WES Advisor Blog

Accounting Licensure

by Luke Smith,

WES Education Services

September 12, 2022

In the U.S., each state and territory is responsible for the licensure of Certified Public Accountants (CPAs) within that jurisdiction, so CPA licensing requirements vary by state. For state-specific licensure information, contact your local Board of Accountancy.

While the specific requirements vary by location, becoming licensed as a CPA in the U.S. typically requires that you:

  • Obtain a credential evaluation, which compares the accounting education you received outside the United States to a similar educational program in the U.S. If your degree is not found to be substantially equivalent to the same degree from a U.S. educational institution, you may have to take some additional courses to bring your degree up to equivalency and begin the licensure process. For more information, see Having Your International Education Recognized.
    • Your state licensing board may require that you obtain your credential evaluation from a preferred provider. In the accounting field, the preferred credential evaluation service is usually the NASBA International Evaluation Services (NIES) offered by the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy (NASBA), specifically for internationally educated accountants. NIES is the ONLY approved evaluation service for 25 U.S. jurisdictions, although they do not perform evaluations for New York licensure.
    • Before requesting a credential evaluation from any agency, contact the institution that needs the evaluation to understand their requirements. These institutions are responsible for the final recognition decision.
  • Make sure you have fulfilled the education requirement for licensure. All U.S. jurisdictions except the U.S. Virgin Islands now require that CPA candidates have completed 150 semester hours of education. Because most bachelor’s degrees only require 120 semester hours (or “credits”) for graduation, a regular 4-year bachelor’s degree alone does not meet the education requirement for CPA licensure. If your existing education does not already meet this requirement, you have several options for doing so, depending on the results of your credential evaluation:
    • Earn a bachelor’s degree if you do not already have the U.S. equivalent of a bachelor’s degree, and then take enough additional graduate level courses to meet the requirement.
    • Graduate from a five-year combined bachelor’s/master’s degree professional accounting program.
    • Earn both a bachelor’s and a master’s degree. This is the most popular option.
      • There are several different options for accounting students who wish to pursue a master’s degree. The Master of Accountancy (MAcc) and Master of Science in Accounting (MS) programs are designed for students who have a bachelor’s degree in accounting or a similar field; while the Master of Business Administration in Accounting (MBA) and Master of Professional Accounting (MPAc) programs are open to students who have a bachelor’s degree in any discipline.
      • Many people choose to pursue an MBA not just because it prepares you for the CPA exam, but also because it will afford you more career flexibility and a better salary throughout your career.
  • OR, if you hold a current accounting license in a jurisdiction covered by a Mutual Recognition Agreement (MRA), you may be eligible for a simpler path to licensure. See Mutual Recognition Agreement info below.

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