California requires that individuals seeking to become certified public accountants hold a bachelor’s degree. The state does not require that individuals be a U.S. citizen or a resident of California. Applicants are not required to have a valid Social Security number to sit for the exam, but are required to have one for licensure. Individuals who meet these qualifications can take the first step to getting licensed by taking the Uniform CPA Examination. There is no age requirement to take the exam.
Step 1: CPA exam
Sitting for the CPA exam in California requires that candidates hold a bachelor’s degree, which includes 48 hours of coursework in accounting and other business-related courses.
Applicants can sit for the exam when they have a four-year bachelor’s degree or higher from a nationally or regionally accredited U.S. degree-granting educational institution or the equivalent foreign education and the required coursework. Advanced degrees are accepted in lieu of a bachelor’s degree as long as all conditions of the bachelor’s degree are met.
The coursework includes:
- 24 semester units (or 36 quarter) in accounting
- Includes accounting, auditing, external or internal reporting, financial reporting, financial statement analysis, taxation
- 24 semester units (or 36 quarter) in business-related courses
- Includes business administration, business law, finance, computer science, mathematics, business communications, business management, economics, marketing, statistics, business-related law courses
Application and test fees in California
The California Board of Accountancy administers the exam. Applicants must arrange to have their educational transcripts sent to CBA, showing proof of a bachelor’s degree from an accredited school. Transcripts must also verify the completion of the required 150 education hours.
The process to apply for the CPA exam starts with requesting and receiving authorization to take the test, followed by acknowledgement from the state and official notice to schedule (NTS) the exam. Once this process is completed, applicants can select a date to take the CPA exam. The NTS expires after nine months, after which candidates must submit a new application. The exam is given the first two months of each calendar quarter.
State law requires that first-time applicants submit a $50 application fee and an examination fee for the sections of the exam that they are taking. Checks must be made payable to the California Board of Accountancy. Those who are retaking the exam are required to pay a $25 registration fee and an additional fee for each section they are taking.
The Uniform CPA Examination comprises four sections:
- Auditing and Attestation
- Financial Accounting and Reporting
- Business Environment and Concepts
Each section of the exam has a specified administration fee. Applicants may take one or more of the four required sections at a time. In addition to the administration fee for each section, CPA exam applicants are charged a separate fee for each testing session they take.
Taking, passing and retaking the CPA exam
The passing score for each of the four exam sections is 75. Applicants may take the sections individually and in any order, but are required to pass all four within a rolling 18-month period, which begins on the date that the first examination section passed was taken.
Credit for any section passed shall be valid for 18 months from the actual date the examination section was taken. Examination credits expire by section, and applicants will lose credit for each section passed outside the 18-month period.
Step 2: CPA license
After successfully passing all four sections of the exam, applicants may then apply to become a certified public accountant in California. Applicants must submit a licensure application with California along with a $50 application fee. Applicants must also include a 2-inch by 2-inch passport sized photo.
Ethics exam in California
In addition to passing the CPA exam, applicants must take and pass the California Professional Ethics Exam with a score of 90 or higher.
- Bachelor’s degree or higher
- A total of 150 semester units, including:
- 24 semester units of accounting subjects
- 24 semester units of business-related subjects
- 20 semester units of accounting study
- 10 semester units of ethics study
All applicants must complete a minimum of 12 months of general accounting experience. General accounting experience includes providing any type of service or advice involving the use of accounting, attest, compilation, management advisory, financial advisory, tax or consulting skills. For those wishing to sign attest reports, the experience shall include 500 hours of attest.
Out-of-state CPA licenses
California allows CPAs in good standing and licensed in other states or U.S. jurisdictions to practice in the state as long as the issuing state is substantially equivalent. California also recognizes individuals who hold foreign CPA certificates of licensure, provided they meet the requirements of California’s State Board of Public Accountancy.
Disclaimer: Requirements for California CPA test-takers and license applicants are subject to change. Visit the state’s Board of Public Accountancy website to check for recent revisions to California’s CPA requirements.
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- "California Board of Accountancy," California Department of Consumer Affairs
- "The California Application for the Uniform CPA Examination," California Board of Accountancy
- "Professional Ethics Exam for CPAs," CalCPA Education Foundation