Before you can become an officially licensed CPA, you’re going to have to meet a whole lot of requirements. Not only do you have to pass each section of the exam, you need to meet the work experience and education requirements in your state.

Before you can do anything else, you’ll need to get your education requirements squared away. The exact rules for becoming a CPA vary from state to state, but in most cases, you’re going to need to successfully complete 150 credit hours worth of classes before you can start taking the exam. (Some states allow you to sit for the CPA exam with 120 credit hours, but you’ll need to complete 150 credit hours before you actually become a licensed CPA.)

Here’s the catch: most bachelor’s degree programs require about 120 credit hours to complete. So does that mean you need a master’s degree to become a CPA? The simple answer is no.

The AICPA does not specifically require CPA candidates to have a graduate-level degree such as a Master of Accountancy (MAcc), Master of Science in Taxation (MST), or an MBA. A bachelor’s degree is completely and totally acceptable. Since people need to fill that 30 credit hour gap, many people who want to become a CPA choose to earn a master’s degree as a way to fulfill their education requirements.  However, it’s important to remember that grad school is just one way to earn those extra credit hours.

If you want to become a CPA without going to grad school, one option to consider is earning a double major as an undergrad. That way, you can get all the credit hours you need without having to pay separate tuition for graduate school. If you’ve already earned your bachelor’s degree, you could take 30 credit hours worth of non-degree classes at your university or local community college. Some community colleges even offer CPA exam prep programs which allow you to earn credits while you get ready to take the exam. Just double check your state’s licensing requirements to make sure the board will accept credits from the school you’re attending. Some states can be particular about that. 

Becoming a CPA with just a bachelor’s degree definitely has its advantages. First of all, even with all the costs that come with taking and preparing for the CPA exam, it’s still going to be  less expensive than earning a master’s degree. You can also prepare for the exam and complete it in less time than it would take to finish grad school.

While you absolutely can become a CPA with just a bachelor’s degree, going for a master’s degree does have its benefits. Graduate-level classes give you a stronger understanding of high-level accounting concepts and principles beyond what’s covered by the CPA exam, so you’ll be able to start your career with a broader education that will serve you well on the job. A master’s degree could also make it possible for you to take advantage of more opportunities throughout your career and and earn a higher salary. If your long-term career goals involve starting your own business, earning an MBA or MAcc will give you the chance to learn management skills and other information that would be helpful in running a business.

Bachelor and master’s degrees can both lead you to a great career as a CPA. Which one is best for you ultimately depends on your career goals, what you can afford, and how soon you want to be able to start working as a licensed CPA.

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