol­o­gy have also cre­at­ed com­plex busi­ness laws that require a deep lev­el of under­stand­ing from CPAs. Each indus­try has its own unique issues with tech­nol­o­gy, and CPAs need to under­stand exact­ly what needs to be done in order to stay with­in tax com­pli­ance in the age of technology.

While a bach­e­lor’s degree can touch on this infor­ma­tion, a four-year degree can rarely go into the detail nec­es­sary for a stu­dent to be ful­ly pre­pared for a CPA exam when it comes to under­stand­ing the ever-chang­ing com­plex­i­ties of busi­ness tech­nol­o­gy. Audit­ing is also chang­ing quick­ly due to tech­nol­o­gy advances, and this means that the staffing needs of finan­cial firms are chang­ing faster than ever. Firms are look­ing for CPAs who are up to date in the lat­est tech­nol­o­gy. In order to pro­vide firms with what they need, the CPA exams are chang­ing to reflect the increas­ing­ly tech­ni­cal nature of the job.

While not all states yet require the 150 cred­it hours, they are on their way. If your state does not yet require 150 cred­it hours, it will soon, so it’s a good idea to have this in the back of your mind as you move toward becom­ing a CPA. Unless you’re plan­ning to take your exam in the next few months, it’s like­ly that your state will increase it’s require­ments for a CPA edu­ca­tion to 150 col­lege cred­it hours before you sit for your exam.

If you’re not inter­est­ed in earn­ing your mas­ter’s degree, but still want to earn the 150 cred­it hours required to sit for the CPA exam, you may want to look into a five-year CPA prepa­ra­tion pro­gram. This pro­gram com­bines the require­ments of your bach­e­lor’s degree with addi­tion­al cred­it hours to ensure that you’re ful­ly qual­i­fied both to begin your work expe­ri­ence in pub­lic account­ing and that you’ve met all of the edu­ca­tion require­ments for CPA exam. Online pro­grams can be the cheap­est ways to get 150 cred­its for CPA. 

While some stu­dents choose to go for the five-year pro­gram, it can also make sense to com­bine your bach­e­lor’s and mas­ter’s degrees into one pro­gram. You may want to work with your aca­d­e­m­ic advi­sor to talk about the least expen­sive way to meet the CPA edu­ca­tion require­ments while get­ting ready for your exam. If you’ve ever won­dered, “do you need an account­ing degree to be a CPA?” know that the answer is not nec­es­sar­i­ly — but it cer­tain­ly helps. Can you become a CPA with a finance degree? Won­der­ing how to become a CAP with­out a degree in account­ing? Or how to become a CPA with­out a degree?

Can you get a CPA with a finance degree? If you choose to major in some­thing oth­er than account­ing and you still want to be a CPA, be sure that your course of study accom­mo­dates all the hours that you need to make you suc­cess­ful in your two years of account­ing prac­tice before you take the CPA exam.

CPA Exam

As you pre­pare for your CPA exam, it’s nor­mal to have some nerves. While many peo­ple have to take the CPA exam more than once in order to pass, it’s every­one’s goal to get it right the first time around. Whether you’re won­der­ing about the pass­ing rate of CPA exam or you’ve just tak­en the test and you’re won­der­ing, “When are CPA exam scores released?” it’s nor­mal to have some ques­tions about the logis­tics of the exam. Let’s take a look at how to go about sched­ul­ing the CPA exam, the pass rate on CPA exam, or oth­er CPA exam require­ments, we’ve got you covered.

What Is The CPA Exam?

First, let’s answer the ques­tion of “what is the CPA exam?” A CPA account­ing degree is the best prepa­ra­tion. Some­times referred to in the plur­al sense, the CPA exam con­sists of four, four-hour-long sec­tions to test the knowl­edge of account­ing pro­fes­sion­als, allow­ing them to become cer­ti­fied pub­lic accoun­tants. If you’re get­ting ready to become a CPA, you’re prob­a­bly won­der­ing what is on the CPA exam. The four sec­tions are as follows:

  • Audit­ing and attes­ta­tion (AUD) — This sec­tion of the CPA exam cov­ers gen­er­al prin­ci­ples, ethics, and gen­er­al respon­si­bil­i­ties of cer­ti­fied pub­lic accoun­tants (15–25% of this sec­tion), assess­ing risk and devel­op­ing a planned response (20–30% of this sec­tion), per­form­ing fur­ther pro­ce­dures and obtain­ing evi­dence (30–40% of this sec­tion), and form­ing con­clu­sions and report­ing (15–25% of this section).
  • Busi­ness envi­ron­ment and con­cepts (BEC) — This sec­tion com­bines cor­po­rate gov­er­nance (17–27% of this sec­tion), eco­nom­ic con­cepts and analy­sis (17–27% of this sec­tion), finan­cial man­age­ment (11–21% of this sec­tion), infor­ma­tion tech­nol­o­gy (15–25% of this sec­tion), and oper­a­tions man­age­ment (15–25% of this section)
  • Finan­cial account­ing and report­ing (FAR) — The FAR sec­tion of the CPA exam com­bines con­cep­tu­al frame­work, stan­dard-set­ting, and finan­cial report­ing (25–35% of this sec­tion), select finan­cial state­ment accounts (30–40% of this sec­tion), select trans­ac­tions (20–30% of this sec­tion), and state and local gov­ern­ments (5–15% of this section)
  • Reg­u­la­tion (REG) — The final sec­tion of the CPA exam, reg­u­la­tion, con­sists of ethics, pro­fes­sion­al respon­si­bil­i­ties, and fed­er­al tax pro­ce­dures (10–20% of this sec­tion), busi­ness law (10–20% of this sec­tion), fed­er­al tax­a­tion of prop­er­ty trans­ac­tions (12–22% of this sec­tion), fed­er­al tax­a­tion of indi­vid­u­als (15–25% of this sec­tion), and fed­er­al tax­a­tion of enti­ties (28–38% of this section).

Stu­dents must pass all the sec­tions of the exam with­in 18 months in order to be eli­gi­ble to become a CPA. A min­i­mum pass­ing score of 75 in each sec­tion is required in order to become a CPA.

Pass Rate Of CPA Exam

If you’re study­ing for your CPA exam, you want to know the pass rate, as well as how like­ly it is that you’ll pass the exam on your first try. The pass rate of the CPA exam varies slight­ly, but it typ­i­cal­ly hov­ers around 50%. This means about half of the peo­ple who take the exam pass, while the oth­er half do not. This does not take into account how many peo­ple are attempt­ing the exam for the sec­ond or even third time.

If you’re search­ing for the CPA exams pass rate, try not to stress too much after tak­ing your test. There are many things that affect the pass rate for a CPA exam, includ­ing the lev­el of prepa­ra­tion before the test, the qual­i­ty of the test prep pro­gram, the lev­el of dif­fi­cul­ty of the ques­tions on the test, and even how much sleep you got the night before the exam. If you’re con­cerned that you may fall on the fail side of the pass rate for the CPA exam, you may want to think about sched­ul­ing your next exam.

Failed The CPA Exam? Now What?

If you hap­pened to fall into the 50% of peo­ple who do not pass the exam, you have some deci­sions to make about when you sched­ule a CPA exam next. There are two basic schools of thought when it comes to resched­ul­ing an exam after fail­ing. Some peo­ple believe that it makes sense to resched­ule the exam right away, while the mate­r­i­al you’ve stud­ied is still fresh in your mind. Oth­ers believe that it makes sense to wait and ana­lyze your results, find­ing your areas of weak­ness, and then tak­ing some time to work on those areas before you attempt to take the exam again.

You can use your score on the sec­tions of the exam to decide what option makes the most sense for you. If you were very close to pass­ing and only missed the cut­off by a few ques­tions in one or two sec­tions, it may make sense to take the exam again right away, being extreme­ly dili­gent about tak­ing your time to read each ques­tion care­ful­ly. If you were far from pass­ing, or strug­gled in three or all of the sec­tions, it might make sense to take a few months and real­ly hone in on refin­ing your skills.

The pass­ing rates for CPA exam are clear: this test is not easy. Peo­ple who are study­ing for what is in the CPA exam are sea­soned account­ing pro­fes­sion­als, and still, at least half of them tend to fail the exam. Every­one who is tak­ing the exam meets the CPA work expe­ri­ence require­ments, so it’s clear that no one is tak­ing the exam and just hop­ing for the best. Each stu­dent who sits for the CPA exam is ready to begin their career as a pro­fes­sion­al CPA.

As CPA exam pass­ing rates tend to stay the same, it’s like­ly that the dif­fi­cul­ty of the test does not change much from year to year. One thing that you may want to con­sid­er as you’re get­ting ready for ques­tions on the CPA exam is how much time has passed since you com­plet­ed your edu­ca­tion. If it’s been years since you’ve had an edu­ca­tion in finance or account­ing, the exam might be hard­er for you than for some­one who just grad­u­at­ed and received up-to-date infor­ma­tion from their pro­fes­sors. The answer to how hard is the CPA exam can depend great­ly on how long it’s been since you’ve gone through college.

If you’ve failed the CPA exam, start your game plan for what you’re going to do next. It may help to talk to some cowork­ers about their first time tak­ing the CPA exam. It’s like­ly that you’ll find that suc­cess­ful CPAs at your work­place had to take the exam sev­er­al times in order to pass. Know­ing that you’re in the same boat as peo­ple who went on to be suc­cess­ful in the field can work won­ders to boost your con­fi­dence the next time you sit for the exam.

If you’ve passed your CPA cer­ti­fi­ca­tion exam and are try­ing to fig­ure out where to go next in your career, con­grat­u­la­tions! Becom­ing a CPA and pass­ing CPA cer­ti­fi­ca­tion is a huge step in mov­ing for­ward in your finance and/ or account­ing career. There are many oppor­tu­ni­ties for you, whether you choose to work for your­self or to work for a finan­cial firm.

One of the first steps after earn­ing your CPA cer­ti­fi­ca­tion is to decide whether you’d like to be a gen­er­al accoun­tant, or if you’d like to spe­cial­ize in one area. If you decide that you’d like to have a spe­cial­ty, you may want to learn more about get­ting a cer­ti­fi­ca­tion. This can show poten­tial clients that you’ve put in the extra work nec­es­sary to become an expert in your cho­sen specialty.

You may decide to become an enrolled agent with the IRS in addi­tion to work­ing as a CPA. An enrolled agent is a fed­er­al tax pro­fes­sion­al who has been vet­ted as an expert by the IRS. These pro­fes­sion­als are the go-to peo­ple when tax time rolls around. As an enrolled agent, you may choose to work with fam­i­lies, busi­ness­es, or cor­po­ra­tions at tax time. Your spe­cial­ty with­in your enrolled agency is up to you.

You may run into some peo­ple who tell you that it does­n’t make sense to have both your CPA cer­ti­fi­ca­tion and work as an enrolled agent, but both of these options can work quite well togeth­er. Dur­ing tax time, you can put your enrolled agent cer­ti­fi­ca­tion to good use, while work­ing as a stan­dard CPA the rest of the year. Hav­ing both of these cer­ti­fi­ca­tions under your belt also makes you an asset to any firm at which you choose to apply.

Next, let’s take a look at how to make the deci­sion of whether it makes more sense to work for your­self, or to start apply­ing for jobs as a CPA work­ing for some­one else.

Getting a Job/Starting a Firm

After you earn your CPA, it’s time to start think­ing about your pub­lic account­ing career path. Being a CPA is a valu­able asset to any com­pa­ny, but you don’t have to spend your days work­ing for some­one else. Work­ing for your­self is a viable option. Let’s take a look at the ben­e­fits of work­ing for some­one else, as well as the ben­e­fits of start­ing your own busi­ness or firm as a poten­tial pub­lic account­ing career path. Career oppor­tu­ni­ties in the field of account­ing with a CPA des­ig­na­tion are abun­dant! A licensed CPA can work in man­age­r­i­al posi­tions, infor­ma­tion sys­tems, and even high­er education.

Many peo­ple who are after careers in pub­lic account­ing imag­ine that they’ll work for a firm. This can be a great fit for many peo­ple. Your ben­e­fits and pay­check will be steady, and you’ll be able to depend on the firm for any issues that you have with clients. The net­work­ing that you did while get­ting ready to sit for your CPA exam can serve you well as you begin to explore careers in pub­lic account­ing in your area.

You may also want to think about start­ing your own busi­ness. A viable career plan for accoun­tant, start­ing your own busi­ness means that you’d be in con­trol of which clients you choose to take on, your sched­ule, where and how often you work, and more. Start­ing your own busi­ness has many options — you could hire some­one to take care of much of your paper­work, or you could han­dle every­thing on your own. If you’re a self-starter and you’ve always dreamed of being your own boss, start­ing your own busi­ness may be the way to go.

If you’ve always dreamed of build­ing an empire, start­ing your own firm can take your busi­ness even fur­ther. By hir­ing oth­er qual­i­ty CPAs, you can work to sup­port clients and your staff with your CPA exper­tise. This can be a great way to build a busi­ness quick­ly, espe­cial­ly if you take on CPAs who have already begun to build their own client base. 

Relat­ed Rankings: 

25 Best Bach­e­lor’s in Accounting

15 Best Online Bach­e­lor’s in Accounting

10 Fastest Online Bach­e­lor’s in Accounting

10 Most Afford­able Online Bach­e­lor’s in Accounting