How to Become Accountant in California
The state of California requires certified public accountants meet the requirements for licensure to work in the state. The requirements ensure the accountant has the knowledge and skills to provide services and advice to clients on matters such as taxes and financial reports. The certified public accountant may work for an organization in an accounting department, for a public accounting firm or as an individual business owner.
Meeting the Educational Requirements
Prepare in high school.You must graduate from high school or get your GED to enroll in college. Focus on your math and business courses at your school. If you have space for electives, try to take higher level courses in these areas.
- If possible, get involved with DECA at your school. DECA focuses on preparing students for careers in marketing and finance.If your school does not have DECA, get involved in any other business clubs available.
- You could also check out your local community college and take an accounting or business class over the summer.
Speak with an academic counselor.If possible, meet with an academic advisor as early as possible. The advisor can help you choose your courses and make sure that you meet all of the requirements. This will save you a lot of time.
- Also ask your advisor if they know of any CPA exam preparation programs that you can participate in.
Pursue a bachelor's degree in accounting.You are required to have a bachelor’s degree and 150 semester units to sit for the CPA exam. Seventy eight of those units must be in specific subject areas. Here is the breakdown:
- 24 semester units in accounting courses (accounting, financial reporting, auditing, and taxation)
- 24 semester units of business courses (marketing, business administration, statistics, finance)
- 10 semester units in ethics study (auditing, business law, organizational behavior). Beginning in 2019, 3 of these units must be in accounting ethics or accountants’ professional responsibilities.
- 20 semester units in accounting study that include the following subject areas: a minimum of 6 units in accounting subjects; a maximum of 14 units of business related subjects; a maximum of 9 units of foreign language/cultural studies, ethical studies, or accounting industry related courses; a maximum of 4 units of internship, independent study. The combination of the 20 accounting study units is up to you as long as you do not violate the minimums and maximums.
- Your degree can be in another subject as long as you meet these requirements.
Get a Master of Accounting degree.If you have a bachelor’s degree in another subject and do not meet the educational requirements, you can get a Master of Accounting and satisfy the requirements. Your master’s degree will count towards the 24 semester units of accounting subject, 24 units of business related subjects, and 10 units of ethics study. Because your master’s degree is in accounting, it will cover the 20 units of accounting study.
- A Master of Business Administration with a concentration in Accounting will not satisfy the educational requirements for the CPA exam.
Taking the CPA Exam
Apply to sit for the Uniform CPA Examination.Visit the California Board of Accountancy (CBA) website to complete the online application. You can request a hard copy of the application, but it will take much longer for your application to be processed.
- You will set up an online profile as part of the application process. Be sure to remember your password so you can login as needed.
Pay your application fee.Once you create your online application, you will be emailed an “Application Remittance Form.” Print this form, sign, it, and mail it along with your fee.Pay your fees directly to the CBA. The fee is 0 for your initial application and for repeat and transfer applicants. You can pay with a check or money order.
- Mail this form to California Board of Accountancy Examination Unit, 2000 Evergreen Street, Suite 250, Sacramento, CA 95815-3832.
- You are a repeat applicant if you were previously qualified to take the exam, but you never took the exam.
Have your official transcripts sent.Your school must send an official copy of your transcripts directly to the CBA. It is best to have your transcripts sent before you submit your application. Your transcripts must show all of your coursework and the degree that you obtained.
- The state of California will evaluate your qualifications and notify you to schedule your examination.
- If you apply to sit for the exam before your degree is awarded, you must submit a letter from your school stating that you are in good standing, that you have completed all the requirements, and the date that your degree will be awarded.
Pay section fees.The exam is divided into four different sections. Once your application has been approved, you must also pay CPA Exam section fees to the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy (NASBA). The CBA will tell you how to select the Exam sections. You must make your selections within one year of your application being approved. If you do not make your sections within one year, you must submit another application. Here are the NASBA fees:
- Auditing and Attestation: 3.45, 4 hours to complete
- Financial Accounting and Reporting: 3.45, 4 hours to complete
- Regulation: 3.60, 3 hours to complete
- Business Environmental and Concepts: 3.60, 3 hours to complete
- Total fees for all four sections: 4.10
- The CBA will automatically give your information to NASBA. NASBA will then contact you and tell you how to pay your section fees.
Schedule your exam.Visit the Prometric website to schedule your test and find the testing center closest to you.There are four testing windows a year (January-February, April-May, July-August, October-November) You can take all four sections during each test window or you can take them individually. If you fail a section, you cannot retake the test during the same window. For example, if you fail the Regulation section in January, the earliest you could retake would be during the April-May window.
- If you need to retake a section, you must reapply for the exam and pay the application fee. CBA will then tell you to make your exam selections.
- The exam sections are lengthy so you will not be able to take them all in one day.
Do exam prep.Visit the Uniform CPA Exam website or the NASBA website to get additional information about the exam and get the official Uniform CPA Exam handbook. You can see sample questions and the specifics about the content of each section. You can also take sample tests and go through an exam tutorial.
- The exam tutorial is crucial. The word processing and spreadsheet systems used for the exam are a little different than what you would use on your own.
- Talk to people who have passed the exam before, get a CPA exam prep book, or take a CPA prep class. Ask a faculty member at your school for recommendations.
Complete the Uniform CPA Examination.It usually takes 12-18 months to complete all four sections of the exam.You must get a 75 (0-99 scale) on each section to pass. The exam is not graded on a curve and the scoring is automated. You must pass each section to obtain your license.
- NASBA starts releasing scores the first month after the testing window and then releases scores every 2 weeks for the rest of the window. For example, if you took your test during the January-February window, January scores would be released starting in February and then scores will be released every 2 weeks during the rest of the window.
- The CBA will release the scores as they receive them. You may not receive the scores for each section on the same order that you took them.
- You must check your online CBA account to see your scores. Your scores will never be emailed or mailed to you.
Applying for the CPA License
Look for an accounting job.It is best to start looking for a job while you are still in school. Entry level positions include cost accountant, junior internal auditor, staff accountant, accounting assistant, or accounting clerk.There are multiple resources for job hunting:
- Your school's career center and business school. Talk to your professors and college alumni for job leads.
- Internship programs at public accounting or business firms. You should be able to get an internship following your sophomore year of college.
- A professional organization such as the California Society of CPAs (CalCPA). Join and take advantage of their job listings and networking resources.
- Be sure to put that you are a "Candidate for CPA Exam" or "CPA exam candidate" on your resume.
Pass the Professional Ethics for CPAs (PETH) Examination.You must pass this test before you can apply for your license. The test is comprised of 50 questions and you have 3 chances to pass. You will receive your test results instantly. A score of 90% or higher is passing.
- You can take the test any time during the year.
- You must complete your licensure within 2 years of passing the PETH exam.
- If you are not a member of CalCPA, you must pay 0 to take the online exam or 5 for the text format.
- If you are a member of CalCPA, you must pay 5 for the online exam or 0 for the text format.
- Visit the CalCPA website to sign up for the exam. You will receive study materials when you order the exam. Plan to spend at least 16 hours to study and complete the exam.
Get one year of accounting experience.You must work for one year as an accountant. It is best to be supervised by a licensed CPA. The CPA and a higher authority at your job must submit an experience form as part of your application.
- If you are working part time, 170 hours is equivalent to one month of full time work experience.
- If you plan sign attest documents, you must have a minimum of 500 hours experience in attestation duties while being supervised by a licensed CPA. The 500 hours count towards your one year of experience.
Apply for CPA license.Once you have completed the education, examination and experience requirements, you can apply for your license. You will pay 0 to apply and will pay a separate fee for your fingerprinting. The fingerprinting fee is determined by the Live Scan service.
Video: Why Are the CPA Exams So Hard?
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