How to Become a CPA Without a Degree in Accounting

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Becoming a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) without an accounting degree is a viable career path for many aspiring professionals. Learn the steps and strategies for achieving CPA certification through alternative educational backgrounds.

So, what are the most critical factors you should know to become a CPA without an accounting degree?

As this CPA Candidate Guide explains by the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy (NASBA), the focus is on the CPA exam, licensure requirements, and guiding non-accounting majors toward this professional designation.

By understanding state board requirements and utilizing available resources, candidates can effectively pursue a CPA certification and join over 672,000 licensed CPAs, opening doors to careers in accounting, finance, and business.

Key Takeaways

  • Understanding CPA Certification: Non-accounting degree holders must grasp the CPA certification process, including educational prerequisites, passing the CPA exam, fulfilling work experience requirements, and adhering to ethical standards, with guidance available from NASBA resources.

  • Educational Requirements: Most states require a bachelor’s degree with specific credits in accounting and business for CPA eligibility, prompting non-accounting majors to consider additional coursework at accredited institutions.

  • Pathways for Non-Accounting Majors: Non-accounting majors can meet CPA requirements through additional coursework, master’s programs, or relevant work experience, leveraging opportunities like internships, volunteer work, mentorship, and networking.

  • Work Experience Necessities: Aiming for CPA certification should note the need for one to two years of supervised accounting work, accurately documented and verified by a licensed CPA.

  • Exam Preparation Strategies: CPA candidates without a strong accounting background should adopt tailored exam preparation strategies due to the CPA exam’s multiple sections and varied question formats, emphasizing the importance of comprehensive study materials, review courses, and dedicated study efforts.

Understanding CPA Certification

To become a CPA, candidates must navigate through educational prerequisites, pass the Uniform CPA Examination, fulfill specific work experience requirements, and adhere to ethical standards. For individuals without an accounting degree, understanding these requirements and how to meet them is essential. Resources provided by NASBA, such as the Pathway to CPA Exam Quiz, offer valuable insights for candidates with diverse academic backgrounds.

Educational Prerequisite Summary

  • Bachelor’s Degree: Most states require candidates to have a bachelor’s degree, with a minimum number of credit hours in accounting and business-related subjects. For non-accounting majors, this may mean taking additional courses to meet the credit hour requirements before pursuing a CPA license.

  • Accredited Institutions: Credits must typically be earned from an institution that is accredited by a recognized accrediting agency.

Work Experience Requirements

  • Duration and Type: Most states require one to two years of accounting-related work experience supervised by a licensed CPA. The specifics of acceptable work can vary, including public accounting, industry, government, and academic roles.

  • Documentation: Candidates must document their work experience accurately, often requiring verification by a licensed CPA.

The Uniform CPA Examination

  • CPA Exam Sections: The CPA exam consists of three sections: Auditing and Attestation (AUD), Financial Accounting and Reporting (FAR), and Regulation (REG). It also includes the choice of one of three discipline sections.

  • CPA Exam Format: Each section includes multiple-choice questions and task-based simulations.

  • Preparation: Candidates should invest in comprehensive study materials and consider enrolling in CPA prep courses, especially those tailored for non-accounting majors.

Navigating Educational Requirements for Non-Accounting Majors

Understanding and meeting the educational requirements is a pivotal step for an individual to figure out how to become a CPA without a degree in accounting. Most states mandate that CPA candidates complete 150 semester hours of post-secondary education, which is 30 hours beyond the typical bachelor’s degree.

120 credits is usually minimum for a bachelors. And yes, you need a 150 to obtain the license. Some states allow you to sit for the exam at 120. The other 30 is usually obtained by either double majoring or getting a master’s” - Reddit User

Accounting and Business Coursework

Accounting Hours: The number of required accounting hours needed to become a licensed, certified public accountant varies by state. For instance, Florida requires candidates to have 30 semester hours in upper-division accounting courses. Based on U.S. accounting standards, these must cover key areas such as auditing, cost/managerial accounting, financial accounting (3 semester hours), and taxation (3 semester hours).

General Business Hours: In addition to accounting courses, CPA designation candidates must complete 36 semester hours of upper-division general business courses. This includes three semester hours of business law based on U.S. laws, ensuring a well-rounded understanding of the business environment in which CPAs operate.

Coursework Recommendations

To meet the specific requirements, non-accounting majors should focus on enrolling in courses that cover:

  • Auditing: Understand the principles and procedures of auditing accounts and financial statements.

  • Cost/Managerial Accounting: Learn about the internal use of accounting information for decision-making, planning, and control.

  • Financial Accounting: Gain a solid foundation in the accounting principles used to prepare financial statements.

  • Taxation: Explore the fundamentals of U.S. tax law, including income taxation for individuals and businesses.

  • Business Law: Understand the legal environment of business, focusing on contracts, commercial transactions, and corporate law.

Strategies for Non-Accounting Majors

Take Additional Courses: Non-accounting majors can meet these requirements by enrolling in additional courses at accredited institutions. Online courses, community colleges, and continuing education programs are viable options for obtaining the necessary credits.

Enter a Master’s Program: Consider enrolling in a Master of Accounting program or Master of Business Administration (MBA) with a concentration in accounting. These programs are designed to provide the comprehensive accounting education needed for CPA eligibility.

As one accountant explained to another, seeking advice on this topic:

“It might be hard to convince an employer to hire you for an accounting job without a CPA and without a degree. It may make sense for you to go back to school for a master’s of accounting; there are plenty of programs geared toward non-accounting majors. This would help you get a foot in the industry before taking your CPA exam.”

Fulfilling Work Experience Requirements

Meeting the work experience requirements for CPA licensure is a critical step that varies by state board. Typically, candidates are required to complete one to two years of work experience that is supervised by a licensed CPA.

Strategies for Gaining Relevant Experience

  • Internships and Part-Time Positions: Internships or part-time jobs in accounting firms or finance departments offer hands-on experience. Sometimes, this can lead to a full-time position.

  • Volunteer Opportunities: Non-profits and small businesses sometimes need accounting assistance. Volunteering can be a way to gain experience while making professional connections.

  • Mentorship: Seek out a mentor who is a licensed CPA. They can provide guidance, support, and opportunities to gain the required experience. Mentorship can be found through professional organizations, alumni networks, or LinkedIn.

  • Networking: Attend industry events, join accounting or business associations (such as the AICPA or state accounting societies), and participate in online forums. Networking can uncover opportunities that might not be advertised and can facilitate introductions to potential employers or mentors.

Tips for Preparing for the CPA Exam as a Non-Accounting Major

Successfully navigating the CPA exam requires strategic preparation, especially for those without an accounting background. Here are some targeted tips to help non-accounting majors prepare effectively:

Choose the Right CPA Review Course

  • Look for CPA review courses accounting experts recommend as their favorites.

  • Consider programs that provide additional support for non-accounting majors.

  • Allocate more time to areas where your background may be weaker, such as financial accounting or taxation.

“I found the CPA exams are relatively easy in comparison to college’s engineering courses. Just study and memorize all the codes, and then you can get a 75 passing grade. Do you need to understand accounting? Probably not.” - Reddit User

Seek Out Additional Resources

  • Supplement your CPA review course with additional study materials, such as textbooks or online tutorials, especially in areas where you need more help.

  • Join local study groups or participate in online forums to gain insights and tips from fellow CPA candidates.


Becoming a CPA without an accounting degree is a challenging yet attainable goal. Non-accounting majors can carve a path toward CPA certification by understanding and navigating through the educational prerequisites, CPA exam, work experience requirements, and ethical standards. Leveraging resources like NASBA’s guides, pursuing additional coursework, and engaging in strategic exam preparation are key steps.

With determination, the right strategy, and the utilization of available resources, aspiring CPAs from diverse academic backgrounds can achieve professional success in accounting, finance, and business. This guide serves as a roadmap, demystifying the process and offering practical advice to help you reach your CPA goals.


How can I become a CPA without an accounting degree?

Earn 150 semester hours with required accounting and business courses through additional classes, a master’s, or certificate programs. Then, prepare for and pass the CPA exam.

What are the work experience requirements for CPA licensure?

Most states require 1-2 years of supervised work in accounting or related fields. Gain experience through roles in auditing, tax preparation, or financial analysis.

How many accounting credit hours do I need?

It varies by state. For example, Florida requires 30 semester hours in upper-division accounting courses, including auditing and cost/managerial accounting.

Can I fulfill CPA education requirements with online courses?

Yes. Online courses from accredited institutions can count towards the CPA education requirements, including accounting and business credits.

What resources are available for non-accounting majors to prepare for the CPA exam?

Consider CPA prep courses tailored for non-accounting majors, join study groups, and utilize additional CPA study materials like textbooks and online tutorials.