Becoming a Certified Public Accountant

Achieving your CPA Certification and becoming a Certified Public Accountant is a sign of both your mastery of and dedication to the accounting craft. Considered by many to be the premiere designation for accountants, reaching the level of CPA not only increases your demand within the market but raises your income level as well. With such rich rewards to be reaped however it should come as no surprise that earning a CPA status is not for the faint of heart.

Less than half of those taking the CPA for the first time will pass. The anecdote often used by those in the field is that the test is actually harder to pass than a prospective attorney’s state bar exam. Though you are not required to pass all four parts of the test at the same time, most states will ask that you pass all four parts within a specified window of time (usually 18 months). The CPA examination itself is prepared by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA). The four-part Uniform CPA Examination is a computerized test offered two months out of every quarter at select locations within every state.

Many states require 150 semester hours of college coursework before an accountant can be eligible for the CPA exam. Because of this many colleges have started offering a combined 5-year bachelors and master’s degree program. It should be noted however that a master’s degree is not necessarily a requirement. Depending on your state however you may be required to obtain some level of hands-on accounting experience before becoming licensed.

Speaking of which, once you do pass the test you aren’t out of the woods yet. You’ll still have to apply to actually become a CPA within your state. Each state’s guidelines differ but in general you’ll be asked to complete a certain number of hours of experience before you can become fully licensed.

Earning your license however is just the first step!  In order to maintain your CPA status you’ll be required to continue to renew your license every year or two. In order to do this you’ll have to keep up to date on current financial regulations by continuing to earn what are known as CPE credits. The easiest way to earn these credits is by attending workshops taught by another CPA. Typically CPAs are expected to accrue 40 CPE credits annually or 80 credits biannually in order to be eligible to renew their license. Keep in mind that 1 hour of seminar or workshop roughly equates to about 1 CPE credit. So make sure to set aside some time in your busy schedule for your ever-continuing education.


Beyond CPA

For those who have achieved their CPA status, the AICPA offers additional designations for those specializing in various fields within the accounting profession. CPAs who find themselves practicing in certain areas more frequently may obtain any or all of the Accredited in Business Valuation (ABV), Certified Information Technology Professional (CITP), or Personal Financial Specialist (PFS) designations depending on their level of expertise. Most require some form of written exam and level of demonstrable experience within that area and allow for a CPA to differentiate themselves and help stand out in the already competitive field of accounting.