CPAs, or certified personal accountants, are responsible for performing audits and other specialized accounting services. They have very unique roles, including filing reports with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and representing groups before the IRS. In order to become a CPA, accountants must complete 150 hours of study, launch their career, and pass multiple rigorous exams.

Complete a Bachelor’s Degree

The first step to becoming a CPA is to earn a degree in accounting. In order to become licensed, most states mandate that future CPAs need to complete 150 semester hours of study. Most bachelor’s degree programs, however, only include 120 hours of study. To combat this, some schools offer a five-year combined undergraduate and master’s program in accounting. Coursework normally starts with accounting theory, and then moves on to more specialized and complex topics including cost accounting.

Earn a Master’s Degree

Although a master’s degree is not a necessary requirement to become a CPA, many students who complete a traditional bachelor’s degree still need more hours of study in order to reach the threshold. Degree options vary, but popular options are a Master of Science in Accounting or Master of Business Administration (MBA) with a specialization in accounting.

Start a Career

The next step for aspiring CPAs is to enter the workforce. State boards normally require two years of work experience before future CPAs are qualified to take the certification exam. They normally find work in accounting firms or in the accounting departments in a variety of companies. Workers help prepare tax returns and verify financial documents.

Take the Certification Exam

The American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) is responsible for creating the certification exams. To become a certified CPA, the test-taker must complete four exams. After they pass the first exam, they must pass the remaining tests within 18 months.

Even after a CPA passes their exams and receives their license, most states require that they regularly renew their license to keep up with new laws and updated practices. CPAs accomplish this renewal by undergoing continuing education and completing any necessary coursework.

Accountants work very hard to become CPAs, and as a result possess unique abilities and certifications that the rest of the workforce doesn’t have. Their rights don’t come easy, however. CPAs must undergo years of education, gain experience, and pass a series of notoriously difficult exams.