The Value of Early CPA Exam and Licensure Discussions

by Sarah L. O'Rourke, CPA, Rutgers Business School | November 1, 2021

Many students don’t give significant thought to the CPA Exam or licensure until later in their college careers. Perhaps the CPA license becomes a blip on their radar during senior year. After all, most candidates can’t sit for the Exam until post-graduation. However, giving thought to the process in the early stages of education is crucial. A basic awareness of the requirements for the CPA Exam and licensure in the sophomore or junior year (as opposed to a first exposure in the senior year) can make a meaningful difference for students. 

Planning is key for several reasons. As educators and employers, we can encourage our future CPAs to begin this journey as early as possible. Here are some general guidelines for students to follow:

  • Plan for specific state requirements. As an educator in New Jersey, I see many students graduate and subsequently begin careers in New Jersey. However, quite a few graduates will also find opportunities in New York, along with a desire to obtain a CPA license there. Why does that matter? Some candidates aren’t initially aware that requirements to sit for the Exam and obtain a license vary by state. New Jersey and New York are prime examples with their differences in education requirements. New Jersey requires 24 accounting credits to sit for the Exam, as well as for licensure. New York, on the other hand, only requires a handful of accounting courses to sit for the Exam itself — but requires 33 accounting credits to eventually become licensed.For students who intend to earn a license in New York, awareness of those necessary 33 accounting credits is essential. Realizing in your sophomore or junior year that an extra accounting elective is necessary is somewhat trivial. However, coming to that same realization in the second half of your senior year is inconvenient, to say the least. It’s not an insurmountable obstacle, but the situation itself is avoidable. Other states (such as Illinois and California) require coursework in ethics — again, not a problem if someone has planned for that requirement all along. The takeaway: for a smoother process, students must gather information on the state they want to work in as early as possible.
  • Do not feel intimidated by the CPA Exam, especially in light of the upcoming changes under the CPA Evolution initiative. As an educator, I am excited about the new model for licensure, but I’ll be the first to admit that I’m a bit intimidated myself! Early introduction to the Exam for future applicants can make all the difference.
  • Talk about the Exam with professors and employers.In my Advanced Accounting class, I incorporate practice CPA Exam questions into every class. We discuss approach and strategy. I don’t overdo it — it’s an Advanced Accounting class, not a review course. But the exposure, the discussion, the increasing familiarity of the questions — over time, that experience will provide future candidates with a certain level of comfort and confidence surrounding the Exam. They can do it. As educators and employers, we provide a space where candidates can learn about this next big challenge in their lives.
  • Take advantage of available resources. One great example is the free NJCPA student membership. Students should know what a valuable resource the NJCPA can be for them. The NJCPA website for potential CPAs is fantastic. The site provides very clear information on the Exam, licensure and so much more. For those considering licensure in a state other than New Jersey, similar state society and state board pages are available with these resources.

My overall goal is for our students to have increased success on the CPA Exam — that they will head into that period of intense study feeling confident and well-prepared, knowing the CPA Exam is something they can tackle. Success on the Exam sets students up for a flourishing career as a licensed CPA. We can jump start the process by providing the next generation of CPAs with the proper tools — these helpful bits of information that will pave the way for much success.

Sarah L. O'Rourke

Sarah L. O'Rourke

Sarah L. O’Rourke, CPA, is an assistant professor of professional practice in the Department of Accounting & Information Systems at Rutgers Business School-New Brunswick. She is a member of the NJCPA and can be reached at

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