Can You Become a US CPA with 3 Year Degree Alone?

cpa with 3 year degreeCan a 3-year bachelor’s degree (generally equivalent to an associate’s degree) qualify you to sit for the CPA Exam?

I am afraid not.

Since 2012, it has been exceeding hard for 3-year bachelor’s degree holders to get qualified for the US CPA exam. Delaware, the “last remaining” state that welcomed associate’s degree holders, changed its rules effective August 1, 2012.

Can You Get a CPA with an Associate’s Degree?

Over the years, the 55 boards of accountancy have worked to align their requirements. In the old days, states had widely varying rules. Some required a master’s degree, while others only required a 3-year degree for a CPA license. (Delaware used to be a state that only required a three-year degree for the CPA.)

However, this created issues. Sometimes, a CPA with an associates degree wasn’t deemed equal to a CPA with a bachelor’s degree. And CPAs from one state had trouble practicing in another state. That is, states struggled with reciprocity rules. So, the AICPA and NASBA have urged jurisdictions to all follow the Uniform Accountancy Act to better align state-to-state rules and regulations for the accounting profession. Now, all states require CPA candidates to have 150 hours of higher education to get a license or permit to practice.

How Rules Have Changed in Delaware

The internet has a lot of outdated information about Delaware’s CPA exam requirements.

I would like to take the opportunity to clarify Delaware’s requirements using the timeline below. Please do not rely on information gathered from other websites that may not be the most up-to-date.

Before 2006

Working experience was not required to get a Delaware CPA certificate as long as you were not planning to practice public accounting in Delaware. (Click here for an article about the CPA license vs. the CPA certificate.)

After 2006

Since 2006, Delaware has required all candidates to have work experience before getting the CPA qualification by abolishing the so-called two-tier system. So, you can no longer get a CPA certificate alone. Instead, you have to complete all of the work and education experience to get a full CPA license.

Effective August 1, 2012

Since 2012, Delaware has joined all other jurisdictions to impose a 150 credit hour requirement on all CPA candidates. That means that just like all other jurisdictions, you’ll need at least a bachelor’s degree to become a CPA in Delaware.

For more details, please go to the Delaware CPA Exam Requirements page.

The Best Degree for CPA

If you have an associate’s degree with a concentration in accounting, you can often find employment as a bookkeeper, accounts payable associate, or payroll clerk. In most places, payroll clerks and bookkeepers don’t need a bachelor’s degree to practice. However, to call yourself an accountant, you’ll need at least a four-year bachelor’s degree in accounting. Besides, with a bachelor’s degree, you can make up to twice what you can with just an associate’s degree.

However, you’ll find the most career benefits as a CPA. Many jurisdictions require 120 hours to even sit for the CPA Exam. And they all now require 150 hours to get a CPA license. That means you’re looking at a bachelor’s degree (usually equals 120 hours) plus some extra classes. Some undergrad programs are developing advanced curriculum that seamlessly leads a student from an undergrad to a grad program. In these programs, the end result is a master’s degree. Other programs are giving students the option of adding a 30-hour CPA-prep program to the end of their bachelor’s degree, helping them reach that magic number of 150 hours.

CPA Degree

If you’re considering a career as a CPA, you have several degrees to consider. To reach your 150 hours, you’ll either need a bachelor’s degree with additional courses or a master’s degree.

Bachelor’s Degree

The minimum educational threshold to get the CPA license is a bachelor’s degree. But you’ll need some additional courses to reach your 150 hours. (You could take a few extra courses at your local community college, for example.)

If you decide to end your education with a bachelor’s degree, look into accounting and finance programs. You could also major in a related business field but be sure to take as many accounting classes as you can.

Master’s Degree

Getting a master’s degree is a sure way of reaching your 150 education hours for the CPA license. Many CPAs choose a MAcc (Master of Accounting) program. Some go with an MST, or Master of Science in Taxation. You could also consider an MBA with a concentration in accounting. However, be warned that some states may require some additional courses in advanced accounting if you have an MBA instead of an MAcc. So, it’s always best to check the CPA requirements in your state before making a final decision.

I Have a BCOM. Can I Get Qualified At All?

I get a lot of inquiries from Indian candidates who have a BCOM, or a Bachelor of Commerce. BCOM holders can have a hard time becoming qualified to take the CPA Exam. Jurisdictions usually only give BCOM candidates 90 hours of education credits for that degree. So, if you have a BCOM, you may have difficulty becoming qualified for the CPA license.

If you have a:

  • COM only: The only remedy is to enroll in a 2-year master’s degree program. Or, transfer your credits to a 3-year university, make up a few courses until you have 150 hours, and graduate from there.
  • COM + Indian CA: In the past, some jurisdictions counted the Indian CA towards the education requirements for the CPA license. However, that is largely no longer the case. Instead, a few jurisdictions still consider the Indian CA for the work experience requirements. Please read the article How Indian BCOM or CA Takes US CPA Exam: Issues + Solutions for additional information.
  • COM + MCOM: Yes, it is possible to sit for the CPA Exam with a BCOM combined with a master’s degree like the MCOM if you have reached 150 hours of education.

For further details specifically for Indian candidates, please check out this page.

I Have a 3 Year Degree and ACCA. Can I Get Qualified?

For non-Indian candidates who went through a 3-year university system, please check out CPA exam exemptions that cover other professional qualifications.

If you are not qualified for any of these exemptions, I am afraid that you will need a 2-year master’s degree or other substantial additional coursework to fulfill the typical 150 credit hour requirements.

If CPA Doesn’t Work, Do You Have Other Suggestions for Me?

cpa with 3 year degree

If the CPA requirements are hard for you to meet, there are other accounting and finance credentials to consider. I suggest looking into the CFA and CMA certifications.

CFA: Chartered Financial Analyst

If you want a career in the investment field, such as asset management, equity research analyst, or as a hedge fund specialist, then you could consider the CFA. The Chartered Financial Analyst credential is granted by the CFA Institute, and it could be right for you depending on your career goals. Plus, to meet the CFA requirements, you only need a bachelor’s degree in any field. And if you don’t have at least a bachelor’s degree, you can substitute relevant work experience.

Click here for an article from our sister site,, to learn more about the benefits of becoming a CFA charter holder.

CMA: Certified Management Accountant

For accountants who are working or plan to work in corporate or industry settings, I encourage you to check out the CMA qualification. Certified Management Accountants have advanced skills in accounting and financial management. Click here to learn more about the benefits of getting your CMA.

To earn the CMA, you’ll need a bachelor’s degree in any subject. Plus, if you hold certain other accounting credentials, the IMA (Institute of Management Accountants) could wave the education requirement. So that means a BCOM from a typical university in India could get you qualified for the CMA. Go to our sister site,, for more information. You’ll also find an article about the CMA vs CPA.


Can you become a CPA with an associates degree?

No. You cannot become a CPA with an associate’s degree if that is the highest level of education you’ve obtained. There is not an acceptable 3 year degree for the CPA.

How can I become a CPA with only an associate degree?

I suggest looking into programs that will help you get the additional credit hours you need for a CPA license. You will need 150 hours of education (a master’s degree or a bachelor’s degree plus additional courses) to obtain the CPA.

What’s the best school for CPAs?

Actually, I have an entire article devoted to CPA pass rates by school.

How can I become a CPA faster?

The road to become a CPA is not short. In addition to finding the right education program for your 150 hours, one of the longest hurdles to becoming a CPA is studying for the exam. However, the right CPA Exam review provider will make that process much faster and more enjoyable. Click here for my reviews of the top CPA test prep courses on the market.

Do you have any advice for international candidates?

A lot of my international readers message me with questions about the education and work requirements to becoming a US CPA. To help you on your journey, I’ve created a free mini-course for international CPA candidates. Click here to get started.

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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