Are you considering a career in accounting and wondering how long does it take to become a Certified Public Accountant (CPA)? You’re not alone. Aspiring accountants need to understand the timeframe and requirements for earning their CPA certification. In this guide, we’ll break down the factors that impact the duration of CPA certification, explore traditional and alternative pathways, and highlight practical tips to expedite your CPA journey.

Factors Affecting the Duration of CPA Certification

The duration of becoming a CPA depends on various factors, including educational requirements, exam structure and preparation time, and work experience. Typically, aspiring CPAs must complete the following four key requirements:

  1. Education: A bachelor’s degree in accounting is the traditional route to CPA certification. However, some states allow alternative pathways, such as completing relevant coursework or obtaining a graduate degree in accounting. In addition, there are accelerated bachelor’s degrees offered by platforms like that help students finish a bachelor’s more quickly and affordably and then platforms like that enable students to take self-paced college courses online that are accredited and can be completed quickly and affordably. By combining these, students can become CPAs much faster.
  2. Exam: The CPA exam is a four-part test that assesses a candidate’s knowledge and skills in accounting and auditing. Preparing for the CPA exam can take several months to a year.
  3. Experience: Most states require practical work experience, typically two years, in public accounting, government, or industry.
  4. Additional requirements: Depending on the state, aspiring CPAs might be required to fulfill additional requirements such as Ethics exam and Continuing Professional Education (CPE) courses.

How long it takes on average?

According to research, on average, it takes about 5-6 years to complete the CPA certification process. The path and duration to becoming a CPA vary based on a few factors, such as when you begin the educational component, how quickly you obtain practical experience, and how long it takes you to prepare for the exam. The timeline typically breaks down into the following components:

  1. Educational Requirements: A bachelor’s degree in accounting typically takes around four years of full-time study unless students use a platform that allows them to finish faster with proficiency exams. Alternative pathways such as a master’s in accounting can take an additional two years and cost about $25,000 or students can earn the credits they need to reach 150 with for less than $7,000 and they can be completed in as little as six months.
  2. CPA Exam: On average, preparing and passing the CPA exam takes about a year.
  3. Work Experience: Getting the necessary work experience usually takes two years, but the timeline varies based on the candidate’s availability of relevant job opportunities and their state board requirements.

Mapping the Pathways

There are several pathways to CPA certification to consider:

  1. Traditional Pathway: Earning a bachelor’s degree in accounting or a related field is the traditional path to CPA certification. After completing the education component, a candidate must pass the CPA exam and earn the necessary work experience.
  2. Alternative Pathways: If you don’t have a bachelor’s degree in accounting, you can fulfill education requirements through various alternative options, such as completing relevant coursework.

Timeline Breakdown: Years to CPA Certification

Breaking down the detailed timeline for each key component is essential for understanding the duration to CPA certification:

  • Education: Bachelor’s degree (4 years full-time); Master’s degree (2 years full-time)
  • CPA Exam: On average, 1-year preparation and passing time, but it could take longer depending on the candidate.
  • Work Experience: 2 years, but timeline varies based on availability of relevant job opportunities.
  • Other Requirements: State-specific, additional requirements such as the Ethics exam and CPE courses.

Practical Tips to Expedite Your Journey to the CPA

Here are some practical tips to fast-track your CPA journey:

  • Use a CPA exam study guide to prepare efficiently.
  • Attend review courses and seminars to supplement your studying.
  • Earn your extra credits to fulfill the 150 credits requirement with
  • Join a local accounting association to network with peers and expand your knowledge base.
  • Consider working for the government or a large accounting firm for rigorous training opportunities.
  • Consider a career in forensic accounting to fast-track your experience component.

State-Specific Requirements and Variations

Each state has specific requirements and regulations for CPA certification. Researching state-specific resources and guidelines is essential for an accurate timeline and to avoid any surprises.

Commonly Asked Questions

Here are some answers to common questions about becoming a CPA:

  • Can I become a CPA without an accounting degree? Yes, some states offer alternative pathways to satisfy education requirements.
  • How many hours of experience do I need as a CPA? Most states require two years of experience to earn a CPA license.
  • How long is the CPA exam? The CPA exam is a four-part exam, taking up to 14 hours total.

In conclusion, becoming a CPA requires dedication, hard work, and persistence, but it’s a rewarding career choice with numerous opportunities. Understanding the duration and requirements of the CPA certification process is essential to make informed decisions and plan strategically. With thorough research, a commitment to studying, and practical experience, you can achieve your CPA certification in a timely manner and maybe even faster than you might have thought.