What Are the Prerequisites for the CPA Exam?


Earning the Certified Public Accounting (CPA) license is a critical course of action in the career path of most accountants, and they need a clear understanding of the prerequisites for the CPA exam before taking that step.

While not all accounting and finance professionals need CPA licenses to work, many positions require the designation. For example, some government agencies require that high level accounting and finance managers have their CPA licenses, and many accounting firms only keep licensed accounting professionals on staff. The CPA license has come to symbolize job competence, high ethics and rigorous professional standards.

Taking the Uniform CPA Exam is one of the most important aspects of gaining the license; it serves as a way to verify the knowledge and skills that accountants need to perform their duties in real world situations. While each state’s accountancy board publishes eligibility standards for taking the CPA exam in their respective states, here are some common requirements that accountants must meet to be eligible to take the CPA exam.

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University Degree

The CPA exam comprehensively covers the concepts that accountants are supposed to have mastered during their years of education and training. Subsequently, an undergraduate degree from an accredited university is required to take the CPA exam. This type of degree usually meets the associated requirement for 120 semester hours of college level coursework.


A total of 150 semester hours of courses are needed to obtain the actual CPA license for which accountants must apply after successfully passing the CPA exam. Additional requirements are levied on CPA exam candidates who received their degrees from schools outside of the United States. These students must request to have their academic credentials evaluated by either the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy (NASBA) or the Center for Educational Documentation. These agencies conduct course by course analysis of CPA candidates’ degrees to determine if their credentials meet the eligibility requirements, and the agencies submit the results of the analysis directly to the state accountancy board’s examination department.

Most states also make allowances for accounting students who want to apply to take the CPA exam before they actually graduate. These students submit certificate of enrollment (COE) forms and transcripts to their state accountancy board’s CPA examination department to show that they are on track to complete their degree and necessary courses prior to taking the CPA exam.

Specific Course Work in Accounting

While many states do not require that candidates be accounting majors to take the CPA exam, most of them do stipulate that candidates must have taken a minimum of 21 semester hours of accounting courses. The courses must cover topics like financial accounting, auditing, cost accounting and taxation. Earning an undergraduate degree in business administration with a concentration in accounting or gaining an undergraduate degree in any subject with a minor in accounting are two common ways that candidates fulfill the accounting course requirements for the CPA exam.

Electives in Business

Most accounting issues and daily operations are performed within the context of a broader business environment, and questions on the CPA exam reflect this. Subsequently, CPA exam candidates must have taken at least nine semester hours of business electives in areas like business law, information systems and finance to be eligible to sit for the CPA exam.


Education and training are the primary prerequisites to sit for the Uniform CPA Exam, and state accountancy boards have strict requirements and deadlines for submitting official transcripts and COEs. More information and resources about CPA exam and license requirements can be found by visiting the NASBA and the American Institute of CPAs websites. CPA exam candidates should note that age and residency status are also included in some state accountancy boards’ prerequisites for the CPA exam.