How Do You Become a CPA?

Becoming a certified public accountant (CPA) is a long journey, but it does not have to be difficult to navigate. Students must complete 150 hours of education, pass a standardized exam and apply for a license. Colleges and universities with accounting programs have many staff members who are familiar with the CPA process and eager to help students achieve their licenses.Here are the details on every step of obtaining a CPA license.

Undergraduate Studies

Future CPAs do not need a bachelor’s of science in accounting, although this degree is helpful. A CPA can study any subject as an undergraduate student. Most study accounting, business or finance. Before deciding on the best undergraduate degree to become a CPA, students should consider their long-term academic plans. Many graduate schools require a minimum number of undergraduate courses in accounting topics, making a B.S. in accounting, or at least a minor in accounting, the best choice for most future professional accountants. Undergraduate degrees can be completed entirely online.

Related Ranking: 20 Best Online Schools for Accounting

Graduate Studies

No state requires a master’s degree to become a licensed CPA, yet many CPAs have at least one graduate degree. Why is this? According to the American Institute of CPAs, every state requires CPAs to earn 150 hours of college credit, and a standard bachelor’s degree provides 120 credit hours. Students must earn another 30 hours somehow, and a master’s degree is often the easiest way to do so. Some schools offer one-year programs to earn a master of business administration (MBA) or master of science in accounting (MS) degree, but these degrees usually take two years to earn. Other graduate schools work together with undergraduate colleges to offer combined 5-year programs so graduates can earn a bachelor’s degree in accounting and a master’s degree in only 150 credits. Many graduate-level schools offer evening classes, intensive weekend courses or online programs to accommodate busy professionals.

Pass the CPA Exam

There’s no way around the testing requirements to become a CPA. Every state in the U.S. requires CPAs to pass a complex, computer-based exam. The test includes multiple-choice questions, accounting scenarios and regulatory-based questions. Many resources exist to help students pass the exam. Some schools offer intensive exam preparation, and all accounting-based programs are designed with an eye on the CPA exam. The test is not intended to trick test-takers; rather, it’s a way for students to demonstrate their knowledge in a controlled environment.

Apply for a License

The final step in becoming a CPA is to apply for a license in the state where the student wants to practice. Every state has different requirements for issuing a license, although every state requires transcripts showing 150 hours of education and a certificate showing the applicant successfully passed the CPA exam. Some states require students to complete a certain percentage of their education within the state, to reside in the state or to have a certain number of credit hours in various accounting topics. Some states may not allow convicted felons to become licensed CPAs, especially if the conviction is related to a financial crime.

Before applying to an accounting program, students should ask how many graduates have earned their CPA licenses. This statistic is a solid indication of whether the school is a good fit for any student who wants to be a certified public accountant.