How Can You Become a CPA?

CPASince¬†certified public accountants are licensed at the state level, the exact steps required to become a CPA depend on your location. While the details vary, the three basic requirements are consistent. In order to become a CPA, a person must fulfill the standards for the three E’s: education, experience and exam.

Education and Experience

The first step to amassing the proper education and experience needed to become a CPA is to verify exactly what the requirements are in the jurisdiction in which you intend to practice. There are 55 jurisdictions, one for each state, the District of Columbia, Guam, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and the Commonwealth of Northern Mariana Islands. This Way to CPA, a website that details the requirements by jurisdiction, is an excellent place to start. Contacting your state’s board of accountancy is another option for obtaining the necessary information. Colleges or universities with accounting programs can also verify the specific requirements. Most jurisdictions demand that individuals have at least a bachelor’s degree in accounting. Many insist on 150 credit hours, which is typically the number of credits required to attain a master’s degree. In fact, many colleges and universities offer special degree programs that allow students to earn both their bachelor’s and their master’s degrees in accounting by completing a single, five-year program. These programs also include projects, internships or other opportunities that sometimes allow students to fulfill the experience requirement as well.

The CPA Exam

Designed to protect the general public by ensuring only qualified accountants become licensed, The Uniform CPA Exam is the only requirement shared by all 55 jurisdictions. Three organizations collaborate to make the exam available. The American Institute of CPAs develops and scores the exam. The National Association of State Boards of Accountancy maintains the National Candidate Database and works with state boards on eligibility and score reporting. Prometric oversees the details of actually administering the exam. The exam itself has four parts: auditing and attestation, business environment and concepts, financial accounting and reporting, and regulation. Participants may choose to take one or more sections when they sit for the exam.

Career Options for a CPA

Accounting is often referred to as the language of business, because the information in provides is so vital to a business’s ability to function effectively. Since virtually every kind of business relies on accountants, earning the CPA designation opens the door to an amazing range of accounting career options. CPAs can work for private businesses, accounting firms, nonprofit organizations, educational institutions and government agencies. Many choose to open their own business. CPAs can also choose to specialize in public accounting, taxation, forensic accounting, management accounting or public sector accounting. They may even choose to work in law enforcement positions with organizations like the FBI or the IRS’ Criminal Investigation.

Related Resource: Job with the IRS

Since CPAs hold positions of trust, the road to earning this licensure is neither quick, nor easy. Individuals intent on becoming CPAs must first familiarize themselves with the specific education and experience requirements of the jurisdiction they plan to practice in. After fulfilling these requirements, a process that typically requires at least five years of both undergraduate and graduate level study, they must successfully pass the four-part Uniform CPA Exam. When someone does become a CPA, it is an achievement that they should take great pride in.