It’s critical to know the CPA education requirements if you’re going after your CPA license. We have specific information on the CPA exam application for US candidates and international candidates. But given the many questions on CPA education and CPA continuing education requirements I’ve received over the years, it seems a review would be helpful. So, here is an explanation detailing the process and what to watch out for.
Technically, each state board of accountancy can establish their own educational requirements for CPA candidates. However, the boards generally share the same requirements:
If you have specific questions about your board after reading this article, jump over to this article for CPA education requirements by state.
First, you must have at least a US bachelor’s degree or the equivalent. By “equivalent,” boards of accountancy expect a 4-year university degree. Or, you might be able to substitute a 3-year bachelor degree plus a 1- or 2-year master’s degree in a related field. Some state boards recognize post-secondary school courses (for example, A Level or other types of post-secondary diplomas) as 1 year of higher education.
Readers often ask me about their BCOM or MCOM (bachelor’s or master’s of communication), which are fairly common degrees outside of the US. Generally speaking, a 3-year BCOM in combination with an MCOM or other relevant master’s degree (such as accounting or taxation) is usually accepted. But things get complicated if the degree programs don’t relate to each other.
For example, one of my readers has a 3-year BCOM plus a diploma from a 1-year program, but not a true master’s degree. The Alaska State Board rejected her application based on the following:
Bachelor’s degrees in the United States require completion of four years of progressively advanced study in a unified degree program. Therefore, it is not possible to consider that your one-year diploma program and three-year undergraduate program represent the equivalent of a completed degree program in the United States.
Generally speaking, in most jurisdictions, you do not need a specific degree, such as an undergraduate degree in accounting. For example, according to the New York CPA education requirements, candidates must have a bachelor’s degree or higher. And that bachelor’s degree can be in any subject, which is fairly typical of most states.
However, majoring in accounting or a related field will certainly help you prepare for the CPA Exam. Besides, most states require candidates to have a certain number of accounting and business courses. (You’ll find more information in point 3 below.) So really, candidates often find it best to go ahead and major in accounting since they have to take so many accounting classes to meet the CPA Exam education requirements.
In the past, education requirements varied from state to state. That is, some states only required a bachelor’s degree, while others wanted CPAs to have their master’s degree. Today, however, all state boards follow the so-called “150 hour rule.”
In the US, a full-time college student usually takes about 30 semester credit hours a year. Therefore, a bachelor’s degree equals 120 semester hours. And similarly, a master’s degree is about 150 semester hours. So essentially, 150 credit hours is the equivalent of 5 years of higher education.
In most states, these credit hours can be obtained via degree or non-degree courses. Therefore, it is possible that your courses may be counted toward point #2 (the 150-hour requirement) and not toward point #1 (degree requirement) if they are not offered via a degree program.
About half of the state boards require 150 credit hours from an accredited educational institution to be qualified for the CPA Exam. Furthermore, other state boards let you take the exam as long as you have your bachelor’s degree (120 credit hours). You can then complete the remaining 30 credit hours before applying for the license.
For example, the CPA education requirements in NY allow you to sit for the CPA Exam as long as you have accumulated 120 semester hours. Plus, you need an upper-level financial accounting course plus have classes in cost or management accounting, taxation, and upper-level audit and attestation.
Although this requirement varies among the states, you typically need 24-30 credit hours of accounting courses and 24-30 hours of business courses.
But please be aware of the following:
Unless you go through an accounting program at a US university, fulfilling the CPA educational requirements can be a very frustrating process. To make things worse, the experience requirements can be equally tough.
Some candidates find it overwhelming to deal with both sets of requirements. They just want to get started, so they deal with the education side first without thoroughly thinking about the experience side of the rules. And in the end, they realize that because of their special circumstances, they realize they can’t fulfill the experience requirements of that particular state. And then, they realize that transferring their exam credits to another state is not possible because they didn’t fulfill the other states’ CPA educational requirements in the first place.
Maine is a classic example. Many candidates pick Maine because it only requires 15 credit hour of accounting courses. These candidates are often non-accounting majors and they don’t plan to work as auditors.
After they pass the CPA Exam, they realize that Maine strictly requires 2 years of public accounting experience. Furthermore, that experience must be completed under the direction of a licensed CPA with specific requirements in accounting, auditing, issuing reports on financial statements, and other advisory services. Their plans are thrown in chaos – they are either forced to work as auditors for two years or forget about the CPA qualification. Some try to transfer their exam credits to other states. However, that may not be possible since they don’t have enough accounting credit hours to meet the education requirements of other states.
Before you start your CPA journey, I strongly recommend that you map out a workable plan from start to finish. In other words, make sure you can fulfill not only the CPA educational requirements but also those for experience. If you aren’t sure of the specific requirements for your jurisdiction, check out my article CPA Requirements by State.
It takes a lot of effort to develop a workable plan. But having a roadmap that works all the way is the best way to get our CPA title.
Before you jump straight into college, do your research on CPA education requirements. This step could save you a lot of hassles down the road. To help, I have an entire article devoted to CPA pass rates by school.
The CPA application can be an exceedingly complicated process, and the outcome often depends on your unique educational background and situation. I would love to help as much as I can, but in many cases it is easier and more efficient to do your own research and decide accordingly.
Therefore, I suggest you check out AllLibrary.com, a database that contains the rules and regulations of all state boards regarding the CPA education requirements. Everyone can access the database with a fee. So if you are serious about passing the CPA Exam, I encourage you to narrow down your choice to no more than 5 states, free up half a day to do some research, and buy a 24-hour pass for US$10. It’s worth it.
Remember—your state board of accountancy is here to help you. If you have any questions at all, don’t hesitate to contact your state board to make sure you’re on the right track.
Since so many readers have asked about the CPA education requirements for certain states, I’ve listed out some examples below. As you read through them, you’ll notice some commonalities. After all, most states allow candidates to take the CPA Exam after they have 120 education hours, but 150 hours are needed to obtain the CPA license. Plus, they all require a certain number of hours in specific accounting and business courses.
If your state isn’t listed below, click here for more information.
Like many jurisdictions, Florida has requirements to sit for the exam and the additional requirements to apply for the CPA license.
To sit for the exam, candidates must meet the following Florida CPA education requirements:
Plus, all accounting courses and at least 21 hours of the general business courses must be in upper level classes. Therefore, elementary or introductory accounting courses don’t count toward your count of 24 hours.
And even more, if you have a degree from a non-accredited school, you need another 15 semester hours from a graduate program at an accredited school. Those 15 hours must include 9 hours of graduate-level accounting and 3 hours in graduate-level taxation courses.
But to apply for the CPA license, candidates need:
The CPA California education requirements for a CPA license are as follows:
The “accounting study” courses could be in accounting, business, or skills-based courses like communications or real estate. Furthermore, candidates can substitute a master’s degree in accounting, taxation, or taxation law for the 20 accounting study hours.
In New York, candidates can sit for the CPA Exam with the following:
However, candidates must meet additional requirements to gain the CPA license:
In Nebraska, CPA candidates can sit for the CPA Exam as long as their education is in progress. However, to obtain the CPA license, candidates need:
In Texas, CPA candidates need 150 education hours plus a bachelor’s degree (or higher) from a board-recognized US college or university. Or, if your degree isn’t from an approved institution, the Texas board of accountancy may approve an equivalent education.
In addition, candidates need the following for the CPA license:
I am the author of How to Pass The CPA Exam (published by Wiley), and I also passed all 4 sections of the CPA Exam on my first try. Additionally, I have led webinars, such as for the Institute of Management Accountants, authored featured articles on websites like Going Concern and AccountingWeb, and I'm also the CFO for the charity New Sight. Finally, I have created other accounting certification websites to help mentor non-CPA candidates. I have already mentored thousands of CPA, CMA, CIA, EA, and CFA candidates, and I can help you too!