Becoming a CPA: What You Need to Know

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Certified public accountants have a higher level of responsibility than non-certified accountants, and they are compensated with higher pay as a result. The role is well-suited to individuals who enjoy discovering creative solutions to complex puzzles. A strong background in math and finance is an advantage as well.

CPAs should have high attention to detail, because they must be able to comprehend and interpret complicated documents such as financial records. Though many CPAs work for accounting firms or in accounting departments at large enterprises, they may also work independently.

To sit for the CPA examination, you’ll be required to meet educational and work experience qualifications. The Online Master of Science in Taxation from the D’Amore-McKim School of Business at Northeastern University can prepare you for success. The program is intended to strengthen your foundational knowledge of tax law while giving you the freedom to focus on specialty subjects like estate planning.

Becoming a CPA requires hard work and diligence. With the support of nationally recognized tax experts, you can accelerate your career as an accountant.

The CPA exam covers a broad range of topics, which makes studying difficult.

How long does it take to become a CPA?

CPA candidates must pass an exam to become certified. Each state board of accountancy has its own specific requirements for CPAs, but they all share similar minimum criteria:

  • A bachelor’s degree in accounting. Some states allow individuals with another type of bachelor’s degree to take the test, if they acquire an additional 15 credit hours in accounting.
  • A minimum of 150 hours of post-secondary education
  • One full year (or more) of work experience in a related field

To receive licensure, most states require that CPA candidates pass four test sections as well as an ethics exam. Likewise, candidates need to meet state resident requirements, which typically entail living in the state for more than 90 days prior to taking the exam.

After obtaining a CPA license, you must stay in good standing with the state board that issued the certification. The responsibility for maintaining good standing falls on the individual. Generally, state requirements include:

  • Keeping up with continuing professional education reporting
  • Renewing licenses within mandated deadlines
  • Reporting changes of address
  • Refraining from unlawful acts
  • Following the AICPA Code of Professional Conduct

Depending on where you are in your career, becoming a CPA could take a matter of weeks, months, or years. If you already have a bachelor’s in accounting and at least one year of work experience, you’re well on your way toward qualifying for the exam.

However, you’ll still need to prepare to pass the test, which is a substantial undertaking. An online master’s in taxation can help you develop the necessary expertise to succeed. While it’s not a requirement, a master’s degree allows you to build on your professional experience and generate deep knowledge about complex accounting topics.

How difficult is the CPA exam?

The CPA exam is composed of four sections, each focusing on a unique subject. Candidates must pass all four parts to qualify for licensure. As a whole, the CPA exam has a pass rate of around 50%.

Here’s how the sections break down:

  • Audit exam: 45% pass rate
  • Business Environment and Concepts exam: 55% pass rate
  • Financial Accounting and Regulation exam: 45% pass rate
  • Regulation exam: 48% pass rate

The CPA exam is difficult for a reason. It is meant to disqualify people who lack the necessary skills and experience to satisfy client needs. Because the risks associated with poor accounting are severe, CPAs must be held to a high standard.

Each section of the exam lasts four hours. Spending too much time on a question can result in insufficient time to finish the section. Therefore, CPA candidates need to be aware of how long they spend on each answer and be able to think quickly.

Likewise, the exam covers a broad range of topics, which makes studying difficult. Getting through all of the necessary material will take time and effort. Many candidates take practice tests and review courses before the real exam.

Can you become a CPA without an accounting degree?

Theoretically, it’s possible to become a CPA without a degree in accounting. However, you’d still have to take some accounting classes and have experience working as an accountant to qualify for the exam.

Across industries, CPAs are highly valued for their knowledge of financial accounting and tax law. Their employers and clients rely on this expertise to succeed in business. An online master’s degree can take your skills to the next level by giving you opportunities to explore accounting subjects with industry experts.

Learn more about the courses offered in the fully online master’s in taxation from Northeastern University.


Recommended Readings

Exploring the Relationship Between Taxation and Innovation

Expand Your Knowledge of Corporate Taxation in The Online MST Program

Northeastern University Online MST Program



AICPA – Becoming a CPA

AICPA – Code of Professional Conduct

AIS-CPA – CPA exam pass rate