CPA Educational Requirements

A candidate must meet certain education requirements to become a CPA. Find out how many semester hours are required to sit for the CPA Exam.
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The 150-Hour Rule​

One of the first things to consider when working towards the CPA credential is what your state board of accountancy’s educational requirements are. Every state has different educational requirements that must be met to sit for the CPA Exam and become a licensed CPA in that state. It’s important to ensure that you’re fulfilling those requirements, so we recommend that you get in touch with your state board of accountancy early in the CPA process.

There is something called the 150-hour rule that many states enforce as a requirement for CPA candidacy. This means that you’ll need to successfully complete 150 educational credit hours or units before sitting for the CPA Exam.

Other Ways to Meet the 150-credit Hour Educational Requirement​

  • First, calculate all the eligible college semester hours you have. Your hours from your undergraduate institution will probably be your main source credit, but that doesn’t mean that they are the only ones you can count.

  • Remember those AP classes from high school? If your college offers units for AP exams, you can use these units towards the 150-unit requirement if the AP credit units are listed on your transcript. To get credit for your AP exams, check in with an academic counselor at your college and ask them if you can submit your AP exam scores for unit credit. Many universities, colleges, and community colleges give credit for AP exams, so it doesn’t hurt to ask. Also, if you’ve already submitted your AP scores to your college, they may have already given you credit for them! Check your transcript to see if the units are listed. If you need help, consult with an academic counselor at your school.

  • Have you taken any community college courses? Community college courses count towards your 150 credit hours, so send your community college transcripts to the Board of Accountancy when you apply for licensure.

In summary, taking additional courses in the summer or during the school year will help you reach the 150-unit requirement once you graduate. Also, finishing the 150-unit requirement by the time you graduate with a bachelor’s degree will give you an edge in recruiting, since many firms look for candidates who have completed or will soon complete 150 units.

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Should I Get a Master’s Degree in Accounting (MAcc)? ​

Master’s in accounting (MAcc) programs are becoming much more common. Universities are encouraging their students to pursue a master’s degree to ensure that their students are properly prepared to gain CPA licensure. Some schools offer what they call a BMAcc, which is a bachelor’s and master’s dual degree in accounting. This option offers a way for students to get their 150 credits without having to deal with the added rigors of applying to a master’s program. However, if you enroll in a dual degree program, you will not be receiving your degrees until the completion of the entire program. Depending on your state’s requirements, you may not be able to sit for the CPA Exam until full completion of the program. In comparison, if you applied to a traditional master’s program with a background in accounting, you can begin to register for the CPA Exam and sit while you are pursuing your master’s degree.

If you are interested in pursuing a master’s degree in accounting and do not come from an accounting program, it can take between one to two years to complete the program. This includes completing all the prerequisites you may need to take before you start your program. The good news is that many of the prerequisites like Financial and Managerial Accounting can also be taken at your local community college to save you some extra time and money!

Other universities offer a summer intensive program that consists of eight weeks of accounting and tax classes (hence the term intensive) to provide you with a core understanding before beginning your one-year MAcc program.

A student can also just continue into a master’s program after they graduate with their bachelor’s degree. An accounting master’s program is a one-to-two-year program where students can dive deeper into accounting concepts and gain an in-depth knowledge of tax principles. A master’s program in accounting also entails a lot of studying, group work, and opportunities to work on real case examples. These are all great skill sets to take to your new job and coupled with hard work, will ensure your career success.

Skills Needed as a CPA ​

Once you’ve completed all the requirements to become a CPA, you’ll need to start developing the right skills to be successful in your career. According to Robert Half’s article, “The Top 7 CPA Skills You Need — and How to Get Them,” you’ll need to develop the following competencies as a CPA:

  • Management and leadership strength
  • Public speaking competence
  • Up-to-date tax knowledge
  • Business expertise
  • Systems abilities
  • Communication mastery
  • Additional auditing training

We’ve added two more that we think are important for the role of the new accountant:

  • Professional skepticism and judgement, and;
  • Critical thinking skills.

Mastering all these skills may seem overwhelming, but don’t panic. You can start working on and honing them as you begin your CPA journey. Take additional training or classes when needed or find a mentor at your firm who can help you gain additional skills and knowledge. Volunteer to take on more leadership roles. Get out of your comfort zone for continued career growth. Always take the initiative to better your skillset while increasing your career potential.

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