How to Become a Certified Public Accountant

There are many different career opportunities for accounting majors, but none are quite as versatile as becoming a certified public accountant. CPAs work in public accounting, private industry, and not-for-profit organizations as advisors, tax consultants, auditors, and many other job descriptions.

Needless to say, a career as a certified public accountant is full of opportunity and diverse career options. That is why the field of accounting has a faster than average job growth nationwide and an annual mean wage of $79,300 in Colorado according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Unfortunately, the path to certification isn’t always straightforward. There are several different requirements that must be met and steps that must be taken before you will be able to call yourself a certified public accountant. In this article, we will walk through each of them, so you can make sure you are on the right track.

Step #1 – Education Requirements

Before any candidate is eligible to sit for the CPA exam, he or she must complete the minimum educational requirements. These requirements are slightly different for every state, but most states require at least a bachelor’s degree in accounting (120 credit hours in total) with 30-40 college credit hours of accounting, taxation, business law, and related subjects.

Some states also require 150 college credit hours to be eligible to sit for the exam. Colorado isn’t one of those states, but you will need 150 college credit hours to obtain your CPA license.

Since states’ requirements vary so much, it’s important to check with the board of accountancy in the state that you wish to obtain certification for complete details. For example, you might graduate in Colorado and then choose to move to California to work. In this case, you might want to be licensed in California.

Step #2 – Exam Application and Scheduling

Once your education requirements are met, you will need to apply for the exam. First, you must send your college transcripts to your state board of accountancy for approval. After the board reviews and approves your educational requirements, you will be able to submit your formal exam application.

Once your application is accepted, you will be approved to sit for the exam with a Notice to Schedule (NTS) confirmation. This confirmation allows you to schedule your exam dates with a location Prometric testing center.

Step #3 – Take the Exam

After you have your exam date scheduled, it is time to start studying. The exam is made up of four sections: FAR, AUD, REG, and BEC. Each 4-hour section covers a different body of information and presents it’s own challenges.

For many future CPAs, the most difficult part of their CPA journey is passing the CPA exam. Since the exam is so extensive, most candidates use CPA review courses to help them study.

Generally, it’s recommended that candidates study at least 70-90 hours for each exam section depending on their current knowledge and skillset.

Step #4 – Work Experience

After you pass the exam, you will need to fulfill your state’s work experience requirements. Most states, Colorado included, require a minimum of one-year work experience under a qualified CPA before you can be licensed.

Again, each state has slightly different work experience rules. Some states require you to work as an auditor while others require a total of two years experience. Please check with your state board for exact requirements.

Step #5 – Ethics Exam

Many states also require candidates to complete the AICPA ethics exam before they are eligible for licensure.

Once you complete these five steps, you will be able to start your career as a certified public accountant. It’s not an easy journey, but it is well worth it. Respect amongst your peers, career opportunities, and competitive compensation are just a few of the many benefits of becoming a CPA. That is why the CPA designation is one of the best accounting certifications for your future.

If you stay dedicated and drive, your career will be successful from the start.

By Shaun Conrad, CPA
Shaun Conrad, CPA