Passing the CPA exam is just one step in the process toward becoming a licensed CPA. While it is unquestionably one of the most significant hurdles you’ll need to get past, it isn’t the only requirement you’ll need to deal with. You won’t actually become a licensed CPA until you’ve completed all the other requirements and submitted your application. So, what are the other requirements you’ll have to meet?
To become a CPA, you’re going to have to work toward the three E’s: education, exam, and experience. Before you’re even able to sit for the exam, you’re going to need to meet your state’s requirements for completed credit hours. While most states require CPA exam candidates to complete at least 150 credit hours before taking the exam, some states do allow people to sit for the exam after completing 120 credit hours, but require the other 30 hours to be completed before licensure.
150 credit hours is typically more credits than it takes to earn a bachelor’s degree, so a bachelor’s degree is one of the most basic requirements for becoming a CPA. To make up those additional credits, many people simply take non-degree classes after earning their bachelor’s. While having a master’s degree isn’t required to become a CPA, some candidates decide to earn a master’s as a way earn those extra credits. You’ll also need to check your state’s requirements to make sure you’re earning the correct number of business and accounting hours.
No matter which state you’re trying to become licensed in, you’re going to have to meet work experience requirements. Exact requirements vary state-to-state, so be sure to check the licensure rules in your state. In most states, the rule is that all candidates must have at least one year of experience working in public accounting or two years of experience working in private accounting, for a government agency, or teaching accounting in a university setting.
In many cases, internships and volunteer work can count toward your work experience requirement. As with all other CPA requirements, you’re going to need to check the exact rules in your state, though, because the rules can vary pretty strongly from state-to-state. For example, internships can count in Pennsylvania as long they weren’t for college credit, but Michigan allows all internships to count as work experience as long as they meet certain requirements.
CPA candidates in some states have a fourth E to worry about: ethics. Ethics exams are currently a requirement in over 30 states, so there’s a good chance you might have to pass one before you become licensed.
Some states that require an ethics test have unique exams created by the state’s accountancy board. However, in most cases, states that require an ethics test use the one created by the AICPA, which covers things like the AICPA’s Code of Professional Conduct, legal and regulatory issues, and independence rules.
The AICPA’s ethics test isn’t very long and it has an open-book, self-guided study format. You will need to get a 90 to pass the exam, but you are only allowed to make four errors. While you can take the test online, if you fail it three times online, you’ll have to use a printed test sheet and mail it in.
Even after you’ve officially become a licensed CPA, you’ll probably still have to worry about fulfilling education requirements. Most states have continuing professional education (CPE) requirements for CPAs to be able to maintain their license. CPE helps CPAs stay in the loop about things like new laws and changes in regulations and allows them to learn new skills to help them in their job.