If you’re not an accounting major, but are still interested in getting your CPA, there are steps you can take to make it happen. You’ll have to meet the education and experience requirements, but with a plan and some hard work you can get there.
Plus, different states have different CPA requirements and different majors have different learning curves, so if you review the information below, you can determine the best plan for you.
The U.S. CPA (Certified Public Accountant) qualification is globally recognized and useful to both auditors and financial professionals alike.
But is earning the CPA a possibility for non-accounting majors and non-accountants? We’ll provide the answer to that question (it’s yes) and tell you how to earn the CPA no matter what your major was.
Learning how to get your CPA license without a degree in accounting starts with understanding the CPA exam requirements everyone has to meet.
All CPA candidates must fulfill the 3 E’s to meet the licensure requirements:
Some state boards also add another requirement: The Ethics exam. To fulfill this fourth E, you must pass whichever ethics exam your state board uses, whether it’s the AICPA’s Professional Ethics Exam or one created by the state board.
For non-accounting majors, the problem areas of these requirements will likely be:
Did you know each state has different requirements for the CPA exam? Check Your State’s Requirements Now.
1. Earn the Minimum Number of Accounting Credit Hours
The simplest way to address becoming a CPA without an accounting degree is to pick a state board asking for the fewest accounting courses as part of their CPA requirements to sit the CPA exam.
These state boards have the lowest numbers required to take the exam:
These numbers are easier to reach, but they come with additional conditions.
Maine: Though Maine has more lenient accounting education requirements, it has much stricter experience requirements. This state board asks for at least 2 years of public accounting experience which must include audits, reviews or compilations, and advisory/consulting services, tax preparation, or tax advice.
Hawaii: The Hawaii state board accepts students with an accounting concentration as well as those with bachelor’s degrees in other areas. Those who don’t major in accounting must also complete 18 semester hours of upper division or graduate level accounting or auditing subjects within the first two requirements.
Georgia: The Georgia state board of accountancy only counts the credits of upper division courses toward their 24-credit hour education requirement. Upper division courses are the intermediate and advanced courses only offered in the third or fourth year of college. So, in practice, you’ll need to take more than 24 credit hours in accounting to qualify for the CPA certification in Georgia.
Massachusetts: Massachusetts is also picky about which courses you take, but in a different way than Georgia. This state board doesn’t care so much about the level of the courses as the subject matter. In this case, some of your 30 credit hours must come from courses about financial accounting, auditing, management accounting, and taxation.
Alaska: Like Hawaii, the Alaska state board accepts students with an accounting concentration as well as those with bachelor’s degrees in other areas. Candidates can sit for the exam if they are close to graduating with their degree in accounting or if they have a bachelor’s degree and 15 accounting credits or if they have one year of public accounting experience. These options do not apply to licensure.
Clearly, meeting the educational requirements of these state boards is possible but complex. To help you make the most informed decision about earning the CPA as a non-accounting major, let’s also consider the second option.
2. Take Additional Accounting Courses and Satisfy the 150-Hour Rule
As you may recall, the education requirement for becoming a Certified Public Accountant includes 150 credit hours of general higher education. So, if you have a standard 4-year bachelor’s degree (120 credit hours of education), you still need 30 extra credits to qualify for the certification.
The good news is that these 30 credit hours can be non-degree courses in any discipline. You just have to take them at a regionally accredited college or university.
If you’re short on both the 30 credit hours and some accounting courses, you can resolve both issues with one solution: taking extra accounting courses. Doing so not only helps you get 150 credit hours and all the accounting credits you need, but it also helps with your CPA exam preparations.
Furthermore, you’ll have a lot more state boards to choose from once you meet the standard 150-credit hour requirement. And many state boards have flexible work experience requirements, so you have the opportunity to become a licensed CPA even faster.
3. Complete the Experience Requirements
You’re a non-accounting major, so you’re probably not working at an accounting firm or as an accountant. In that case, you should look into the state boards’ specific experience requirements before you get very far into the process of earning the CPA.
Nowadays, most state boards generally define relevant work experience—public accounting is the most pertinent, but accounting in corporate, not-for-profit, and governmental entities now counts as well. Some state boards even accept academic positions in universities.
Can you become a CPA as a finance or economics major? In truth, yes, but how much effort that will involve depends on how many accounting and business courses you have taken and how willing you are to fulfill the remaining requirements.
Satisfying the minimum number of business credit hours is usually pretty simple for someone in a finance degree program. And if you took some accounting courses as well, you’re already very close to meeting the CPA education requirement.
You’ll probably need to focus on fulfilling the 150 credit-hour rule, and the easiest way to take those remaining accounting classes is at your local university or other accredited educational institutions.
Community colleges are a possibility if they are offering upper division accounting classes, but you should verify that with your state board just to be safe. Some states, such as New York, expect you to take core accounting classes at 4-year colleges.
Economics majors typically have a trickier time becoming a CPA because economics and accounting degrees have little coursework overlap. So, you will just have to take enough accounting courses to reach the minimum education requirement.
Thankfully, the new knowledge you get from these classes will really help you get ready for the FAR and AUD exams. On top of that, many BEC topics will already be familiar to you as an econ major.
If earning the CPA doesn’t sound like it’s for you, there are other global accounting and finance certifications worth exploring.
Consider, for example, the Certified Management Accountant (CMA) certification. It welcomes accountants with any kind of bachelor’s degree.
You’ll find that the Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) designation has an even more flexible exam requirement, so you can look into that certification as well.
In both cases, you’ll benefit from having a basic knowledge of accounting, but once you get into the program, you can simply work hard to catch up.
Even though you don’t have an accounting degree, there are clearly ways to make the CPA certification process work for you. If you’re willing to put the effort into obtaining such a rewarding certification, take the next step by learning how to qualify for the CPA exam in your state.
Additionally, there were significantly fewer candidates taking the Level I exam in 2020 and 2021 compared to previous years. February 2021 had a total of 28,683 candidates, and December 2020 had 26,212. The 2017-2019 Level I exams averaged 74,244 candidates.
In February 2021, the exam switched to computer-based testing. According to CFA Institute spokesman Matthew Hickerson, “The degree of difficulty of the May Level I exam was consistent with previous Level I exam administrations, and this is the case whether we look back to paper-based testing or computer-based testing, which we introduced in February this year.”
However, the delays in testing caused by COVID-19 may have affected the scores of the May 2021 exam. According to the CFA Institute, the virus forced many candidates preparing for the Level I exam to defer their test, with several doing so twice. “While some impacted candidates were able to pass, we believe the stop-start nature of the deferred candidates’ studies is reflected in the overall passing rate,” the organization said.