Anyone considering becoming an accountant or perhaps already working in public accounting will want to know how long it takes to become a CPA? The answer varies slightly from state to state, but in most jurisdictions, a Certified Public Accountant must have two years of experience in public accounting and earn at least 150 hours of college credit before taking the Uniform CPA Exam.

Some states allow accountants to study to become CPAs with experience in other fields, such as corporate accounting, although the amount of experience required may be greater. In addition to the Uniform CPA Exam, CPAs must pass state exams before becoming certified. Some states require prospective CPAs to pass the Uniform CPA Exam and obtain public accounting experience before pursuing post-graduate college credit.

How Much Education Does It Take to Become a CPA?

A public accountant must have a Bachelor’s in Accounting degree to gain professional experience, but in many states, this degree isn’t legally required to practice accounting, according to the American Institute of CPA’s. However, a degree is required to earn the post-graduate credits necessary to meet state CPA requirements. Many colleges offer five-year undergraduate CPA programs that prepare students for professional experience as well as the Uniform CPA Exam.

Since CPAs earn at least 150 hours of college credit, many students go on to complete a Master’s in Accounting degree or a related field, such as business administration. The additional coursework can usually be completed in about one year. For a frame of reference to the 150 hours required for a CPA degree, most four-year Bachelor’s degrees take 120 semester hours.

Related Resource: Professional Development for Accountants

What is Covered on the Uniform CPA Exam?

While state CPA exams vary somewhat, the Uniform CPA Exam is a standardized test required for certification in all states. It consists of four sections that can be taken in any order over a period not exceeding 18 months. The four exam sections are Auditing and Attestation (AUD), Financial Accounting and Reporting (FAR), Regulation (REG) and Business Environment and Concepts (BEC). Questions in each section include multiple choice, written essays and simulated problems.

According to the AICPA, in 2013, passing rates for the AUD, FAR and REG sections of the test were below 50 percent. Passing rates for the BEC section were 55.83 percent, while passing rates for the AUD section were 45.87 percent. Candidates who fail a section of the exam can retake that section during the next testing window, which occurs for two months at the beginning of every calendar quarter. A test section can’t be repeated during the same testing window.

Individual state Boards of Accountancy have the authority to issue CPA licenses, and the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy is an organization that ensures uniform standards across all 55 individual boards. Other groups that promote uniform CPA-licensing standards are the American Institute of CPAs and the U.S. government. After passing the Uniform CPA Exam, public accountants can expect a salary increase.

Studying to sit the Uniform CPA Exam and become a CPA can be a challenge, especially for candidates with the minimum of two years of experience. Each individual will have a different answer to how long it takes to become a CPA.