You may not realize, but the CPA (Certified Public Accountant) license is granted by the State Board of Accountancy of each state, instead of by a nation-wide entity in the US.
In general, in order to become a CPA, a candidate needs to fulfill the "3E"s, i.e. Education, Exam and Experience requirements. While it sounds simple, in reality the process can be quite complicated given the slightly different CPA exam requirements from different states.
If you are living, working or just plan to get a license from CA, here is a summary on the steps on how to become a CPA in California.
Things You Will Need1. A Bachelor degree
2. 120 semester units from accredited college or educational institutions, including 48 units of accounting and business courses
3. 1-2 years of related working experience
Step 1Fulfill The Education Requirements
First of all, you'll need a bachelor degree or above to get qualified to sit for the CPA exam. You should also have taken at least 24 semester units (or 36 quarters; 1 semester = 1.5 quarters) of accounting courses and 24 units of business courses.
There are actually two "pathways" to become a CPA in California:
- Pathway 1: get done with 120 semester hours, sit for the CPA exam and work for 2 years to get the license
- Pathway 2: complete 150 semester hours, sit for the CPA exam and in this case you only need to work for 1 year to get the license.
Step 2(i) Sit For The CPA Exam
Unlike the CPA exam requirements, the CPA exam is the same throughout the US and is centrally administered by AICPA and NASBA, the national CPA society and the national association of the State board of accountancy, respectively.
I would say this is the toughest step as the CPA exam is possibly one of the most difficult professional exams in the world. It is a grueling 14-hour examination divided into 4 sections, covering financial accounting, cost accounting, audit, taxation, business law, business ethics, information system... and anything you can think of that remotely relates to accounting and financial aspect of business.
The CPA pass rate is notoriously low -- slightly less than 50% every year. But once you get into the league, you will get the respect you deserve from family, friends, colleagues, clients and business partners.
Also, CPA candidates can substantially increase their chance of success by taking one the of CPA exam review courses that target specifically on the hottest test areas, tactics and lots of practice exam questions for an effective preparation.
(ii) Take The Ethics Exam
This is still the second E of the 3Es, but this time the ethics exam is much easier. As long as you manage to pass within two years of passing the Uniform CPA exam, you are all set.
Step 3Complete The Working Experience Requirement
If you have plans to work in a CPA firm, then this is a natural path towards getting your license. In fact, once you pass the CPA exam you have a slightly higher chance to get hired in a CPA firm (or the accounting department of corporations) because they know you are committed to become the "black-belt" among the accountants.
As mentioned in step 1, you have 2 pathways to choose from depending on the number of semester hours you have fulfilled, and you will need to complete the 1-2 years of experience in the accounting field.
If you are planning to sign an audit report (e.g. if you plan to run your own CPA firm), then 500+ attest hours is required but generally this doesn't apply to junior accountants.
Are You Ready?
Becoming a CPA is certainly an achievable dream as long as you work hard to fulfill the 3Es. You can also get more information on California CPA exam requirements here.
All the best to your future endeavor!
Tips & Warnings
- Please note that while you don't need a social security number to sit for the CPA exam, you'll need one when applying for the CPA license in California.
- If you are thinking about becoming a CPA outside of California, you can take a look at this introductory article on how to become a CPA.