Want to Become a CPA? 5 Important Steps to Get There

Written by
Rebecca Smith

Published
Oct 14, 2020

Oct 14, 2020 • by Rebecca Smith

Becoming a certified public accountant (CPA) can be a valuable and rewarding career path, but it takes time and effort to earn this certification. Accordingly, if you’re interested in a career path in accounting, becoming a CPA may or may not be right for you.

You likely know that to become a CPA, you must pass a formal exam; with the right coursework, studying, and training, this shouldn’t be an issue. But you’ll also need to have a 4-year bachelor’s degree, and you’ll need to meet a number of other requirements.

After completing these prerequisites, you can start making more money, developing your career, and setting yourself up for a brighter future.

Why Become a CPA?

What are the benefits of becoming a CPA?

  • Respect and reputation. There’s no denying that having a “CPA” title attached to your name is good for your reputation, and for earning respect from others. If you’re applying for a job, the CPA title will increase your chances of getting hired. If you’re running your own accounting firm or acting as an independent contractor, your CPA title will help attract clients.
  • Career options. Becoming a CPA enables you to handle more complex financial responsibilities, and can open up new career options for you. That could mean starting your own accounting firm, working toward a higher position, or altering your career path.
  • Career stability. The world is always going to need accountants. Becoming a CPA is a great way to improve your career stability. Additionally, businesses in almost all industries require the assistance of accountants, so you can work in a wide variety of different environments.
  • Increased salary and benefits. Depending on your current position and career goals, you may be able to increase your salary and/or get more benefits by becoming a CPA. If you’re currently working in an accounting department, your employer may even consider helping you get a CPA, due to the added benefits for the organization.
  • Personal satisfaction. Some people want to become a CPA simply because they personally aspire to reach this level. It can feel rewarding to officially earn your CPA status, and can make you feel more confident in your accounting abilities.

How to Become a CPA

If you want to become a CPA, you’ll need to follow these important steps. Note that licensing requirements vary by state, but these are the general steps you’ll need to follow in nearly all states.

  1. Make sure becoming a CPA is right for you. First, make sure that you’re ready to become a CPA. Is this the right career path for you? If you have no prior education or experience in accounting, it could take many years for you to become a CPA. Make sure it’s worth it before you begin this journey.
  2. Earn a 4-year bachelor’s degree. To become a CPA, you’ll need at least a 4-year bachelor’s degree, including 150 credit hours of general higher education. You’ll also need a minimum number of credit hours in the accounting field, but the exact number of hours you need will vary depending on the state in which you’re applying to become a CPA.
  3. Pass each section of the Uniform CPA Examination. No matter your state, you’ll need to pass each section of the Uniform CPA Examination. This exam will test you on your knowledge and a number of skills in accounting. It has been administered for nearly 100 years, and includes four main sections: auditing and attestation, business environment and concepts, financial accounting and reporting, and regulation.
  4. Acquire 1-2 years of relevant accounting experience. In addition to passing the exam and getting the requisite amount of education, you’ll also need to get 1 to 2 years of relevant accounting experience, depending on the state. This can usually be an entry-level accounting position.
  5. Pass an ethics exam (if required). Some states also require you to pass an ethics exam. The contents of this exam vary by state, but are designed to ensure your ability to act ethically as an accountant.

Alternatives to Becoming a CPA

If these steps sound like too much, or if you’re second guessing your decision to become a CPA, you should know there are many other viable ways you can pursue a career in finance or accounting. For example, you could become a certified management accountant (CMA), o a chartered financial analyst (CFA), both of which have much more flexible exam requirements. You can also apply for many accounting positions without needing to become a formally recognized CPA.

After getting certified as a public accountant, you’ll have far more career opportunities ahead of you. It takes many years of effort to become a CPA, but if you have an accounting degree already, you’ll be well on your way to certification.