Requirements to Take the CPA Exam
What Is the CPA Exam?
Many accountants choose to obtain a certified public accountant (CPA) license, which also gives them CPA status.
The CPA, a US-based designation, sets out professional standards for people working in the field of accounting.
It is possible to work as an accountant without a CPA license. However, there are limits to the type of work you will be able to do.
For example, having your CPA license allows you to represent tax clients before the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). You will also have the authority to sign off audits.
These higher-level responsibilities offer scope to earn a better salary.
To gain accreditation, candidates must pass a computer-based exam.
The CPA exam requirements vary, as they are laid down by individual state boards. However, most states expect candidates to have the same core qualifications to be eligible.
If you want to take the CPA exam, it is important to have a full understanding of all the different requirements and to practice the CPA exam.
The best way to practice for the CPA exam is to take an additional CPA course with full CPA study materials.
If you apply but are not eligible, your application will be rejected. However, your examination fees will be retained by the state board.
Requirements to Take the CPA Exam
CPA exam candidates must be at least 18 years old. If you are under 18, you can begin preparing and studying for the exam so you are ready to take it as soon as you are of age.
Most states will only accept CPA exam applications from US citizens.
Alabama, Hawaii, Louisiana and North Carolina accept applications from international candidates.
Social Security Number
Most states require CPA exam candidates to have a social security number.
Those without a social security number can apply to take the exam in Illinois, Montana, New York, South Dakota or Wisconsin.
Criminal Record Status
If you have a criminal record or conviction, you should contact your state board at the earliest possible opportunity.
You may be required to attend a hearing to explain the issue.
The state board will decide whether your criminal record should prevent you from sitting the CPA exam.
The exact CPA education requirements vary between states.
In most states, CPA exam candidates will need to have either a bachelor’s degree (usually in a relevant field, such as finance or accounting) or 120 semester hours.
If you want to sit the exam in Alaska, Georgia, Hawaii, Maine or Massachusetts, you can apply with a general bachelor’s degree. If you have the correct number of credits and meet the other requirements, you should still be able to take the CPA exam.
All states ask for minimum levels of business and accounting coursework – for example, a minimum of 24 semester hours in accounting.
Most states expect CPA exam candidates to have at least 20 credit hours in a relevant business course – for example, management, business law or finance.
Regardless of your educational background, your qualifications must be from an accredited institution.
If you are an international student, it may be more difficult to meet this requirement if your degree is not recognized by the state board. To find out whether your degree is recognized, contact your state board.
Some states will allow candidates to take the CPA exam before they graduate from college. To find out whether this applies to you, contact your state board.
If you are unsure whether you meet the educational requirements, contact your state board. They can review your transcripts and confirm whether you have the required academic credits to sit the CPA exam.
A handful of states require CPA exam candidates to have 150 college credit hours or a Master’s degree.
To find out whether this applies to your chosen jurisdiction, contact your state board.
Work experience is not a requirement for sitting the CPA exam. However, you will need it to obtain your CPA license.
You will have sufficient time to gain the necessary experience after passing the exam.
The number of hours of work experience you need varies between states and is set out by the state board.
On average, you will need two years of work experience. However, in some states, this can be as little as one year. In others, it can be as much as five.
Work experience can include:
- Working as an accountant
- Assisting a CPA
- Working in an entry-level position, such as bookkeeping or as an accounting clerk
- Volunteer accounting work (providing you have completed the appropriate training). For example, this could be for a not-for-profit organization or a church.
Things to Remember
After you have confirmed that you meet the eligibility requirements, you will need to:
Submit an online application.
Visit the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy’s (NASBA) CPA Central portal to submit your verification document.
After your application has been verified, you will be granted a Notice to Schedule (NTS). This is valid for six months and you will need it to schedule your CPA Exam Section.
Decide when you would like to take the exam. Aim to book your exam as soon as you receive your NTS so you can select your preferred test date and location. You can book your exam via the Prometric website.
Try to schedule your exam on a Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday, when the test centers tend to be quieter.
Your appointment time will last 4.5 hours, but the testing time for each of the four examination sections is four hours. This gives you a 30-minute window to log in, complete the survey and take the standardized break. The additional 30 minutes cannot be used as additional testing time.
Tips for Examination Day
Get a good night’s sleep.
Plan your route to the test center so you know exactly where you are going. Leave plenty of time to allow for delays or traffic.
Eat a nutritious meal and hydrate before entering the test center. You will not be allowed to eat or drink while the exam is in progress.
Bring your NTS. You will need to present this and will not be able to take the exam if you forget it.
Bring acceptable identification. A list of appropriate documents is included with the NTS and on the Candidate Bulletin. You may wish to organize these documents in a folder to ensure you have them to hand when you need to present them. Check that the name on your NTS matches that on your identity documents. If it does not, you must contact NASBA on 1-866-MY-NASBA (1-866-696-2722) prior to the date of the examination.
At the beginning of the exam, you will have five minutes to work through the introductory screens. If you take longer than that, the session will terminate and you will not be permitted to restart the exam.
At the end of the exam, you will be issued with a Confirmation of Attendance form. Keep this safe, as it contains useful contact information for Prometric, American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) and NASBA).
According to the US Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics, the workforce of accountants and auditors will grow by 4%, to more than 1.4 million people, by 2029.
Employment growth, coupled with attrition and other changes, means there is likely to be more jobs in the field.
The process for obtaining CPA accreditation can seem long, difficult and overwhelming. However, putting in the work to gain it will help you to further your accountancy career and improve your earning potential.
Remember, sitting the CPA exam is not the end of your professional journey. The role of CPA is a respected profession, and to succeed, you will need to commit to continuing your professional career development, even after you have passed the exam.