How to Become a CPA (Certified Public Accountant)

If you have a head for numbers, being a certified public accountant is one of the best professions to choose. CPAs are never out a job because people have to get their taxes done every year and not everyone is capable of or wants to take care of this messy and complicated process on their own. They’re also highly respected and sought after by large corporations and small businessmen. They’re well paid and they lead comfortable lives. However, the path to becoming a CPA is not that smooth — it involves hard work and considerable effort, but if you’re willing to stick it out, here is how you can become a CPA.

Obtaining your CPA certification

Earn an Undergraduate degree

You’ll need to earn an undergraduate degree (four years) that involves accounting and other business oriented subjects — each state has different requirements, so check with your state’s certification as to the number of hours of each subject you need to take in college. In general, you will need 150 semester hours to qualify to take the CPA exam.

Take a CPA exam prep course

In your final year of college, start preparing for your CPA exam with a review course; there are many such courses on offer and you can choose the one that’s suitable for you based on cost and other factors.

Choose a state where you want to take your exam

Decide which state’s office you want to apply to — you have 54 choices, the 50 states, and Washington D.C., Puerto Rico, Guam, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. So choose where you want to take the exam. You can move to another state once you’ve passed the exam in one state. Your CPA status will be acknowledged, but you will however have to meet education and experience prerequisites of the new state.

Complete the state CPA exam application form

Find out where you can download the CPA exam application form for the state you wish to apply to, get the form, fill it out, and send it to the address listed on the application. Make sure you’re well within the stipulated last date and that you send your application through certified post with receipt. Before you send out your application, retain a Photostat copy of it to be on the safe side.

Pass all four portions of the exam

You need to pass all four portions of the exam in order to qualify to be a CPA:

  • auditing
  • business environment and concepts
  • financial accounting and reporting
  • business regulations

You don’t have to take all exams in one go, but the longer you delay them, the longer it takes to become a CPA.

Satisfy other requirements

Once you’ve passed all four exams, check with your state to see what else you need to do. You may need to take another short exam and/or you may be required to have work experience of around 2,000 hours under a registered CPA before you can be licensed. Once you meet the requirements for licensure, fill out the relevant application form and send it in to your local state department for approval.

Maintaining your CPA certification

Now that you’re a CPA, you must work on retaining your licensure through continuing your education and gaining CPE credits, at least 40 per year. You can do this by attending workshops and seminars conducted by CPAs. You must renew your license every two years.

For more detailed information, check out the AIS CPA website.

About the Author

By , on Oct 18, 2010
Mark Macaluso writes on the topic of Masters in Accounting Programs. He welcomes your comments at his email id: mark.macaluso985<@>gmail<.>com.

Leave Your Comment (7 Comments)

  1. joel mathew varghese says:

    i am a 12th graduate from India.I would like to do CPA.For this do i need to acquire a degree or without that directly can i apply for CPA.I have also done a Professional course in India named Company Secretary provided by the Institute of Company Secretaries of India,and completed 1st year containing four subjects namely Financial Accountancy,Elements of Business Laws and Management,Economics and Statistics and English and Business Communication and Presently am doing 2nd year.

  2. Bree says:

    Donny, accounting does not use much math. I am a CPA and the only math I use on a regular basis is basic math (addition, multipication, etc) and most of that I do in Excel or on a calculator. On the rare occasion I use basic algebra (e.g. A + B = C), but never more than that.

    Christine, each credit hour is 50 minutes of time. You can take them in many formats including class time, self-study, webinars, etc. In my state the requirement is actually 120 hours over 3 years with a minimum of 20 hours each year. That equates to 40 hours a year, but you can divide it up how you want over the 3 years.

    Being a CPA is one of my best decisions in my life. It is is very rewarding, always evolving, and the financial rewards are not bad either.

  3. That is the next step for me. Unfortunately, I only competed 9 credits in Accounting while earning a Master’s degree in Economics. So, I have to go back and get another Master’s in Accounting. This will be very difficult because I’m already preparing taxes, and I spend a lot of time on my website and developing tools for my business.

  4. About how many classes is 40 credits? What is the actual class time we are looking at every year to maintain the CPA?

    My husband is on his way to becoming a Chartered Accountant. He doesn’t have a degree so I found out that he can apply as a mature student instead. This allows him to take only the CA courses (11 courses) and not a full degree program (40 courses). He does need 3 years of business experience as a mature student.

    I’m just mentioning this for those that are currently working and think the path looks too long. You do have some choices.

    Our back up plan (if CA rejects him as a mature student) is to get him a degree from Athabasca University which will allow him to transfer the credits he’s obtained from the CA courses to a degree program.

    In the meantime, doing the CA courses first allows him to get entry-level Accounting positions and work his way up the ladder. This is excellent for someone who is already working. It keeps him on track with clear attainable short term goals.

  5. Donny Gamble says:

    I actually wanted to be a CPA a while ago, but then I found out that I was not good at math

  6. Norman says:

    Having had my CPA for a few years now, (I don’t want to think about how many years its been), I speak from experience when I say that an accounting degree can open up many different fields of interest. For example, I prepared taxes for the first 10 years after obtaining my CPA, but then went in a different direction working for a tax-exempt entity for the next 10 plus years. For those studying for the CPA exam, your advice to take a prep course is right on the money because it focuses your study to the most important topics and lessens your study time.

  7. nick says:

    pretty straightforward. check this out…if you are a CPA and want to make some passive income, refer your clients to the guys over at becomingyourownbank.com.

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