There's a reason that those three little letters "CPA" hold so much weight: becoming one isn't meant to be easy, but to demonstrate competency in the field of accounting.
Respected and admired by their peers, clients and society, CPAs are regarded as an elite group of professionals tasked with protecting public interest through accounting. And that interest is protected when only qualified individuals are admitted into the profession.
Because CPA licensure is issued at the jurisdiction-not national-level, requirements vary, sometimes greatly, by each of the 55 US jurisdictions, called Boards of Accountancy (BOAs). We'll talk more about BOAs later, but regardless of where you intend to practice, you'll encounter four Es on your way to CPA licensure: Education, Experience, Ethics and Exam.
We've broken down the path for you below, step-by-step.
The first step in becoming a CPA is to complete your higher education. Graduating from a nationally or regionally accredited college or university is strongly recommended. In order to sit for the exam, all states require a minimum of 120 credit hours (equivalent to a bachelor's degree). To get licensed as a CPA, most Boards of Accountancy (BOAs) require 30 additional credit hours, or 150 hours. The extra credit hours may be earned by enrolling in a graduate accounting program, although that's not required. Education requirements to sit for the exam vary by each state or jurisdiction's BOA.
Most states require at least two years of experience in public accounting before allowing you to practice as a CPA. Many also accept accounting experience in other areas such as industry or government, but that usually means they require that you practice for more years. Every jurisdiction's work experience requirements vary, so check with your BOA—noticing a theme here?—to make sure yours will qualify.
In some states, you have to prove that you're an upstanding and respectful citizen in order to officially become a CPA. You guessed it— you'll want to contact your state BOA to find out how you can fulfill this requirement.
The big test is a must for becoming a CPA—and it can be daunting. Check out our Review Course options to find out how you can get prepared to nail the exam and begin your journey to professional success!
You don't have to live or work in the US in order to become a CPA.
Recognized worldwide, the title of USA CPA offers international candidates opportunities for career advancement, increased salaries and job security.
Because CPAs are licensed by state BOAs, if you are an international candidate, you'll first need to pick the state in which you wish to be licensed. State and jurisdiction requirements very greatly, with states like New York and Illinois not mandating a citizenship requirement or a social security number. Additionally, NASBA offers an Advisory Evaluation for the students who have studied outside the US or outside their chosen jurisdiction and are unsure that their education meets board requirements.
For more info, read up on the AICPA's FAQs for international candidates here.