Understanding the 150 hour rule

Current and prospective accounting students often don't understand the 150 hour rule. That's "understandable" (I couldn't resist!) because what we refer to as a rule is anything but standardized.

The truth is that though nearly all states and provinces have adopted "the 150 hour rule" it varies substantially from location to location. So here is some information to help you sort through the complexity and decide what is best for you.

What is the 150 hour rule?
It is a rule which determines whether you are qualified to take the CPA examination, and/or whether you have met the requirements for the CPA license to be granted.

Do I have to do this to be an accounting major?
No. Most schools have undergraduate accounting programs that require fewer hours. You can be an accountant without the CPA license because there are other specializations in the accounting field. Many of these do not require 150 hours of college credit. However, since the CPA is the oldest and most well known of the accounting certifications, I do recommend that you get 150 hours to keep your options open. The great majority of my own students do so.

Do I have to get a masters degree?
No. Many colleges have designed programs that take five years and a masters degree in accounting. But very few locales require that the 150 hours include a masters degree. In fact, I personally believe that going straight through college and into a masters program may not be the best way. That's because may find later that you wish you had a different degree, such as an MBA.

Does it have to take five years?
No. Though five years is the norm, some schools have four year programs. Preparing for the CPA exam in four years is a challenge, but the tuition savings and the chance to start your career earlier make it worthwhile.
--Susquehanna's program, for example, includes credit-carrying summer internships and mostly 4-credit hour courses. The great majority of our accounting graduates are qualified for the CPA exam within our four year program.
---You can do this with 3-credit hour courses by taking additional courses throughout the four years, and during the summer.

Why is there so much variation?
The 150 hour idea originated with the AICPA and spread through state boards of accountancy. The AICPA recommended that states require 150 hours of college credit to qualify for the exam, and a year experience before the license would be granted. Their model called for more coverage of general business and communication courses. However, each state board controls its own regulations; they adopt rules that meet their own needs.

How can I know exactly what to do?
First, since the rules are not standardized, you need to decide where you plan to work. Then find out the rules in that location. You can contact the state board of accountancy for more information. I also recommend the Becker website http://www.becker.com/accounting/cpaexamreview/state/index.cfm. It has a clickable map with the regulations for each state. Once you have the resqurements in hand, work with your academic advisor to choose courses to meet them.

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Barbara McElroy is Associate Professor of Accounting and Head of the Department of Accounting and Information Systems at Susquehanna University in Selinsgrove, PA.  Before beginning a career in academe, Barbara worked in both public and private accounting settings, and owned several businesses.  She is particularly interested in the interaction of accounting and public policy.  Barbara will discuss current events with the interest of students, faculty, and practicing professionals in mind.

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