Do you want to know how to become a CPA? That’s great, and I can certainly help! Becoming a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) will take years of education and professional experience. Still, it is so worth it when you reap the rewards of a great career in accounting.

You will need to invest in months of dedicated study time to pass the CPA Exam, and there will also be financial requirements. However, it all pays for itself in the end when you have a rewarding career as a CPA. You will feel so much pride and sense of accomplishment once you complete this process and earn your certificate.

Now, if you’re wondering how to become a CPA, we’re going to take you through the steps in full detail, so you know exactly what you need to do.

How to Become a CPA – Steps to Take

Becoming a CPA is something that takes years of education and professional accounting experience. Also, it requires months of study and prep for the CPA Exam itself. Understanding the CPA steps is very important for anyone looking to get into the field of accounting. You’re going to hear the CPA mentioned all the time as an accounting student, and you need to decide if it’s right for you. Understanding the steps and completing them in the proper order is very important to your path to becoming a CPA.

Step One – Identify the Benefits of CPA Certification

First, you need to identify the benefits of CPA certification. Becoming a CPA is a long commitment, and you want to be sure it’s right for you before you dive in. There are many advantages to becoming a CPA. When you know the benefits, it can help you decide if this certification is really right for you. You also need to understand what this certification is. The CPA is not a federally-issued license. Instead, the CPA certification is issued by each state. This means each state has its own rules and guidelines about the CPA certification. While they all follow the same general format, there can be many small important differences. Now, let’s look at the CPA benefits.

Getting your CPA certification gives you:

  1. The ability to earn more money
  2. Greater job stability
  3. More job opportunities
  4. Better benefits and incentives on the job
  5. More job flexibility

As you can see, these are great reasons for many people to get the CPA certification. The creator of the CPA exam, the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) also explains some of the reasons candidates choose the CPA over other certifications or no certification at all. They confirm that the CPA will help accelerate the career of anyone with an accounting major.

Earning your CPA license will open doors both in the US and in other countries for experienced international accountants. In the accounting industry, getting your CPA is one of the best ways to maximize your earning potential and reach new career goals, such as promotions and pay raises.

The road to a CPA can be long, but all the rewards will motivate you and help you stay on track.

Step Two – Compare CPA Against Other Accounting Certifications

The CPA is not the only accounting certification out there, although it is one of the most well-known. A CPA certification is definitely beneficial for an accounting career. However, candidates need to do their research and decide if it’s the best choice for their careers. This is because there are different types of accounting certifications and many different jobs you can do within the accounting field.

Not only will you want to look at what you get from the CPA, but you also want to compare it to other certifications like the CMA, the CFA or the CIA. You can also learn about more advanced degrees before you make the decision to pursue a certificate at all. Additionally, you may choose to pursue your MAcc or MBA instead of going after an accounting certification.

But because the CPA is the gold standard, it’s likely going to be an uphill battle for you to accelerate your career without this prestigious title.

Step Three – Understand Your Ability

You know that getting your CPA is a challenge. It’s important to be sure you’re ready for this challenge. You need to assess your ability and make sure this is something you’re prepared to commit to and that you’re capable of. There are three requirements you must meet:

  • Pass the CPA Exam
  • earn 150 credit hours in education
  • Get 1-2 years of accounting experience

Some state boards of accountancy will also expect you to meet additional requirements of passing an ethics exam. You need to check with the requirements in your desired state to know if this is required for you.

Once you know all of the requirements, you can do a deep gut check to be sure this is really something you can do and want to do. It will be very rewarding in the end, but it’s not something you should start if you’re not fully committed to the outcome.

Step Four – Understand the ROI

We know it’s going to cost a lot of time and money to get your CPA certification. But how does the investment pan out when it’s all over? First, let’s look at what you have to invest in. You will need to pay for the CPA Exam fees and CPA review course materials, and those two alone can cost upwards of $3,000 USD. You may also have other expenses like travel, licensing fees, CPE courses, and evaluation reports. So it’s agreed across the board that there is a significant investment.

However, one direct benefit to the CPA certification is that you will earn a higher salary. In fact, it can pay for itself in the very first year of work, and then some. Review an updated CPA salary guide to help you learn more about how much you can earn. The numbers clearly show that the ROI is worth it. Despite how much it may cost to get your CPA, it will pay for itself again and again over the years you work in the profession with your certification.

Additionally, you can utilize CPA review discounts to help you save on earning your CPA certification.

Step Five – Meet the Educational Requirements

Getting your CPA certification is not as simple as just taking a test and passing. The CPA Exam is only one part of it. You’re also required to meet certain educational milestones. You need to check the CPA requirements of the state in which you’d like to sit for the exam. Most states will require candidates to have 120 credit hours of education, which is the equivalent of a 4-year bachelor’s degree. Some states prefer that your bachelor’s degree be in accounting, but not all.

The educational requirements are very important, so it’s essential you find out what yours are so you can be prepared. You can sit for the exam once you’ve gotten 120 credit hours, depending on the state. However, you can’t get the CPA certification until you’ve completed 150 credit hours. There are different ways you can earn these credits to meet the requirement. My recommended way to earn the additional credit hours is to get a MAcc or enroll in a bridge program that fills the gap between your bachelor’s degree and the credit hours required for the CPA in your chosen state.

Additionally, states generally require 24 credit hours of accounting courses as well as 24 credit hours of business courses. So, you need to pay attention to the types of classes you are taking, in addition to the amount.

Step Six – Register for the CPA Exam

You can’t just show up and take the CPA Exam, and you wouldn’t want to because you’d likely fail. You can’t just schedule your exam without registering for it first. This step has to come before scheduling the exam itself. You will register after you put in a CPA application with your state board and get approved.

The CPA application process involves choosing the state in which you’d like to sit. I recommend selecting a state in which you might live or work (for ease), but you can choose any state, so long as you meet the requirements of that state. Next, you need to send your application to the state board.

Then, you wait for the result. This can happen as quickly as one week or can take as long as 12 weeks. It all depends on the state and the time of year you apply. While you are waiting on the result, you can start to research review courses and study materials.

Once you have successfully applied to take the exam, you will get a document in the mail called the Notice to Schedule (NTS). This is incredibly important so don’t lose it. This document has a code inside that allows you to schedule your appointments for testing. You will also need to bring it with you to your Prometric testing center on test day. Also, it’s helpful to know that Prometric has many testing centers located all over the world so that you can choose the one closest to you. However, even though there is a wealth of Prometric testing locations, some candidates may still have to travel to take the CPA Exam.

Step Six – Schedule Your Exam

Next, you need to find the closest testing center to you and then schedule the CPA Exam. When looking at times, consider your commute and other information. You can take the exam sections in any order you want. Most candidates decide to take the part they feel will be the easiest first. However, it’s important to plan around the exam testing windows. There are certain times of the year that you cannot take the exam.

The exam is available to take every weekday during the following CPA Exam testing windows:

  • January 1 to March 10
  • April 1 to June 10
  • July 1 to September 10
  • October 1 to December 10

Next, let’s look at some other important things to know about how to become a CPA. This will all be important information to have along your CPA journey.

CPA Exam Format

Understanding the CPA Exam format is another important part of the process. There are four exam sections that cover accounting as well as related topics about business, law, and taxation.

Additionally, the CPA Exam also includes 3 different question types: multiple-choice (MCQs), task-based simulations (TBSs), and written communications (WCs). However, the WCs are only tested in BEC. The CPA Exam questions are presented in 5 “testlets” that you need to complete in four hours.

Testlets Auditing and Attestation (AUD) Business Environment and Concepts (BEC) Financial Accounting and Reporting (FAR) Regulation (REG)
1: MCQs 36 31 33 38
2: MCQs 36 31 33 38
3: TBSs 2 2 2 2
4: TBSs 3 2 3 3
5: TBSs/WCs 3 TBSs 3 WCs 3 TBSs 3 TBSs

It may sound a bit tricky at first, but once you start your study materials, it will make more sense. Also, many candidates also find it very helpful to join some kind of support group and communicate with other people who have their CPA certification or who are also on the path to getting it. Peer support is very helpful and will assist you with your goals and all the steps along the way. Some people find study groups or peer support groups very helpful to keep them motivated throughout the lengthy process.

Preparing for the CPA Exam

Next, you need to know how to prepare for the CPA Exam. If you want to greatly increase your chances of passing on the first try, you will need quality study materials. The CPA Exam has a reputation of low pass rates. However, while the passing percentages tend to rise and fall from quarter to quarter, the average CPA Exam pass rate is less than 50%. That means at least half of the people who take it do not pass the first time. If you want to pass on the first try, you need to invest in a proper CPA review course.

You will want a quality review course to study for the CPA and you’ll also want to plan a study schedule. There are great review courses that are trusted in the industry, like those from Surgent CPA, Becker CPA, and Wiley CPA. While all of these big names have quality courses, they are not all created equal. It’s important to research your CPA review course options and look into more than just cost. So, learn what each review course offers for the cost, the type of study materials they have, how those materials are presented, how long you have access to the course materials, and whether or not they offer any guarantees, just to name a few.

Choosing the proper study materials is one of the most important parts of the process after you’ve decided to go for your CPA certification. If you’re planning on going to a Big 4, the CPA is a smart choice (it’s basically mandatory for big 4). So, now that you know the steps to become a CPA, what are you going to do? Leave me a comment and let me know!