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Question: I did not get my degree in the US. How do I know if my coursework fit the educational requirements?”
Answer: Get a foreign credential evaluation for CPA.
Here is an overview on what evaluators do, and how to pick the right one for your application:
Note: Texas evaluate the transcript themselves. Candidates do not need to go through these third-party evaluation agencies.
Don’t like videos? Here is the same information in text format:
Before you contact an evaluation agency, you need to select the state in which to register for your exam. There are two reasons:
Once you settle on a state and get the list of approved agencies, you can pick one based on:
The fee ranges from $100 to $300 — price difference is closely correlated to turnaround time. For example, NIES is fast but it’s expensive. FACS is one of the most affordable agency charging $100 for most states, but it takes around 6 weeks.
Most state boards require a “course-by-course” evaluation. This is different from the “general evaluation” that some agencies are offering. Please read the fee schedule carefully when comparing the fees.
There may also be rush services available but expect to add another $100 to the price tag. With proper planning, you can avoid this extra cost.
The number of days required to produce a report varies considerably. Most agencies have a 2 week turnaround time, but can vary from 5 business days to 8+ weeks.
The evaluation process is both an art and a science. It is possible that an evaluators gives you more credit hours than the others.
Having said that, the evaluation result should not be substantially different as evaluators run the risk of getting disqualified by state boards. Because of this, I personally do not recommend an agency based on how “lenient” it interprets your transcripts.
I do recommend agencies that have better customer service, because a friendly evaluator makes your life much easier during the exam application process. I ran a little experience and you can take a look at my findings at the end of this post.
Most foreign credential evaluation agencies require the candidates to send in the original or official transcript . By original, it refers to the copy issued by your school that is sent to you in a sealed envelope; by official, it means a copy (either the original or certified copy) sent directly from your school to the agency.
In most cases, this requirement is set by the state board. For example, California state board asks the evaluators to issue report only if the candidate supplies the original copy.
I understand that in some countries it is impossible additional copies of your transcript. Customer service is very important because a good evaluator can suggest a way to work around this issue instead of insisting on getting what is officially required.
Note: if your current name is different from the name on the transcript (e.g. maiden name), you need supporting document to show the reason of name change, e.g. a marriage certificate.
If your transcript is issued in a language other than English, a word-for-word translation is required.
You can explore whether there is an in-house translation service at the evaluation agency. If not, you can either get it translated by an official / governmental agency (as in China), or you can contact a translation service that is a member of American Translators Association (ATA).
It is best to check with your evaluation agency and see if they have a preferred translation service.
Another thing to help the agency is to send in your course outline/syllabus so that the agency has full information on the content of your qualifications.
I list out the estimated turnaround time for each foreign credential evaluation agency below. It only starts to count after all the required documents are submitted.
For rush service, it is counted in business days. For example, a 2-day rush service takes 2 business days.
Some evaluation agencies have online tracking systems, while others may have an email notification service. A few have no updates and you have to call them to check. You may take this into consideration if it is important for you keep track of the progress.
NASBA International Evaluation Service (NIES) offers an “undecided state evaluation” that helps you identify qualifying states based on your education.
Update: NIES seems to have terminated this service.
I mentioned about a little experiment on these agencies. This is what I did: I sent out the same email message to all evaluators and asked them 2 questions on behalf of candidates. I recorded the time and detailness/ usefulness of the reply. The experiment was done in 2015:
Prompt and Personal Reply
Evaluators accepting original and/or official transcripts only:
Evaluators accepting attested / certified photocopies of transcripts:
Prompt but Generic Reply
Please note that this list is based on one experiment only. I am constantly collecting info from readers to improve my analysis. Please tell me your experience if you have gone through the process.
You are most welcome to sign up to my FREE mini-course designed for international candidates. Feel free to learn more about this CPA exam mini-course here before signing up.
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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!