Your Guide to Becoming a CPA

If you are looking to get into the field of finance, there is hardly a better career than that of a certified public accountant.  Compared to a non-certified public accountant, a CPA is qualified and allowed to perform tax services for the general public; in this capacity, you can service individuals, non-profit agencies, departments of government, and for-profit businesses. In these agencies you can keep records, assist tax preparation, and analyze their finances comparable to the market. Or, perhaps you dream of working for one of the “Big Four” firms and becoming immersed in the accounting industry.  No matter where your career goals lie, there are steps that must be followed. Below is your quintessential guide to becoming a CPA.

Earn Your Degree

Most CPAs possess a degree in accounting, but there are those who have degrees in related disciplines like finance. Many accountants—even those that do not become CPAs—go forward to get a graduate degree.  While this is not a requirement, you may want to take into account how it may groom you for the exam and enhance your resume.  Degrees include a masters in accounting, or an MBA with an accounting emphasis.  Because the amount of hours it takes to become a CPA is so demanding, some people opt for accelerated five year programs, in which the school offers a master’s to follow immediately after the student completes bachelor’s requirements.


In some states, it is mandatory that candidates complete at least one year of work experience before becoming certified.  If this is the case, be sure that you read into your state’s guidelines to know how that should be implemented and certified.  Regardless of whether it is required by the state, however, it is essential to get as much experience as possible.  Whether you are in or just out of school, invest in internships and entry level jobs to sharpen your skills.  If this is the field you want to enter, you might as well work in it as quickly as you are able, and you will be able to network and get expert advice in the process.

Prepare for the Exam

You have spent all four or five years preparing for the exam, but now it is time to prepare on your own.  The CPA exam is demanding and intense, and there are many requirements to meet beforehand.  Most states necessitate about 150 hours of instruction, which for most individuals means pursuing higher education after receiving their four-year degree. Your state might require a minimum number of hours for business instruction, and these hours can vary.  

There are four parts to the exam. You can sit for any part of the exam in any order; many people start with the part of the exam they are most comfortable with. Still others choose to attempt the most difficult portion of the exam first.  Note that as soon as you take on part of the exam, you have eighteen months to complete all three.  That means that if you leave the most difficult portion for last, then you might feel the pressure of the clock and time could run out before you pass it. Study in a way that works best for you—both in groups and alone.  

Gain valuable information in classes and mock exams. Resources such as Crush the CPA Exam will help prepare for the test and provide invaluable advice.

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