How To Start an Accounting Career

Do you possess a knack for problem-solving, addressing inconsistencies, and providing solutions? Are you excellent with time management, meeting tight deadlines, and understanding mathematics? If so, consider pursuing a career in accounting. As a certified public accountant (CPA), you’ll become a lifelong learner, constantly perfecting your craft as you navigate challenges and build your written and oral communication skills. You’ll also get job security and a good salary while working in a respected role within the financial industry.

Interested in becoming an accountant? Follow this step-by-step guide to earn your CPA license and secure a position in an accounting firm.

How Do I Become an Accountant?

To become an accountant in Illinois, you must complete 150 credit hours of higher education. You must also pass the CPA exam, complete the ethics exam, and fulfill one year of qualifying full-time accountant work to apply for licensure. 

Like any career, the journey toward landing the perfect job takes time. Typically, it takes four years to finish a 120-credit bachelor’s degree. Plan for an additional one to two years to complete the 30 higher-education credits required for Illinois CPAs. After completing their educational requirements, applicants must pass the CPA exam within 18 months. Becoming a CPA in Illinois could take at least six years. 

Complete the Educational Requirements

The state of Illinois offers a few options to meet the educational requirements of 150 credits to become a licensed CPA. First, you must enroll in and complete an undergraduate program, earning a bachelor’s degree usually comprising 120 credits. After earning your bachelor’s degree, you must earn 30 credits, specifically in accounting.

To complete the final 30 credits, you can earn a graduate degree in accounting for an accredited institution with a certified accounting program by the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business or the Association of Collegiate Business Schools and Programs. You can also pursue your master’s degree at an accredited school if the program includes 30 accounting credits. Alternatively, you can earn a bachelor’s degree in any subject and add 30 credits in accounting and 24 credits in business.

Although meeting the educational requirements to become a licensed CPA in Illinois seems arduous, it solidifies your candidacy as a worthy addition to an accounting firm. Earning your master’s degree builds your foundational knowledge in accounting and showcases your dedication to the industry. If you have difficulties committing to the degree path, consider earning an online master’s degree or an accelerated bachelor’s-to-master’s course to save time.

Choose an Accounting Specialty

You can distinguish yourself from other accounting candidates by focusing on a specialty. This step helps you align your accounting career with your interests so you can find more joy and purpose in what you do. Plus, accounting is a competitive field. Specializing can make you more valuable to potential accounting firms when starting your career. Consider the following accounting specialties:

  • Auditing.
  • Tax preparation and accounting.
  • Bookkeeping.
  • Business valuation and consulting.
  • Personal finance accounting and planning, including family services.

Gain the Required Working Hours for Your Certification

To receive your accounting license from the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation, you must complete at least one year of qualifying full-time experience. Ideally, you should meet this requirement by fulfilling 12 consecutive months of accounting work, with an average of 20 days worked monthly, for a total of 1,500 completed hours. If you need more time to complete this requirement, you may work 2,000 hours in a qualifying position between 13 and 48 months without exceeding the state’s time allotment.

An internship only meets the educational requirements rather than the accounting experience expectation. The qualifying work must involve consulting, financial or management advisory skills, taxation, accounting, or attestation services. Once you find qualifying work, you must document your work experience on CPA application forms.

Pass the CPA Exam

While CPA exams are the same across the United States, the eligibility requirements, scheduling process, and post-exam requirements vary by jurisdiction. Once you meet Illinois’ requirements of 150 educational credits, you must submit your transcripts to the Illinois Board of Examiners so they can evaluate your academic experience and determine whether you qualify to sit for the exam. You’ll either receive a letter detailing further educational requirements or approval to sit for the exam.

Once approved, you may apply to take the Uniform CPA Examination. The CPA exam comprises four sections: auditing and attestation, business environments and concepts, financial accounting and reporting, and regulation. You have 18 months to pass all four sections. After you pass the CPA exam, you must pass the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) Ethics Exam.

Apply For Your Accounting License

Once you’ve completed the required steps to become an accountant, earning 150 college credits, completing one year of qualified full-time work, and passing the CPA and AICPA Ethics Exam, you may finally apply for licensure. Note that if you wait longer than four years after receiving a certification to apply for licensure, you must complete an additional 90 hours of continuing professional education. Meeting the required deadlines to become an accountant in Illinois is essential. 

Submit your exam results to the Illinois Board of Examiners, and in return, you’ll receive a certification number. Use this number to apply for your CPA license through the Department of Financial and Professional Regulation. Once you receive your license, you’re ready to apply for an accounting job and begin your illustrious career.

Start Your Accounting Career With Pasquesi Sheppard

The road to becoming an accountant is challenging, but your future will be bright and fruitful once you reach the end. Get started on the right foot with Pasquesi Sheppard, our reputable accounting firm in Lake Forest, Illinois. Our professional staff welcomes goal-oriented candidates who are enthusiastic and eager to start an accounting career in Illinois. You’ll get to work for high-profile clients, small companies, trusts, estates, and non-profit entities.