What Do You Need to Be a CPA? The Critical 3 E’s

what do you need to be a cpa?

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If you’re wondering what do you need to be a CPA? The 3 main requirements are known as the “3 E’s”: Education, Examination, and Experience. The requirements to become a CPA vary from state to state but generally include completing a certain number of college-level accounting and business courses, passing the four-part Uniform CPA Examination, and meeting state-specific work experience requirements.

While the path to becoming a CPA may seem daunting, the rewards are well worth the effort.

How to Save Yourself MONTHS of Time and Frustration
Keep in mind that the CPA exam is the one part of getting your CPA license that you can control how long it takes. The education and experience requirements take as long as they take, but the CPA exams can take you as little as 6 months, or as long as multiple years… depending on how effective your study process is from the beginning.
Learn how to study strategically so you can save yourself tons of time and retake fees with this free training…

What Do You Need to Be a CPA Summary

Education150 total credit hours & typically a bachelor’s degree*
ExamsPass the Uniform CPA Examination and usually an ethics exam*
ExperienceTypically 1 year of working under a licensed CPA*
*Each state has specific education, ethics exam, and work experience requirement. See the full table below.

CPA License Requirements by State

The table below is a list of the general requirements needed for all the states, the required credits to sit for the CPA exam, including the required accounting and business semester hours, the work experience requirements, the residency requirements, and the ethics exam requirements in each state.

StateCredits to Sit for ExamAccounting Credits RequiredBusiness Credits RequiredRequired Work ExperienceResidency RequiredEthics Exam
Alabama12033271 yearALNoNo
Alaska120 (B.S.)2492 yearsNoYes
Arizona120 (B.S.)36302,000 hoursNoYes
Arkansas120 (B.S.)30301 yearNoYes
California120 (B.S.)24241 yearNoYes
Colorado120 (B.S.)33271 year (1,800hrs)NoYes
Connecticut12036302 yearsNoYes
Delaware120 (B.S.)2401 yearNoYes
District of Columbia120243DC1 year (2,000hrs)NoNo
Florida12030361 year (2,000hrs)NoNo
Georgia120 (B.S.)30241 year (2,000hrs)NoNo
Hawaii120 (B.S.)24242 yearsHINoNo
Idaho120 (B.S.)24241 year (2,000hrs)NoYes
Illinois15030241 yearNoYes
Indiana15024242 yearsINNoNo
Iowa120 (B.S.)24241 yearNoYes
Kansas15030421 year (2,000hrs)YesYes
Kentucky120 (B.S.)27121 year (2,000hrs)NoNo
Louisiana120 (B.S.)24241 yearYesNo
Maine120 (B.S.)15ME02 yearsNoNo
Maryland12030MD211 year (2,000hrs)NoYes
Massachusetts 15030241 year (2,000hrs)NoNo
Michigan120 (B.S.)24MI241 year (2,000hrs)NoNo
Minnesota120 (B.S.)24241 yearYesYes
Mississippi120 (B.S.)24241 yearYesNo
Missouri12024241 yearNoYes
Montana24241 yearNoYes
Nebraska15030302 yearsNEYesYes
Nevada120 (B.S.)3024NV12 yearsNV2NoYes
New Hampshire120 (B.S.)30241 yearNHNoNo
New Jersey120 (B.S.)24241 year (1,750hrs)NoYes
New Mexico120 (B.S.)30NM01 yearNoYes
New York120 (B.S.)33361 yearNoNo
North Carolina1503001 yearNCNoNo
North Dakota15024241 year (2,000hrs)NoYes
Ohio12024241 yearYesNo
Oklahoma15030OK91 yearYesYes
Oregon1502424OR1 year (2,000hrs)NoYes
Pennsylvania1202401,600 hoursNoNo
Puerto Rico15032321 year (1,820hrs)YesNo
Rhode Island15024241 year (1,820hrs)YesYes
South Carolina12036361 yearSCNoYes
South Dakota15024241 year (2,000hrs)NoYes
Tennessee120 (B.S.)30241 year (2,000hrs)NoYes
Texas15030TX124TX21 yearNoNo
Utah12024241 year (2,000hrs)NoYes
Vermont1204201 yearNoYes
Virginia12024241 year (2,080hrs)NoYes
Washington15024241 year (2,000hrs)NoYes
West Virginia120 (B.S.)30WV271 yearNoNo
Wisconsin12024241 yearNoYes
Wyoming120 (B.S.)24241 yearYesYes

Specific state additional information:

AL: In Alabama, you need 1 year in a public accounting firm or 2 years in the accounting field in industry, business, government, or college teaching.

DC: In the District of Columbia, 3 hours should be in Business Law.

HI: In Hawaii, 2 years of experience OR 1,500 chargeable hours in the performance of audits involving the application of generally
accepted accounting principles and auditing standards earned while in public accounting practice

IN: In Indiana, A doctorate degree in accounting or business administration from a college or university recognized by the board may be
substituted for twelve (12) months of accounting experience.

ME: In Maine, At least 15 hours of accounting, auditing, and ethics combined, of which at least three hours were earned in auditing and at least three hours were earned in accounting.

MD: In Maryland, 3 hours should be with ethics.

MI: In Michigan, 3 hours should be in auditing.

NE: In Nebraska, 2 years with 4,000 hours; Experience in private industry, government or academia must show 6,000 hours earned in at least 3 years.

NV1: In Nevada, 3 hours should be in business law.

NV2: In Nevada, 2 years of full-time employment or 4 years of part-time employment in a governmental or other industry position.

NH: In New Hampshire, 1 year of full-time experience with 1,500 hours; 2,000 hours of non full-time experience with 1,500 hours in accounting and/or audit skills.

NM: In New Mexico, 3 hours should be in business law.

NC: In North Carolina, 1 year in the field of accounting OR 4 years of experience teaching accounting.

OK: In Oklahoma, you need at least one course in auditing or assurance.

OR: In Oregon, 24 semester hours in accounting or related (lower-division accounting, business, finance, economics, and written/oral communication) 

SC: In South Carolina, 1 year of accounting experience OR 5 years of experience teaching accounting.

TX1: In Texas, a 2-hour course in accounting or tax research and analysis is required.

TX2: In Texas, 2 hours should be in accounting or business communications.

WV: In West Virginia, 3 semester hours in ethics and 3 semester hours in business law.

CPA Education Requirements

Every state has different education requirements to sit for the CPA exams, but all states require 150 credit hours to actually get your CPA license.

In addition to the 150 credit hours required by every jurisdiction, there are also other requirements that vary by state including the accounting and business courses. Some jurisdictions may require additional business coursework beyond what is necessary for certification (e.g., Finance and Economics). You can find out what your state’s specific requirements are through your state board of accountancy.

While it may seem like a lot of work, earning your degree is actually one of the easiest things about becoming a CPA because most people who have earned an undergraduate degree already have enough credits to qualify for their state’s education requirement (or will be very close).

Take the Uniform CPA Examination

Every prospective CPA candidate will need to take the Uniform CPA Examination, or the “CPA exams” regardless of the state or CPA jurisdiction you’re in.

The CPA exam is not easy, but if you have the right preparation materials and study techniques, you can pass the exam the first time around.

How to Save Yourself MONTHS of Time and Frustration
Keep in mind that the CPA exam is the one part of getting your CPA license that you can control how long it takes. The education and experience requirements take as long as they take, but the CPA exams can take you as little as 6 months, or as long as multiple years… depending on how effective your study process is from the beginning.
Learn how to study strategically so you can save yourself tons of time and retake fees with this free training…

The Uniform CPA Exam is divided into four portions, each of which must be taken separately. The four sections of the exam cover different areas of the accounting profession, and there is no specified order in which the exam sections need to be taken. The four sections of the CPA exam include:

  • Auditing and Attestation.
    • This exam section covers the basics of financial and attest services, such as audits, reviews, compilations, and preparation agreements.
  • Business Environment and Concepts.
    • This exam section covers general business concepts, such as economics, business communications, and related business courses. 
  • Financial Accounting and Reporting.
    • This exam section covers financial accounting topics for all business entities, including the government and nonprofits.
  • Regulation.
    • This exam section covers federal taxation, tax services, professional ethics, and business law for individuals and business entities.

The applicant must score 75 for all four examination parts within an 18-month window to pass the CPA exam. You can see the current CPA score release dates here…

Accounting has many different areas of specialization, such as internal auditing or tax accounting. The CPA exam tests your knowledge of general accounting principles and practices, regardless of which area of accounting you may wish to specialize in later on.

Required Work Experience for a CPA

The CPA exams require no formal working experience to pass. Candidates passing the exams must gain experience before registering to get full licensing. The experience required to apply for the license is different depending on the state and its jurisdiction. Most states have licensure programs for candidates who possess a minimum of 1 years of experience. Many states offer general accounting skills based on roles open to accounting professionals. An accounting internship at school is not typically a prerequisite for CPA experience.

The best way to gain necessary experience is by working in an accounting firm or other public practice. It will provide you with practical knowledge that will help you pass the exam and become a licensed CPA.

Ethics Exam for the CPA License

Some states require an ethics exam in addition to passing the Uniform CPA Examination in order to get your CPA license.

The purpose of the ethics exam is to ensure that you have a working knowledge of the AICPA Code of Professional Conduct, which governs all licensed CPAs. The exam covers many topics, including:

  • Ethical duties and responsibilities
  • Personal financial considerations
  • Business relationships and conflicts of interest (Independence)
  • The performance of professional services

This is to ensure those who are licensed CPAs have a strong understanding of ethical standards and best practices. The goal is to protect the public from unethical behavior by CPAs.

CPA License Renewal and Continuing Professional Education (CPE)

Continuing professional education (CPE) refers to classes, seminars, or workshops in your field of expertise that are designed to keep you up-to-date on current trends in your industry. The goal of these courses is to help you stay on top of important issues in your field so that you can provide high-quality services for your clients and employers.

Every state has different requirements for renewing the CPA license. Some states only require CPAs to complete a renewal application and pay a fee in order to maintain their licenses. Other states require CPAs to provide evidence of experience, education and other continuing professional education (CPE) activities.

Depending on your state’s requirements, you may be required to document these hours before your license will be renewed. If you don’t have enough hours, you can take courses online or at local universities to make up the difference.

In general, most states require 120 hours of continuing professional education (CPE) every two years or it may be as few as 30 hours or one unit of CPE. The requirement may be less if you are an inactive licensee or if your license expired within one year of renewal.

Should I become a CPA?

When you think about the benefits of becoming a CPA, there are many things that come to mind. You’ll have the potential for higher earnings, more job security, and better job stability. Accounting is a very stable field with high job satisfaction and the ability to work in any industry you want. Having your CPA gives you a much higher career ceiling and opens many more doors along the way compared to not having it.

CPAs have extensive training and education that allows them to provide a wide range of services to businesses and individuals. They may work as consultants or employees in various industries, including finance, insurance, and real estate. Many CPAs also run their own accounting, tax, audit, or consulting firms.

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