How to become a CPA

A CPA is a certified public accountant. This designation is awarded to those accountants who have fulfilled the training and experience requirements of their local state certification organizations. The certification is considered highly desirable within the accounting profession, since it is listed as a job requirement for many positions, even those that do not involve auditing. The three key requirements for becoming a CPA are as follows:

  • Training. Complete an accounting-related course of studies that fulfills the training requirements of the applicable state board of accountancy. This usually involves the completion of a bachelor's degree in accounting, though it is also possible to fulfill the requirement with a master's degree in accounting, or in some other business discipline, as long as a sufficient number of accounting classes are taken. A major consideration is that many state boards of accountancy require that a CPA candidate have completed 150 semester hours of course work, which is 120 more than the number typically required to obtain a bachelor's degree. Consequently, many CPA candidates must first complete five years of college before completing this requirement.
  • Experience. Complete the designated number of years as an auditor, as required by the state board of accountancy. This is usually two years, during which the individual is under the supervision of a CPA.
  • Test. Achieve a passing score on all parts of the CPA examination. If a passing score is obtained on fewer than all of the course sections, a test taker does not have to take these sections again, subject to certain time restrictions. If a time restriction is exceeded, one must pass the exams for these sections a second time.

Many people who are interested in obtaining the CPA certification will attend review sessions that are sponsored by review services. These sessions are intended to highlight those accounting and auditing concepts that are most likely to appear on the CPA examination. While not required, these review sessions can improve one's odds of passing the examination.

Once all of these requirements have been met, an individual can become a CPA. However, there are additional requirements for maintaining the certification. The CPA must complete an average of 40 hours per year of continuing professional education, as well as pay an annual fee to the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA), which is expensive. If these additional steps are not taken, then the CPA certification will lapse. If a person wants to be reinstated as a CPA, this requires taking a remedial amount of continuing professional education, and being reinstated with the AICPA.