How to Become a Certified Public Accountant: A Quick Guide

Certified Public Accountant

According to one recent report, there are nearly 670,000 actively-licensed certified public accountants (CPAs) in the United States. Are you looking to join those ranks?

If you’re interested in the fast-paced world of finance, then this can be a rewarding and lucrative field. A CPA helps clients set, reach, and analyze their financial goals. Yet, it’s important to know the right steps to take to get there.

Today, we’re sharing how to become a certified public accountant, one step at a time. With the right plan in place, you can start working as a CPA as soon as possible.

1. Complete Higher Education

If you want to become a certified public accountant, then your first step will be to complete your higher education. Most CPAs graduate from a university that is either nationally or regionally accredited.

While you don’t have to major in finance or accounting as an undergraduate, it’s highly recommended. This preliminary coursework can help you understand the basics of the field.

In all, you should have a total of at least 150 undergraduate credit hours and a bachelor’s degree before moving on to the next step. However, most undergraduate programs only amount to 120 credit hours. Most students complete some type of post-secondary studies, such as a master’s program, to obtain those additional 30 hours.

Today, you can find CPA-centric master’s programs available both in-person and online. This allows you to begin working in a financial position while attending school, so you can arrange your coursework around your schedule. You can also look into blended, five-year university programs offered at some universities.

These programs essentially merge your undergraduate and master’s curriculum into one comprehensive course of study. This way, you’ll already have all 150 credit hours when you graduate.

Note that some states will vary in their credit hour requirements. Make sure you understand your state-specific guidelines before you plan your academic journey.

2. Complete Eligibility Requirements For the Uniform CPA Exam

The Uniform CPA Exam is a computer-based test that consists of four individual sections. These include:

  • Auditing and Attestation (AUD)
  • Business Environment and Concepts (BEC)
  • Financial Accounting and Reporting (FAR)
  • Regulation (REG)

To be eligible to take this exam, there are a few qualifications that you’ll meet. First, you must meet the educational requirements detailed above. In addition, you’ll also need to be able to show verified proof that you are:

  • A citizen of the U.S. (or have declared citizenry intention)
  • A resident alien or citizen of a foreign jurisdiction with similar exam privileges
  • At least 18 years of age

Along with your official application, you’ll also need to provide your state’s Board of CPA Examiners with several different documents that prove your identity. These include two identical copies of a passport-sized photo of yourself, sealed college transcripts, and reference letters that can attest to your moral character, among others.

3. Take the Exam

If your state board receives and accepts all of your qualification documents, then you’ll receive a Notice to Schedule (NTS) the Uniform CPA Exam. Usually, applicants receive their NTS within 10 to 15 days of sending their applications. It will come from the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy or NASBA.

Note that the exam is the same, regardless of where you take it. The NASBA has established that a passing score for each section is 75, on a scale from 0 to 99. There are a few different question types, including:

  • Multiple choice
  • Simulation
  • Written communication

You’ll receive your scoring notification from the Board, but those numbers will usually be available online if you want to check earlier. If you pass, then you can start working on the next phase of this journey: gaining experience.

4. Gain Required Experience

Passing the Uniform CPA Exam is a major milestone. Still, most states require finance professionals to work in the field for a specific amount of time before they can officially become licensed CPAs.

There are many different ways you can technically achieve this experience, and your university career center should be able to help you find those connections. Some of the most common career tracts include:

  • Completing one year of experience in public accounting, working under a licensed CPA
  • Finishing one year of experience in private accounting, working under a licensed CPA
  • Completing four years of accounting experience without CPA supervision
  • Teaching the study of accounting at an accredited university or college for four years
  • Completing four years of self-employed experience in the accounting field

If none of these options works completely for you, then the Board may allow you to combine several of these approaches. Doing so will require advanced approval. Your supervisors will also need to complete a specific Experience Affidavit for each tract.

Not sure how to make those connections and gain valuable CPA experience? A platform like Taxfyle can help freelance tax professionals find work, make money, and develop long-lasting partnerships.

5. Obtain Your CPA License

Once you’ve passed the CPA exam and met the experience requirements, you can apply for a CPA Certificate or CPA license in your state. Note that before you can do so, some states will also require you to take one last test.

This is usually an open-book examination that covers the accountancy statutes and rules in your state. Once everything is in place, you can apply for your licensure. You’ll also need to turn in several forms of identification, including a passport photo. When your application is approved, you’ll receive notification in writing from your state’s Board of CPA Examiners.

6. Pursue Continuing Education

Becoming a certified public accountant is a feat in itself. To maintain a valid certificate, you’ll need to also comply with your state’s continuing professional education (CPE) requirements.

Most states will require you to complete around 40 CPE hours per year. At least a portion of those hours must be related to behavioral ethics and conduct. You’ll need to maintain documentation of your CPE hours for at least four years after completion.

Now You Know How to Become a Certified Public Accountant

Working in accounting can open new doors and allow you to connect with individuals in various fields and capacities. Now that you know how to become a certified public accountant, you’re one step closer to achieving your professional dreams.

By planning early, you can chart the right course and take the right steps to begin work in this field. As you get started, we’re here to keep you up-to-date on everything business, tech, and lifestyle-related. Check back often for more informative guides!

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