By the end of a standard Bachelor’s degree, the typical accounting student will have gathered 120 semester hour college credits. While it is possible to embark on a career as an accountant with only a Bachelor’s degree, these 120 credits are not enough to earn CPA (Certified Public Accountant) credentials. This is because a student needs to have a total of 150 semester hour college credits to be eligible to write the CPA exam.

This means accumulating an extra 30 credits on top of the standard total of 120. The most important thing to understand is that college credits are measured in hours (1 credit = 1 hour), with 30 credits amounting to one full year of study. Altogether, 150 semester hours typically accumulates to 5 years of higher education. 

In the following article, we offer a guideline for collecting these 30 extra college credits by assessing the pros and cons of some of the most popular routes. But first, let’s talk about why the 150 hour rule is in place. 

Why the 150 Semester Hour Rule?

The 150 semester hour CPA requirement has been in place since 2005. Although it may seem a little complicated, it actually makes things a whole lot easier. This is because all states across the US now have a standardized requirement for the CPA credential. 

The 150 semester hour rule was endorsed by the AICPA and NASBA with the intention of providing prospective CPAs with a better understanding of general business practices. This is primarily because of the changing needs of accounting firms. 

In recent years, business processes have become more complex. This means that prospective employers of CPAs require a variety of highly technical accounting services. Here, the advancement of technology has a hand to play, as information systems design, auditing methods, and internal control procedures are rapidly changing. 

Businesses are also facing increased regulations from federal state and local governments, which means a higher demand for CPAs with a well-rounded education. This is compounded by a significant increase in auditing pronouncements and new tax laws. Ultimately, businesses and accounting firms no longer need a large quantity of people performing routine auditing tasks. Instead, recent years have brought a greater demand for highly specialised people with a well-rounded education. 

Read more: How Technology will Change the CPA Profession

So, the new, stricter 150 semester hour rule is in place to ensure that students are adequately prepared to enter the working world. A CPA in today’s business environment must not only have a strong technical competence, but good analytical, communication, and interpersonal skills.  

Most states do not specify the details of the curriculum that should make up the 150 credit hour requirement. Generally, there is a great deal of flexibility allowed when it comes to accumulating your 150 credit hours. Even so, you should revise the subjects and courses mandated by your specific state. Most states CPA requirements include a good balance of accounting, business, and general education to make up the 150 hours. If you gather these credits wisely, the additional 30 credit hours can also increase your chances of successfully completing their CPA examination on first attempt. 

Filling this 30 credit gap can pose a challenge to potential candidates, many of whom are put off by the prospect of all that extra work. Not only is five years a lot of time dedicated to studying, but higher education institutions are expensive. Don’t let this stop you from getting your extra 30 college credits  – there are plenty of ways that you can get this done. How you choose to complete the credentials depend on your lifestyle, finances, and what you think sounds like the best fit. 

How to Meet the 150 College Credit CPA Requirement

1. Do a Master’s program 

Since 30 credits amounts to one full year of study, it may make sense to add another year onto your tertiary education.  There are a number of ways you can go about this. For example, you may decide to do a MBA (Master’s of Business Administration), which will take you to the 150 credit hour mark. Alternatively, you may decide to do a MAcc’s (Master’s of Accounting) and MST’s (Master’s of Science in Taxation), both of which focus on technical accounting skills. This will be useful to you later, because the content will be applicable to the CPA exam. 

While completing your Master’s degree is a steadfast way to achieve CPA eligibility, it is certainly not the best option for everyone. This is probably the most ‘traditional’ route to getting those extra credits, and you will be signing up for another year of ‘traditional’ full-time education. If you have a job or domestic responsibilities, a Master’s program may not be the best option. On the other hand, if you want to immerse yourself in another year of university (with all its amenities and social perks), then go for it. 

Another reason people may decide not to enroll in a Master’s program is because of the cost. Universities are notoriously expensive, and you may not be in the position to pay for another year of education. 

2. Community college 

Attending a community college is a great way to achieve your CPA credentials without breaking the bank. This is a significant pro, as traditional universities can be very costly. Community colleges also tend to be more flexible, which may suit those who are balancing work and/or a family life. 

While, technically, an individual may enroll in any course in order to gather credit hours, experts advise that you take this opportunity to do courses that will benefit you in the working world. Examples range from marketing, cybersecurity, or even a foreign language.

It is important to note, however, that some community colleges are not accredited. Before you enroll, make sure your college (and course) of choice is recognised by the state board. 

3. If you haven’t finished your Bachelor’s yet, take a heavier course load

Some accounting students decide to gather their extra 30 credits during their Bachelor’s by taking a heavier course load. In other words, a student would have to take 18 credits per semester instead of the standard 15 credits. Having this foresight is great – it means avoiding an extra year of studies after you have graduated with a Bachelor’s degree. 

Although this sounds like a good idea, taking so many courses is a lot of pressure and may come at the expense of your academic performance. A Bachelor’s degree is challenging enough as it is. 

4. CLEP (College Level Examination Program)

CLEP is a credit by examination program that allows you to demonstrate understanding without having taken the course. In other words, a student may choose a subject that they are familiar with and earn the course hour credits by writing the examination, saving a great deal of money and time. However, to go this route, you must be enrolled in a college that offers this program, and you need to have taken full classes at the same school. Your institution will then process and award the credits to you. 

4. Take online courses 

Taking online courses is a great way to meet the 150 college credit CPA requirement. Online courses have become increasingly popular over the years, and for good reason. If you find one that suits your needs, they can offer you an excellent standard of education for a fraction of the cost of universities or colleges. 

Online courses also tend to be very flexible, which is great for busy or working CPA candidates. In other words, it’s possible to gather your 30 extra college credits without spending hours on campus or in zoom lectures. And all you need is access to a device (eg: a computer or smartphone) and an internet connection. 

It is true that most community colleges are offering online options in a variety of subjects, especially as they have had to adapt to COVID-19 restrictions. However, it is important to check whether the college you are interested in is an accredited school. If not, these credits won’t count towards your 150 hours and you will be wasting your time. 

The most affordable, flexible, and streamline way to gather your extra 30 college credits is to enroll in the CPA online courses offered by CpaCredits. The courses are specifically designed to help you meet the 150 college credit requirement and can be taken at your own pace. All the courses are accredited, so you can be sure that your credits will count towards the total 150 requirement. Each course awards you 3 credits and you can take as many courses as you like. With CpaCredits you can also take more than one course at a time, meaning that you can gather your credits quickly and move on to your exam. 

If you are interested in becoming a CPA but have not yet completed your Bachelor’s degree, you can still take the courses offered by CpaCredits. This could be a great time saver down the line, letting you go straight into preparation for the CPA exam without spending time bridging the 30 credit gap. If you graduate and decide you no longer want to become a CPA, the courses offered by CpaCredits will still look great on your resume. 

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Choosing what works best for you

1. Cost 

This may be the most important factor to consider when choosing how to gather your extra 30 credit hours. Most educational institutions have this information available online. It may also be worthwhile exploring scholarships and other options for financial aid. 

2. Arrange a campus visit 

Reach out to your community college or university of choice and chat to them about arranging a campus visit. Perhaps you are interested in sports and would like to check out their gymnasium. Alternatively, you may choose your place of study based on its library. It is important that you are comfortable – you will be spending a year there, after all. 

3. Flexibility 

There is no use enrolling in classes if they don’t suit your lifestyle. Here, you need to consider both ‘in-class’ time and the workload after-hours. These days, most universities and community colleges offer online options for most courses as they have had to adapt to COVID19 restrictions. Find out what will be expected of you, and choose an option that seems realistic and sustainable. 

4. Do your research 

Still aren’t sure what might work best for you? Reaching out for advice from people who have already gone through the process can be the most helpful. If you don’t know anybody who has grappled with the 30 credit hour gap, there are plenty of forums (like Reddit) where you can find people with similar questions. It may also be worthwhile checking out the social media of the schools you are interested in. 

Additionally, it’s important to check out the curriculum. It is advised that you choose courses that will help you with your CPA exam and assist you in developing skills that you can take into your career. CpaCredits offer 3 different categories of course: accounting courses, business courses, and supplemental courses. The courses offered by CpaCredits are different than those you might find at more traditional colleges. They are designed to fit the exact needs of the student, and you can gather your credits through some really fun course options. 

Congratulations for getting this far in your journey to CPA credentials. There is no right or wrong way to make up the 30 credits needed to be eligible for the CPA exam. Choose to fill your 30 hours with a course that will make you a more knowledgeable, well-rounded, and competitive candidate.