How to Become CPA

CPA, or Certified Public Accountant, is a recognition granted by the State Board of Accountancy in the US to individuals who have attained a certain level of competency in these areas:

  1. Education
  2. Accounting Knowledge
  3. Ethical Standard
  4. Training and Experience
  5. Commitment To The Accounting Industry

Therefore, anyone who wants a CPA title will need to pass these 5 tests. The specific steps are:

  1. Fulfill the education prerequisite
  2. Sit for the Uniform CPA Exam
  3. Pass the Ethics Exam
  4. Gain relevant work experience
  5. Satisfy the CPE requirements

1. Fulfill The Education Prerequisite

The requirements on how to become a CPA are determined by the Board of Accountancy in each of the 50 states and 5 jurisdictions.

Each board issues rules that are slightly different, and you can refer to our CPA Exam Requirements by state for details. Here is a summary for your reference:

(i) Minimum Degree

Most states and jurisdiction requires at least a 4-year Bachelor degree. Many but not all states require 150 semester credit hours — equivalent to a Master’s Degree – as a prerequisite for the exam.

(ii) Accounting and Business Courses

All states require a varying degree of accounting and business courses. The “easiest” one is New Hampshire where 12 semester courses of accounting classes are fine (until mid-2014); while a few states strictly require an accounting concentration.  Most states ask for specific classes in business laws, auditing and/or ethics.

(iii) Other Requirements

A few states only allow US citizens or local residents to sit for their exams. There may also be minimum age requirement (typically 18-21) for certain states.

2. Sit For The CPA Exam

If you fulfill the education prerequisite, you are eligible to sit for the CPA exam. The exam itself is the same nationwide (In fact, the exam is officially called the “Uniform CPA Examination”) .

This computer-based examination is administered by AICPA, the accounting professional organization in the US. The exam covers intermediate/advanced accounting and related fields, including business, law, and taxation. It consists of 4 parts, and you can take them one at a time and in any sequence:

  • Auditing and Attestation (AUD) – 4 hours
  • Business Environment and Concepts (BEC) – 3 hours
  • Financial Accounting and Reporting (FAR) – 4 hours
  • Regulation (REG) – 3 hours

The Uniform CPA Exam is considered one of the toughest professional examinations, with passing rate hovers around 50% every year. Most CPA candidates opt for study guides and/or courses to maximize their chance of success.

3. Pass The Ethics Exam

After passing the Uniform CPA exam, most (but not all) state boards will as you to take an Ethics exam. This is a self-study open book examination and is considered much easier than the Uniform CPA exam.

4. Gain Relevant Work Experience

Most states require you to have 1 – 2 years of working experience to obtain the CPA certificate or license. Since you will have no problem getting an accounting related job after passing the CPA Exam, this should be an easy step for you to achieve your full practicing license.

However, if you do not plan to work in a public accounting firm, please beware:

  • Some states only recognize public accounting experience
  • For most states, your working experience has to be supervised and/or verified by a practicing CPA (i.e. a CPA license holder and not certificate holder) so make sure that your boss has the relevant qualification

5. Satisfy The CPE Requirements

Once you are minted as CPA, you are required to take certain Continuing Professional Education (CPE) hours to maintain your license. Different states have various rules.