Can I Become a CPA While in College?

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If you’ve spent any time looking into a career in accounting, then you’ve likely come across the term “CPA.” A CPA is a certified public accountant. Typically, they are highly respected individuals trusted for both their business and financial advice and their decision-making skills. In the day-to-day, a CPA is involved in helping both organizations and individuals plan for and/or reach their financial goals.

CPA Examination

General Exam Details

The road to becoming a CPA is not an easy one. There is a large CPA exam that all prospective CPAs must pass. The exam consists of four different four-hour sections of testing: Auditing and Attestation (AUD), Business Environment and Concepts (BEC), Financial Accounting and Reporting (FAR) and Regulation (REG). Prior successful test-takers recommend between 300-400 hours of studying before taking the test (or 80-100 hours/section).

Test-takers are allowed to choose the order in which they take their exams. A student has 18 months to pass all four sections, with a minimum passing score of 75 on each section. If a student does not pass all four sections in an 18-month window, the oldest exam “expires” and will have to be taken again. Most exam takers complete all the sections between 9-15 months.

CPA Exam Requirements

You may have heard that you can take the CPA exam while you are still in school – technically, this isn’t wrong. CPA exam requirements are regulated state-to-state. Any prospective exam taker will need to look at the CPA exam requirements for the state that they desire licensure in. Visit this page if you’d like more details on a specific state at this time.

Most states do require a bachelor’s degree in accounting before you can sit for any section of the test. Other states require 150 hours of college credit before being able to sit for the exam. Some states also require some sort of work experience or internship.

There are some states that will let students begin taking the exam while still in school. Typically, the requirements here are still strict; students will need to have completed certain courses and only have a certain number of courses left before graduation. Simply put, college seniors occasionally sit for the CPA exam before graduation, but freshmen or sophomore will not. Most commonly, a senior may be able to get one section completed before graduation, but not all four.

CPA Exam Requirements for Non-Accounting Majors

If you already have a bachelor’s degree but it is not in accounting, you may still be able to take the CPA examination (without getting a Bachelor’s in accounting). As noted above, the CPA exam requirements for non-accounting majors again will differ state-to-state. Currently, five states don’t require a bachelor’s in accounting (ME, HI, MA, GA and AK). Important to remember here is that you do not have to take the exam in the state you are being licensed by. Qualified applicants can take the exam at any Prometric testing center in the country.

Though these five states do not require a Bachelor’s in accounting, they do have requirements related to accounting college credits and coursework, hours of “internship” work with a certified CPA and/or work experience. Those who desire to sit for the exam in one of these states may still have to return to school for additional accounting credits or complete a work experience before being eligible.

The 150 Credit Requirement

As mentioned briefly above, most states have a requirement of 150 completed college credits, for both accounting and non-accounting majors, before being qualified to sit for the CPA exam. The average four-year bachelor’s program is 120 credits. Though this extra college credit requirement can be frustrating for some, most accounting students are continuing on to get an MBA and those courses and credits will apply. For non-accounting majors, these extra required college credits could be filled with the required accounting courses that they are likely lacking.

So, Can I Become a CPA While in College?

Technically, in some states, it is possible to become a CPA in college. But the likelihood of it is extremely small. For this to occur one would need to be taking extra courses and credits throughout their four years of undergrad, gaining work experience, and studying an extra 300-400 hours over the final months of their senior year. While this is possible, it is not recommended. For the student who is well prepared and academically ahead of schedule, a better goal would be to complete one (maybe two) sections of the exam before graduation.

Laura Mansfield

Master of Healthcare Administration (MHA) | Sacred Heart University

Associate’s Degree of Nursing (ADN) | North Seattle Community College

Bachelor of Business Administration (B.B.A.), Marketing, Sales | University of Washington (Seattle)

January 2020

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