The Prerequisites of the CPA Exam

By Kenneth W. Boyd

The Uniform CPA Examination is developed and graded by the American Institute of CPAs, or AICPA. The purpose of the CPA exam is to fulfill one of several requirements for a license to practice public accounting — to become a certified public accountant.

Passing the exam helps qualify you to obtain a license to practice from your State Board of Accountancy. Check out This Way to CPA to find out the requirements for your state.

Your amount of education

Most states require a bachelor’s degree to meet the education requirement. However, many states require 150 hours of college credit, which amounts to a bachelor’s degree requiring 120 to 130 hours plus additional hours toward a master’s degree. States have additional requirements for the number and type of accounting courses that must be completed.

To meet this state requirement, most universities now offer a combination bachelor’s and master’s degree. Although the bachelor’s degree may be in another area of business, such as finance, the master’s degree is specifically in some area of accounting.

Keep in mind that you may be required to take an ethics exam as well as ongoing continuing education courses on ethics.

Your experience

Most states require at least two years of experience in the accounting profession. The type of experience required also varies by state. In some cases, the work must be with a public accounting firm. Generally, a public accounting firm is staffed with CPAs who provide accounting, tax, and audit services for clients. Other states define experience as working as an accountant for any type of company.

The licensing requirements

After you pass the CPA exam, you must meet the requirements of your State Board. The National Association of State Boards of Accountancy, or NASBA, helps CPA candidates with licensing requirements. NASBA helps both U.S. citizens and international students obtain certification.

Each State Board lists its requirements on the This Way to CPA website. Note that most states don’t have a residency requirement for exam candidates who are U.S. citizens.

There’s a growing demand from foreign nationals who want to obtain U.S. CPA licensure. To meet the demand, the NASBA created the International CPA Examination program. A foreign national can establish his or her eligibility through a participating State Board.

Here’s how a foreign national can apply to take the exam:

  • Use the website to locate a State Board that accepts candidates from your country.

  • Request application materials from the State Board. Complete and return the application along with any required fees.

  • After your application is accepted, you’ll receive a Notice to Schedule.

Foreign nationals should note that the exam is offered only in English, in the same computerized format that U.S. candidates take. You may be able to take the exam at a test center overseas, without having to travel to the U.S. Check with a State Board for more information.