The Certified Public Accountant (CPA) exam and certification are administered by the Association of CPAs in each U.S. state. Each state has different requirements, but the basic principles are similar.
- Get a Bachelor’s Degree in Accounting. The CPA certification actually requires 150 semester credits, but some states allow you to start taking the exam after the Bachelor’s degree. Some states, however, require the full 150 credits before you are able to do so. Check with your state. At least 25 credits need to be in upper level accounting, and coursework must cover financial accounting, auditing, taxation, and management.
- Take the Exam.The CPA exam is offered by computer at a testing center. There are four parts to the exam and each are about 4 hours each:
- Auditing and Attestation
- Financial Accounting and Reporting
- Business Environment and Concepts
Each part can be taken separately, one at a time, over a year and a half. You can retake
the sections up to three times, but you pay each time. The first time passing rate in the
U.S. is approximately 45-50%. It is hard! I highly recommend a comprehensive review
course before taking the exam.
- Get Experience. To become certified, a candidate must have one year of accounting experience in public, academic, government, or management, and it must be verified by a CPA. The experience must be in the state in which you will be certified.
- Get More Education. To become certified the candidate must have 150 semester credits of education. You have three years from when you passed your last section of the exam to complete the final requirements for certification (this varies by state). CPAs must also take about 40 credits of continuing education every year to maintain the certification.
Melanie Torborg is a Certified Management Accountant with over 20 years of corporate experience. She has a degree in Finance and a Master’s Degree in Business. She has spent that last 11 years as an educator in the Accounting field.