CPA Requirements and Education Prerequisites

Certified public accountants (CPAs) require significant formal education. Learn about the degree programs, job duties and licensure requirements to see if this is the right career for you.

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Essential Information

Certified public accountants (CPAs) perform tax advising, auditing, financial consulting and other accounting services. They're typically self-employed or work for accounting firms, and their clientele can include individuals, government agencies, corporations and nonprofit associations. CPAs are the only accountants allowed to audit publicly traded companies. They need a bachelor's degree in accounting, plus at least 150 credit hours of additional college coursework. All states require that CPAs be licensed, which mandates passing the national CPA exam and maintaining skills through continuing education programs.

Required EducationBachelor's degree in accounting, plus at least 150 additional credit hours
LicensingMust obtain license from state board of accountancy; requirements vary, but all states require passing the Uniform CPA Exam
Projected Job Growth (2012-2022)* 13% for all auditors and accountants
Median Salary (2013)* $65,080 for all auditors and accountants

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

CPA Requirements

Licensure

CPAs must obtain licensure through their states' boards of accountancy. Eligibility requirements vary by jurisdiction, but all states require that applicants meet education standards and have a minimum amount of professional public accounting experience determined by the state.

Licensing Exam

Qualified applicants may sit for the Uniform CPA Exam administered by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA). Used by all states and jurisdictions, this 14-hour exam is divided into four parts that assess proficiency in auditing and testimony, financial and reporting, business concepts and regulation (www.aicpa.org). After passing the exam, candidates receive CPA certification from the AICPA and may obtain licensure through their states. CPAs must maintain licensure by completing continuing education courses.

CPA Education Prerequisites

Most licensing boards require that CPAs complete at least 150 hours of postsecondary coursework in accounting, which is generally 30 hours more than required for a bachelor's degree. Some students fulfill this requirement by earning master's degrees after undergraduate school; however, some simply take extra courses after completing bachelor's degree programs. Additionally, some colleges and universities offer accelerated 5-year accounting programs that lead to master's degrees.

Curriculum

Bachelor of Science in Accounting programs equip students with the auditing and financial analysis skills necessary for careers as CPAs. They also prepare students for the business and management aspects of the occupation. Courses may include tax planning, auditing, operations management, information systems, business law and ethics, cost management and marketing. Curricula may also include internships in the accounting field.

Employment Outlook

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment of accountants was expected to increase 13% from 2012-2022 (www.bls.gov). Job growth will be caused by stricter financial laws and regulations, as well as the ongoing globalization of business in general. CPAs are expected to see the greatest employment prospects among all accountants and auditors. In December 2012, the AICPA reported that CPAs who held graduate degrees received 10-20% higher starting pay and were more likely to receive promotions than those with bachelor's degrees.

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Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics