Getting your CPA certification requires knowing the CPA Exam requirements. And earning your Certified Public Accountant certificate can be a smart move for your career that pays off again and again over time. However, getting that certification will take some work and some financial investment. If you’re planning to pursue the CPA certification, you need to learn how to qualify to take the exam. First, there are certain CPA Exam requirements that you must meet.
CPA Exam requirements can vary by the 55 CPA jurisdictions (there is one jurisdiction for every state and US territory). While some of the qualifications of each jurisdiction can be very different, the base qualifications for all states remain similar. If you can meet these fundamental requirements, then becoming eligible in the state you choose will be fairly simple. We recommend you choose which state you plan to take the CPA Exam in and then look up the specific requirements for that state.
CPA Eligibility Requirements
To sit for the CPA Exam, you must meet some eligibility requirements first. Candidates who want to sit for the CPA Exam must meet these requirements before sitting, as this is the first step in the CPA Exam application process. Your state board will automatically reject the application if you are not eligible. And if this happens, not only will you not be able to sit for the CPA exam, but you also won’t get your application fees back. Therefore, we highly recommend you familiarize yourself with the requirements and ensure you meet them before you apply.
List of CPA Exam Requirements (for some jurisdictions):
- US Citizen (many states do not have this requirement)
- Valid Social Security Number (not all states have this requirement)
- Candidates must be at least 18 years old
- 120 college credit hours to sit for the exam (the equivalent of a 4-year bachelor’s degree) and 150 credit hours to earn the CPA license after passing the CPA Exam
In some states, you will need to be a citizen of the United States of America to take the CPA Exam. However, this is not the case exclusively. If you are an international candidate looking for a career in public accounting, then you may want to review the best states for international CPA candidates.
Social Security Number
You may need a social security number to apply to sit for the CPA Exam. Your social security number serves as a form of identification and is a requirement in nearly every state. However, just like the citizenship requirement, there are states where you will find an exception to the rule. For international candidates, there are still states that do not have this requirement. So, candidates without an SSN can apply in Illinois, Montana, New York, South Dakota, and Wisconsin.
Age Requirements for the CPA Exam
There is a minimum age to sit for the CPA Exam. For most people, this will not be an issue, as the average age of a CPA candidate is around 28. The age requirement is 18 years old in all 55 jurisdictions. Therefore, if you are not yet 18, then you will have to wait until you turn 18 to begin. If you are a very young candidate and you’re waiting until your 18th birthday to officially apply, there are some things you can do to prepare in the meantime. For example, you can start studying for the exam now.
CPA Requirements by State
To help you learn more about the requirements for your state, follow one of the links below.
- Washington, D.C.
- New Hampshire
- New Jersey
- New Mexico
- New York
- North Carolina
- North Dakota
- Rhode Island
- South Carolina
- South Dakota
- West Virginia
Next, let’s take a look at the different sections of the exam and how they break down. This gives you a very brief overview of what’s covered on the CPA Exam.
CPA Exam Sections
The AICPA created the Uniform CPA Examination with input from NASBA and the state boards of accountancy. Receiving feedback from the state boards of accountancy is very important because while each state can vary in its requirements, the exam itself will still be uniform. This means every candidate is getting the same experience when they take the exam, regardless of the state in which they sit for the CPA Exam.
The 4 CPA Exam Sections Include:
- Auditing and Attestation (AUD)
- Business Environments and Concepts (BEC)
- Financial Accounting and Reporting (FAR)
- Regulation (REG)
The questions of each exam are presented in the form of different question types. The questions are put together in a series called testlets.
The question types include:
You will get four hours of total testing time for each section of the exam. Additionally, you must pass all four sections within an 18-month period; the date for this period begins on the date you took your first passed section. Basically, from the time you take and pass your first section, the clock starts ticking. You then need to take and pass the other three sections before the 30-month window has passed to get your CPA certification.
If you do not pass all four CPA sections, or you do not pass them in the timeframe allowed, you have to start over. Additionally, you will lose any CPA exam fees you’ve already paid and have to pay them again. As you can see, it’s very important to fully prepare for the exam. You want to have the best shot at passing within the time window allowed.
Next, let’s take a look at the educational and work CPA experience requirements. You must meet these to earn the CPA certification. Also, this area can be tricky for candidates because there are certain requirements to sit for the exam and more requirements to become a CPA.
Education Requirements for the CPA Exam
A bachelor’s degree or the equivalent of 120 college credit hours is required to sit for the CPA Exam. Additionally, some states require those 120 college credit hours or a bachelor’s degree to have been earned as an accounting major. However, other states only require certain accounting courses during your time in school. Further, to be licensed, EACH jurisdiction requires an extra 30 college credit hours, putting the total necessary hours to 150.
In some states, you’ll need 150 hours to sit and also to be licensed. However, in others, you’ll only need 120 hours to sit and 150 to be certified.
Whether your state requires you to major in accounting or not, you will still be expected to have accounting and financial knowledge in areas like:
- Advanced financial accounting
- Business Law
College Credits and Specific Courses
The number of credits and specific courses required also differ between state jurisdictions. Be sure to double-check the state you are interested in so that you can ensure that you meet all of their specific requirements. In most states, you need to meet the educational requirements before you sit for the exam. However, some states will allow you to sit for the exam first and finish up the additional credit hours needed to reach 150 for licensure later. If you’re currently a student and going for your CPA, this might work in your favor.
If your state allows early testing, you should consider it as soon as you are eligible. This will put you ahead of the curve to start your career sooner and more efficiently. Most candidates are looking to move along with that exam as soon as they can and get it over with. While it’s important to be prepared, procrastination doesn’t make it any easier.
Furthermore, your education must be from an accredited and recognized school. If you are an international candidate, be especially aware to verify that the school you have chosen to attend has its accreditations and meets the requirements of the state in which you plan to become licensed.
If you are unsure of the requirements for your chosen jurisdiction, you can contact your state board and ask any questions you have. Additionally, you can use the resource provided above for information about each state board of accountancy.
While work experience is always helpful in starting your career, it is not mandatory to have work experience before you sit for the exam in any of the 55 jurisdictions. However, each jurisdiction requires a certain number of work experience hours under set guidelines before you can be licensed. Furthermore, if you have no experience before taking your exam, don’t worry. You will have plenty of time to meet those requirements once you pass the exam.
To recap, the basic CPA requirements are sometimes referred to as the “3 Es” and are required to be licensed:
- Education: earn a 4-year bachelor’s degree and 150 credit hours of college education
- Exam: pass all 4 sections of the CPA Exam
- Experience: acquire one year or more of relevant experience
Candidates who remember the 3 Es are on track for their CPA. Also, some states have an additional requirement: the ethics exam. Again, check your state’s guidelines to see if they require an ethics exam and also which ethics exam your state uses.
Meeting the CPA Exam Requirements
To take the Certified Public Accountant exam, you must meet eligibility guidelines in citizenship, identification, age, and education. Once you meet each of the requirements for the state, you are ready to apply to take the CPA Exam. Are you eligible to sit for the exam now that you know what is required? If so, then your next step will be to start studying as soon as you can. The sooner you start to prepare, the sooner you can begin. And then, the sooner you take and pass the exam, the sooner you start your successful career as a CPA.
Now that you know all about these CPA requirements, you can take your next step toward becoming a CPA. If you’re taking the exam, you’re also going to need a quality review course to help you prepare. We don’t recommend that anyone try to go this alone. It’s a very difficult test (CPA Exam pass rates hover around 50%), and there’s no reason to struggle when there is so much help available.
Choosing a CPA Review Course
As you can see, a lot goes into preparing for the CPA Exam. Before you spend your hard-earned money and time registering and sitting for the CPA Exam, you also need to plan for how you will study. To increase your chances of passing the CPA Exam the first time you take it, you must purchase a CPA review course. Studies have proven time and time again that candidates who use an effective CPA review course do better on the CPA Exam. Becker CPA, Surgent CPA, Wiley CPA, Gleim CPA, Roger CPA, Yaeger CPA, and NINJA CPA are all great study resources for CPA Exam candidates.
Find the most beneficial course of studying by looking into the available CPA review courses, and then hit those books!
Do you still want to know more about the CPA certification and how to get it yourself? Learn more about how to become a CPA.