How to Become a CPA: Overcoming Obstacles

A professor once told me that the value of a college degree is not so much what you learn in class as it is about proving to potential employers that you can overcome obstacles to complete a long-term, multi-faceted project.

In some respects, the same holds true for earning your CPA certificate. The education, experience requirements, and exam are well known components of how to become a CPA, but we don’t often hear about the other hurdles: confusing applications, red tape, and oh the waiting! Here are a few things I learned along the way that helped me overcome hurdles to place those coveted letters after my name.

How to Become a CPA

If you haven’t done it yet, get acquainted with your state Board of Accountancy. Every state has different requirements and a different application process, so you’ll want to familiarize yourself with the rules in your state. If you have questions about the application process, don’t hesitate to contact the board office. The application process and deadlines can be confusing but the board coordinator is there to help you, so don’t be afraid to use them.

As I neared graduation and got ready to apply to sit for the exam, I had questions about the education requirement. I’d changed universities and majors a few times. I had well over the 150-semester hours required to sit for the exam, but those hours were divided between six transcripts, one of which awarded credits based on quarters rather than semesters. I called the board coordinator for clarification and she asked me to fax in my transcripts. She reviewed them and gave me the green light to apply. Knowing that my education was not an issue let me focus on studying for the exam.

Next, get started on the application for licensure, even before you have those passing grades in hand. Find out what items you’ll need to submit with the application. After sitting for an exam, the wait for scores to be released can be a long one! Use that time productively, and when you receive your passing grade your application will be ready to go.

In my state, the notarized application had to be submitted with a form from my employer certifying my experience, proof of passing an ethics exam, character references, and fingerprint cards. I had passed the ethics exam and had partially completed my application, but I hadn’t begun gathering the rest of the items.

After sitting for the exam in November, it took over a month for my score to be released. Receiving my passing score in late December, I started assembling my application packet. I needed to have my packet to the board office during the first week of January in order to have my application approved at that month’s meeting. I wasn’t able to gather all of the information that quickly, so I had to wait for the March meeting to have my license approved and then the May meeting to have my license signed. From sitting for the exam in November to receiving my certificate in May, that was a long wait!

If you submit your application without all of the necessary information, the board may not contact you to let you know something is missing. After mailing or hand delivering your application packet, wait a week or two, then call the office. They should be able to tell you whether or not your application is complete and ready to submit to the board for approval.

These steps apply whether you are finishing your degree, studying for the CPA exam, or working your way through the application process. Have a plan, stay on track, ask for help when needed, follow through, and you will get those letters after your name.