California Requirements for CPA Certification


Published May 9, 2023

California CPAs need education, examination, and professional experience. Discover exactly what it takes to earn and maintain your state license. is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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California has a diverse population of nearly 40 million as the fifth-largest economy in the world. The financial services industry alone produced 19% of the state's GDP, while professional and business services contributed over 14% — leading to career opportunities for certified public accountants (CPAs).

CPAs play an important role in these sectors by providing financial expertise and analysis. They often have more experience and qualifications than general accountants, which helps them navigate trickier financial responsibilities. CPAs also have a fiduciary obligation to their clients, which can make them more trustworthy and reliable.

These accountants must follow a strict licensing pathway to practice professionally in the state. This page examines California's CPA requirements, including the education, examination, and experience qualifications. Uncover details about accounting degrees in California, where to gain experience, and how to renew CPA licensure.

Education Requirements for Becoming a CPA in California

According to the California Board of Accountancy (CBA), CPA candidates in California must meet educational requirements for the exam and licensure. Each candidate needs a bachelor's degree with at least 120 credits to sit for the Uniform CPA Examination. While the degree can come from any discipline, the credits must include accounting and business-related studies.

Candidates then complete an additional 30 credits for a total of 150 credits to qualify for state licensure. The 30 credits must include ethics and studies in accounting. A prospective CPA can pursue an accelerated bachelor's-to-master's, a master's degree, or standalone courses to complete these requirements.

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Concentrations, Credits, and Course Acceptance

California's CPA requirements include a bachelor's degree, 120 credits for the exam, and 150 credits for licensure. According to the CBA, the initial 120 credits must include at least 24 in accounting courses and 24 in business-related courses.

Along with these credits, the 150-credit licensure requirement must include at least 20 in accounting and 10 in ethics. Candidates may use up to 14 business-related credits to meet the accounting requirement and up to three professional responsibility credits for ethics.

An applicant may complete the final 30 credits before or after examination. They must submit transcripts for all credits to qualify, which makes transfer credits ineligible. Candidates who will complete their bachelor's degree within 180 days may apply for the exam with early-entry status.

Prospective CPAs can also qualify if they are currently enrolled in dual-degree programs to earn bachelor's and master's degrees upon completion. Early-entry and dual-degree candidates need to submit complete transcripts within 240 days of submitting their application to avoid forfeiting their exam results.

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California Experience Requirements

According to the CBA, a CPA candidate needs at least one year of general accounting experience to qualify for California licensure. Full-time and part-time work qualifies, and a licensed CPA must supervise the experience. A prospective CPA looking to work in attestation must complete at least 500 hours in this field.

After satisfying the work requirements, each candidate submits a certificate of general experience for the appropriate industry. As a one-tier state, California allows CPA candidates to complete their experience before or after the exam. In two-tier states, prospective CPAs must complete their exam before compiling their experience.

Experience in the following sectors qualify:

  • Academia (48 credits of instruction in an accredited program equals one year)
  • Government
  • Private industry
  • Public accounting
  • Accounting
  • Attestation services
  • Compilation
  • Consulting
  • Financial advisory
  • Management advisory
  • Tax

California Requirements for CPA Exam

The Uniform CPA Examination comes from the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA). The test covers four critical areas:

CPA candidates take the same exam regardless of where they live or test. However, eligibility requirements vary by location. Below, we look at the process for prospective CPAs in California.

Eligibility to Take the Exam

In California, a CPA exam candidate needs a completed bachelor's degree or be within 180 days of graduating. They must have completed at least 120 credits, including 24 in accounting and business-related studies. Prospective CPAs have no time limit for applying to the exam after graduating.

While California does not have an age or residency requirement, CPA candidates should note that state licensure has additional requirements, including:

Once they apply for licensure, candidates have two years to complete a state-accepted ethics exam.

Applying for and Scheduling the Exam

California's CPA candidates apply through the CBA online system. The initial exam application costs $100, and reapplications cost $50.

Applications must include transcripts in the original and sealed envelope from the school. Candidates who apply before completing their degrees must self-verify that they meet the requirements. They then have up to 240 days to submit transcripts. The CBA will not accept CPA exam scores until then.

Once the CBA approves the application, candidates have one year to make their first exam selection. After selecting an exam, they have 90 days to make payment for the chosen sections. Each section costs $238.15.

A candidate will typically receive a Notice to Schedule within four days of payment, which provides candidates with nine months to schedule and sit for their exam. After completing the first section, test-takers have 18 months to complete the remaining three sections.

Candidates can apply for test sections individually or all at once. They may apply to retake any failed sections after receiving their test scores.

After Passing the Exam

Since exam results do not expire, applicants can take as long as they need after the test to satisfy the other California CPA requirements.

The AICPA typically releases exam scores within two weeks of testing and automatically sends the results to the CBA. Candidates must then submit their licensure application, which should include:

After prospective CPAs apply, they have two years to complete the ethics exam.

Retaining Licensure

In California, CPA licenses expire every two years. Licensed professionals need to renew before the last day of their birth month every other year. A renewal reminder should arrive about 90 days before the expiration date.

Renewal requirements include a minimum of 80 continuing education (CE) hours over two years. Eligible CE hours can come from approved professional development opportunities, formal technical sessions, university or college courses, and other approved educational programs.

Professionals can earn CE hours via self-study, and up to 25% of the hours can come from various writing and publishing activities. Along with their renewal application, CPAs must submit a reporting worksheet that documents their CE hours and the $280 renewal fee. Late payments incur a $140 delinquency fee.

A CPA who cannot complete their CE hours in time may apply for an extension. If licenses go unrenewed and expire for six months, CPAs will need to complete an additional 20 CE hours for each lapsed six-month period.

California follows CPA Mobility legislation, which allows out-of-state licensed CPAs to provide services to in-state organizations. For state licensure, however, professionals must meet California's CPA requirements. Non-CPA professionals can own accounting firms in California if the company has a state license and most of its owners have CPA licenses.

Questions About California CPA Requirements

What is required to become a CPA in California?

California's CPA requirements include a bachelor's degree and 150 credits in total. The education must cover accounting, business, and ethics. CPA candidates also need to pass the Uniform CPA Examination and complete at least one year of general accounting work.

Who can take the CPA licensure exam in California?

To take the CPA exam in California, each candidate needs a bachelor's degree or be within 180 days of graduation. They also must have completed 24 accounting credits and 24 business-related credits.

How many years of experience do you need to become a CPA in California?

California's CPA requirements include a minimum of 12 months of professional experience. Candidates need at least 500 hours of attestation experience to work in the discipline.

Is getting a CPA license in California hard?

Getting a CPA license in California can be challenging. Applicants should commit to about five years of education and one year of professional experience. The CPA exam can also be difficult, with section pass rates falling between 43%-60%.

Can you become a CPA without an accounting degree in California?

Yes. A prospective CPA can get a California license with a bachelor's degree in any discipline. As long as they satisfy the individual accounting, business, and ethics requirements, all bachelor's degrees should qualify.

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