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What Does it Take to Become a CPA?

A degree may open the door to a variety of opportunities and diverse career paths. The degree programs offered at AIU will not necessarily lead to the featured careers. This collection of articles is intended to help inform and guide you through the process of determining which level of degree and types of certifications align with your desired career path.

Connecting career fields with one set of educational requirements and assuming that no other degree programs will work is one mistake that students and business professionals may make. For example, people pursuing a career in accounting might assume that a online accounting degree is the only degree program that is designed to help student prepare to pursue accounting career paths. However, there are other degree paths that may provide students with the opportunity to develop the skills and knowledge that may help students pursue accounting opportunities, including licensures like the Certified Public Accountant (CPA) or Certified Management Accountant (CMA).

CPA Exam Education Requirements

Since simply holding an undergraduate degree is not enough to qualify you to take the CPA exam, it's important to determine how a specific degree program's credit hours are dispersed over accounting and business-related courses. Also, the education requirements to get a CPA license vary on a state-by-state basis, with some states requiring a certain number of credit hours in business vs. accounting classes. Be sure to review these specific requirements via the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy so you can choose a program that will meet the prerequisites for your state's licensing board.1,2

While the Bachelor of Accounting* can be one choice, there are a number of degree programs that can help students prepare to take the CPA exam.

How to Become a CPA

Each of the 50 US States and five US jurisdictions (District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, US Virgin Islands, Commonwealth of Northern Mariana Islands, and Guam) have their own specific qualifications to become a CPA; however, the average minimum educational requirement is 150 credit hours in school. According to the American Institute of CPAs (AICPA), the average undergraduate program provides students with only 120 credits. Hence, those looking to take the CPA licensure exam will need added coursework in order to qualify.1

Pursuing a master’s degree in accounting or an MBA with a specialization in accounting can be an option to acquire these extra required credit hours while also working to develop useful career skills. The AICPA notes that a master’s isn’t necessary, but a Master of Business Administration (MBA), Master of Accounting (MACC), and Master of Science in Taxation (MST) are common among those who choose to take the CPA exam.

Preparing to Take the CPA Exam

The CPA exam consists of four parts – Auditing and Attestation, Business Environment and Concepts, Financial Accounting and Reporting, and Regulation – and are taken individually and must be completed within 18 months of each other.2,3 Each part has five subsections made up of multiple-choice questions, task-based simulations, and written communication tasks. For sample questions and a comprehensive overview of material that may be covered on the test, you can refer to the most recently released exam blueprints.

Remember, analyzing your future career goals and options when selecting an undergraduate degree to pursue may be beneficial. If you're certain that you want to pursue the CPA career, then a Bachelor of Accounting could be an important first step for you. However, it is certainly not the only choice if you’re wishing to pursue an accounting position.

Interested in pursuing an accounting degree? Discover degrees at AIU

1. “How to Get Licensed.” National Association of State Boards of Accountancy. Retrieved from: (Visited on October 3, 2018).
2. “Accountants and Auditors: How to Become One.” U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Retrieved from: (Visited October 3, 2018).
3. “CPA Exam Structure, Content and Delivery FAQs.” Association of International Certified Professional Accountants. Retrieved from: (Visited October 3, 2018).

*This program is not designed to prepare students for the CPA or CMA examination or any other certification exam, but covers the knowledge areas of the uniform CPA and CMA certification.

American InterContinental University cannot guarantee employment or salary. For important information about the educational debt, earnings, and completion rates of students who attended these programs, go to Financial aid is available for those who qualify.
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