How To Complete CPA Exam Requirements Online

Meeting CPA Exam Requirements through Online Courses

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With the growth of online education in recent years there has been increased interest in meeting CPA exam requirements through online classes.  Depending on whether you have already obtained a bachelor’s degree from an accredited college or university, or are exploring completing a degree, you have different options for pursuing education online that will prepare you for the CPA exam.

Step 1

A career as a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) can be both financially lucrative and professionally fulfilling.  In fact, Money Magazine recently ranked CPA sixth in a profile of the “With high marks for personal satisfaction, job security, and future growth, and a median salary of $74,200", it should come as no surprise that a career as a CPA is appealing to many people.    

With the growth of online education in recent years there has been increased interest in meeting CPA exam requirements through online classes.  Depending on whether you have already obtained a bachelor’s degree from an accredited college or university, or are exploring completing a degree, you have different options for pursuing education online that will prepare you for the CPA exam. 

While myths persist in some circles that a Master’s degree in accounting or finance is necessary to become a CPA, the truth is that in nearly every state, there are two ways to meet the educational requirements to become a CPA.  Both paths require a bachelor’s degree, from a regionally accredited college or university.

Becoming a CPA, is achieved through meeting the requirements set forth by the “three E’s” of “education,” “examination” and “experience.”

The educational requirement of becoming a CPA involves choosing between two approaches;

1. Earning a bachelor’s degree with a major in accounting, management, or business that includes 24 semester credits in business, law, economics and written and oral communication, and 24 semester credits in accounting, within the framework of  a cumulative total of 150 semester credits, (225 quarter credits)

2.  Earning a bachelor’s degree in an area of study outside of accounting, followed by a Post Baccalaureate Accounting Certificate or supplemental coursework, the sum total of which includes the 24 semester credits in business, law, economics, and written and oral communication, and 24 semester credits in accounting, and reaches a cumulative total of 150 semester credits, (225 quarter credits).

Many bachelor’s degrees are conferred before the completion of 150 semester credits (225 quarter credits) which is why supplemental coursework is often necessary when qualifying for the Uniform Certified Public Accountant Examination. Students who are short of 150 semester credits, or  who have earned a bachelor’s degree in an area of study outside of accounting, may complete supplemental coursework in accounting  through a post baccalaureate accounting certificate from a regionally accredited college or university.

When deciding whether online education is for you, it’s important to consider whether you have the profile of an online learner. Online learning is more than a little different. You must organize and structure your time differently than you would for an on campus class.  You must take an active role in seeking out information. Participation is not optional. The advantages of taking classes online are the flexibility and ease of access. Online learning offers committed adult learners an education that is equal to and, in some instances, more rigorous than one might acquire in a face-to-face learning environment. But there is an even greater promise to the revolution of online education.  It is about access, flexibility, and community.

Step 2

Once the education requirements are met, the pursuit of certification continues with the second “E,” the examination phase.  The CPA exam, or Uniform Certified Public Accountant Examination, is required by all state boards of accountancy in the United States. The Uniform CPA Exam consists of four distinct sections:

1. Auditing and Attestation

2. Financial Accounting and Reporting

3. Regulations

4. Business Environment and Concepts

The sections can be completed separately but all four must be completed within an 18-month time frame.  Currently, there is no online-based Uniform CPA Exam; the exam must be taken only at approved testing facilities.  

Prior to taking the exam, it can be tremendously helpful to review the CPA exam site www.cpa-exam.org, which includes CPA exam requirements, tutorials, and sample tests that can be taken online, as well as visiting your state board of accountancy for a full list of state-specific requirements to sit for the CPA exam. 

Step 3

After the completion of the required education and examination, prospective CPAs have one more step to certification, the third “E” of experience. In order to become a CPA in most U.S. states and jurisdictions, one must meet strict experience-based requirements that vary by state but can include all of the following: 1. Working under the supervision of a CPA in good standing who has been licensed to practice, in any state, for a period of five years or more. 2. Creating a portfolio that demonstrates experience and proficiency in fundamental areas of competency. 3. Passing an Ethics examination that establishes an understanding of the Code of Professional Conduct expected in the accounting field. Seeking employment with a public accounting firm may begin during the student’s junior year in the bachelor’s degree, or during the post baccalaureate accounting certificate coursework. For undergraduates, an internship with a firm may be a good opportunity to gain experience, exposure, and college credits. Each state’s professional society of CPA’s is a good resource for locating recruiting events, such as The Accounting Firms Showcase, usually held in the fall. Joining the state’s Society of CPA’s as a student member provides the opportunity to attend professional meetings and to network with CPA’s for possible employment. After completing the “three E’s,” prospective CPAs are eligible to apply for an accounting license, a process overseen at the state level by each state’s board of accountancy. For more detailed information from each jurisdiction and/or state, the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy can be an invaluable resource.


Whether you choose online classes or a traditional in-class format, becoming a CPA can be a great start toward a rewarding career.

 

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