The qualifications for becoming a Certified Public Accountant, with its higher salaries and greater employment demand, differ from state to state and are defined by state accountancy boards. For more information on these salaries, see CPA Salary, which you can compare with the numbers in Accountant Salary.
The following requirements for California are typical.
- A minimum bachelor’s degree in accounting or finance from an accredited institution. Your education must consist of at least 150 semester units. At least 24 units must be in accounting-related subjects such as auditing, taxation or financial reporting. Another 24 must be in business related-subjects such as business law, marketing and business management. Foreign CPAs must have their academic qualifications examined by an academic service agency approved by the California Board of Accountancy.
- At least one year of accounting work experience while under the supervision of a CPA with an active license. Work from foreign CPAs may count for this requirement, if documented according to Board of Accountancy rules.
- Passing the Uniform CPA exam, which consists of four sections and lasts 14 hours total, according to the American Institute of CPAs. All states mandate this exam for their CPA licenses and recognize its results.
- Passing the professional ethics exam, which takes about 16 hours. You need a score of 90 or better and have three tries. The results are valid for two years according to the California CPA Education Foundation.
Some states allow a CPA with a license from one state to provide services in another without informing state accountancy boards and without paying a fee. However, CPAs must always follow the laws of the state in which they practice. An exception to this is an audit service, which may require registration with the state accountancy board.
Licenses generally expire every two years and must be renewed with the payment of a fee and the documentation of continuing professional education (CPE). In California, CPAs need at least 80 hours of qualifying CPE credits taken in the two years immediately before the license expiration. A minimum of 40 hours must be in technical subjects with an additional four hours in ethics.
PayScale Report: Salary for CPA Jobs
American Institute of CPAs: The Uniform CPA Examination
California CPA Foundation: Professional Ethics Exam
California Board of Accountancy: CPA Licensing Applicant Handbook
California CPA Foundation: How to Become a CPA in California if You Are a CPA From Another Country
American Institute of CPAs: Salary and Demand
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Accountants