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Pennsylvania is a dynamic destination for accounting professionals. The state hosts about two dozen Fortune 500 companies, along with thriving manufacturing, health sciences, energy, and technology industries. Philadelphia and Pittsburgh anchor its urban landscape — both cities feature large populations with complex financial services needs.
Certified public accountants (CPAs) help companies and individuals manage their financial obligations and objectives. This licensed profession also tends to pay well. As of May 2021, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported the mean wage of a Pennsylvania accountant or auditor at nearly $80,000 per year.
In Pennsylvania, CPA requirements are similar to the standards used in most other states. Candidates require at least a bachelor's degree with strong concentrations of accounting and finance coursework. They also need about a year of relevant professional experience.
Many accredited Pennsylvania colleges offer accounting programs. However, candidates do not need to have completed their education in the Keystone State as long as they meet Pennsylvania's CPA requirements.
Discover how to become a CPA in Pennsylvania with this helpful guide, including experience and education requirements.
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Education Requirements for Becoming a CPA in Pennsylvania
The education requirements for CPA exam eligibility in Pennsylvania include a bachelor's degree from an accredited college. Education guidelines published by the Pennsylvania Institute of Certified Public Accountants do not specify a particular major, making candidates from all educational backgrounds welcome if they've completed some specific coursework.
Notably, aspiring CPAs must have the equivalent of at least 150 credits of college coursework to obtain licensure in Pennsylvania. Some accounting bachelor's programs help students meet this requirement by including 150 credits instead of the typical 120 credits in a bachelor's degree.
Accelerated bachelor's-to-master's accounting programs offer an alternative. These pathways often meet all CPA educational requirements.
Concentrations, Credits, and Course Acceptance
To qualify for Pennsylvania's CPA exam, a candidate must have at least a bachelor's degree. This degree does not necessarily have to cover all 150 of the required credits. However, a candidate must complete those credits before becoming eligible for a Pennsylvania CPA license.
Pennsylvania CPA exam requirements do not specify any particular college major. However, candidates must meet credit thresholds in certain subjects, including:
Specifically, a candidate must possess at least 24 credits in accounting or auditing, business law, economics, finance, or taxation. Qualifying subjects must be sanctioned by the Pennsylvania State Board of Accountancy. Each candidate must also have at least 12 credits in accounting, auditing, or taxation.
Pennsylvania offers considerable flexibility for sourcing these credits. Aspiring CPAs can earn them at the undergraduate or graduate levels. Credits do not have to be part of a degree program to qualify.
People who passed at least one part of Pennsylvania's CPA exam before December 31, 2011, have an alternate path available. This path opens licensure to candidates with only 120 college credits instead of the usual 150.
A candidate who qualifies under this option must possess at least two years of relevant work experience instead of one year. The following section covers acceptable experience sources in greater detail.
Pennsylvania Experience Requirements
Pennsylvania CPA requirements also include work experience. Most candidates need at least one year (1,600 hours) of relevant experience. Aspiring CPAs must accrue this experience no more than five years from the date of application for licensure.
The work experience must involve providing professional services or advice in one or more of the following areas:
- Attestation (the verification of financial data according to specified internal procedures)
- Compilation (assembling unaudited financial data into financial statements or reports)
- Consulting, financial advisory, or management advisory services
A licensed CPA must verify your accumulated work experience. Candidates must also perform all work in academia, government, private industry, or public practice.
Different experience requirements apply to people who passed at least one part of Pennsylvania's CPA exam before December 31, 2011. These individuals only need 120 college credits (instead of 150) to qualify for a CPA license.
However, their work experience requirements are doubled, stipulating at least two years (3,200 hours) of experience. Each candidate must also accrue experience no more than 10 years prior to the date of their CPA licensure application.
Pennsylvania CPA Exam Requirements
In Pennsylvania and all other U.S. jurisdictions, candidates must pass the Uniform CPA Examination. The CPA exam includes four parts:
- Auditing and Attestation
- Business Environment and Concepts
- Financial Accounting and Reporting
While the CPA exam is the same in all states, eligibility requirements and other processes can differ. The following subsections provide Pennsylvania-specific information.
Eligibility to Take the Exam
Aspiring CPAs can apply for Pennsylvania's CPA exam after graduating with bachelor's or master's degrees. A candidate must also have at least 24 accounting credits when they apply.
A prospective CPA can take the exam with fewer than the 150 required college credits. However, they cannot receive a license until they have at least 150 credits.
Several general eligibility standards also apply in Pennsylvania:
- Candidates must be at least 18 years of age
- Test-takers must have a Social Security number (SSN); individuals without SSNs must complete a waiver
- U.S. citizenship and Pennsylvania residency status are not required
Pennsylvania does not require candidates to pass an ethics exam to obtain initial licensure.
Applying for and Scheduling the Exam
To apply for Pennsylvania's CPA exam, each individual must visit the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy (NASBA)'s CPA Central website and create a user account.
Aspiring CPAs can apply to take one, two, three, or all four parts of the exam at once. However, they must complete each part they applied for within six months of the application date. Candidates must also pass all four exam sections within 18 months. The 18 months begins when a test-taker passes their first section.
Pennsylvania's eligibility guidelines require each applicant to hold at least a bachelor's degree before applying. There is no option to apply for the state's CPA exam before degree completion.
As of March 2023, a $105 application fee applies. Candidates pay this fee each time they apply for one or more parts of the examination. Applicants must also have their academic transcripts directly from their institution(s) to NASBA. Additional fees may apply for transcript submissions.
Important differences define the respective steps of being approved to take the exam (or sections of the exam) and scheduling the exam. After submitting an application, candidates usually receive approval for the relevant section(s) within 6-8 weeks. Upon gaining approval, candidates will receive a Notice to Schedule (NTS) from NASBA.
The NTS includes instructions on completing the scheduling. Candidates with questions can contact NASBA's Pennsylvania coordinator via email or by calling 1-(800)-CPA-EXAM.
After Passing the Exam
Candidates take a major step toward earning their licensure by passing all four parts of Pennsylvania's CPA exam. However, they must also meet all education and experience requirements before receiving licenses.
In Pennsylvania, you can apply for your CPA license upon passing all four parts of the exam. You do not need to have completed all the necessary education and experience requirements to apply. However:
- You must have five years from the date of your CPA license application to accrue the required work experience.
- You must bridge any gap between 150 college credits and the number of college credits you have before you can receive your license.
Exam results expire within 18 months. If you do not apply for your CPA license within 18 months of passing one or more sections of the exam, you will need to retake those section(s).
As of March 2023, each CPA must pay a $65 fee to apply for their license. Employers can verify a job candidate's licensure status through Pennsylvania's Bureau of Professional and Occupational Affairs.
In Pennsylvania, CPA licenses expire on December 31 of each odd-numbered year. Pennsylvania's State Board of Accountancy mails renewal notices to the license-holder's address on file 2-3 months before expiration.
Pennsylvania requires licensees to complete continuing professional education (CPE) credits during each licensing cycle. To maintain renewal eligibility, a licensed CPA must complete at least 80 credits of CPE during every two-year cycle.
The following additional specifics apply to CPE requirements:
CPA license-holders must complete at least 20 credits per year during each two-year licensing period.
CPE must cover at least four credits of ethics.
CPAs who provide attestation services must complete at least 24 CPE credits in accounting and auditing, along with at least 52 professional development credits.
CPAs who do not provide attestation services must complete at least 76 professional development credits.
CPA licenses generally transfer among U.S. states and jurisdictions. However, Alabama, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Kansas, Nebraska, and Oklahoma use "two-tier" systems. In these states, accountants receive CPA certificates before becoming fully licensed. For recognition of their credentials in Pennsylvania, they must hold full licensure.
You do not need a CPA license to open an accounting firm in Pennsylvania. Unlicensed professionals can also hold minority ownership positions in Pennsylvania-based CPA firms.
Questions About Pennsylvania CPA Requirements
What are the requirements to become a CPA in Pennsylvania?
To become a CPA in Pennsylvania, you must pass all four parts of the state's CPA examination. Each candidate must also have a bachelor's degree, 150 college credits, and at least 1,600 hours of relevant professional experience.
How many credits do you need to be a CPA in Pennsylvania?
To take the CPA licensing exam, you only need a bachelor's degree. However, you cannot obtain your CPA license until you complete at least 150 credits at the undergraduate or graduate levels.
What are the requirements to sit for the CPA exam in Pennsylvania?
You must be at least 18 with at least a bachelor's degree and 24 college-level accounting credits to take Pennsylvania's CPA exam. You must also have a U.S. SSN or obtain a waiver.
How much is the CPA exam in PA?
As of March 2023, a $105 fee applies each time a person applies to take one or more sections of Pennsylvania's CPA four-part exam. If you take all four parts at once, you only pay this fee one time.
Does Pennsylvania require an ethics exam to be a CPA?
You do not need to pass an ethics exam to obtain a CPA license in Pennsylvania. However, CPAs must complete at least four continuing professional education credits in ethics every two years to renew their licenses.
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