CPA Requirements by State: Complete Guide to the CPA Exam Requirements [2024]

cpa requirements

You know that earning the Certified Public Accountant (CPA) certification is an excellent idea. You know this because of all the benefits of becoming a CPA. But do you know how to become a CPA? Do you know which CPA requirements you must meet?

If you don’t, that’s fine! This guide will walk you through every single CPA requirement (and CPA Exam requirement). So, keep reading to learn all about the CPA license requirements.

CPA License Requirements

Becoming a licensed Certified Public Accountant (CPA) involves acquiring a combination of education, work experience, and passing examination scores. However, the CPA license requirements are not universal.

In the U.S., the boards of accountancy of the individual states/territories determine the regulations for accounting and dictate the requirements for CPA licensure. There is no one national governing body that makes these rules.

Therefore, each jurisdiction has a slightly different set of CPA requirements, though there are general areas of overlap within each state’s requirements.

Since each state enforces distinct CPA requirements, earning the CPA license from certain states might be easier for you than from others. And luckily, you can choose. You are allowed to pursue a CPA license in any state, even if you don’t live there.

So, to help you determine the easiest state to get a CPA license in, I’ve broken down each CPA requirement and discussed the CPA license requirements by state.

CPA Requirements by State

As mentioned, the accountancy jurisdictions in the United States set the CPA requirements. Specifically, there are 55 accountancy jurisdictions in the U.S., so theoretically, you have 55 options for the source of your CPA license.

But, the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) and the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy (NASBA) have been working hard to align the requirements across the jurisdictions. So, as I also mentioned, there are commonalities among the CPA requirements for each state.

Therefore, when you see which basic Certified Public Accountant Requirements by state apply nationwide, you can get a better sense of what each state board of accountancy expects for their CPA candidates.

And those basic CPA requirements would be the 3 Es:

  • Education: earn a 4-year bachelor’s degree and 150 credit hours of general education
  • Exam: pass the entire Uniform CPA Examination
  • Experience: acquire at least 1 year of relevant accounting experience

So, all CPA candidates must meet these requirements in some way. However, many states also have one additional “E” requirement:

The 3 Es are the most generalized summary of the CPA requirements. Each state has an education, exam, and experience requirement of sorts, but the differences among the CPA state requirements manifest themselves in the type of educational credit hours needed, the CPA Exam requirements, and the amount and type of work experience expected. Which ethics exam the state uses is another point of distinction.

cpa course requirements

Therefore, determining the best state board for you also involves taking a more in-depth look at the education, exam, and experience requirements for each state.

CPA Education Requirements by State

In order for a CPA candidate to earn the license, all state boards require candidates to have a bachelor’s degree, and almost all state boards insist that candidates earn 150 total credit hours of education. A bachelor’s degree does not always have to be in accounting.

Furthermore, each state expects the 150 credit hours to include a certain number of accounting hours, but this number varies from state to state.

how to get your cpa

Many states require candidates to have more upper-level accounting and business courses than a typical bachelor’s degree involves. Others maintain that an accounting degree covers the coursework they’d like to see in a CPA candidate.

Generally, the state boards want to see very specific accounting courses, such as U.S. Tax. Many boards of accountancy even hold out for specific business classes or college-level math, for instance, with their CPA course requirements.

Several jurisdictions also specify the number of lower-level accounting and business credit hours that each candidate must complete.

CPA Exam Requirements by State

Every state board requires CPA candidates to pass the Uniform CPA Examination. The AICPA developed the Uniform CPA Examination with input from NASBA and the state boards of accountancy. The CPA Exam consists of Core and Discipline sections that cover a wide range of accounting topics. Candidates must pass all three Core sections as well as one CPA Discipline section of their choice.

Specifically, the CPA Exam sections include:

The CPA Exam sections present several different question types in a series of testlets. These question types include:

Candidates have 4 hours of total testing time for each exam section, and they must pass all 4 sections of the exam within a 30-month period.

Requirements to Take the CPA Exam

Each state board of accountancy also defines the CPA Exam eligibility requirements that candidates must meet in order to sit for the exam.

Almost all of the state boards want candidates to have 120 credit hours of education, the equivalent of a bachelor’s degree before they will let you sit for the CPA Exam.

But can you take the CPA Exam while still in school? Yes, some states let you sit for the exam with less than 120 credit hours if you’re close to graduating.

For example, several states require you to be within a certain timeframe of securing the 120 hours, such as 6 months away from graduating with a bachelor’s degree or within 15 credit hours of the 120-hour requirement.

Other states make the 150-hour rule part of their CPA test requirements. These states might make similar provisions for those who are close to acquiring 150 credit hours.

Finally, many state boards also require you to have a certain number of upper-level accounting credit hours before you can sit for the CPA Exam.

Ultimately, each state board decides who is eligible to sit for the exam in their state. I try my best to keep up with each state’s requirements in the pages on my site, but these requirements change sporadically and without much warning.

Therefore, the best way for you to be certain that your understanding of your state board’s requirements is up to date is to visit your state board’s website or contact them directly.

CPA Work Experience Requirements by State

cpa test requirementsThe CPA work requirement has the most variability of all the requirements.

I’ve seen state boards that only accept experience under a licensed CPA, while others readily accept academic and non-public accounting experience. Many states substitute higher amounts of non-public accounting work experience for lower amounts of experience acquired under the direct supervision of a CPA.

Most states require 1-2 years of relevant accounting experience, and they often make provisions for part-time work as well.

CPA License Requirements by State

If none of the CPA requirements sound like they will be a problem for you to fulfill based on your current career track, then you should register to take the CPA Exam and earn the CPA license in the state in which you reside. You can use this list to learn more about your state’s specific CPA requirements and to see if your state offers any CPA requirement exemptions.

CPA State Boards

Picking a State Board Based on CPA Licensure Requirements

If you believe that meeting the requirements of the state in which you currently reside will be too challenging, then a different state may be a better fit for you. Furthermore, if you don’t have 150 credit hours, are a non-accounting major, lack the required work experience, or are not a U.S. citizen/resident, you will have fewer state board options from which to choose.

So, either way, you can determine the easiest state to become a CPA by comparing your current qualifications and plans for the future with the CPA state requirements and discovering how you can meet those requirements in your situation.

States That Don’t Require 150 Hours of Education

A typical 4-year bachelor’s degree only awards you 120 credit hours of education. Therefore, you must acquire additional education to meet the CPA education requirement of 150 credit hours.

What’s more, you must understand that 150 hours is the standard for all accounting students graduating within the U.S. Therefore, the state boards are simply asking you to match that standard.

In the past, some states allowed candidates to get the CPA license with just 120 credit hours (California, Colorado, Delaware, New Hampshire), but every state now enforces the 150-hour rule.

Can You Take the CPA Exam Without an Accounting Degree?

Here Are the States That Don’t Require an Accounting Degree

Instead of a full accounting degree, some states simply require candidates to have a certain number of accounting credits to earn the CPA license. Usually, these state boards ask for about 24 credit hours in accounting. You’ll still need to earn a bachelor’s degree, but it can be from a different major, such as marketing.

But oftentimes, these states will enforce a stricter experience requirement to compensate for less stringent educational requirements.

For example, the U.S. Virgin Islands has 2 paths to CPA licensure that do not specify a certain number of required accounting courses. Instead, these options substitute higher levels of work experience for the presence of particular accounting education hours.

South Carolina, on the other hand, requires CPA candidates to have 24 semester hours in accounting courses. So, the range of CPA class requirements among jurisdictions is fairly broad.

Many CPA state boards also specify the level of accounting courses you must take. They often limit lower-level accounting classes and require more upper-level (junior-level and above, 300+) courses.

Additionally, several states have certain mandatory courses that each CPA candidate must take to fulfill the upper-level requirements. Moreover, a jurisdiction also has the prerogative to disallow lower-level credits earned through non-traditional methods.

To use South Carolina as an example again, this jurisdiction requires 24 of the 36 semester hours in accounting to be junior level or above. They also include a list of 4 mandatory upper-level courses: cost/managerial accounting, auditing, intermediate/financial accounting, and U.S. Tax. South Carolina also does not accept non-traditional credits such as placement credits and exemptions.

Consequently, some jurisdictions are much more particular about the accounting courses you must take. For this reason, earning the CPA as a non-accounting major usually involves a bit more concentration and effort.

How To Earn the 150 Credit Hours Required for CPA Licensure

The process of earning 150 credit hours is simpler than most of us realize.

The easiest way to do it is to enroll in an integrated 5-year professional accounting school or program that leads to a master’s degree in accounting. But because doing so involves planning in advance, we may not all be in such a lucky spot. So, we have to do the next best thing for our situations.

If you’re an accounting major, you can combine your undergraduate accounting degree with a master’s degree at the same school or at a different one. Or, you can even just take non-degree courses from an accredited educational institution. That means you could take courses like Japanese Culture or Golf 101 from a community college to bump up your credit count.

If you’re not an accounting major, then you must be extra careful to learn the exact number of type of accounting classes your state board expects. Then, you must take the necessary accounting and business courses your state board demands credit for as you increase your number of credit hours to 150.

To do so, you can enhance your undergraduate degree with a master’s in accounting or an MBA with a concentration in accounting. You can also learn about programs that offer specific tax and accounting credits along with other ways to fill in your accounting-credit gaps.

States That Don’t Require Traditional Work Experience

Can you earn the CPA license without work experience? Not really. But in some states, the CPA experience requirements are laxer than in others.

For example, most states nowadays are fine with general accounting work from private industries, government, and even academic teaching positions. Therefore, a non-public accounting career plan shouldn’t be an issue when choosing a CPA state board of accountancy.

Instead, due to the popularity of leniency in this area, you have several options for fulfilling the CPA work experience requirement.

No Public Accounting Experience

If you have never worked in public accounting and don’t plan to work in public accounting, you still have several state boards from which to choose. However, some of these state boards require additional years of experience from a non-public accounting field.

North Carolina, for example, requires 4 years of experience teaching accounting at a college or university or 4 years of experience working in the field of accounting without the supervision of a CPA. On the other hand, this jurisdiction only requires 1 year of accounting experience under the supervision of a CPA. That’s quite a difference!

Many other states only require 1 year of work experience, whether it be in academics, general accounting, or public accounting. So, if you don’t plan to work in public accounting, you should seek to apply to one of these states, as you wouldn’t have to work 4 times longer than necessary (like you would in North Carolina) if you don’t have to.

No Work Experience Completed under the Supervision of a U.S. CPA

Maybe you’ve never worked under a U.S. CPA and never plan to. For example, maybe you work in a private industry where CPAs are less common. Or maybe you work outside the U.S. and your supervisor isn’t licensed in the United States.

In these cases, you’ll need to find a state board of accountancy that makes allowances for these situations with their CPA experience requirements. Some states do when the candidates can prove that substantial accounting skills have been relevant to their jobs.

And typically, any supervisor who can reasonably verify that you are using relevant accounting skills will suffice. However, self-employment does not usually satisfy the work experience requirement.

Examples of states you could apply to when you don’t plan to work under a CPA include the jurisdictions of Illinois, Ohio, Wisconsin, and Virginia. After all, they recognize experience supervised by a non-CPA. So, as long as you work in a relevant field, you can get a license for one of these states.

Additionally, Montana, Washington, Arkansas, and Indiana allow someone other than your boss to verify your experience. So, this exception provides some flexibility as well.

Finally, there are even some states that don’t require any working experience. But the CPA licenses they offer in these situations restrict how you can hold yourself out as a CPA. One example is Guam, which has an inactive license. Massachusetts is another option because it offers a non-reporting license.

Inability to Work in the U.S.

If you are not allowed to work in the U.S. (e.g., H4 visa holders), you must find creative ways to fulfill the experience requirement.

The best way to get your previous experience verified is to either apply for a restricted license from Guam or Massachusetts or register in a state with lower work experience supervision standards. You could also volunteer for CPA-supervised work.

My information on the CPA Exam for international students tells you more about how to take one of these steps.

And remember, the state boards use their discretion to determine whether you have properly fulfilled the work requirement.

Inability to Work Full-time

About half of the state boards accept part-time work. But listing them all would be rather tedious. And the information about their requirements changes often, too.

Therefore, once you narrow down your state board options, you might want to confirm that they accept part-time work by emailing them directly.

Jurisdictions with Residency Requirements for Taking the CPA Exam

In a few places, you must be a resident of that state or territory to take the CPA Exam in that jurisdiction. For instance, in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, candidates must be a resident to sit for the exam there.

What qualifies as proof of residency for taking the CPA Exam in certain states?

To fulfill the proof of residency requirement, you need a physical residence, a permanent place of business, or regular employment in the state.

States That Accept Non-U.S. Citizens/Residents

Many states welcome international candidates. However, there are a few exceptions in which states have citizenship or residency requirements.

These states only grant licenses to U.S. citizens:

  • Alabama
  • Hawaii
  • Louisiana
  • North Carolina
  • South Carolina

These jurisdictions grant licenses only to residents of their state or territory:

  • Idaho
  • Kansas
  • Louisiana
  • Mississippi
  • Missouri
  • Nebraska
  • Nevada
  • Ohio
  • Oklahoma
  • Pennsylvania
  • Puerto Rico
  • Rhode Island
  • U.S. Virgin Islands
  • Wyoming

And finally, Guam offers a restricted CPA license.

The remaining states don’t have citizenship or residency restrictions.

What are the CPA license requirements related to ethics exams in most states?

In addition to passing the entire CPA Exam, candidates oftentimes must pass a CPA ethics exam, too. The ethics exam is typically required within one to two years after passing the CPA Exam. Basically, the ethics exam is an open-book test that focuses on the AICPA Code of Conduct.

Do most states require an ethics exam for CPA licensure?

Yes, most states require candidates to take the AICPA ethics exam to meet CPA license requirements. But don’t worry, the pass rate for the CPA ethics exam is much higher than the pass rate for the CPA Exam overall.

Which Jurisdictions Do Not Require an Ethics Exam?

Many states and jurisdictions require candidates to pass a CPA ethics exam, too. However, several jurisdictions have opted to exclude an ethics exam from their requirements for CPAs. If you’re considering pursuing your CPA license in a state that doesn’t mandate this exam, it’s important to be aware of your options. The areas that do not require an ethics exam for CPA certification include:

  • Arkansas
  • District of Columbia
  • Florida
  • Guam
  • Hawaii
  • Indiana
  • Louisiana
  • Maine
  • Massachusetts
  • Mississippi
  • New Hampshire
  • New York
  • Northern Mariana Islands
  • Puerto Rico
  • U.S Virgin Islands
  • West Virginia
  • Pennsylvania
  • Kentucky
  • Georgia
  • Michigan

Each of these locations continues to uphold their unique licensing standards, but an ethics examination is not among them. This could influence where you decide to undergo your CPA certification process depending on your preparation preferences and career goals. (Plus, it’s kinda nice that you don’t have to take yet another exam in these places!)

What about unique ethics exams in addition to the AICPA ethics exam?

Several states and CPA jurisdictions in the U.S. mandate additional ethics exams tailored to their specific regulations, beyond the standard AICPA ethics examination required for CPAs. For instance:

  • Virginia: CPAs must complete a state-specific ethics course every year
  • Ohio: CPAs must take a board-approved course focusing on professional standards and responsibilities; the course must have a strong emphasis on Ohio accountancy law and board regulations
  • Texas and Wisconsin: Both states have established their own unique codes of professional conduct that CPAs must adhere to

Which Jurisdictions Have NTS Validation Periods that Differ from the Standard 6 Months?

And finally, you should be aware that although in most states and jurisdictions, you NTS is good for 6 months, a few places have a different practice. That is, several jurisdictions deviate from the standard six-month NTS (Notice to Schedule) validation period for CPA Exams. Here’s a detailed look at those differences:

  • California, Hawaii, Louisiana, and Utah each have a nine-month validation period from the NTS issue date
  • North Dakota, South Dakota, and Virginia extend the validation period to 12 months from the NTS issue date
  • Texas stands out with a shorter timeframe, offering a 90-day validation period from the application date

Registering for the CPA Exam

accounting education requirementsEach state board’s website provides instructions on how to register for the CPA Exam. Also, some state boards work with NASBA to accept CPA Exam applications. Therefore, you should consult NASBA’s website and your state board’s website to discover the CPA Exam application procedure you must follow.

Meeting the CPA Requirements

Now that you know all about the CPA requirements, you can take the next step toward becoming a CPA.

If you are still in school, choose your courses wisely and make sure you pass your accounting and business courses so you can meet the 150-hour rule. If you have graduated, begin the process of taking the CPA Exam by narrowing down your list of state board options.

About the Author Stephanie Ng

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!

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