5 Steps to Becoming a CPA in Pennsylvania

According to Forbes Magazine, Pennsylvania has the sixth largest economy in the country. Strong educational institutions here and a cost of doing business that is estimated at 5 percent lower than the national average makes it a strong candidate for new business creation.

With new businesses come new accounting jobs. O*Net, a U.S. Department of Labor-sponsored resource, forecasts a 6 percent jump in accounting and auditing jobs in the ten-year lead up to 2028. That represents nearly 6,000 new job openings per year, a combination of both turnover in existing roles and new positions being created.

You’ll find those positions both at some of the state’s biggest businesses, Fortune 500 companies like Comcast and United States Steel, as well as established accounting firms. In Pennsylvania, that can mean everything from the big regional firm Schneider Downs, with offices in Pittsburgh and Columbus, to the Big Four consultancy Deloitte, which has over 3,500 staff in offices from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh to Mechanicsburg.

Once you learn how to become a CPA in Pennsylvania, you can specialize in everything from fraud investigations to accounts payable. Tax prep, estate planning, and consultation services are needed by the more than 12 million residents as well. Whether you take a job in big business within the accounting industry, or go out on your own, there are opportunities waiting for you here.

  1. Get your Education in Pennsylvania
  2. Take the Uniform CPA Exam in Pennsylvania
  3. Gain the Necessary Experience in Pennsylvania
  4. Get your Pennsylvania CPA License
  5. Continuing Education in Pennsylvania

1. Get Your Education

a. Request information from universities in Pennsylvania offering programs in accounting. The Pennsylvania State Board of Accountancy requires a minimum of a bachelor’s degree with 150 hours of credit. At least 24 of those semester hours must be in accounting.

With the standard bachelor’s degree in accounting consisting of just 120 semester hours, going on to earn a post-baccalaureate certificate or master’s in accounting represents the most tried and tested way to get those 30 additional credits. Many of these programs are available entirely online. You can also find specialized five-year CPA track programs that offer a blended bachelor’s and master’s curriculum designed to give you the 150 semester hours you need to meet CPA requirements in Pennsylvania.

b. The Pennsylvania State Board of Accountancy recognizes degrees and credits earned through any school accredited by an agency recognized by the U.S. Department of Education. A list of accreditation agencies and the institutions they accredit can be found at this database.

Programs that are not accredited by one of these agencies must be assessed by the Pennsylvania State Board of Accountancy to ensure they satisfy the state’s requirements so as to be eligible to take the Uniform CPA Examination. Contact the Pennsylvania State Board of Accountancy at (717) 783-1404 to arrange a review of your credits. (Transcripts from foreign schools must be evaluated by one of the following services:

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c. Meet Pennsylvania’s CPA degree and curriculum requirements. As determined by the Pennsylvania State Board of Accountancy, your 150 semester hours of college credit needs to consist of the following courses, whether earned at the bachelor’s or graduate level, or a combination of the two:

  •  24 semester hours in accounting, to include:
    • General accounting – 3 semester hours
    • Business law, auditing, taxation or finance – 3 semester hours
    • Any combination of accounting, business law, tax, audit or finance may comprise the remaining 18 semester hours


  • Correspondence, online courses and CLEP credits are acceptable if the applicant receives credit for them through an accredited U.S. program.
  • Any finance courses with the titles “money” or “banking” are not acceptable to fulfill the accounting course requirement

2. Take The Uniform CPA Exam

After you have earned your bachelor’s degree (completing 120 semester hours of college credit, including 24 hours in the accounting concentration), you are eligible to sit for the Uniform CPA Exam. (You must still complete the remainder of your education to total at least 150 semester hours prior to applying for Pennsylvania CPA licensure).

a. Apply to take the Uniform CPA Exam directly through the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy’s (NASBA) CPA Examination Services (CPAES). You may submit your application directly online or a hard copy application may be downloaded via form located here.

b. Send CPAES the proper documents along with your exam application:

  • Ask your school to send your transcript directly to CPAES at CPA Examination Services, Pennsylvania Coordinator, PO Box 198469, Nashville, TN 37219-8469.
  • If your school offers official electronic transcripts, they must be emailed to [email protected].
  • If you mailed in a paper application, you must submit your examination fees by check, money order or credit card form. If you applied to take the test online, you must pay all fees by credit card.

c. Within four weeks of submitting your application, the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy (NASBA) will issue your Notice to Schedule (NTS) in the manner in which you chose when you applied (mail, fax or email). The NTS remains valid for six months or one testing event (whichever comes first).

d. You may schedule your examination at a Pennsylvania testing site via Prometric’s website: www.prometric.com/CPA/default.htm. Pennsylvania testing centers include:

  • Clarks Summit
  • Harrisburg
  • Lancaster
  • Conshohocken
  • Allentown
  • Monroeville
  • Philadelphia
  • Pittsburgh

e. Arrive on time at your chosen exam site on examination day ready to take the test.

f. When scores have been tabulated, your Uniform CPA Exam score notice will be mailed to you.

If you need to arrange special disability testing accommodations, submit the ADA Accommodation Form with your application. If you require more information, contact the Pennsylvania Coordinator of CPA Examination Services at 800-CPA-EXAM. For detailed information on the Uniform CPA Exam, click here.

3. Gain The Necessary Experience

After you’ve passed the Uniform CPA Exam, you still must fulfill Pennsylvania’s practical work experience requirements to become a certified, licensed CPA in the state.

a. Complete the correct experiential requirements based on the degree you hold. The Pennsylvania State Board of Accountancy requires you to complete one year (1600 hours) of experience, which may occur in private industry or federal, state or local government. This work experience must be completed within 5 years of the date you apply for a Pennsylvania CPA Certificate. Your experience must be verified by a licensed CPA.

b. Claim any type of employment except the following:

  • Self-employment
  • Work you performed as a partner in a partnership
  • Work you performed under supervision of an unlicensed CPA
  • Work you performed for another independent accounting firm not listed as your direct supervisor

Competencies that should be incorporated into your practical experience include:

  • Audits of financial statements
  • Operational and compliance audits
  • Independent internal audits
  • Compiling financial statements
  • Attestation engagements
  • Preparing income and non-profit tax returns
  • Tax research
  • Financial projections, analyses and forecasts
  • Management advisory services

Responsibilities of the Verifying CPA

  • The CPA must have held a current license during the applicant’s work experience
  • The CPA must have personally evaluated the applicant’s work experience
  • The CPA must have either employed the applicant, or must have been employed with the applicant at the same firm
  • The CPA must document appropriate experience to the proper categories on the Verification of Experience Form
  • The CPA must document the applicant’s dates of employment
  • The CPA must sign the form and provide his or her license number (if license is from out-of-state, enclose a copy of current license)
  • The CPA must return the completed form directly to the Pennsylvania State Board of Accountancy

Responsibilities of the Applicant

  • You must select a licensed certified public accountant
  • You must complete the top portion only of the Verification of Experience Form
  • When giving your Verification of Experience Form to your employer, you must also provide a stamped addressed envelope so that he or she can return the form directly to: Pennsylvania State Board of Accountancy, P.O. Box 2649, Harrisburg, PA 17105-2649

4. Get Your Pennsylvania CPA License

Once you have passed the Uniform CPA Exam and satisfied Pennsylvania’s work experience requirement, you are ready to become certified and licensed to practice in the state. Use this checklist to determine if you have completed the necessary steps so far:

a. Checklist

  • Complete 150 semester hours of education and receive a bachelor’s degree or higher with 24 semester hours in accounting.
  • Apply and take the Uniform CPA Examination
  • Fulfill the necessary practical work experience requirements of 1600 hours (one year) of work experience
  • Complete the Verification of Experience Form, give it to your supervising CPA to complete, and make sure your supervising CPA mails the form to the Pennsylvania State Board of Accountancy

b. Submit the Pennsylvania Certification Application.

All of the above conditions must be met before this document is submitted. Start by downloading the Certified Public Accountant Certification Application at the Pennsylvania State Board of Accountancy website. The state of Pennsylvania calls the process of getting one’s CPA license “certification.” Once certification is achieved through meeting all of the state’s requirements and filling out this form, licensure is achieved as well.

Interstate Reciprocal License

If you possess a CPA license from another state and wish to become a CPA in Pennsylvania, you must meet the state’s requirements. These include:

  • Filling out and submitting the State Board of Accountancy’s Domestic Reciprocity Application
  • Paying applicable application fees
  • Providing a certified copy of your CPA license from another state
  • Having your Uniform CPA Exam grades sent to the Pennsylvania State Board of Accountancy
  • If you have been a licensed CPA for less than five years, you must also:
    • Submit a Verification of Experience Form
    • Have your college send transcripts directly to the Pennsylvania State Board of Accountancy
    • Document 80 hours of continuing professional education (CPE) for every two years of your licensure period (except for the reporting period occurring when you took the Uniform CPA Exam, which is exempt from this requirement)

International Reciprocal License

If you are an accountant licensed in one of the foreign jurisdictions listed below, you may apply for foreign reciprocity in Pennsylvania.

You must pass the International Qualification Examination (IQEX).

If you hold credentials from a country other than New Zealand, Australia, Canada, Ireland, Hong Kong or Mexico, your academic credentials must be assessed by one of the approved credential evaluation agencies listed in Step 1. This evaluation will include:

  • An equivalency summary stating that your credits are equivalent to a U.S. degree
  • A credential analysis
  • A listing of all courses completed
  • A course credit analysis including totals of business credits and accounting credits

Once your academic credentials have been evaluated, request that the evaluation company send the records to CPA Examination Services, Pennsylvania Coordinator, PO Box 198469, Nashville, TN 37219-8469. You will then be required to follow the standard protocol by taking the Uniform CPA exam.

5. Stay Current Through Continuing Professional Education in Pennsylvania

The Pennsylvania State Board of Accountancy has an established requirement for continuing professional education (CPE) hours that must be satisfied every two years.

a. Fulfill 80 hours of CPE every two years, with a minimum of 20 credit hours being taken in one year. Included within these hours must be:

  • 16 hours in accounting and attest
  • 8 hours in tax subjects
  • 4 hours of professional ethics

b. To qualify, programs must meet the following requirements:

  • The parameters of each CPE program must fall within the areas of: advisory services, accounting and auditing, professional skills development, management, taxation, and specialized knowledge and applications
  • One hour of credit will be given for every 50 minutes of CPE class time
  • Non-interactive individual study programs will qualify for half CPE credit
  • Interactive individual study programs will qualify for full CPE credit
  • Individual study programs must account for no more than 40 hours of the total 80 hours of CPE every two years
  • Publications, articles, and books may qualify for CPE if they relate directly to a CPA’s professional competence. Every 50 minutes of study time will qualify for 25% of CPE credit. These materials may not account for more than 40 hours of the total 80 hours of CPE every two years
  • As of January 1, 2012, CPE credit will not be given for publications, articles and books. If you are planning to use a publication for CPE credit, it must be published before January 1, 2012.

You must maintain records of the CPE you have taken for at least five years after completion of the course. This documentation must include: a certificate of completion, course material and attendance verification if no certificate was issued, a certified transcript for college credit courses, a statement of hours completed in non-credit college courses signed by the instructor, publication information for any publications used for CPE credit, documentation of leadership or instruction of any discussion courses claimed for CPE credit.

Now that you’re a CPA in Pennsylvania

Great job! You are now a Certified Public Accountant licensed under the authority of the Pennsylvania State Board of Accountancy! Think about joining the American Institute of CPAs (AICPA). Membership in this national professional organization includes benefits such as access to professional development opportunities, conferences, publications, special banking relationships, and discounted shipping and computer supplies. Professional organizations within the state that you might also consider joining are the Pennsylvania Institute of CPAs and the Pennsylvania Society of Public Accountants.

You may also consider focusing on a specialization within the field of accounting! Here in Pennsylvania, specializations can be found in information technology, tax, personal financial planning, forensics, and business valuation services.

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