How To Get a CPA License: Step-by-Step Guide - Bay Atlantic University - Washington, D.C. (2023)

Table of Contents
  1. What Is a CPA?
  2. How To Become a CPA
  3. How To Get a CPA License
    1. Check your state’s requirements
    2. Pass the CPA exam
    3. Finalize certification
    4. Renew and maintain your licensure
  4. How Long Does It Take To Get a CPA License?
  5. Conclusion

Whether you are an accounting student or looking to advance your career, you may be interested to know how long it takes to become a CPA. Many factors need to be considered when looking at this question.

The path to becoming a CPA can seem complicated. After all, there are several steps in the process, including education, experience, and other specific requirements that vary from state to state.

To make this journey easier for you, we have created this guide, where we will elaborate on how to get a CPA license and how long it takes to get it. Read on to find out!

What Is a CPA?

A certified public accountant (CPA) is a title for licensed accounting professionals. They are concerned with accounting tasks like producing reports accurately reflecting business dealings. Earning the CPA credential distinguishes you by signaling dedication, knowledge, and skill. This helps enforce professional standards in the accounting industry.

A CPA can help companies choose the best action to minimize taxes and maximize profitability. They are also concerned with tax reporting and filing for individuals and businesses. The Board of Accountancy provides the CPA license for each state.

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A certified public accountant can allow accounting professionals more flexibility and mobility in their careers. Based on reciprocity laws, CPAs can become licensed in many states. Across industries, CPAs are looked at for their reliability, industry knowledge, and credentials. The American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) underlines these five popular sectors in CPAs’ work:

  • Public accounting
  • Business and industry
  • Government
  • Education
  • Non-profit

Nonetheless, earning a CPA designation can grant opportunities in nearly every industry.

How To Become a CPA

How To Get a CPA License: Step-by-Step Guide - Bay Atlantic University - Washington, D.C. (1)

Earning a CPA is an assurance of quality, showing that you have met the profession’s highest standards of competence and achievement. The path to becoming a CPA varies depending on where you live. The following are the first steps you need to think about:

  1. Education: The CPA designation requires a bachelor’s degree in business administration, finance, or accounting. Most states include 150 credit hours in college-level accounting courses. These requirements can be met by CPA accounting candidates, even as undergraduate students.
  2. Experience: Some states have experience requirements that those interested must fulfill. They can change from state to state. For example, some states demand a year of work experience under the supervision of another CPA, while some require two years of public accounting experience.
  3. Exam: The CPA exam may be the most challenging requirement, and you have 18 months to pass all of them with a minimum score of 75. Each section takes four hours and includes multiple-choice questions and task-based simulations. The scores are weighted based on difficulty, but they are not curved. This exam consists of four sections:
  • Auditing and Attestation
  • Business Environment and Concepts
  • Financial Accounting and Reporting
  • Regulation

How To Get a CPA License

Now that you have a general understanding of what is required to become a CPA, let’s dig into the details of how to get a CPA license.

Check your state’s requirements

How To Get a CPA License: Step-by-Step Guide - Bay Atlantic University - Washington, D.C. (2)

Firstly, you will want to check your state’s requirements. Every state has various requirements for taking the CPA exam and becoming a licensed CPA. These can include residence or experience requirements, semester hours in accounting, and more. You must check your state’s board of accountancy or jurisdiction to confirm your eligibility.

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Additionally, you must complete the educational requirements specified by the state. For example, if you are wondering how to get a CPA license in California, here is what you need:

  • A bachelor’s degree
  • 24-semester units in accounting subjects
  • 24-semester units in business subjects
  • 150-semester units of education
  • Passing the CPA Exam
  • Passing the Professional Ethics Exam for CPAs
  • One year of general accounting experience supervised by a CPA

Different from California, in Florida, to be eligible to take the CPA exam, you should complete 120 semester credit hours. These semester-hour requirements include 120 semester or 160 quarter hours. And no bachelor’s degree is required to sit for the exam.

But, if you are interested to know how to get a CPA license in Texas, then you will need the following:

  • Do a background check of the criminal history.
  • Hold a higher degree from a board-recognized United States university.
  • Complete 150 semester hours of college credit.
  • Complete 30 semester hours.
  • Complete 24 semester hours.
  • Complete a 3-semester-hour board-approved ethics course.

Pass the CPA exam

Three organizations, the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA), the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy (NASBA), and Prometric, have a contractual arrangement to administer the CPA Exam.

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Once you are eligible, it’s time to apply. First, you must complete the application through NASBA’s CPA Central and submit the required documentation for verification. You’ll then receive your Notice to Schedule (NTS), allowing you to schedule your CPA Exam section, valid for six months. You can schedule your exam through Prometric.

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The CPA Exam consists of four sections that will test your knowledge of accounting standards, the legal requirements of the profession, and much more. Each CPA exam section strictly assesses the minimum technical knowledge and skills required for initial licensure. You’ll take one section at a time.

To pass the exam, you will need a minimum score of 75 and will have 18 months to do so. Once you’ve passed all four sections, verify whether your jurisdiction requires a separate ethics examination before applying for your license.

Finalize certification

How To Get a CPA License: Step-by-Step Guide - Bay Atlantic University - Washington, D.C. (3)

Passing the CPA Exam does not mean you are automatically a CPA and can start practicing as one. You’ll have to fulfill some additional requirements depending on which state you choose for your license. For example, you may need to complete extra education hours, pass an ethics exam, complete years of experience and verify it.

Renew and maintain your licensure

Businesses and companies hire licensed CPAs because they want to guarantee that a trustworthy person with industry expertise handles their finances. Hence, renewing your CPA license is vital to the industry.

All 55 license-granting jurisdictions in the U.S. have established their own CPA license renewal regulations. Many require renewal every one to two years, where you will have to pay a fee of $50 to $150. Additionally, you will need to prove that you’ve completed approximately 40 hours of CPE per year.

Some states will require participation in continuing professional education (CPE) annually in order to maintain your certification.

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How Long Does It Take To Get a CPA License?

How To Get a CPA License: Step-by-Step Guide - Bay Atlantic University - Washington, D.C. (4)

When it comes to the time it will take to get your CPA, it generally takes around seven years to become a CPA.

Most states require 120-150 credit hours to sit for the CPA exam. If we do the math, that is around 4-5 years of schooling. The CPA exam includes four tests; you must pass all four within 18 months. The clock starts with your first passing mark.

After the CPA exam, you must meet other state requirements, such as at least one or two years of experience and an ethics exam. Additionally, most states demand two years of accounting work experience to earn licensure.

Your particular timeframe can also vary depending on the workload you take on. For example, if you spend part of your college career only going to school part-time, you’ll need a little more time to prepare.


The CPA credential is considered the gold standard certification in the accounting profession. So, if you want to obtain your prestigious credential to earn a competitive salary or become more marketable, this is your time to start. Find the right degree program, be sure you are taking enough accounting courses, and reduce how long it takes to get a CPA degree by being prepared.


How do I take the CPA Exam in DC? ›

Application Process
  1. Review the exam requirements.
  2. Submit the exam application + enroll in Surgent CPA Review.
  3. Request and forward transcripts. Contact any educational institutions attended and request that transcripts be forwarded to Promissor for their evaluation. ...
  4. Pay the exam fees. ...
  5. Schedule your exam.

How can I get my CPA without a Masters? ›

Steps to Become a CPA in California
  1. Complete 150 semester hours of college-level education in accounting.
  2. Accumulate the required hours of experience.
  3. Apply for and pass the Uniform CPA Examination.
  4. Apply for a license.
  5. Complete the California CPA Education Foundation ethics exam.
  6. Receive a CPA license from the Board.

Do you have or plan to pursue a CPA license? ›

To pursue CPA certification programme, the candidate must have a Graduation degree or equivalent. To earn the CPA license, the candidate must complete 150 hours of the CPA course semester. Many states require candidates to have 1-2 years of experience under a CPA.

How hard is the CPA Exam? ›

About half of the individuals who take the CPA Exam don't pass on their first attempt. According to the AICPA, the national average pass rate is 45-55%. Cumulative pass rates reported by the AICPA for the calendar year 2021 show that FAR had the lowest pass rate at 44.54% and BEC had the highest pass rate at 61.94%.

What are the four basic requirements for becoming a CPA? ›

Steps to Become a CPA
  • Earn a Bachelor's Degree. CPA education requirements include a bachelor's degree and at least 150 credit-hours of coursework. ...
  • Consider Graduate School. ...
  • Pass the CPA Examination. ...
  • Obtain Your License. ...
  • Renew and Maintain Licensure. ...
  • Required Credentials. ...
  • Optional and Continuing Education for CPAs.

How can I pass CPA easily? ›

12 Tips to Pass the CPA Exam
  1. Create a plan. All four sections of the CPA exam need to be completed within an 18-month window. ...
  2. Consider the sequence of sections. ...
  3. Study early and often. ...
  4. Use study tools. ...
  5. Get rest. ...
  6. Take practice exams. ...
  7. Streamline practice-exam time management. ...
  8. Build a support team.
Jun 15, 2022

Can you self study for the CPA Exam? ›

If you are knowledgeable in financial accounting and audit procedure, and you are a very, very disciplined person, you can try the self-study route. However, CPA is not just a test on accounting knowledge — you'll need to know how to tackle multiple choice questions and be familiar with the simulation questions.

How can I pass my CPA Exam quickly? ›

Quick Facts on Passing the CPA Exam in 3 Months
  1. Develop a study plan and stick to it.
  2. Don't spend all your time reading study materials and watching videos. ...
  3. Use practice questions and exams to prepare for the real exam format.
  4. Use digital flashcards or create your own for tricky subjects.

Is the CPA license worth it? ›

Accountants with a CPA certification advance to positions with more responsibility within one to two years and often are promoted to senior level positions within a few years after that. The sacrifice required to study for and pass your CPA examination is well worth the investment, immediately upon completion.

How many years does it take to complete CPA? ›

It normally takes 7-12 months in completing the CPA Course whereas it takes a minimum of 3 years to complete CA. Candidates who have cleared both CPA & CA have revealed that clearing CPA is much easier than clearing CA.

Is CPA exam necessary? ›

In order to become a CPA, there are education and experience requirements you'll need to fulfill, and a Uniform CPA Exam that you must pass.

Is CPA better than Masters? ›

Getting a CPA License is a Must in Certain Industries

For most industries, getting a master's degree is not a must. However, you need a CPA license to move beyond the manager level in any reputable CPA firm. A CPA license also becomes almost necessary once you move to senior finance positions in big companies.

What state is the easiest to become a CPA? ›

Colorado's (CO) CPA exam requirements are possibly the most advantageous of all the states. It does not require 150 hours to sit. With no requirement to be a US Citizen, a resident of CO, or a certain age, it makes Colorado one of the easiest states to sit for the CPA exam and become licensed.

Why 150 credits for CPA? ›

The reason for the 150-hour requirement is the belief that the traditional 120-hour undergraduate accounting program falls short of providing the skills needed to be a successful CPA; there is just not enough classroom time or opportunity in a 120-hour program to obtain these skills.

How many times can you fail the CPA Exam? ›

How many times a CPA applicant can retake the exam. The good news is that there is no limit to how many times an applicant can apply to retake the exam.

Which CPA is hardest? ›

If you've wondered, “What are the hardest CPA exam sections?”, FAR has the lowest pass rate of the 4 CPA exam sections, followed by AUD in 2021. This is because FAR is regarded as the most comprehensive of the 4 exams.

Is there math on the CPA Exam? ›

The CPA Exam can be taken on the first two months of every quarter, plus 10 days in the next month. While there is some writing involved in the exam, much of the test is based on an understanding of mathematical concepts.

How many levels are there in CPA? ›

CPA is a 4-hour long exam that is divided into four sections. These sections are created to assess the skills and knowledge of candidates. A candidate must finish all sections within the 18-month testing window.

What are the 3 parts of the CPA exam? ›

All candidates must pass the Uniform CPA Examination ® (CPA Exam), which comprises four sections: Auditing and Attestation (AUD), Business Environment and Concepts (BEC), Financial Accounting and Reporting (FAR), and Regulation (REG).

What is a CPA vs accountant? ›

An accountant is typically a professional who has earned a bachelor's degree in accounting. A CPA, or Certified Public Accountant, is a professional who has earned their CPA license through a combination of education, experience and examination.

How do I become a CPA without a degree in accounting? ›

If you don't have an accounting degree, you can still become a CPA, you will likely just need to catch up in the following areas: Earning the minimum number of accounting credit hours. Earning the minimum number of business credit hours. Obtaining relevant experience.

How do I get a CPA in MN? ›

Applicants need to have passed all four parts of the Uniform CPA exam before they can be licensed. NASBA (National Association of State Boards of Accountancy) administers the exam for the State of Minnesota. Minnesota exam candidates apply to NASBA rather than the Board office to sit for the exam.

Is a CPA certification worth it? ›

Accountants with a CPA certification advance to positions with more responsibility within one to two years and often are promoted to senior level positions within a few years after that. The sacrifice required to study for and pass your CPA examination is well worth the investment, immediately upon completion.

What is the maximum salary for a CPA in North Carolina? ›

While ZipRecruiter is seeing salaries as high as $90,471 and as low as $18,171, the majority of Entry Level CPA salaries currently range between $35,182 (25th percentile) to $61,473 (75th percentile) with top earners (90th percentile) making $75,005 annually in North Carolina.


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