How Long Should I Expect to Be a College Student If I Want to Be a CPA?

If you’re serious about becoming a certified public accountant (CPA), then you probably already know you must a college degree. What you might not realize yet is how long it will take to earn that college degree. You don’t need a graduate-level degree to be meet the eligibility requirements necessary to sit for the CPA examination, but you will still need to spend five years in college.

The Five-Year Study Requirement

A bachelor’s degree is commonly called a four-year degree, but it doesn’t necessarily take just four years to earn one. The average bachelor’s degree program requires 120 semester hours of study, or four years (eight 15-credit semesters) of full-time study. Many students take longer than four years just to complete this 120 semester hour requirement due to changing their majors, retaking courses to earn higher grades or attending school part-time rather than full-time.

Unlike students in most other college degree programs, aspiring CPAs must spend 150 semester hours in college to be eligible to take the CPA exam. CPA requirements vary from state to state, but more than 40 states currently require test takers to have 150 credit hours of education, and the few remaining are in the process of establishing similar requirements, the American Institute of CPAs reported.

Your Education Options

It’s important to realize early on in your academic career that you will need to spend five years pursuing your education. Even though most states now require 150 semester hours of study, many bachelor’s degree programs in accounting are four-year programs. That means you will need to make a choice how to get that fifth year of college education. You could choose to earn a traditional undergraduate accounting degree and then start a new course of study, but most graduate degree programs will take longer than a single year to complete.

If you’re looking to advance within your intended career at some point in the future, then your best bet might be enrolling in a dual degree program that will allow you to earn a master’s degree as well as a bachelor’s degree at the end of your fifth year of study. Several schools have now introduced these combined degree programs to help students fulfill their CPA examination requirements and make the most of their extra year of study. Different programs allow students to earn different graduate degrees, like a master’s degree in accounting, a master’s degree in financial management or a master of business administration (MBA) degree.

While five years of study may seem like a long time, the investment is well worth it for aspiring CPAs, especially if they can use that extra time to earn an additional degree. After all, ambitious students often wonder whether a CPA license or a master’s degree in accounting is worth more to an employer. Having both credentials will certainly give candidates a competitive edge in the search for their dream job.

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