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howtobecomeacpaBecoming a certified public accountant is serious business. You will need the right education, good exam results and a state license. Completing the exam and getting your license can become overwhelming. Fortunately, there are many resources available to make this process easier.

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Are you interested in becoming a CPA? Here are some tips that can help you prepare for your career.

College Degree

Before considering any professional license, you should have the appropriate college degree. While some states only require a certain number of classroom hours to qualify for the CPA exam, you will not receive many serious business offers if you do not have a college degree in accounting or finance. Think of it this way. Most states do not require lawyers to have a law degree in order to take the bar exam. But would you hire a lawyer who had a degree in underwater basket weaving? Probably not. You will not be taken seriously until you have an educational background in accounting or finance.

There are many entry-level positions available for the CPA with an Associate’s Degree. While it is only a two-year program, an Associate’s Degree is a feasible way for those who want to enter the job market quickly. However, you will be expected to continue your education. You will need at least a Bachelor’s Degree if you want to advance in your career within a company and a Master’s Degree if you want to operate your own CPA firm.

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Exam Preparation and Application

Before you can get your certification, you must take the CPA exam. The CPA exam criteria change frequently. The accounting and finance realms are heavily regulated so the current exam reflects current changes in regulations. You will need to brush up on current accounting and finance regulations before taking the exam. There are many resources available for those preparing for the exam.

Your college education will provide the foundations of accounting and finance principles but not the specifics of current regulations. The reason is that these requirements change so frequently that it is not feasible for them to be taught to students. By the time you graduate, the regulations will have changed again.

Once you have studied for the exam, you will need to submit a written application, an application fee and a copy of your educational transcripts to the exam board. You will need to include the state that you will be operating in when you send in your application. This will be the state that you will be licensed in. You will not be allowed to operate outside of this state without getting another license for another state.

Once your application is received, you will be scheduled for the exam. There have been cases where applications are denied due to incomplete disclosure of personal background. You are expected to complete the application honestly. If you intentionally leave anything out, your application can be denied. Once you pass the exam, you will need to apply for your license.

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Licensing Requirements

Licensing is not automatic. Each state has its own licensing requirements for CPAs. After you pass the exam, you will need to apply to your state’s accounting licensing board. Most states do not have their own subsequent exams for licensing. Instead, you will need to submit another application, an application and licensing fee and a copy of your exam results. Then you wait. It can take a few weeks to a few months for state licensing boards to review applications.

As with exam applications, you are expected to complete state licensing applications with complete honesty. There have been cases where licenses have been denied, even after successfully completing the exam, due to incomplete disclosure of personal background. If you intentionally leave anything out, your license will be denied. Licensing boards are not as lenient as the exam board. If you accidentally leave something off the exam application, you have a chance to explain your mistake and still get a slot for the examination. If you accidentally leave something off the licensing application, you will not get a chance to explain your mistake.

Becoming a CPA is long process but it is worth it for those that want to pursue a career in accounting. You can take an online course to begin preparing for the CPA exam.

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What questions do you have about becoming a CPA? Share them in the comments section below.

Page Last Updated: February 2020

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