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Educational Requirements to Become a CPA

Thinking about becoming a CPA? Here is what you need to know.

If you’ve been considering a career as a CPA, you might be wondering what type of educational requirements there are to become a CPA. In general, there are three main areas of study that’ll help prepare you for this interesting career: accounting, business and finance, and law.

That said, there are also a variety of other steps you need to take prior to becoming certified as an accountant. In this guide, we’ll review some of the most important steps you need to take to become a CPA.

Proper Education

The first step in your journey to become a CPA and being able to work in this field is earning a degree. Most CPAs hold a degree in business or finance. Both programs provide the education you need to be successful. If you’re looking to change careers, you may also want to search online for eligible scholarships to help pay tuition. A quick search will bring up a variety of options to choose from.

All you need to do is select one that best suits your needs and apply. Keep in mind that a BA not only gives you the skills you need to be successful, but also prepares you for a master’s degree if you choose to go that route. While having a masters is not a requirement, it does demonstrate your desire to be at the top of your game.

After Graduation

Once you earn your degree, but before you can excel in your first year of public accounting, you may want to take a certification course that covers fundamentals of business, financial principles, theories of accounting, and tax law. Afterwards, you’ll need to pass each section of the CPA exam within 18 months after becoming eligible to become a CPA. This includes completing 150 hours in college coursework or 90 semester hours if you have a master’s degree.

You’ll also have to pass an ethics exam. You are allowed to take each section after you meet your state’s requirements. There are four separate sections you have to complete. Alternatively, you can wait until all your scores are finalized from the others sections and take the final exam at one time.

Get Licensed

Apply for licenses in the state where you plan on practicing public accounting to become a CPA. Some states do require additional education or experience before granting licenses. The most common license is the Certified Public Accountant (CPA) license. Other types include specialties such as Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) designation. This again will differ state to state.

Eligibility for the CPA Exam

You’ll need to complete the following steps in order to sit for the exam and become a CPA.

  • Earn a bachelor’s degree in accounting or business. You must have at least 120 hours of coursework from an ACCA-accredited program. An associate’s degree may be substituted for up to 30 credits of undergraduate coursework; however, these credits aren’t enough for candidates with just an associate’s degree. They still need 120 hours of bachelor’s-level coursework. Pass the Accreditation Council for Accountancy and Taxation (ACAT) exam. The ACAT is required in some states before applying for a license as a CPA. However, this requirement may soon be dropped by some states due to its redundancy with other pre-existing requirements.
  • Pass the 150-question Uniform CPA Exam

It’s important to note that candidates must be at least 18 years old and a US citizen to sit for the exam and become a CPA. Green card holders are also eligible. Once you pass the four-part exams, it’s time to take your final. Although it’s the most difficult, it’s also the last step towards certification.

In addition to the above-mentioned skills and knowledge you need, you’ll also need in-depth knowledge of financial reporting and regulations. More or less, this final exam takes more or less about eight hours to complete. Keep in mind that the exam is not for the faint at heart. After all, you do need to prove you have comprehensive understanding of accounting, it’s principles and taxation laws.

Maintaining Your License

Earning your license in not a one-and-done deal. You’ll need to ensure that you keep your license active. How often you need to renew will depend on your state’s requirements. Some states may require annual renewal while others offer renewal every two years.

Finding Work

Certified public accountants can find work in most organizations. Some choose to work full time in corporate settings while others prefer a more relaxed work environment. Both options are something to consider when you are on your journey to become a CPA.

Some people also elect to only work during tax season. How and where you work is completely up to you, so don’t think you need to find the perfect position as soon as you pass your exam. If you are eager to start, you might want to start network online and in person. There are plenty of resources where you can find mentors and other people who are looking for employment as well.

You can also start the process while earning your degree. Most colleges have recruiters who look for suitable candidates before they even graduate. They might bring you in as an intern and once you pass your certification, they may offer you a full-time job.

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