CPA Exam Requirements

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To become a Certified Public Accountant, commonly referred to as a CPA, there are several requirements you must meet depending upon the state or territory that you plan to become certified in.  One of these requirements is to pass all four sections of the CPA exam

In most states, you can sit for the CPA exam before completing all of the requirements for certification.  You may choose to sit for the exam soon after you’ve finished school and have the time to dedicate to studying. 

Basic CPA Exam Requirements

While state requirements can vary, most follow the same basic requirements set forth below:

Citizenship

Most states require that you are a U.S. citizen or become one before sitting for the CPA exam.  However, if you are not a U.S. citizen, you can sit for the exam in North Carolina, Alabama, Hawaii, or Louisiana.  These states currently do not have a citizenship requirement.  If you are an international candidate, you may consider sitting for the exam in one of these four states.

Social Security Number

A majority of states require that a candidate has a valid social security number to sit for the exam.  But there are a handful of states that do not have such a requirement.  These include New York, South Dakota, Illinois, Wisconsin, and Montana.  If you are planning on taking the exam but don’t have a social security number, consider sitting for the exam in one of these five states.

Age

You must be at least 18 years old to sit for the CPA exam in most states.  There are no states or jurisdictions that allow an individual who is under the age of 18 to sit for the exam.

Education

Education requirements will vary by state.  Most states require that you have a Bachelor’s Degree or a minimum of 120 credit hours from an accredited university before you can sit for the exam.  Some states will allow you to take the CPA exam if you are close to graduation. 

To ensure that you have met the minimum requirements to take the CPA exam, be sure to visit the Board of Accountancy or relevant governing body for CPAs for your state.  You can also check exam eligibility requirements at the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy.

Preparing for the CPA Exam

If you’ve met the minimum requirements to sit for the exam, you should plan out your next steps.  Planning your approach to taking the exam can save you time and money.   

Study for the exam – Many college programs integrate review courses for the CPA exam within their curriculum.  If not, there are many CPA exam preparation materials available including workbooks, online courses, and in-person review classes.  Be sure to give yourself enough time to study for each section of the exam. 

Apply to take the exam – It can take a few months to complete the application process, so it is helpful to start this as you are studying to take the exam.   To apply, you need to do the following:

  • Verify that you are eligible to sit for the exam. 
  • States may have a different application process.  To find out what you need to do, visit the NASBA site to find out if you submit the application with them or with your state board of accountancy. 
  • Fill out the application and send in the documents requested
  • Pay the fee

Schedule the exam – When your application has been accepted, you will receive a Notice to Schedule, or NTS.  You need this document to schedule your CPA exam on the Prometric site.  Be sure to verify that your name matches exactly what is shown on your identification.  If it does not, you should get this fixed immediately.

Completing your CPA License Requirements

To become a CPA, you must complete the following requirements:

Pass the CPA exam – The CPA exam consists of four parts:

  • Business Environments and Concepts
  • Auditing and Attestation
  • Financial Accounting and Reporting
  • Regulation

The CPA exam is administered in four windows throughout the year.  A total of four hours is allotted to each section.  If you don’t pass a section, you can retake it during a later window in the year. 

Timing is important when you start taking the exam.  Once you pass the first section, you will have 18 months to pass the remaining three.  Any section of the exam that you’ve passed that is over 18 months old must be retaken. 

Additional 30 hours – Practically every state and US territory will require that you complete 30 hours of credits beyond your Bachelor’s Degree.  States have their requirements as to which classes will satisfy this 30-hour requirement. 

Work experience – Many states require that you have work experience, however, the amount varies by state.  They may also require that you obtain a certain type of experience.  Be sure to check with NASBA or state’s Board of Accountancy to determine how much and what type of work experience is necessary to satisfy this requirement.

Ethics exam – You will also be required to pass an ethics exam given by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants.

Applying for your CPA License (And Paying the Fee)

When you have completed all of the requirements for your certification, you can apply to become a CPA in your state.  You will be required to complete an application, submit the requested documents, and pay the license fee. 

Although becoming a CPA requires a significant investment of time on your behalf, the certification carries many powerful benefits.  It can improve your job prospects and earning potential, as well as give you an advantage over your competition. 

A CPA license can open up doors of opportunity to branch out into other areas.  You can expand your role in areas such as operations, management, and entrepreneurship.  CPAs considered to be are highly-skilled and experts in their profession.  They garner high respect and trust.   Overall, the CPA license offers plenty of benefits to those looking to expand their opportunities, boost their earning potential, and advance in their career.