How can I meet my 150 credits hours to be a CPA? This is a financial and logistical obstacle for many CPA aspirants.
Aspiring Certified Public Accountants (CPAs) are required, with few exceptions, to have completed 150 college credits in order to be licensed as a CPA (check with your jurisdiction at AICPA). The AICPA wants to be on par with other professions such as law, architecture, and medicine by requiring aspiring professionals to pass an examination to indicate sufficient knowledge and understanding of fundamental concepts and practices. Of the 150 college credits, the candidate is expected to have completed 24 to 36 credits in accounting, tax, audit, and other related business subjects. Undergraduate accounting students meet their 24 to 36 credits in accounting, tax, audit, and other related business subjects as they complete their undergraduate studies, which typically consists of 120 to 130 credits. It is becoming commonplace for Accounting majors to pursue a Master’s in Accountancy (MAcc) or Master’s in Business Administration (MBA) to earn the additional 20 to 30 credits. I will provide my best advice for Accounting and Non-Accounting majors on what to do to complete the 150 credits.
For Accounting Majors:
There are multiple options for accounting majors to earn the 150 credits needed to be eligible to be licensed as a CPA. There are pros and cons of each. Please weigh them individually and determine which best fits your circumstances and career path.
Option 1: Earn a Master’s in Accountancy (MAcc)
This a common option. It is a great opportunity to cover the foundational material on Accounting and give you more breadth and depth with the material from a theoretical perspective. However, it could be expensive and time consuming, as you will likely enroll in a program that requires at least 30 credits and could take between 1.5 to 3 years to complete on a part time basis. The program may or may not help you prepare for the CPA exam. Not all MAccs are equal. Be aware of the university accreditation, reputation, and CPA pass rate (Check your University Pass Rate here) before you enroll in the program.
Option 2: Minor or Double Major in Business Related Course
I recommend a minor/major in tech subjects such as Data Science, Information Systems, Cybersecurity, etc., Those topics make you more marketable in the accounting field. CPA firms are hiring more non-accounting majors since 2006, especially in data science and tech related fields. I don’t recommend finance or economics because these majors are not added value majors.
Option 3: Earn a Master’s in Business Administration
A Master’s in Business Administration (MBA) is a prestigious achievement which sets you apart in the business world and may open doors for you to advance your career. However, not all MBAs are equal, and it can be expensive to obtain and time consuming. Also, MBAs are becoming a commodity and it may not add a particular skill to your accounting career. Depending on your career path, I recommend instead a Master’s in Taxation, Information Systems, or a tech related advanced degree.
Option 4: Enroll in Community College
This is the least expensive option in obtaining your 150 college credits. At Community Colleges there are a wide variety of course offerings available to you. Although enrolling in courses at this level will not earn an additional degree, it can accomplish the goal of earning the required credits to become licensed. Always check with your state board of accountancy about accepting community college credits.
Option 5: Enroll in Certificate Program at the Community College
Many community colleges offer certifications in areas such as Networking, IT, Cybersecurity, Database Management, Information System etc. These programs offer a dual benefit: Complete your 150 credits and learn a useful skill. The cost at the community college is a fraction of that of a Master’s or Bachelor’s program.
For Non-Accounting Majors:
Many Non-Accounting graduates are pursuing the CPA certification. Often, Non-Accounting graduates pursue MAcc or MBA degrees to meet the additional 20 to 30 accounting and business credits. I do believe it is not in the best interest of Non-Accounting majors to pursue a MAcc or MBA if the purpose is to meet educational requirements for the CPA license.
Here are my reasons:
- Graduate programs are costly relative to other options.
- Most graduate programs focus on theory rather than practical knowledge of accounting (journal entries, preparing financial statements etc.) that Non-Accounting majors lack.
- A graduate degree might give the impression that the candidate is looking to earn more than other candidates which might put him/her at a disadvantage when looking for job opportunities.
CPA aspirants do have a cheaper and flexible option to meet the CPA educational requirement.
Community colleges across the country have some sort of post Post-Baccalaureate, Accounting certificate or an Associate’s degree in Accounting that helps you meet your educational requirements. It will take non-business majors at least one and a half years to complete the degree requirements because students need to take pre-requisite courses such as Financial and Managerial Accounting before completing the advanced courses such as Intermediate Accounting, Auditing, Tax, Cost, advanced accounting, governmental accounting and others. Start early and plan strategically.
For example, the Community College of Philadelphia (CCP) offers an online Accounting Proficiency Certificate (PBAPC). The PBAPC is designed to target Non-Accounting majors pursuing the CPA license. The program is fully online, which accommodates working adults and international students. Most online courses are supplemented by lectures prepared by qualified licensed professors. The cost of the program is a fraction of that of a graduate degree program. At CCP, students are taught basic accounting knowledge rather than the theory-laden curriculum taught in graduate courses. Accounting courses at CCP are approved by state board of accountancy standards. It is always a good idea to check with your state/jurisdiction to determine whether the courses are acceptable or not.
If you have any questions about your options program, you can always reach out to me by making an appointment on my website (under Contact).