Becoming a CPA: How to Make the Career Change

The median pay for accountants in America is over $75,000. Contributing to the higher end of that salary pool are CPAs, or certified public accountants. 

In many ways, certified and uncertified accountants perform the same work. They help businesses manage their expenses, taxes, and financial growth. They work with numbers and people, alike.

The difference is that when certified, accountants have greater job opportunities and access to larger salaries. While the road to professional certification isn’t always easy, it’s almost always worth it.

Are you considering becoming a CPA? If so, you’ve come to the right place. Read on to find out everything you need to know about completing the steps to becoming a CPA.

Is CPA the Right Career Fit for You?

A certified public accountant is someone who loves to crunch the numbers and never misses the little details. They’re invested in helping businesses or individuals to build wealth, reduce spending, and take control of their finances. 

As a CPA, you’re expected to understand more than just basic accounting. It’s your job to stay up to date with business tax law, auditing practices, operation management, and even information technology. If you’ve got great people-skills to boot, you’ll thrive as a CPA. 

Requirements for Becoming a CPA

In order to become a CPA, you must score well on the CPA exams. However, there are requirements you will need to fulfill in order to qualify for the exam. Let’s take a quick look at what those requirements are so you can see how close you are to becoming a CPA.

Keep in mind that different states may have slightly different requirements. After reading this article, take some time to check out any requirements that may be specific to your state.

Educational Requirements

Most states require CPA candidates to take 120-150 postsecondary education credits. If your state requires 120 credits, this means that you will need at least a Bachelor’s degree before taking the CPA exam. If your state requires 150 credits, you will need to attain a Master’s degree before registering for the exam.

Believe it or not, you don’t need to have degrees in accounting to become a CPA. As long as you have a minor (or have completed 24 credits) in accounting or finance, you will be able to move on with the process of becoming a CPA.

Citizenship Requirements

Citizenship requirements vary widely from state to state. In fact, over half of US states do not require CPAs to attain US residency. Some, on the other hand, require that you are a US resident for at least six months before qualifying for the exam.

Social Security Requirements

If you live in one of the 24 states that do require CPAs to have US residency, you will need to present your Social Security number. Both the AICPA and the state licensing board will need to verify your Social Security in order for you to become a CPA. Note that you won’t need to bring the card, itself, to your testing site; providing the number will do.

Age and Work Experience Requirements

In order to become a CPA, you must be 18 years of age or older. Because you will need to complete at least a Bachelor’s degree before taking the exam, this age requirement rarely becomes an issue.

There are no work experience requirements in order to register for the CPA exams. However, building up your work experience will make you a more appealing candidate for higher-paying positions. We recommend taking a job as an accountant (or something similar) between the time that you complete your education and register for your exams. 

Taking the CPA Exams

Once you’ve fulfilled all of these requirements, it’s time to get ready for your CPA exams. The CPA exams are rigorous and require the thorough demonstration of your knowledge of accounting. It’s often best to give yourself several months of preparation time before scheduling the exams.

Registration and Payment

In order to register for the CPA exams, you will need to provide your state’s board of accountancy with your college transcripts. Then, fill out the exam application. Once your state grants an ATT, you will send your ATT to the NASBA, who will send you your notice to schedule your exam.

The CPA exams come with multiple fees. Some candidates have their exams paid for by their employer. Most, however, must pay out of pocket.

CPA Exam Preparation Tips

Even if you did receive a Bachelor’s or Master’s in accounting, it’s crucial that you study for the CPA exams. Take online preparation courses as well as several practice exams. This will give you a sense of the subjects and question structure to expect on the test. 

Make sure that you’re giving yourself plenty of rest and relaxation time as you study. You may find that studying for more than 90 minutes a day isn’t as effective due to feelings of fatigue or burnout. 

CPA Exam Sections

There are four separate sections of the CPA exams. These include:

  • Auditing and attestation
  • Financial accounting and reporting
  • Regulation
  • Business environment and concepts

Each section is timed but you don’t have to take them all in the same day. We recommend tackling on more than one section per day.

CPA Score Requirements

Each section of the CPA exams is worth up to 99 points. In order to become a CPA, you must get a 75 or higher on each section. Not all questions are scored the same way and it may take up to 90 days to get your scores.

Make the Career Change and Become a CPA

Becoming a CPA opens up job opportunities and access to higher salaries. If you’re already keen on accounting, why not take that next step by becoming a CPA?

Making a career change is something we often do for our families–but the hectic schedule can take a toll. Take a look around for content that will help you balance work and home life.


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