To get your CPA, how do you decide what to learn, when to learn it and how?
Our Personal Counselors are often asked for details on the CPA education requirements, as it can be a tricky landscape to navigate at times. Almost every state board requires candidates to earn at least 120 credit-hours before sitting for the CPA exam, and many require 150 hours total for licensure as a CPA. It only takes 120 credit-hours to earn your bachelor’s degree, so how do you bridge that 30-hour gap? Your college adviser or accounting program may have a recommendation specific to your circumstances, but there are several options available to every CPA candidate to help them meet that 150-hour requirement.
Generally, at least 24 hours of your coursework needs to be in accounting, but some states require you to have studied certain topics. Be sure to check with your state board before you make a plan. Now, let’s look at some options.
1. Take more undergraduate classes
Many colleges and universities offer fun and interesting classes most students don’t have time to take between general education requirements and classes that count toward their major. If you find something that interests you, taking a class on it is time well spent.
You could graduate with a minor, learn a language or an instrument, or take a class that piques your curiosity, such as Surviving the Zombie Apocalypse – Disasters, Catastrophes, and Human Behavior, which is an actual class offered by Michigan State University.
You’ll be surprised by some of the options available to you when you take the time to look. Many accounting tracks can be grueling, so taking an interesting class can help make your course load much more bearable.
Just be aware that some schools charge higher fees if you’re taking classes unnecessary for your degree and credit hour limits sometimes apply; check with your school before you enroll in any new classes. You don’t have to take all 150 hours at the same place. If pursuing additional hours at your school isn’t an option, a community college can be a less expensive way to hit the 150-hour requirement.
2. Earn your Bachelor’s in accounting and your Master’s in a field that interests you
If you’re on track to complete your accounting degree and you’re going to have to take more classes anyway, why not go a little further and earn your master’s? Generally speaking, higher educational attainment is attractive to employers, and the better educated you are, the higher salary you’re likely to command. Start by looking at the programs your school offers, and be sure to check the prerequisites to make sure applying is worth your time.
3. Earn your bachelor’s in a field that interests you and a master’s in accounting
This looks remarkably similar to item 2, we know, but it’s worth pointing out the option. The path to your dream job isn’t laid out in stone. Work with your advisers to make a plan that meets your needs, plays to your strengths, and gets you where you want to go. This option is only available in Maine, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Georgia, and Alaska. All other state boards require you to have a bachelor’s in accounting to sit for the Exam. Obtaining your master’s in accounting after a bachelor’s in another field is only a good option if you want the master’s degree. If your goal is just to get enough education to become a CPA, take a look at option 4 below. Just remember that whatever route you choose, you will need to make sure the courses check the boxes of the CPA education requirements for your state board.
4. Earn your bachelor’s and take graduate-level classes
You don’t necessarily have to earn your master’s. Taking some graduate-level classes now can get you to the 150-hour education requirement and put you in a good spot credit-wise if you decide to earn your master’s later.
If you really want to pick up as much accounting knowledge as you can (perhaps you’ve picked out a specialty) but want to enter the workforce quickly, this might be the plan for you. Additionally, advanced accounting coursework tends to overlap a bit with the content of the CPA Exam, so you can study for the Exam while you earn the credit required for certification. An adviser in your accounting college can help figure out where your coursework matches up with exam topics.
There are some considerations, however. Again, taking classes without working toward a degree isn’t an option at all colleges and universities. Additionally, graduate-level classes tend to cost more than undergrad ones.
5. Earn your bachelor’s and an MBA with a concentration in accounting.
This is a little different than items 2 and 3 above. Some of your MBA coursework will involve accounting, but it’s not the primary focus. If your undergraduate degree is in something else, an MBA with a concentration in accounting can be a good way to get you to the 24 hours required by most state boards.
An MBA is a good fit for students with some work experience who want broaden their knowledge base and become a more marketable professional. MBAs will require advanced business classes, so if you aspire to a managerial role, this route is something to consider.
6. Earn your master’s in accounting from a five-year accounting program.
Many colleges and universities have 150 credit-hour accounting programs that secure you a bachelor’s and a master’s at the end of five years. Check with your advisers to see if your college is one. If your coursework roughly lines up with that of the program, it might be possible to transfer into if you can get accepted.
7. Find a for-credit internship or CPA-review course.
These are rare, but if your school offers them, they’re a resource you should consider taking advantage of. Both are a fantastic return for your time investment because you can progress on two fronts simultaneously: earning college credit and either studying for the exam or preparing yourself (and your resume) to enter the workforce.
I’ve Got the CPA Education Requirements Covered. Now How Do I Pass the CPA Exam?
The education requirement is only one of the four E’s you need to become a CPA: Education, Examination, Experience, and Ethics. Once you earn 120 credit-hours, don’t hesitate. It’s time to start preparing for the CPA Exam. Gleim has over 40+ years in the business and is the most-used review provider in Top 10 Accounting programs. To figure out your next step, check out our free CPA Exam Guide today!