What to know about accountancy professional licensure

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Earning professional certifications and distinctions are generally good ways for people to advance in their careers and gain recognition as experts in their fields. This practice is especially prevalent among accountants. Many professionals value earning an accounting license as a way to boost their career and stay current on best practices and regulations.

The Certified Public Accountant designation is one of the most popular professional distinctions accountants work toward. In 2016, there were 664,532 CPAs in the U.S., not counting data from Hawaii, Delaware, Wisconsin, or Utah, according to the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy. In the same year, the Census Bureau reported 1,397,700 accounting and auditing professionals in the nation.

Accountants in a room listening to a presentation.

How to get a CPA license

To earn the CPA, professionals must first meet specific accountant education requirements. Accountants must complete a minimum of 150 semester hours of education before they can sit for the CPA exam, according to the Association of International Certified Professional Accountants (AICPA). Those who earn their Master of Accounting degree will typically meet this requirement. Further, those who complete the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s online Master of Accounting program should have a knowledge base that prepares them well for the exam.

There are also CPA experience requirements that professionals need to meet. In most cases, two or more years of public accounting experience is enough to sit for the exam.

While AICPA outlines these specific requirements, eligibility is ultimately left up to the state. Different states might have additional requirements that aspiring CPAs must meet before sitting for the exam.

Once you’re able to take the exam, professionals must take the time to study. The exam is broken up into four sections, all of which must be completed within 18 months. The four sections relate to:
● Auditing and Attestation
● Business Environment and Concepts
● Financial Accounting and Reporting
● Regulation

Each of the sections is broken down further into five components, which include multiple choice questions, small case studies called task-based simulations, and in the Business Environment and Concepts component, written communication tasks.

Keeping your accounting license current

It’s not enough to pass the CPA exam once. To demonstrate that you’re knowledgeable of recent laws and regulations that apply to the accounting field, and that you’re up-to-date on the latest best practices, it’s important to maintain your licensure.

AICPA requires that professionals take 120 hours of continuing professional education (CPE) over a three-year period, according to the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy. Professionals can complete these hours at a wide variety of institutions, including universities or colleges.

It’s important to remember that one hour of CPE doesn’t equal one semester hour:
● One semester hour equals 15 CPE hours
● One-quarter semester hour equals 10 CPE hours

Just as different states might have different rules pertaining to who is eligible to take the CPA exam, the requirements for maintaining licensure also vary across the country. For example, in Alabama, professionals must complete 40 CPE hours annually to maintain up-to-date licensure with further rules about how many of those hours can be dedicated to behavioral courses, authorship credits, self-study, or technical meetings. Meanwhile, accounting professionals in Nebraska need to accomplish 80 CPE hours biennially, again with specific rules and limitations. It’s important to understand the specific requirements and nuances relating to maintaining licensure in your state.

UAB Master of Accounting students prepare to sit for the CPA

Professionals aspiring to become CPAs should work toward becoming eligible to sit for the CPA exam. This begins with fulfilling the educational requirements, learning any state-specific rules, and gaining at least two years of public accounting experience.

Students earning their Master of Accounting online at the University of Alabama at Birmingham have the advantage of access to a respected accounting program. The online Master of Accounting program at the Collat School of Business was one of the first to earn dual accreditation by the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business International (AACSB). A highly qualified staff can support students on their journeys to becoming successful accountants.

Since all content is completely online and accessible any time of the day, students can complete their education requirements at their convenience, without having to alter their work, family, or other responsibilities around a class schedule. This is particularly useful for professionals who are earning their 150 semester hour requirement while also working to complete their two years of public accounting experience. To learn more about how the online Master of Accounting program can help aspiring accounting professionals work toward their goals, reach out to an enrollment advisor today.

Recommended Readings:
The CPA’s Typical Day
Why demand for accountants is growing

National Association of State Boards of Accountancy
Bureau of Labor Statistics
AICPA Licensure Requirements
AICPA Requirements
National Association of State Boards of Accountancy
National Association of State Boards of Accountancy
UAB Masters in Accounting