Becoming a CPA is not a quick process. Every CPA you know has many years of education and experience under their belt. After all, it is a highly respected certification and license that requires specialised skills and knowledge. Even so, there are some ways that you can fast track this process and get to your CPA license more quickly.
Before we talk about the fastest way to become a CPA, let’s break down exactly how long it normally takes to achieve the credential. The timeline below represents 8 years in total. Over these 8 years, there are four main processes you must go through before you can become a practicing CPA.
In some states, candidates can obtain their CPA certificate upon passing the examination before they have completed their experience requirements. These are known as two-tier states. These jurisdictions are different from one-tier states, where candidates must pass the CPA exam and fulfill the experience requirements before obtaining their certificate. In both cases, experience is absolutely necessary before you can obtain your CPA license and begin practicing.
How Long it Usually Takes to Become a CPA
This is not a straightforward answer. The typical year of college earns you 30 credits, meaning that you would usually have earned 120 credits upon completing a basic four-year Bachelor’s degree. Many then follow the Master’s degree route for their final 30 credits. That is a five-year commitment so far to reach the 150-credit limit.
Therefore, coupled with work experience and CPA exam prep for the four part Uniform CPA Exam, this could take about 6 or 7 years in most states. It might also take longer if you fail any part of the exam, which is unfortunately a real possibility given the 46.37%-61.76% pass rate for each section in 2020. This is one of the reasons that they give you an 18-month window from each passed section to pass the remaining three parts before your results expire. This is shortened in states that allow you to sit the exam before you have completed you work experience and have only acquired 120 credits so far.
However, the 100% college route is both a major time and financial commitment that more and more people are trying to avoid by searching for alternative methods of gaining credits. Below, we will outline some faster methods to becoming a CPA accountant. We will outline this route below:
1. Finish your Bachelor’s Degree (4 years)
The process to becoming a CPA is not rigid, and your journey is unlikely to look the same as the next candidate. Generally, the first step to becoming a CPA is getting a Bachelor’s Degree. While you do not have to major in accounting to be eligible to write the CPA exam, some states do stipulate that you need to have a certain number of credits from either accounting or business courses.
2. Meet the 150 College Credit Requirement (1 year)
In order to become a CPA, an individual needs to have completed at least 150 credit hours which are accumulated by taking accredited courses at a postsecondary level. However, generally a student will acquire 30 semester hours of credit per year of college, meaning that once you have graduated with a four-year Bachelor’s degree, you will have only completed 120 credit hours. This means that you will still have 30 credit hours outstanding. This is why many CPA candidates add an extra year onto their studies (after their Bachelors) in order to earn the 30 credit hours needed to meet the CPA mandated 150 credits. This will bring you to a total of 5 years of study.
It is also important to note that each state has its own accounting and business course credit requirements. Furthermore, some states will only accept certain types of credit courses, while others will only accept college credits from regionally accredited or other Board-approved colleges. These would exclude online courses that are not accredited through a Board-recognized college.
3. Write the CPA Examination (1 year)
Once you have qualified and applied for your CPA exam, you will need to give yourself plenty of time to study. The CPA exam is divided into 4 sections which are written over 4 testing windows throughout the year.
You are able to take each section once per testing window, but there’s no rush! Most educators advise that you sign up for 2 exams at a time. It is also recommended that CPA candidates study for about 6 weeks for each part of the exam. Overall, this means that you should put aside about a year to write your CPA exam.
Read more: 10 Helpful Tips to Pass the CPA Examination
4. Meet the Experience Requirements (1-2 years)
On top of your credit hours, most states require that candidates have 1-2 years work experience under the supervision of a CPA. The length of time varies from state to state, so it is worth finding out the relevant details from your state board.
When we account for credit hours, examination, and experience, it can take up to 8 years to become a CPA.
Here’s the math: 4 (Bachelors) + 1 (30 credit hour gap) + 1 (examination) + 2 (work experience).
That’s quite a feat!
Although it’s not a good idea to cut corners when it comes to getting your CPA license, there are some ways you can get there faster without impacting the quality of the process.
Is there a Faster Way to Get your CPA?
The short answer is yes, but this requires forethought. There are two main ways to decrease the time it takes to get your:
Getting a jump start in high school
In this article, we have highlighted a number of useful ways to earn credits before you have even earned you high school diploma. Depending on the time invested, you could shave off a semester to two year’s-worth of credits before even getting your high school diploma and officially entering into a college. In fact, in one case a home-schooled 17-year-old was able to earn her CPA thanks to combining a number of different credit-earning options together. However, that is a very rare phenomenon.
Getting credits while working
Completing your work experience requirements while acquiring the last 30 credits you need after completing your Bachelor’s degree is another way of saving both time and money. Whether it is by taking night courses at a community college, or going the online route, this will provide you the flexibility you need to get the credits you need without breaking the bank. CpaCredits courses is one such resource, as all of the courses are all offered through regionally accredited colleges and universities. There are two course options. Those that are self-paced, and those that run on 7.5 week semesters. Either option will award 3 credits and can be done in your own time.
Alternatively, you may choose to sign up for a CLEP (College Level Examination Program). CLEP is a credit-by-examination program which allows you to write an exam and earn the relevant 30 credits without having taken the course. However, to go this route, you must currently be enrolled in a college that offers this program, and you need to have taken full classes at the same school. Both of these options necessitate that you are currently enrolled at an accredited college that allows for these methods. So too, the state will need to accept these methods as well. Most will do so, as long as they appear on the transcript of a Board-recognized college or university.
Getting experience while in college
As mentioned above, some states recognize part time work. This often includes paid and unpaid internship programs. This is an excellent way to kill a few birds with one stone, as it not only helps towards your work experience requirements before graduation, but is also good for networking or can lead to an offer for a long-term position later, it looks good on your resume when you are applying for jobs after graduation and it can give you an idea of the type of accounting that you do or do not enjoy.
When it comes to writing your examination and gathering your work experience, in most cases it is best not to rush the process. The number of years of work experience required by your state is inflexible, so there is no wiggle room there. If you try to get your CPA examination written in a hurry, you may find yourself failing and having to rewrite a number of sections, which will only delay the process. Therefore, as we said before, if you want to get your CPA as quickly as possible, it is best to start the process as early as possible.