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4 CPA Process Challenges: What to expect when becoming a certified public accountant

When I grow up, I want to be an accountant! In that case, you should know the requirements and the journey ahead. As an accountant, you will most likely get your CPA license. The process in becoming a CPA is extensive and challenging. However, the CPA license will prove valuable as you advance in your career.

Taking and passing all four sections of the CPA exam is the most challenging part of the CPA process. In my own personal experience, the actual test-taking process took approximately six months. However, many people do not realize the process begins before studying/test-taking and continues after passing the four CPA sections. It is important to know the entire CPA process and its related challenges. Lets begin!

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CPA Process Challenges

Below, I detail what requirements and challenges to expect when becoming a certified public accountant. I discuss eligibility requirements, financial requirements, time commitments, and the aftermath requirements.  

1. Eligibility requirements

Each state determines the eligibility requirements for CPA candidates applying to sit for the CPA exam. The state board of public accountancy will set the requirements and review the eligibility application. As a result, the CPA eligibility requirements vary by state. You will apply to the state board in the state in which you hope to obtain your CPA license (most likely the state you plan to practice).

I practice in Texas; therefore, I applied through the Texas State Board of Public Accountancy. Texas requires all certified public accountants to have at least 150 semester hours of college credits and a bachelor's degree. Additionally, Texas requires an approved ethics course, 30 semester hours of upper-division accounting classes, and 24 semester hours of upper-division business classes. Because the requirements are so specific, most accounting students in Texas get their Masters of Accounting, which is a one-year masters program that focuses on the CPA eligibility requirements. However, the Texas State Board does not require a masters degree.

Once you meet your state board's CPA eligibility requirements (which can be found on your state board's website), you should file your application of intent. The application of intent includes your official transcripts and related paperwork requested by your state board. If you do not meet the eligibility requirements, you will receive a deficiency letter, which should indicate the missing requirements. Simply send your updated transcripts when you meet the requirements. The state board should respond (it is government run so be patient) indicating that you are eligible to start scheduling your exam.    

2. Financial requirements

The CPA exam process is not cheap. Each state board sets the costs related to the CPA process. Having applied through Texas, I know the related pricing, which I will share below because each state tends to have similar costs.

Eligibility-related costs:
Application of Intent: $20
Finger printing service: $40
USPS (mailing application): $2-5

Testing-related costs:
Eligibility Application for each section: $10 per section
NASBA Exam fees: $208.40 per section
CPA Review Course* - varies greatly

* Many accounting firms will pay for your CPA review course. For example, my firm paid for the Becker CPA Review Package, which included all the necessary study materials (Learn how to study for the CPA using Becker). If you must pay for the CPA review course, I suggest shopping around because the big-name CPA review courses tend to be pricey.

3. Time commitment

The journey to becoming a certified public accountant is time-intensive. To begin, the eligibility requirements take four to five years. As I stated earlier, you must have 150 semester hours from an accredited university. So, make sure you meet the specific course requirements while in school in order to avoid extra schooling.

Once you are eligible to schedule your CPA exams, you must commit your time to studying for the CPA exam. It takes a significant amount of time to prepare for and pass all four sections of the CPA exam. Most CPA review courses recommend a total of 450 hours to learn all the material (90 hours for BEC, 90 hours for AUD, 120 hours for REG, and 150 hours for FAR). Additionally, that total does not include the time spent reviewing the material before the test (How to best spend your time while reviewing). If you haven't started working yet, plan to spend at least 8 hours a day studying for the CPA. Obviously, the hours per day will vary based on how quickly you plan on taking each exam. I found an average of 8 hours per day as a manageable and efficient study rate. If you have started working, you really need to sacrifice free-time. Plan to follow the work-study-sleep schedule, and plan to really take advantage of the weekends.

You will need to commit an enormous amount of time to the CPA process. In general, the CPA exam process is a six-month to eighteen-month process after becoming eligible to schedule. Make sure to set and achieve your CPA exam goals!

4. Aftermath

Yay, you have passed all four sections of the CPA! Are you certified public accountant yet? Sadly, the answer is no. In order to obtain your CPA license, you must complete one year of full-time accounting work under a licensed CPA (experience requirements may vary by state).

Once you meet the work experience requirements, you will file the Oath of Office form and and Work Experience form. Submit the forms to your state board, which will review the forms and email you an open-book ethics exam. The ethics exam will test your knowledge on the board's rules of professional conduct. You will obtain your CPA license after passing the ethics exam.

After obtaining your CPA license, you maintain the CPA license by competing periodic continuing professional education (CPE) tasks. For example, the Texas State Board requires 120 hours of CPE during a three-year period. Additionally, the Texas State Board requires a four-hour ethics course every other year. Lastly, remember to renew annually your CPA license! 

In conclusion,

As you can tell, the CPA process is long and challenging. You must remain committed to your goal of becoming a CPA throughout the extensive process. Now that you know what to expect when becoming a certified public accountant, you should be able to handle any CPA process challenges along the way!

Please comment any questions or concerns about the CPA process below. Also, please share the article with other future CPAs to help them learn about the CPA exam process.


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