What Training Is Necessary to Become a CPA?

Certified public accountants (CPAs) perform accounting, tax and auditing services for public accounting firms, businesses or individuals. Read on to learn about the education and testing requirements involved in becoming a CPA. Schools offering Accounting degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

Certified Public Accountant Overview

The CPA credential indicates that you are capable of managing the finances of individuals and businesses. To earn this credential, you'll need to complete formal education, gain experience and pass a 4-part certification exam. An undergraduate or graduate degree in accounting, finance or auditing will give you a solid foundation for becoming an accounting or auditing professional and provide you with the background necessary to apply for the CPA exam in your state. You may also gain experience through internships and entry-level jobs.

Important Facts About CPAs

Key Skills Math proficiency, interpersonal communication, attention to detail
Work Environment Office setting
Licensure In order to receive CPA certification, CPA candidates must successfully complete the Uniform CPA Examination
Similar Occupations Budget analyst, cost estimator, financial manager

Educational Requirements

Associate and bachelor's degree programs in accounting - or undergraduate business programs with accounting emphases - teach the application and analysis of financial statements, accounts receivable, inventory, assets, liabilities and computer-based accounting applications. Courses in federal taxation or income tax accounting give you an overview of codes and procedures for preparing and filing individual and business tax returns. You'll also complete courses on internal and external auditing procedures and learn about the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA), federal agencies and court rulings.

Financial reporting courses cover accounting standards in the United States and other countries. These focus on cash accounting, receivables, inventories, assets and liabilities. Advanced financial reporting will teach you about entities such as pensions, benefits, leases, error analysis and procedural changes.

In addition, elective studies in accounting can give you a better idea of your future as an accountant. Courses such as internal auditing, decision making and forensic accounting can help you plan for a career in management or law enforcement. Many schools offer internship opportunities as electives, where students get valuable real-world experience and earn credits at the same time.

Credits Required

Generally, you will need to complete coursework beyond a bachelor's degree to become a CPA, as most 4-year programs do not provide the full 150 hours of coursework required for eligibility to take the CPA exam; a typical bachelor's degree program usually requires around 120 credit hours. Master's degree or graduate certificate programs in accounting are available to help you fulfill the mandatory number of credit hours.

The CPA Exam

While each state has its own standards, the uniform CPA exam ensures that qualified individuals are licensed. You must have completed 150 semester hours in an accounting concentration to be eligible to take the exam. Many states require you to apply for the exam through the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy (NASBA), which offers a list of jurisdictions by state. The exam is divided into four sections:

  • Auditing
  • Business concepts
  • Financial reporting and accounting
  • Regulations

Test Preparation and Fees

The AICPA offers both tutorials and sample tests on their website. The Accounting Institute Seminars (AIS) holds a variety of CPA exam seminars around the country for a fee. Since exams can change from year to year, it is important that you prepare for the exam close to when you plan to take it, as failure to adhere to regulations can result in your test not being valid.

Testing fees are charged per section, and fees vary by state and region. While you are allowed to take all four sections at once, many candidates prepare and take them one at a time.

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