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How to Become a CPA in California

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A CPA is a certified public accountant who is licensed by the state. In California, professionals must demonstrate their competency and knowledge by meeting goals to earn the prestige and title associated with the CPA license. Let’s dive into this process and outline what it takes to become a CPA in California.

Here are the Steps to Become a CPA in California:

  1. Getting Your CPA Education in California.
  2. Taking the Uniform CPA Exam in California.
  3. Gaining the Needed Experience in California.
  4. Getting Your CPA License and Continuing Education in California.
California palm trees

Applicants must provide evidence of proficiency in accounting. Becoming a CPA in California involves passing the Uniform CPA Exam, meeting high educational standards, and completing a specified amount of general accounting work experience. The CPA license is issued by the California Board of Accountancy and is granted to those who demonstrate a high level of competence in accounting and financial management.

What Are the Educational Requirements to Become a CPA in California?

Candidates must provide evidence of an undergraduate or higher degree, or foreign equivalency, in any subject. This program must contain 150 semester units, including at least twenty-four semester units of accounting subjects. There must also be twenty-four-semester units of business-related topics and at least twenty-semester units of accounting study. The education will include ten-semester units of ethics study in compliance with the Business and Professions Code section 5093 and CBA Regulations section 11.

An undergraduate degree in accounting (BSAC or BSBAAC) program does not meet the education requirements for those seeking licensure in California. The pairing of a bachelor’s program and a Master of Accounting (MAcc) meets the total semester hour, business, and accounting requirements for the CPA exam and licensure. However, these two degrees alone do not meet the ethics requirement. BSAC/BSBAAC and MAcc graduates must take three accounting-specific ethics credits. This cannot be general business ethics. 

All students must earn the following to be licensed CPAs:

Accounting Coursework

Students take twenty semester hours in accounting study, including ethics, accounting, business, business law, and other work relevant to business or accounting.

Business Coursework

Students take twenty-four semester hours in business topics.

Ethics Coursework

Students must pass the California Ethics exam (PETH) before getting licensed. They must complete ten semester hours in ethics study topics.

CPA candidates in California should refer to the California Board of Accountancy’s Educational Requirements for CPA Licensure. They will gain more information and find helpful resources for their process.

Total Credit Hours

There are 150 semester hours required for the license. Degrees can be found on campus as well as online.

Meeting the educational standards to become a CPA in California will take time and effort, but it is not impossible. Once a student identifies the degrees they would like to pursue before starting their accounting career, they must be intentional about keeping track of their coursework. Organization can be an important factor in this process.

exam computer work

What Are the Exam Requirements to Become a CPA in California?

The CPA exam is a California Board of Accountancy prerequisite for applying for full licensure. The American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) administers this standardized test. It includes four parts:

Financial Accounting and ReportingAuditing and Attestation
RegulationBusiness Environment and Concepts

Future CPAs in California can take each test section separately and over a broad period. This way, students can prepare for each section individually. There are some excellent test-taking resources found online. These tools help you make better grades. Take time to prepare for the exam. Do not worry if you must retake the test, as this is common.

The CPA in California Ethics Exam

California exclusively accepts scores from the PETH (Professional Ethics for CPAs) exam to validate the ethics requirement for CPA licensure. This test needs to be completed and passed within two years of an application for a license. The California CPA (CalCPA) Education Foundation administers the exam.

The PETH exam includes items covering the following topics:

Business ethicsAdvertising
Philosophy of professional conductTax services
Code of Professional ConductIndependence, integrity, and objectivity
Commissions and feesAccountancy Act and CBA Regulations

Study Tips

Finding time to study for an exam can be challenging. Whether you are studying for the CPA, college exams, certifications, or another type of exam, here are some tips to help you ace it on test day.

1) Take good notes. Test takers usually have all the needed test information — even if they don’t know it. Notetaking from your instructor’s lecture, book lessons, and online classroom resources helps you prepare. Instructors will often tell you what will be on the test. Write these points down. Review your notes. Highlight any bold phrases or terms. Study the areas your instructor hints at, as they might be covered first.

2) Study all review questions. Review questions are a great way to prepare for a test. Take advantage of practice tests from your professor or textbooks. Tests are formatted the same way. You may see some questions that look familiar. While studying for a certification or a standardized test, visit websites to take online practice exams.

3) Ask your instructor. You may be enrolled in a Master’s in Accounting program. Instructors will have access to additional resources and study guides. You may find someone who can help you discover practice material. Your first stop should be your instructors. They have experience in the topics you need as a test taker.

What Are the Experience Requirements to Become a CPA in California?


There is a minimum work experience requirement. All CPAs in California must complete one year of general accounting experience and attain 500 hours of attest experience. 

General Accounting Experience

The general accounting experience involves consulting, tax, attest, financial advisory, compilation, management advisory, and accounting skills. It can be gained through government, private, or public industry jobs. A job in academia does not fulfill the requirement. Your general accounting experience must be documented.

All public accounting experience must be documented on a Certificate of General Experience – Public Accounting Form. Licensed CPAs must supervise the work and sign the document.

If earned in government or private industry accounting, it is documented on the Certificate of General Experience – Non-Public Accounting Form. Licensed CPAs supervise the work and sign the document. Another signature is not required if the licensee owns the private industry company. If the licensee is not an owner, a second person with a higher level of responsibility within the organization signs the form.

Attest Experience

The attest experience:

  • Involves experience in planning an audit and selecting procedures
  • Involves experience in applying various auditing techniques and procedures
  • Involves preparing working papers
  • Involves preparing written comments on the work performed
  • Involves preparing full disclosure financial statements

The attest experience must also be documented. If the attest experience is earned in public accounting, it must be documented by an employer on the Certificate of Attest Experience-Public Accounting Form. If earned in private industry or governmental accounting, an employer must document the attest experience on the Certificate of Attest Experience – Non-Public Accounting Form. The signer in both instances must have the authority to perform attest services.

What Should I Know about Licensure and Becoming a CPA in California?

First, future CPAs in California must meet the California Board of Accountancy’s educational requirements. Then, pass the Uniform CPA Examination. After Fulfilling California’s experience requirements, you are prepared for CPA licensure. 

Take note of the following steps for licensure in California:

  • Earn an undergraduate degree with 150 total semester hours and the accounting and business courses.
  • Ask your college to mail transcripts to the CBA at Examination Unit, 2000 Evergreen Street, Suite 250, Sacramento, CA 95815-3832.
  • Pass the Uniform CPA Exam.
  • Satisfy work experience. Your supervising CPA mails all applicable Certificates of Experience to the CBA at 2000 Evergreen Street, Suite 250, Sacramento, CA 95815-3832.
  • Submit a 2” x 2” photo of yourself.
  • Pay all applicable fees.
  • Apply for your California CPA License. Reference the Application for Certified Public Accountant License. Mail it with a Fingerprinting Request, Criminal Conviction Disclosure Form, and applicable fees.
woman walking through door

Once I am a CPA in California, How Do I Stay Current Through Continuing Professional Education?

Licensed CPAs in California must complete continuing professional education hours to keep their licenses active and current.

You Must Complete 80 Hours of CPE Every Two Years:

  • Twenty hours of CPE must be completed in one year
  • Twelve hours of CPE must be completed in approved topics
  • Four hours of CPE in ethics must be completed every two years

The Importance of Understanding and Adhering to CPE Rules for Specific Positions

Government auditors must:

  • Complete twenty-four hours of CPE every two years in government accounting, auditing, or related subjects.
  • Take eight hours of CPE in fraud detection and reporting.

Auditors working in other capacities must:

  • Complete twenty-four hours of CPE every two years in financial statement preparation and reporting, attestation services, reviews, auditing, industry accounting, compilations, and assurance services.
  • Take eight hours of CPE in fraud detection and reporting.

At least half of one’s CPE hours must come from:

FraudRegulatory reviewTaxation
ConsultingFinancial planningOther business and accounting topics

Are you going to be the next CPA in California?

woman writing on her notebook 3059747

The CPA credential is accounting’s gold standard. It carries enormous weight in the financial and business worlds. CPAs in California are considered trusted advisors and are known for obtaining a high level of success. The CPA title separates you from others. It allows you to count yourself as a member of one of the most prestigious and highly respected professions. It is a great time to consider becoming a CPA in California.

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Ready to start your journey?

Ready to start your journey?