CPA Requirements Guide

What is a CPA?

A CPA is a certified public accountant who is licensed by the state. A CPA license grants access to a wide variety of high level accounting professions in every branch of accounting. Not all accountants are CPAs, but a CPA license opens a door to additional career opportunities.

How Do I Become a CPA?

UCSD students who plan ahead can meet the educational requirements for CPA licensure before they graduate. Review the handbooks published by the California Board of Accountancy for full details about the requirements for first–time applicants:

CPA Exam Applicant Handbook 

CPA Licensing Applicant Handbook 

What are the CPA Educational Requirements?

  • Education required to take CPA Exam:

  • Additional Education required to attain CPA License:

  • Additional License Requirements:

    • 1 Year Work Experience Under a Licensed CPA
    • Pass CPA Exam

Self Assessment Resources

The California Board of Accountancy developed an online tool to help students determine if they have met the educational requirements for the CPA license. It's called the the "Self Assessment Worksheet." You can find this tool on the CBA link below. Additionally, Rady has developed a similar tool to help students assess their progress.

Developed by the California Board of Accountancy: 

Developed for UCSD Students: 

How to Meet the Requirements at UC San Diego

Find specific information about what subjects are required on the CPA Board's Tip Sheet. Review the Tip Sheet while you read the information below.

Business and Accounting Courses Required to Take CPA Exam:

Accounting: 36 units
Translation: 9 Accounting classes (Minor + 2 accounting electives)

  • Complete the accounting minor required courses (7 classes) AND
  • Complete the 2 of the optional accounting electives (MGT133, MGT134, MGT138, MGT139, MGT147).

36 units Business
Translation: 9 Business/Econ/ Math classes

Major in:

  • Economics
  • Management Science
  • International Studies - International Business
  • International Studies - Economics
  • Math
  • Joint Math-Econ
  • Computer Science
  • Or, combine a mix of 9 different business-related classes from Rady with another major.

Additional Education Required to Attain a CPA license:

30 units Accounting
Translation: 3 extra accounting classes + 5 business-related subjects

Rady Undergraduate Programs has added new accounting electives. Students should take 3 more optional accounting classes (no overlap with accounting minor) at UCSD. The optional accounting elective classes are:

Students can also take these classes at another school: in a Master's in Accounting degree program, at a community college, at another university, or at a continuing education program such as UCSD Extension. The remaining units for this section may be additional business and General Education classes.

15 units Ethics
Translation: 4 ethics classes

Rady offers ethics courses, each worth 4 units:

The Department of Philosophy also teaches ethics classes:

  • PHIL1
  • PHIL13
  • PHIL27
  • PHIL28

Only 1 of the 4 ethics courses can be an "Intro to Philosophy/Religion/Theology" course.

To meet 2017 CPA educational requirements for licensure, students need 4 units in "Ethics in Accounting," "Accounting Ethics," or "Accountants' Professional Responsibilities." 

Overall total of 225 quarter units of education

Most UCSD students can accrue a maximum of 200 units (speak with your college advisor for information about this limit). To meet the 225 unit requirement, students can take classes at another school.

Find more information about the work requirements, the CPA Exam and FAQs on the California Board of Accountancy website.

CPA Requirements Timeline


Students who wish to work with the Big 4 or other highly competitive Accounting Firms should plan to meet the CPA requirements by the time they graduate. UCSD does not offer all of the classes needed to meet the requirements, however it is possible to combine UCSD and non-UCSD classes and finish all the requirements by the time you graduate. Review the CPA Requirements Timeline to find out how.

What are Alternatives to Being a CPA?

An accounting minor well prepares students for an entry level job in accounting or accounting-related fields. Not all accountants are CPAs, and there are a wide range of rewarding career options out there for non-CPAs, including managerial accounting, banking, financial analysis, information systems accounting or even small business ownership.

Some of these professions may have their own professional designations obtained through a combination of examination and experience requirements similar to the Uniform CPA Examination. Popular specialties include Certified Information Systems Auditor (CISA), Certified Management Accountant (CMA), Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA), Certified Financial Planner (CFP) and Certified Fraud Examiner (CFE), to name a few. Each specialty requires its own unique set of skills; however, all are built on a solid foundation of accounting.

Do you have concerns about your eligibility to work or hold an accounting internship in the U.S.?

International students can ask the UCSD International Students & Programs Office and the UCSD Career Services Center about pursuing a career in the U.S. after graduation. 

Additionally, students who have work authorization through DACA or have concerns about their eligibility to work or hold an accounting internship in the U.S. should feel free to contact the Undocumented Student Services Coordinator at, visit the Undocumented Student Services website for more resources.


What else can you do to prepare for a career in accounting? Review our Career Resources for Undergraduates Guide.