Certified public accountants have three requirements before earning their credentials: education, experience and an exam. All applicants must have a specific education to achieve this professional certification. It is impossible to achieve the CPA license without an approved degree. States set their own requirements for individuals looking to obtain the CPA license.
In general, applicants must have 150 credit hours to earn the CPA license. This can include both a bachelor's and master's degree, with an average of 120 and 30 credit hours, respectively. States often have required courses that candidates must take to meet education qualifications. For example, a bachelor’s degree may need 36 credit hours of accounting courses and 12 credit hours in general business courses to meet basic education requirements. An accounting degree is not necessary to become a CPA if a candidate can prove he meets the requisite requirements for accounting coursework.
Another requirement for the CPA is work experience. Applicants may need one year and approximately 2,000 work hours to earn the CPA license. Not all states have work requirements. Each state has an accountancy board that provides the qualifications for the CPA license. States with work requirements generally prefer applicants to be under the direct supervision of a licensed CPA.
Once a candidate meets her state’s requirements, she can sit for the CPA exam. The exam consists of four parts. These include business environment and concepts, regulation, financial accounting and reporting and auditing and attestation. Each section is given a separate score, meaning the applicant can take one section at a time. CPA candidates need to earn a score of 75 out of 100 to pass each section.
Candidates should research their state CPA requirements prior to starting the potentially long road to certification. States may allow candidates to sit for the CPA exam prior to meeting all necessary requirements. This allows the individual up to one year after passing the exam to meet all education and work requirements. For example, candidates can study and pass the exam prior to earning a job that will help them meet the work requirements.