150 Hour Requirement for Obtaining a CPA License
A certified public accountant (CPA) in today's environment must not only have a high level of technical competence and a sense of commitment to service, but must also have good communications and analytical skills, and the ability to work well with people. Employers are looking for individuals who have the ability to analyze and evaluate complex business problems and the interpersonal skills and maturity to make decisions in a client- and customer-service environment.
To obtain the required body of knowledge and to develop the skills and abilities needed to be successful CPAs, students should complete 150 semester hours of education. Many states/jurisdictions now require or will require 150 semester hours of education for obtaining the CPA license. Colleges and universities in these states/jurisdictions determine the curriculum for pre-licensure education of CPAs; it typically features a good balance of accounting, business, and general education.
- Why 150 Hours?
- How to Meet the Requirements
- States with the Requirement
- FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) on 150 hours
There are a number of reasons why a traditional four-year undergraduate program is no longer adequate for obtaining the requisite knowledge and skills to become a CPA:
- Significant increases in official accounting and auditing pronouncements and the proliferation of new tax laws have expanded the knowledge base that professional practice in accounting requires.
- Business methods have become increasingly complex. The proliferation of regulations from federal, state, and local governments requires well-educated individuals to ensure compliance. Also, improvements in technology have had a major effect on information systems design, internal control procedures, and auditing methods.
- The staffing needs of accounting firms and other employers of CPAs are changing rapidly. With more sophisticated approaches to auditing now in use, and with the increase in business demands for a variety of highly technical accounting services and greater audit efficiency, the requirements for effective professional practice have increased sharply. The demand for a large quantity of people to perform many routine auditing tasks is rapidly diminishing.
Many colleges and universities offer bachelor's and master's degree programs in accounting. To obtain 150 semester hours of education, students do not necessarily have to get a master's degree. They can meet the requirement at the undergraduate level or get a bachelor's degree and take some courses at the graduate level. Students can also choose any of the following:
- Combine an undergraduate accounting degree with a master's degree at the same school or at a different one;
- Combine an undergraduate degree in some other discipline with a master's in accounting or an MBA with a concentration in accounting;
- Enroll in an integrated five-year professional accounting school or program leading to a master's degree in accounting.
In most cases, the additional academic work needed to acquire the technical competence and develop the skills required by today's CPA is best obtained at the graduate level. Graduate-level programs are an excellent way to more fully develop skills such as communication, presentation, and interpersonal relations, and to integrate them with the technical knowledge being acquired.
For these reasons, leading professional organizations such as the AICPA, the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy, and the Federation of Schools of Accountancy have consistently supported the 150-hour education requirement for entry into the accounting profession.
Currently, the U.S. Virgin Islands is the only U.S. jurisdiction that does not require at least 150 hours of education for licensure. For specific state or territory requirements, visit ThisWayToCPA.com.
The requirement would not apply to CPAs who received their license prior to the effective date of the change in the education requirement. For AICPA membership, the requirement applies to those who have taken the CPA exam and applied for membership after the year 2000.
The AICPA education proposal does not require a master's degree to meet the requirement. It can be met in a variety of ways, including extra hours at the graduate level without a master's degree. None of the states that have passed the 150-hour law require a master's degree.
Details on what will qualify may vary from state to state according to rules of the state board.The AICPA proposal would allow an MBA with an accounting concentration to qualify.
The education requirement is not a substitute for the experience requirement. A state which adopts the increased education requirement could decide to discontinue or modify the experience requirement. Many states have a reduced experience requirement for candidates who hold a master's degree.
Accounting firms are going to need to increase starting salaries in order to attract top students into the profession. This is true even in the absence of an increased education requirement. The phase-in period, usually adopted, should enable firms to absorb the increased cost over a period of years. New entrants who complete the requirement are expected to be more knowledgeable, efficient and work with less supervision. It is expected that both time and staff size will be reduced to offset increases in client costs.
When the requirement is mandated by law, the competitive position of small and large firms should not change, since all will be affected equally.
The requirement will probably attract a higher caliber student to accounting because it brings CPAs in line with other professions which require additional education. The brightest and best high school students are increasingly opting for careers that require graduate training. Also, students that complete the requirement will not only invest in their careers, but advance more rapidly in their firms due to an increased education base
Education requirements have not created entry barriers in other professions that require graduate education. Statistics show that a higher percentage of minorities are MDs and JDs than are CPAs. Minority students who plan to go on to graduate education will now be attracted to accounting.