How to Become a CPA
Know the CPA Requirements

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CPA Exam Basics

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Curious about how to become a Certified Public Accountant (CPA)? The first step is to determine what the CPA license requirements are from your State Board of Accountancy. Each state has its own unique set of requirements to sit for the Uniform Certified Public Accountant Examination (CPA Exam), and to become a registered CPA in that state, you must meet all their CPA requirements.

How Do I Become a CPA?

Understanding the requirements

Technically, CPA requirements vary by state, although the majority of states adhere to extremely similar and uniform standards. The general requirements for a CPA are as follows:

  • A bachelor's degree
  • A total of 24-semester units in accounting
  • A total of 24-semester units in business
  • 150-semester units of education
  • Pass the four-part CPA Exam
  • Obtain a passing score on the AICPA ethics exam
  • A year of accounting or accounting-related experience confirmed by a licensed CPA
Studying for the CPA Exam

Planning, discipline, and commitment are necessary for CPA Exam success. To achieve this, it is highly recommended that candidates use a top CPA Exam review course with proven results. A reputable course will provide candidates with a comprehensive study plan that is adaptable to individual needs and access to high-quality study resources that will prepare candidates to understand and master CPA Exam topics.

According to the AICPA, successful candidates spend 300–400 hours preparing for the four-part CPA Exam, which can be condensed to just a few months (we recommend at least 3 months), or spread out over several months.

Submitting an Application

The application process for the CPA Exam is extensive and cumbersome. The first step is to have the state board of accountancy confirm that all CPA Exam requirements have been met. Then you can submit your application to sit for the CPA Exam.

Taking the CPA Exam

The National Association of State Boards of Accountancy (NASBA) will issue a Notice To Schedule (NTS) when the board approves an application. Once approved, candidates can arrange to sit for their first exam section.The CPA Exam is a comprehensive test composed of four sections, given individually over a total of 16 hours, and must be completed within an 18-month window. The four exams cover a wide variety of topics taught in most university accounting programs.

Note: Candidates are issued only one NTS per individual exam section, and each NTS has a set validity of 6 months in most states. If an NTS expires, candidates will need to reapply and repay associated fees.

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What are the CPA License Requirements?

The CPA license is the certification that allows you to practice public accounting. It is administered by the 56 US State Boards of Accountancy. The certification is the gold standard in the accounting profession and helps support the professional standards required of CPAs in the accounting industry. However, CPA license requirements are a little different from CPA Exam requirements. We have listed the essentials to obtaining a CPA license.

Ethics Requirements

In addition to passing each section of the CPA Exam, a candidate may be required to pass the AICPA ethics exam as well. This is a fast-paced self-study course that concludes with a quiz. While not required in every state, it is a prerequisite in most states. Check with your State Board of Accountancy as you work toward your CPA certification if you are required to pass an ethics exam.

Work Experience Requirements

Having appropriate work experience is another CPA license requirement. Most employers require at least one to two years of experience in public accounting. While experience at a non-public accounting firm is often recognized, the number of years required is typically higher. Working under the supervision of a certified CPA before, during, or after taking the CPA Exam will count toward your experience.

Continued Education

Most state boards require CPAs to complete a particular number of Continuing Professional Education (CPE) hours within a given time frame after they have received CPA licensure. For further information, you can contact your state board.

International Candidates

International applicants who fulfill all of the CPA requirements for one of the State Boards of Accountancy can become CPAs in the United States. Most states and jurisdictions in the United States do not require international candidates to be citizens of the United States. However, Alabama, Arizona, Georgia, Hawaii, North Carolina, and Puerto Rico are among the states and jurisdictions that require US citizenship.

Note: International CPA candidates must be able to take the CPA Exam in English. For more information about CPA Requirements for International Candidates, visit our international candidate resource page.

CPA License Requirements by State

Similar to CPA Exam Requirements, state-specific CPA license requirements also vary. Each state in the United States has its own protocols and licensing requirements. In order to obtain a CPA license, you should first review the state's specific requirements. For information on how to apply for the CPA license in a given state or territory, please select the corresponding location from the list below.

Alaska Louisiana New York
Colorado Maine Ohio
Connecticut Massachusetts Pennsylvania
Delaware Michigan Puerto Rico
Florida Minnesota Rhode Island
Georgia Missouri South Carolina
Guam Montana Tennessee
Hawaii Nebraska Utah
Indiana New Hampshire Vermont
Iowa New Jersey Washington
Kansas New Mexico Wisconsin
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Finding the best state to become a CPA depends on your career goals. Each state has its own requirements to become a CPA, and the benefits of obtaining a CPA license in one state might outweigh the benefits of another. Check with the different State Boards of Accountancy to see which state works best for you.
There are various ways to meet the experience requirement to become a CPA. Most states will count part-time work and internships. Experience requirements can also be met in non-public accounting firms. Check with your State Board of Accountancy to see how you can meet their requirements.
The reciprocity rule between states allows CPAs the ability to work in different states even if they are only licensed in one. The importance of the reciprocity rule is that CPAs have more flexibility to work with other clients in different geographical locations. NASBA started an initiative to work with the State Boards of Accountancy to have all states pass laws that would allow a CPA to be licensed in one state but able to temporarily work in another.
To begin with, know that passing the CPA Exam does not necessitate genius level intelligence. It’s more of a test of discipline. You will unquestionably succeed on the CPA Exam if you devote yourself to your studies and keep your sights set on the future. A key element for success is having a solid study plan and sticking to it. Always make progress toward your goals and remember why you started.


Read More about the CPA Exam

Preparing for the CPA Exam? Learn about state CPA licensing requirements and exceptions here.
Don’t know how to schedule the CPA Exam? Get step-by-step guidance on the scheduling and registration process here!
Did you know the CPA Exam is divided into four sections? Learn all about each section including content and format.
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