To become a licensed CPA in the United States, individuals must be able to successfully complete requirements and test protocols specific to education, examination, experience and ethics.
However, not all of these requirements need to be met in order to take the Uniform CPA Examination. In general, CPA applicants must complete some or all of their education requirements before taking the CPA exam, while the experience and ethics examination components are typically completed post-exam.
CPA Post-Exam License Requirements: Education
The widely accepted educational requirement to become a licensed CPA is the completion of a bachelor’s degree at minimum and a total of 150 semester hours from an accredited college or university. These 150 hours must be obtained through both undergraduate and graduate-level coursework. All 55 U.S. jurisdictions currently have this requirement, with Colorado being the last to adopt it in July 2015.
However, not all jurisdictions require applicants to meet this 150-semester hour requirement to take the examination. Out of the 55 U.S. jurisdictions, 28 allow applicants to sit for the Uniform CPA Examination if they possess between 120 and 150 semester hours.
Therefore, in some jurisdictions, post-exam education requirements may include completing the necessary coursework to fulfill the 150-semester hour licensing requirement. These courses are always at the post-bachelor’s level. This can accomplished through graduate level coursework, through specialized blended five-year accounting programs that include undergraduate and graduate requirements and that result in a master’s degree, or by taking a full master’s program independent of the bachelor’s program.
CPA Post-Exam License Requirements: Experience
A CPA certificate and a CPA license are two different things, as a CPA certificate is achieved upon passing all four sections of the Uniform CPA Examination, while a CPA license is achieved upon completing all jurisdiction licensure requirements, which includes obtaining experience.
The type and length of experience required for licensure varies from one jurisdiction to the next; therefore, candidates for CPA licensure should ensure they fully understand their jurisdiction’s experience requirements.
- CPA candidates for licensure in Washington State must complete at least one year of general experience gained through public accounting or through employment in academia, industry, or government
- CPA candidates in Texas must complete at least one year of experience gained through public accountancy, industry, government, law firms, education, or internship
- CPA candidates in Connecticut must complete at least two years of experience in public practice government, or industry
- CPA candidates in Alaska must complete at least two years in public accounting or at least three years of experience in private or government accounting, and all experience must include at least 500 hours of attestation
CPA Post-Exam License Requirements: Ethics Examination
Many jurisdictions require CPA candidates for licensure to fulfill an ethics requirement, which includes taking a course and passing an examination. Some jurisdictions have their own ethics examination, such as Texas, which requires candidates to pass the Texas Rules of Professional Conduct exam and New Jersey, which requires candidates to pass an examination on the laws, regulations, and code of ethical conduct in effect in the State of New Jersey.
Most other jurisdictions, however, require candidates to take and pass the AICPA’s Comprehensive Ethics Course and Exam.
Just a few of the topics covered in the AICPA course include:
- Definition of a client, a covered member, objectivity, and independence
- Independence: Prohibited relationships and services
- SEC and GAO independence rules
- Employment relationships
- Financial relationships
- Loans and other financial relationships
- Non-audit services
- Business relationships
A number of jurisdictions, such as Pennsylvania, Arkansas, Georgia, and Kentucky, have no ethics course or examination requirement for licensure.