How to Become a CPA (Certified Public Accountant)

Becoming a CPA can be beneficial if you're looking to pursue a career in accounting. Holding a CPA certificate and licensure demonstrates that you not only meet state licensing requirements, but that you are able to perform a range of public accounting services in a variety of fields and disciplines.

While requirements vary, in most states you’ll need to meet the requirements for CPA licensure, pass the CPA Exam, complete a minimum of 150 hours of accounting-specific coursework and hold a bachelor’s degree, such as a bachelor's degree in accounting. Sometimes, additional credit hours may be needed to meet a state’s requirements. In this case, additional schooling or CPA Exam prep programs or courses, such as our Graduate Certificate in CPA Preparation offered here at DeVry, may be helpful1.

Once you’ve passed the CPA Exam and earned your certificate, the path to licensure and becoming a CPA begins.

If you're looking into how to become a CPA, we can help you get started. In this article, you'll learn about the basic requirements for earning your CPA certificate, licensure and discover what you need to meet those requirements. We'll explore these topics and more in the following sections (jump to):

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Requirements for CPA Certification

To become a CPA, you need to meet a few requirements in addition to passing the CPA Exam. The first is a minimum education requirement. In order to take the CPA Exam, you need to hold a bachelor’s degree and have completed at least 150 credit hours in college-level accounting courses. Depending on the number of credit hours built into your bachelor’s degree program, you may also choose to earn a graduate degree, such as a Master's in Accounting or an MBA in Accounting, in order to meet your state’s credit hour minimum. Some states allow candidates to take the CPA Exam once they’ve reached 120 credit hours, so long as they meet other requirements. When this happens, the candidate may sit for the exam, but will only earn the certification after completing 150 credit hours.

In addition to the 150 hour requirements, some states have their own separate requirements which may include taking upper-level courses or specific classes in financial accounting or taxes. Classes such as these may be found in a degree program like our Master's Degree in Accounting and Financial Management.

Once you have met the educational requirements, passed the exam and completed your coursework hours, you can proceed on the path toward earning your CPA licensure.

Requirements for CPA Licensure

To be able to call yourself a CPA, sign audit documents, tax returns or set up your own accounting firm, you need to become a fully licensed CPA.

After you pass your CPA Exam and earn your certificate, earning your licensure typically requires 1-2 years of work experience, a specified number of continued education hours per year and in some cases an ethics exam, depending on your state’s requirements.

Becoming a full licensed CPA can broaden the scope of careers you may be able to consider, offering you more options to pursue based on your interests and personal goals.

CPA Preparation and Accounting Degree Programs

Studying for the CPA Exam can be challenging, and passing it is a key part of earning your CPA certification and license. Enrolling in an accounting program or CPA Exam prep course may be beneficial for as you prepare to take the exam.

DeVry offers online accounting degree and certificate programs at the bachelor’s, master’s, MBA and graduate certificate levels that are taught by knowledgeable faculty and are designed to include a variety of industry-related concepts and skills. Some even include elements of Becker Professional Education’s CPA Exam prep in the curriculum2.

Planning and Preparing for the CPA Exam

How to become a CPA may be a fairly straightforward process, but completing your education and preparing for the exam is a unique journey. However, the following steps may be of help as you prepare to sit for the exam:

  1. Enroll in a CPA Exam review program: A CPA Exam prep program can help you refresh your knowledge of accounting topics or help reinforce your understanding of them. Some of these programs may include mock exams that can help you get more comfortable with the CPA Exam format.

  2. Give yourself time: Make sure to set aside time in the months leading up to the exam so your brain has time to process the information. Giving yourself a long runway allows you ample time to go over any information you find more difficult to understand or need to spend extra time on.

  3. Study regularly: Studying regularly can help you retain information and reduce stress. Getting in the habit of regular study sessions will also help you avoid the need for any last-minute cramming before the exam.

  4. Take a practice exam: Practice exams are great for identifying areas that you might need to spend more time on. They can also be used to gauge how well you are retaining concepts and prepare you for what to expect.

  5. Practice in a simulated environment: As the exam date gets closer, it may be helpful to practice the exam in conditions similar to what you’ll be in when you take the CPA Exam. This can help you feel more at ease when the actual test is in front of you and allow you to practice managing your time.

Benefits of Being a Certified CPA

Since every career path is unique, the benefits of becoming a CPA will vary from person to person. In addition to adding the title of CPA to your resume, you may find that you meet the qualifications for more opportunities that interest you. In fact, the Bureau of Labor Statistics cites that those who pursue their licensed CPA status may potentially improve their job prospects3.

Is Becoming a Certified Public Accountant Worth It?

We think so! Certified Public Accountants may work in a variety of fields and can even open their own accounting firm if they choose. Holding your CPA license demonstrates your understanding of accounting practice and competencies, which can be a great skillset to leverage in companies both large and small.

If you want to find out more about how to become a CPA, we can help! Explore our various accounting degrees by requesting more info about these exciting programs and see how you can work toward becoming a Certified Public Accountant.

1Credits and degrees earned from this institution do not automatically qualify the holder to participate in professional licensing exams to practice certain professions. Persons interested in practicing a regulated profession must contact the appropriate state regulatory agency for their field of interest. For instance, typically 150 credit hours or education are required to meet state regulatory agency education requirements for CPA licensure.
2Becker's CPA Exam Review courses are provided as options in the following programs: CPA Preparation certificate, Master of Accounting and Master of Accounting and Financial Management degree programs.