How to become a CPA without a degree in accounting: The non-traditional CPA Exam candidate

Young professional African American woman wearing a sweater, sitting at a table in a coffee shop writing in a notebook.

Many professionals who are interested in the accounting field, but have majored in another area, often wonder how to become a CPA without a degree in accounting. The non-traditional CPA Exam candidate is challenging, if not impossible, to define directly. Instead, let’s start by defining a traditional candidate as a recent college graduate with a degree in accounting (or a related field) seeking or starting in their first professional position. Anyone else is non-traditional, whether they would like to become a CPA without an accounting degree, are pursuing accounting as a second career, trying to elevate their career prospects by adding the CPA license to their resume or simply driven by a desire to continue to learn and develop.

There are many reasons why becoming a CPA without an accounting degree may be the right choice for you. Keep reading for Becker’s best advice on how to become a CPA without a degree in accounting.

CPA without an accounting degree

Do you need an accounting degree to be a CPA? The short answer is no.

What are the unique challenges faced by non-traditional candidates and how can they successfully meet those challenges? We’ll focus on three:

Strength of Foundation

When exploring  how to become a CPA without a degree in accounting, know that you will need to adjust your study strategy to your situation.

The CPA Exam is difficult for any number of reasons, not the least of which is the breadth of tested material. Whether due to professional specialization and/or the length of time away from college, non-traditional candidates are likely to have pronounced strengths and weaknesses.

  • Career path: If your career track has focused on tax, you may be comparably stronger on the Regulation section, but potentially weaker in Financial or Audit. If you’ve worked in corporate accounting, you may have greater capability for Financial, but less familiarity with the other sections.
  • Time: The length of time you’ve been away from college will also play a factor. The exam is constantly changing thanks to new FASB pronouncements, AICPA audit standards and new tax laws passed by Congress. The longer the span of time between your college classes and CPA Exam, the more changes that you’ll have to catch up on.

As you approach the exam, be aware of the additional preparation time you may have to invest in order to address your specific weaknesses and build that into your preparation strategy. The path to CPA for non-accounting majors might seem more challenging, but  take stock of your situation and create a plan tailored to your life.

Study Stamina

More than one person has compared preparing for the CPA Exam to running a marathon. The big difference is that although some of us might have run a physical marathon, we’ve all run an academic marathon in completing our college education. During college, we’re conditioned to handle the prolonged duration and high intensity required to be successful.

If I asked you to run a marathon today, however, telling me you ran one ten years ago will be of limited benefit. You’ll likely remember some of your best practices to cope with the rigors of the undertaking, but you can’t just pick up where you left off. The same is true for the path to CPA for non accounting majors and the academic marathon required to effectively prepare for the CPA Exam.

You can’t just pick up where you left off. If you’re pursuing a CPA without an accounting degree, especially if you haven’t been in an academic environment in quite some time, you’ll need to work back up to the intensity of study you dealt with day in and day out in college. Make sure to consider this when you decide your study schedule. It may require studying in shorter stretches several times a day rather than a single longer session as you build back your academic stamina.

Time to Study

As you explore how to become a CPA without a degree in accounting, you should also consider the other demands on your time. When students ask me about my work-life balance when I started out in public accounting, I answer that it was easy. When I started my career, I had relocated to Atlanta where I really didn’t know anybody. In other words, my life was pretty quiet and it was easy to meet my work commitments and have a great deal of discretionary time left over.

Today, my life is a great deal different! With two young children, personal commitments and my ongoing professional commitments, work-life balance is a great deal more challenging. There is no possible way I could devote the time I did when I initially prepared for the exam given my life today. I would expect many non-traditional students to face similar challenges. One more time, you have to be realistic with how much time you can set aside each day, each week and each month for your studies.

CPA for Non-Accounting Majors

The Bottom Line

Hopefully you’ve noticed a theme in terms of the strategies to address some of the common challenges faced by non-traditional students who want to become a CPA without an accounting degree: realistic planning of your study strategy.

The path to CPA for non-accounting majors will require you to create a custom study strategy. You may need additional preparation time on topics you haven’t been exposed to or haven’t seen in some time. You should plan on building up your academic stamina in terms of how long you can study at a stretch.

You must consider how much time you can reasonably give to studying each day. If you go in with a well-thought out study plan which includes realistic expectations, you will start yourself off with a plan that maximizes your opportunities for success.

Speaking of studying, there's no need to go at it alone. Becker's CPA Exam Review provides a rigorous CPA Exam Review and coaching system to give you the right tools to prepare you mentally and emotionally for the CPA Exam. Preparing for the CPA Exam may not be quick or easy, but with the help of Becker, you’ll have the tools, resources and support you need to pass.

So do you need an accounting degree to be a CPA? No, you don’t! Careful planning and perseverance will never lead you astray, especially when it comes to the CPA Exam.

You can become a CPA without an accounting degree, but you do need dedication and motivation. So, get out there and start studying!

Now Leaving

You are leaving the website. Once you click “continue,” you will be brought to a third-party website. Please be aware, the privacy policy may differ on the third-party website. Adtalem Global Education is not responsible for the security, contents and accuracy of any information provided on the third-party website. Note that the website may still be a third-party website even the format is similar to the website.