The CPA Application Process Explained: Everything You Need to Know

cpa application

To become a CPA, you have to follow a specific roadmap, and it starts well before you submit your CPA exam application.

The goal is to pass the first time you take the test. 

Your personal timeline for studying should be a key consideration. You’ll need to be well prepared by the time you actually take the test.

Here are all of the important steps, timelines, documents, and details you need to know about when you apply to take the CPA exam.

How to schedule for the CPA exam

how to schedule for the cpa exam

There are six important steps you need to take as you apply for the CPA exam. 

Your CPA exam application process must align with state and national requirements. You need to understand all of the essential documents, submissions and due dates before you begin. 

Here’s how to schedule the CPA exam so that everything goes smoothly.

Step 1: Make sure you are eligible

First, you have to be sure you have met all of the requirements for the CPA exam. 

Your eligibility is determined by education and state-specific CPA requirements. For example, in some states, there are age and residency requirements. 

In almost all states, the educational institution you attend must be approved by the state board of accountancy. There are also strict requirements on the number of transcript hours you have in college and graduate courses as well as what those courses covered. 

In the event that you have a unique circumstance or don’t have official university documents, you can use NASBA’s Education Verification Services. International students will find this especially helpful.

Step 2: Send in all official transcripts to your state board

Once you have completed all of the education requirements, you will have your official school transcripts sent to your state board of accountancy. 

When you are determining where to send transcripts for the CPA exam, you should go to the NASBA website and select your state or jurisdiction. 

The state board will provide clear instructions for how they will accept your transcripts and any additional steps to ensure they are reviewed and approved.

Step 3: Submit CPA exam application and fees

Once your official transcripts are submitted and approved, you will be able to apply for the CPA exam.

To do this, you will submit an online application and pay the application fee — one of several CPA exam costs you will incur. The fee varies by state but is usually around $100 to $200. The fee only covers administrative costs to apply, and won’t apply to anything else.

While you submit your transcripts to your state board of accountancy, the application stage of your process is done through the CPA Examination Services. That’s the organization you pay the fee to, and which receives your application.

Step 4: Obtain your Authorization to Test (ATT)

Once your transcripts and application are received and approved, you will receive an Authorization to Test (ATT). 

The ATT represents your eligibility, and allows you to register for the individual CPA exam sections. For most states, you’ll have 90 days to complete this process and pay. 

While the cost varies by state, the average you’ll pay for the four sections is $175-$250 each.

Step 5: Obtain your Notice to Schedule (NTS)

Once you have paid, you can schedule your exam. The CPA exam NTS (Notice to Schedule) is an official document that authorizes you to take the exam in the U.S. at any of the testing locations. 

How long does it take to get the NTS for the CPA exam? The timeline for this step varies. 

Some states are completely digital and get your NTS to you the same day. In other states, it could take as many as six weeks. 

Step 6: Schedule your exam with Prometric

Last step: here’s how to schedule the CPA exam. 

The CPA exam is only available to be taken at Prometric testing facilities. There are four times a year when you take the CPA exam. 

These are:

  1. January 1-March 10
  2. April 1-June 10
  3. July 1-September 10
  4. October 1-December 10

Wondering where to take the CPA exam? There may be a Prometric location near you. If you will have to travel beyond your area, those arrangements need to be part of your test prep. 

You can learn more about what the test experience will be like and register online through Prometric

CPA exam application: partner organizations

cpa application process partner organizations

As you see from the steps, there are many organizations along the way that you will become familiar with as you apply for the CPA exam. 

Here is more information on each one of those and where they will intersect in your CPA exam application process.

The State Boards of Accountancy

Each US state has its own board of accountancy. These serve the function of licensing and regulating public accountants. 

State-run boards are appointed by the governor, but also have input from state senators. The governance structure varies. 

Your state’s board will evaluate your education to see if you qualify to take the CPA exam. Some state boards of accountancy also directly oversee a public accountant’s license renewal and continuing education requirements.

NASBA maintains a directory of state boards with links to all of their websites.

The National Association of State Boards of Accountancy (NASBA)

The National Association of State Boards of Accountancy (NASBA) is the way all individual state boards are connected. 

This network provides guidance for CPA exam candidates. NASBA provides CPA exams, CPA licensure, ongoing CPA education and more. These will be resources you may use throughout your career as a CPA.

The American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA)

The American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) is a professional network for accounting professionals. They have numerous resources for CPA exam candidates and CPA professionals. 

You can become a member of AICPA to benefit from their advocacy, guidance, continuing education, certifications, and more.

Prometric

Prometric is the only testing facility in which you can take the CPA exam. They have online resources that can help you understand the format, process and test-taking environment you will experience during the uniform CPA exam.

You can check out their website for a seat availability tool and to find a Prometric location near you.

FAQ

cpa application faq

There are several nuances and state-specific requirements to your CPA exam application. Here are the answers to some additional questions you may have.

How long does it take to get the NTS for the CPA exam?

The Notice to Schedule (NTS) is an official document. You must have this before you are authorized to register for the CPA exam. 

Some states have digitized their process entirely, which means that you could get your NTS the same day you apply for it. More commonly, it will take 3-6 weeks.

Where to take the CPA exam?

You can only take the CPA exam at a Prometric testing site. There are many locations around the country. Use Prometric’s test location finder and learn more about scheduling and registration.

Where should I send transcripts for the CPA exam?

Your official university transcripts should be sent to your state board of accountancy. They will review these transcripts. If they comply with your state standards for education requirements, you will be approved to register for the CPA exam.

When should I apply for the CPA exam?

The CPA exam application process could take a couple of months. You will have a certain window of time in which to complete certain steps. 

You should plan to start the application process once you know when you want to take the test. This will mean determining your study plan and study schedule. 

It takes most people 300-400 hours total to study for the CPA exam. Keeping that in mind will help you schedule correctly, to optimize your chances of passing.

Do you have to reapply for the CPA exam?

If you didn’t pass a particular section of the CPA exam (less than the 75 threshold), you will have to reapply and retake that section. To do this, you’ll have to wait 24 hours after getting a failing score. Also, you cannot sit for that section of the exam again until the next testing window.

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