CPA Exam Application Process
What Is the CPA Exam?
Though the application process for the exam may differ between states, it is recognized in all 50 territories as well as Guam, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands and the Mariana Islands as a mandatory part of the public accounting licensing process.
The exam consists of four sections:
- Financial Accounting and Reporting (FAR)
- Auditing and Attestation (AUD)
- Regulation (REG)
- Business Environment and Concepts (BEC)
It is computer-based and has three written communication questions, 28 task-based mock-ups and 276 multiple-choice questions.
Each section is graded from 0 to 99 with a minimum pass score of 75.
Exam participants have four hours to complete each section, which they do not have to complete simultaneously. Should you choose, you can sit each section individually over an 18-month period.
For some candidates, the CPA application process is just as complicated as the test itself.
There are several prerequisites, as well as a series of steps for your CPA application. Any mistakes can lead to a rejected application, which could set you back months.
This article will help you understand the CPA exam application process to reduce mistakes, allow more time for exam preparation and increase your chance of a successful application.
Who Is Eligible for the CPA Exam?
Before applying for the CPA exam, double-check you are eligible to sit the exam at the time of application.
Planning ahead is an excellent personal organization skill to have. But your application will be rejected if you do not meet the minimum criteria at the time of application, regardless of your status at the time of sitting the exam.
Each state has a different set of entry requirements for the exam, but most require:
- A bachelor's degree in business or accounting
- 150 credit hours of coursework
- Minimum 18 years old (New York and Missouri require candidates to be at least 21)
Before applying, check the state requirements for the following:
Some states allow non-residents to apply. Others need you to have lived there for at least six months.
The majority of states require you to sit an ethics exam covering topics from the AICPA Code of Professional Conduct.
Some states, such as Virginia, Ohio, Texas and Wisconsin, have their own or additional ethical codes and exam requirements.
Georgia, Kentucky, Michigan and Pennsylvania do not require an ethics exam as part of their CPA license.
As well as your degree and credit study hours, some states require specific modules and coursework.
Illinois, for example, requires 30 hours in accounting-specific areas such as auditing and taxes.
Other states, like California and Maine, have more detailed coursework requirements, including hours spent in upper-level business and accounting courses.
What Is the CPA Application Process?
Applying for the CPA exam can be confusing as it follows a specific order, and some parts have time limits.
However, if you follow this list, you can complete your CPA exam application process in four to six weeks (depending on the state).
1. Double-Check Eligibility
Ensure you have met all the prerequisites and minimum requirements for the state you are sitting the exam in.
2. Collate Your Documents
Before sending your application, collate and send in all your college transcripts to your state board.
Don't worry about sending too many, as the more information you provide, the better.
Many CPA exam applicants make the mistake of sending in transcripts after their application. However, the board cannot review your application until it has those documents.
Upon graduation, order your transcripts and send them to your state board immediately and send any you already have ahead of time.
Once it receives them, your state board will keep them on file, ready for your application.
3. Submit Application and Pay Fees
Once you have sent off your transcripts, you can submit your application.
The application form is short and asks general administrative questions such as personal and educational information.
Along with your form, you will also submit your application fee.
Depending on the state, the fee will be $100 to $200.
4. Receive Your 'Authorization to Test' (ATT)
After the board approves your application, you will be issued an ATT.
This document allows you to sign up for an exam section for your chosen state, but it is only valid for 90 days.
If you do not register for your exam sections before it expires, you will have to pay the application fee again.
For this step, you don't need to know the exact dates you want to sit your exams, just which one you wish to register for first.
5. Apply for Exam Sections
To apply for your exam sections, log in to the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy (NASBA) website and pay the relevant fees.
Again, every state has a different fee that ranges from $175 to $250 for each section, or $700 to $1,000 for all four.
Don't worry too much about the exact CPA exam dates of all the sections. You have six months from receiving your Notice to Schedule (NTS) to schedule them.
At this stage, focus on signing up and paying for the sections you want to take within the next six months.
You can sign up for the rest at a later date.
It will take around three to six weeks to receive your NTS.
6. Receive NTS and Schedule Exams
Your NTS is a legal document that allows you to sit and take the CPA exam in your chosen state.
It is typically only valid for six months, so ensure that you have only paid for the exam sections you can sit within that time frame.
- California, Hawaii, Louisiana and Utah have a nine-month expiry.
- North Dakota, South Dakota and Virginia have a 12-month expiry.
- Texas only has 90 days.
Be smart with your fees. Unless you are 100% certain you can sit all four sections within the state-given validity period, do not pay for all four sections.
Pay for one or two and apply for the remaining sections six months later.
Using the exam section ID on your NTS, log in to the Prometric website and schedule your exams.
The system is great at finding testing centers closest to you. However, you can take your CPA test at any Prometric testing center in the country, regardless of the state you've registered for.
For example, if you plan on living and working in New York but are studying in Florida, you can take the test in Florida.
The centers are all different sizes, and the smaller ones do fill up fast.
Schedule your exam as soon as possible to ensure you get your desired location. Ideally, you want to sit your first exam about a month after this step.
Rescheduling fees can get expensive. Give yourself enough time to prepare and make sure no other occasion interferes with that date.
7. Sit Your Exam
On the day of your exam you must bring with you:
- Your NTS
- Two forms of ID
Both IDs should be in date and bear your signature. At least one should have a recent photograph.
How long it takes to complete a CPA exam section depends on you, but there is a time limit of four hours, so come well prepared.
Before the exam, ensure you are well rested, fully hydrated and have eaten something nutritional.
Things to Remember When Applying
The application process sounds more complicated than it is. When working through the steps, remember:
You can sit your exams at any Prometric location across the country. It can be the location where you are currently studying, near your family home, where you plan on living after school or anywhere else that suits you.
Once you pass your first section, you will have 18 months to pass the rest.
While you are free to apply for any state and sit the exams in any location, you can only register to sit the exams in one location at a time.
You can apply any time during the year, and as of July 2020, AICPA and NASBA offer continuous testing, allowing you to sit the test at any time. The only restriction is South Carolina, which won't have continuous testing until some time in 2021.
Ensure the name on your application and both IDs match exactly.
The CPA exam application process sounds complex, but planning ahead and gathering as much information as possible will make everything much easier.
If there is anything you are unclear about, speak to an on-campus career advisor or a member of your accounting state board.
The journey to becoming a certified public accountant can be stressful. But once you have passed everything and received your license, it will all have been worth it.