What is a CPA?

What is a CPA?

A CPA is licensed by the various respective states. To become a CPA an individual must demonstrate knowledge and competence by passing a rigorous examination, must meet high educational standards, and must have a specified amount of experience working in the profession. While the requirements vary between states, it is difficult everywhere to achieve a CPA license. But, the story does not end there. In order to continue to be licensed, a CPA must meet stringent continuing education requirements, undergo periodic peer review if attest services are provided, and achieve and demonstrate a high level of accountability in their honesty and professionalism. To get, and keep, a CPA license requires a high level of knowledge and dedication, and as a user of CPA services you should expect to get the benefit. CPAs are integral to the audit process that provides an independent analysis of the financial records of a company. They are also authorized to represent taxpayers in an IRS audit.

In order to become a CPA, there are several requirements you need to fulfill.


To become a CPA, you need to meet the requirements of the state or jurisdiction in which you wish to practice. These requirements, which vary from state to state, are established by law and administered by the state boards of accountancy.

To qualify for certification, you must:

complete a program of study in accounting at a college/university (the AICPA recommends at least 150 semester hours of college to study to obtain the common body of knowledge for becoming a CPA.)

pass the Uniform CPA Examination, which is developed and graded by the AICPA; and

have a certain amount of professional work experience in public accounting (not all states require this).

The Uniform CPA Examination (in North Carolina) is available during specific periods called testing windows.  The first two months of each calendar quarter is an open testing window.  Therefore, there are four testing windows each year.  March, June, September and December are closed for testing.  There is no minimum number of sections that must be completed in a testing window.  You may take any section in any order, and you do not have to pass one section prior to applying for another. The exam consists of four sections: Business Environment and Concepts (BEC); Auditing and Attestation (AUD); Regulation (REG); and Financial Accounting & Reporting (FAR). The AICPA has produced a brochure with additional details on the exam: the Uniform CPA Examination Candidate Brochure.

Once you have become a CPA, most states require you to take specified amounts of continuing professional education courses annually to retain your professional license to practice.

The Uniform CPA Examination tests the competence of an individual to perform the duties of a professional accountant. The exam covers the candidate's knowledge of accounting practice, auditing standards, accounting theory and business law. The examination is prepared by the Board of Examiners of the American Institute of CPAs (the AICPA, the national professional society of CPAs) with the cooperation of the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy (members of the state licensing boards for accountants) and the American Accounting Association (the national organization of university accounting professors). The CPA exam takes two and one-half days and is given semi-annually by the state boards under controlled conditions at the same time in all jurisdictions. It is graded by the AICPA, although the ultimate licensing decision is retained by each state board.

The sections have been organized as follows: