Applying to take the CPA Exam can seem long and complicated. Here we break down the CPA Exam application process.
CPA Exam Application Process Step by Step:
- Check your Eligibility for Taking the CPA Exam
- Submit CPA Exam Application and Fees
- Receive Authorization to Test (ATT)
- Pay the CPA Exam Fees
- Verify the Information on your Notice to Schedule
- Schedule Your CPA Exam Section
Check your Eligibility for Taking the CPA Exam
First things first, you need to ensure you are eligible to take the CPA Exam. What makes it so complicated is that each state has different education requirements to sit for the exam.
However, in nearly every case, you are expected to have a bachelor’s degree (though there are states that have exceptions to this) and have completed a certain number of accounting credit hours and possibly business credit hours.
Need help figuring out your state’s requirements?
Check out our State Requirements resource page for an overview.
Most states do NOT require residency to apply. This is particularly important to understand for candidates who may be moving from one state to another during or shortly after taking the exam. The best practice is to apply in the state where you intend to practice.
The CPA Exam is uniform across all jurisdictions, so you do NOT need to travel to that state to take the exam.
Expert Tip: Let’s say you attend school in Nebraska but intend to move to Colorado. You can apply in Colorado online or by mail but physically sit for the exam in Nebraska. However, you must fulfill the exam requirements in Colorado to be eligible to take the exam.
If you pass two sections while in Nebraska and then move to Colorado, you won’t need to make any changes to your application other than scheduling your other sections at a testing center in Colorado.
Alternatively, let’s say you apply in Nebraska, pass two sections and then move to Colorado where you intend to obtain your license. In this case, you will need to apply in Colorado and transfer your two existing scores or finish out the process through Nebraska’s state board and then transfer all four scores when applying for licensure in Colorado.
Applying for the CPA Exam as an International Candidate
If you are an international candidate wanting to take the U.S. CPA Exam either in the U.S. or at an international testing center, our consultants are available to assist you in learning more about CPA Exam eligibility and the process to become a CPA.
Submit CPA Exam Application and Fees
Fill out the exam application for your state, or the state where you intend to be licensed. You can submit your application at any time regardless of the exam’s testing windows.
Some states process CPA Exam applications directly while others elect to have the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy (NASBA) process exam applications. You can determine which category your states falls in to on our CPA Exam Requirements by State page.
Here’s what’s needed.
When prompted during the application process, be sure to send in all of your college transcripts, including any community college or junior college courses, to your state board of accountancy (or NASBA, as the case may be). All transcripts should be sealed and sent directly from the institution.
There is an initial application fee to start the CPA Exam process, which is generally in the range of $100 to $250, depending on your state. There is also a re-application fee or registration fee if you need to apply again for additional tests.
You will need to apply for additional sections in the following instances:
Receive Authorization to Test (ATT)
After your state approves your application, you’ll receive an Authorization to Test (ATT) document that allows you to sign up for the CPA Exam in your state.
The 55 jurisdictions that issue CPA licenses differ greatly in the amount of time they take to process applications, from a few weeks to a couple of months.
Generally, your ATT is only good for 90 days, so you need to decide which section of the CPA Exam you want to take first.
Pay the CPA Exam Fees
To sign up for your first exam section, log into your NASBA account and pay the exam section fees. Each state charges slightly different exam fees, but each exam costs roughly $210. This is about $800-$900 in total exam fees.
Expert Tip: We suggest applying for a maximum of two tests on your initial application so that you will have six months to take the two tests. Don’t make the mistake of signing up for all of your sections on your initial application. When you have a more clear idea of when you will have time for your third and fourth test, you can apply again to the state board (or NASBA, depending on your state) at which time you will have to pay a re-application fee or registration fee—this fee is almost always less than the initial CPA Exam application fee.
Verify the Information on your Notice to Schedule
Once again, watch your mailbox for your Notice to Schedule (NTS) document that you are to use to register for your exam on the Prometric testing center website.
Most states will issue you a Notice to Schedule (NTS) that is good for six months—some states are 90 days, and a few are nine months and 12 months. That means if you don’t schedule and take all four in those six months, you will forfeit your exam fees. The circumstances of work and/or school can change so it is best to be strategic with the timing of your Notice to Schedule.
Also, you don’t have to wait for your first NTS to end before applying to obtain another one—they can overlap. If you apply for each of the four tests individually, you will have to pay a re-application or registration fee each time.
Schedule Your CPA Exam Section
Use the exam section ID from your NTS and locate the testing center of choice. If you want a specific date, schedule it well in advance as openings may fill quickly. Do your best to commit to your exam date and walk in the testing center PREPARED. You may reschedule your test 30 or more days in advance at no cost but you will incur a $35 change fee if six to 29 days in advance. If your test is five or fewer days away, you are not permitted to reschedule.
Applying for the CPA Exam may seem complicated with all the different state requirements and fees, but by carefully following each step it doesn’t have to be. The key is being thorough, staying on schedule, and ensuring all elements of your application are accurate and complete.
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Have a background in and passion for accounting? Lucrative, rewarding opportunities with companies of all types and sizes await you as a Certified Public Accountant—but first, you must pass the CPA Exam in order to obtain your CPA license.
Deciding and planning to take the CPA Exam can be a daunting task as the CPA Exam includes four separate sections totaling 16 hours, and requires a great deal of input even before you get to studying. Let us walk you through the process of taking the CPA Exam in our free eBook, Your Essential Guide to the CPA Exam.