CPA Requirements: What You’ll Need to Become a CPA
Not sure how to become a CPA? Making sure that you meet the CPA requirements should be step one.
A few requirements come into play when you’re considering taking the CPA exam. The National Association of State Boards of Accountancy (NASBA) sets professional standards and determines who is eligible.
CPA requirements also vary by state. Candidates have to comply with these requirements first to take the CPA examination, and then to obtain a CPA license. Your state board of accountancy will be the source for state-specific requirements.
This article outlines all the standard eligibility requirements for the CPA exam, so you can make sure you qualify before you begin studying.
CPA Exam Requirements
In order to attend the CPA exam, you must meet these requirements around:
- Social security identification
Through NASBA, you can take a quiz that will determine your eligibility for the CPA exam.
Additional information about the exam and the process of becoming a CPA can be provided by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA). This is an organization that provides national services for professional accountants.
There are several different categories of CPA requirements.
When applying to take the CPA exam, you will indicate the state in which you want to test. Each state has unique eligibility requirements, one of which is citizenship.
In almost all states, you have to be a citizen of the United States to take the CPA exam. However, there are exclusions. These are currently the four states in which you don’t have to be a citizen to take the CPA exam:
- North Carolina
If you live internationally, there are many options for you to take the CPA exam. The test itself is hosted at multiple international locations.
If you take the test outside of the US, there will be additional fees. If you want to practice in the U.S., you will then have to comply with standards of the state in which you apply for a CPA license.
Social security identification
Whether or not you have a social security number could impact your ability to take the CPA exam.
Most people who pursue this career don’t question this requirement. However, both international candidates and non-traditional U.S. citizens may not have a social security number.
Without social security identification, you will only be able to take the CPA exam in one of the five states that allow entry without this requirement. These are:
- New York
- South Dakota
You must be 18 years or older to take the CPA exam. There are no exclusions to this rule. All 55 jurisdictions of the U.S. in which you can take the CPA exam follow this guideline.
The educational requirements for taking the CPA exam vary by state. While there are some outliers that allow work experience to compensate for a bachelor’s degree, for the most part you will have to prove 150 hours of relevant education.
Sitting for the exam is a challenging experience that is made far easier by having a background in accounting education.
120-150 hours is the standard range most states require. These may be fulfilled in the course of an undergraduate degree or may require a graduate level business course or more accounting education.
The AICPA explains that public accountants need to master a significant body of knowledge, which is why most states enforce this requirement.
There is some variance in the specifics of these requirements, state-by-state. You will need to look up state-specific requirements for the CPA exam in regards to:
- The number of credit hours required
- Whether those credit hours must in an accounting field
- Whether or not you can offset missing credit hours with work requirements
CPA license requirements
The first step to becoming a CPA is passing the CPA exam. That is done through dedicated study, so that you can pass all four of the exam sections. The FAR CPA exam section, in particular, is one that many applicants fail their first time out.
In this season of intensive study, you could benefit from a CPA review course, which will provide guideposts for efficiency and effectiveness.
Once you pass the CPA exam, your work is not done.
You are eligible for CPA licensure after passing the CPA exam. This comes with its own unique, state-specific standards. These are issued by your state board of accountancy.
Most typically, you will have to dedicate a few months or a few years to work experience in the field.
There are a few ways you can acquire work experience to obtain a CPA license. These vary by state. As you research the work experience that you need to achieve your license, here are a few basic requirements that you may encounter. You may:
- Be able to work in a public or non-public accounting firm
- Need a verifier who is a licensed CPA
- Be able to work outside of the U.S. as long as your verifier has an active CPA license in the country
- Need to work directly for someone with a CPA license
- Be able to work under a non-CPA verifier
- Be able to fulfill work requirements both before, during and after you take the CPA exam
- Take the CPA exam in one state and apply for licensure in a different state by fulfilling that state’s requirements
- Find a state that can provide a CPA certificate instead of a CPA license, which carries fewer requirements
- Need to verify your use of the following bodies of accounting knowledge:
- Financial advisory
- Have a minimum number of hours a week you must work, with strict standards on whether or not you can take time off or take leave
- Use relevant employment experience gained elsewhere toward your duties or toward your verified work experience
- Be able to fulfill these requirements with non-consecutive work
The average amount of time it will take to fulfill your work experience requirements is between two and five years.
Once you have finished your work experience, you will begin the application process for licensure. This includes submitting application fees and being notified by your state board of accountancy as to whether you are approved.
Each of the state boards issue licenses at different times and frequencies, so you may have to wait an additional month or two to be granted a license.
Once you have fulfilled all of the CPA license requirements and become an official CPA, you can practice in the state. You will need to maintain your CPA license with continuing education courses.
CPA requirements by state
Each state has different requirements for the CPA exam and CPA license requirements. For example, these are the Texas CPA requirements:
- Pass a fingerprint and background check
- Have a bachelor’s degree or an equivalent degree from another country (as ruled by the state board)
- Finish 150 hours of college credits
- Finish 30 semester hours of higher-level accounting classes
- These must be from a college or university recognized by the state board
- 15 of these hours have to be traditional, in-person courses
- Two of these hours must be in tax research and analysis
- Finish 24 semester hours of higher-level business courses
- Two of these hours must be in accounting or business communication
- Finish three semester hours of an ethics course approved by the board
CPA candidates in Texas must begin by submitting an application of intent to the board.
For a detailed breakdown of CPA requirements for other states, check out:
- New York CPA Requirements
- Illinois CPA Requirements
- Florida CPA Requirements
- California CPA Requirements
Helpful CPA Resources
There are many great ways to continue your investigation for CPA requirements. Many websites will offer helpful information. Some places you can find helpful resources are: