Can I Become a CPA With Only a Bachelor’s in Accounting?

Functions of accounting are taught to varying levels in both associate and undergraduate degree programs. However, business professionals operating as public accountants require specialized state issued licenses. So the answer to the question of whether one can become a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) with only a bachelor’s degree in accounting is no.

Understanding The Differences Between Two Tier And One Tier States

States are classified as either two tier or one tier states when categorizing the requirements for issuing accounting designations. Two tier states allow accountants to possess a certificate and then get a license later. One tier states certify and license accounting professionals after they pass the exam, educational, and work requirements. The accounting license holders are held to a higher standard than certificate holders. Here is a description of the typical accounting licensing requirements that aspiring accountants must meet in order to practice their profession as a CPA.

Examination Requirements

Aspiring accountants are required to sit for the Uniform Certified Public Accountant Examination as issued by the state’s board of accountancy. To sit for this exam, a candidate should have at least an undergraduate degree in an accounting concentration or its equivalent. Some states require applicants to have completed 150 semester hours of accounting education prior to sitting for the exam while others require that the 150 semester hours be met just prior to licensure.

The examination itself takes 14 hours to complete and is divided into four sections. Those sections include Auditing and Attestation, Financial Accounting and Reporting, Regulation, and Business Environment and Concepts. While the content of all sections are covered in all reputable undergraduate accounting degree programs, many CPA candidates choose to go through additional training before taking the exam.

Educational Credentials

An undergraduate degree in accounting is almost always a requirement for becoming a CPA. However, almost all states require what amounts to an extra year of training to meet the requirements for any designations. This is the 150 semester hours that many states require of applicants prior to sitting for the examination. Initial educational requirements are generally met prior to sitting for the examination. However, accountants are also required to maintain their credentials by fulfilling continuous education hours equivalent to 120 hours of accounting course work every three years prior to license renewal.

Experience Needed

Another difference between accountants who hold a certificate and those who are licensed is the work experience required before earning the designation. An accountant with a certificate does not generally need the work experience before receiving that credential, but a licensed accountant must have at least a year of supervised work experience before the state board of accountancy will issue them a license to operate in that state.

Although a graduate of an accredited accounting degree program may have the necessary knowledge to work as an accounting professional in a corporate setting, that person still needs to prove their skills by taking the Uniform Certified Public Accountant Examination. Many states are phasing out the designation of accounting certificate holder and are simply requiring that accountants become licensed. Meanwhile, the designation of CPA is only used by those holding a state issued license and cannot be used by certificate holders only. After satisfactorily meeting their state’s exam, educational, and work experience requirements, the accounting professional is then fit to compete with his or her peers for rewarding CPA positions.

Related Article: Which is Worth More – a CPA License or a Master’s Degree in Accounting?

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