Subjecting yourself to a barrage of stringent tests can be a daunting prospect, especially if you’re an ambitious young accountant seeking some much awaited promotion at work. For most people, the road to career advancement is paved with long hours at the office coupled with a virtually nonexistent social life, and the golden ticket often heralds in the form of a coveted CPA certification. But earning this highly respectable qualification isn’t a cakewalk. Sure, becoming a CPA sounds exhilarating in accounting circles, but with all the added perks of earning a lucrative salary to zooming up the career ladder tags along a double helping of work and responsibility.
There are 10 steps you must bear in mind the moment you set out to attain your CPA certification:
1. Check State Requirements
There are generally three ‘E’s required to become a CPA – Examination, Education and Experience. The CPA examination is unified across the US, but the education and experience criteria vary according to each state. Make sure you do your background check on the state ground rules – you can do this by scrutinizing the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy (NASBA) resource page online regarding specific requirements essential for CPA licensure and certification.
2. Fulfill the Education Requirements
Complete all the education requirements designated by your state. Make sure you have fulfilled all the educational prerequisites – graduates hounding after a CPA qualification must obtain a Bachelor in Accounting/Accountancy or a relevant course area with 150 college credit hours tucked under their belts, and must also complete all the coursework requirements. Postgraduate degree holders with a Masters in Accounting (MAcc.) or Masters in Business Administration (MBA) can also pursue a CPA certification.
3. Fulfill the Experience Requirements
Each state operates on either a one-tier or two-tier system. States that utilize a one-tier system awards a CPA certification and licensure upon passing the CPA examination and fulfilling the experience requirements. States that operate on a two-tier system award a CPA certification upon passing the CPA examination, followed by the CPA licensure once the experience quota has been fulfilled.
4. Prepare for the CPA Exam
Rather than burning the midnight oil and cramming a jumble of information at the last minute, prepare ahead of time and stay diligent. Sign up for CPA exam preparation courses promoted by postgraduate colleges or even private companies such as Roger CPA Review or Becker Professional Education, and consult additional online material to boost your knowledge.
5. Apply for the CPA Exam
Get a hold of the CPA Exam forms by contacting the Board of Accountancy in the state you’re presently in. Fill out the application and pay the examination fees for each exam section. You can also get a copy of the Candidate Bulletin online to scrounge up more details regarding the exam.
6. Pick an Exam Date
Once your exam application has hit the green light, lookout for an email or a snail mail with details on how to get in touch with a Prometric (a testing facility) center to schedule your exam date. The most valuable form is the NTS – make sure all your personal details on this form are correct, and don’t forget to bring the NTS to the testing center prior to sitting the exam. The CPA exam is conducted almost every month except during March, June, September and December, so pick an ideal date by swinging by the Prometric website.
7. Attend the CPA Exam
Arrive at least half an hour before the exam starts, and make sure all your forms are in order. Be sure to have two verified identification forms that bears your signature or you will be barred from entering the examination hall. A Social Security card is not a valid form of identification.
8. Complete the CPA Exam
The CPA exam is computer based and consists of four sections comprising 2.5 hours of business environment and concepts, 3 hours of regulation questions, 4.5 hours of auditing and attestation tests, and 4 hours of financial accounting and reporting questions. Each section comprises multiple-choice questions coupled with some case studies. The Board of Accountancy in most states require candidates to complete each exam section within six months of approving any CPA application, so make sure you finish each required section within that timeframe.
9. Review Test Scores
The American Institute of CPAs (AICPA) will send a Candidate Performance Report containing your CPA exam scores to NASBA within two dates during the duration of a test period – the first is during the middle of a month whilst the second would be during the first week of the subsequent testing date. A passing grade will be awarded if candidates achieve a minimum of 75 points on a scale of 0 to 99. If there are discrepancies tied to the scores, you can submit a request via the state Board of Accountancy to be processed by the NASBA. Candidates that have passed will receive a letter with instructions pertaining to CPA licensure application alongside their test scores.
10. Apply for a CPA License
Once you’ve completed the relevant coursework and fulfilled all the CPA examination criteria, you can finally file a CPA license application to your state Board of Accountancy.
Thus, with these 10 essential steps, you’re all set and on your way to achieving your dream of becoming a certified and licensed CPA.