What It Takes To Become A Certified Accountant: 10 Simple Steps

Written by
Rebecca Smith

Nov 5, 2018

Nov 5, 2018 • by Rebecca Smith

Certified Public Accountants, or CPAs, number almost 1.4 million in the United States -- and the rate of job growth is expected to increase by 10 percent in the coming years. And most CPAs say they love their jobs.

Good job prospects, good pay, and a good environment -- what's not to love?

Accountants prepare and send financial records to the government, but they can also help businesses financially plan and find ways to save money by lowering your tax burden. If you've got a nose for numbers and love the idea of finding tax efficiencies, you could become a certified accountant!

Becoming a CPA

We broke it down into ten easy steps so you can learn how to become CPA. There are eligibility requirements, education requirements, and a really hard test to pass. Each state has its own requirements, but most are quite similar.

1. Graduate from High School

It might sound obvious, but you will need a high school diploma or GED in order to become a CPA. Regulations for becoming an accountant include a college degree, which almost universally means you'll have to graduate from high school first.

2. Study Accounting in College

Most states require a bachelor's degree in accounting at the very least, 150 hours of coursework in accounting. While you can sit for the CPA exam with just a bachelor's degree, many people get a Master of Science in Accounting.

If you enjoy school and can afford it, it's probably in your best interest to consider a master's degree. The amount of upper-level courses required to sit for the exam in many states might be prohibitive if you've only had enough hours to get a bachelor's degree. In Arizona, for example, they require "at least 36 semester hours are nonduplicative accounting courses, of which at least 30 semester hours are upper-level courses."

Make sure you attend an accredited college and are aware of the number of courses you need to achieve the requirements in your state. And don't forget to graduate!

3. Be At Least 18 Years Old

This may sound like a no-brainer, but most states require anyone hoping to sit for the CPA exam and eventually become a certified public accountant to be 18 years old. Most states also require you to be of "good moral character."

4. Answer "What Does A CPA Do?"

It's imperative to know the qualifications and description of a certified public accountant, or CPA, before you make the leap to study for the exam. It costs time and money to become a CPA, and you might actually want to be a bookkeeper.

All CPAs are accountants, but not all accountants are certified public accountants. Professional bookkeepers, like those at Rigits Bookkeeping, can often be an adequate replacement for a CPA. Everyone needs an accountant, but not everyone needs a CPA.

Certified public accountants differ from bookkeepers in that they are legally licensed to prepare and send tax documents on behalf of a client.

Once you feel comfortable knowing that you want to go all the way, it's time to prepare for your CPA exam.

5. Learn About the CPA Exam

Becoming an accountant requires a huge amount of work! Not only do you have stringent educational requirements, but you also must pass a difficult licensing exam. It's best to arm yourself with knowledge about each of the four sections of the test.

And don't forget: Each state has a slightly different set of expectations for the exam.

6. Practice for Section 1: Auditing

Learning how to perform an audit is one thing. Being tested over it is another. Prepare for the Auditing and Attestation (AUD) portion of the exam by making sure you learn documentation procedures.

No matter which section of the exam you're studying for, it's always good to seek out an exam prep course, do online practice exams, and otherwise immerse yourself in getting ready to ace this test.

7. Practice for Section 2: Business Environment

Business Environment and Concepts, also called BEC, is the second portion of the exam. You do not have to take the CPA exam segments in order, but many choose to get this one out of the way early.

In this section, you will be tested on real-world concepts, such as information technology and its methods of impacting accounting. The structure of business and economies are also tested, as is financial management.

8. Practice for Section 3: Financial Accounting & Reporting

This section gets down to the nitty-gritty of accountancy, and tests over financial record keeping and documentation. You will need to know standards for financial documentation, and how to report to government agencies. The acronym for this section is FAR.

9. Practice for Section 4: Regulation

The section called Regulation, or REG, involves advanced taxation concepts and laws. You'll also need to understand your professional ethics and responsibilities and have a grasp on business law.

Many courses, books, and other guides are available for preparing for the CPA Exam. The passage rate is often less than 50 percent for first-time takers.

10. Pass the CPA Exam

After you've met the educational requirements, it's time to pass the CPA exam. If you feel ready after studying for each of the four sections, give it a shot!

Here are some more tips for passing the CPA exam.

One More Thing...

Even after you pass the CPA exam, in most states, you're still not a completely certified accountant. Most states require between 1,800 and 2,000 hours of work under the guidance of public accountant.

If you've found a job after passing your exam, you should be close to meeting these expectations. If you're already working as a bookkeeper or accountant under a CPA, you may be well on your way to achieving your CPA!

Being a Certified Accountant

Now that you've accomplished your goal of becoming a certified public accountant, you'll want to have the best practice you can. Check out these seven ways to become a sought-after tax accountant. You can also attend conferences and learn from mentors.

If you want more tips on how to become a public accountant, check out our blog. We've got lots of tricks of the trade to help make you the best CPA you can be.