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Advance Planning, Investigation Key to Successful CPA Licensing Process

When it comes to getting a CPA license, question everything.

That’s the advice from Leona Johnson, CPS, Regulatory Rules Administrator with NASBA. Johnson routinely speaks to accounting students, and advises them to sit down and map out their strategy not only for finishing school and passing for the Uniform CPA Exam, but also for what they’ll do after those goals have been accomplished.

“It’s important to know ahead of time the difference between the educational requirements for the exam and those for licensure," Johnson said. “In most states, the requirements to sit for the exam are not the same as the requirements to become licensed."

The difference between the two is usually 30 hours, with the additional hours for licensure made up mostly of specific, high-level courses in business, auditing and accounting.

“Most state require 150 hours for licensure, but many states allow candidates that have 120 hours of education to sit for any portion of the exam," Johnson said. “Then they have to obtain the addition education between passing the exam and applying for licensure. And those have to be hours that are regular college hours, those that are put on a transcript."

Once a candidate has navigated his or her college career and the four sections of the exam, then there’s the matter of experience. More to the point, experience that counts towards a state’s licensure requirements. Here, too, there are pitfalls that can be easily avoided with some advance investigation and planning.

“We often talk about the three E’s: education, examination and experience," Johnson said. “The exam is the only constant between all the state boards. Education and experience can and do vary between all of them. And experience often is the thing that varies the most."

“It’s very important to know the whole picture," she added. “You don't’ want to work for a whole year and then find out that since you did it before finishing the exam, it doesn’t count. And that kind of thing can happen very easily if you haven’t looked into all of a state’s requirements."

Some states also require additional testing on top of experience hours, and then there are supervisory issues as well. In some states a licensed CPA must supervise a candidate’s work, while others allow a CPA to sign off on an experience affidavit as long as they are sufficiently familiar with the candidate’s work and performance.

“I tell candidates as they go into the workforce to be sure they know who their supervisory person is going to be, and to ask up front if this person will sign off on everything when it’s done," Johnson said. “You need that information from the very outset in order to make sure that all the work you’re doing is going to be reflected in that experience affidavit, and is going to properly count toward your licensure."

All of this can be overwhelming, and complicated. Going to the state board itself for information and assistance is a good idea, but boards are often faced with limited staff and resources, so can only provided limited support. The same goes with employers, who often aren’t aware of changing requirements and regulations. That’s why Johnson recommends NASBA’s Accountancy Licensing Library, or ALL.

“This site has everything they need," she said. “The specifics about the exam and education components, but also the experience requirement. The user can start using it when before they’re finished with school, and double-check that the internship they’re looking at is going to count as experience. ALL lets them plan everything out ahead of time, to be proactive and have a strategic plan going forward."

NASBA has made complimentary subscriptions to ALL available to academic advisors within accounting departments at colleges and universities nationwide, so they can help students be prepared not only for sitting and passing the exam, but also moving through the rest of requirements for licensure. This lets students see ALL at work before setting up their own account.

“The application process can be overwhelming, and every state board is different," Johnson said. “The applications are different, the renewal forms are different. The state boards don’t have the resources to sit with everyone and guide them through the process, but ALL does exactly that."