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 CPA Licensing Handbook published by the California Board of Accountancy for full details about the requirements for first–time applicants..

Requirements for CPA Licensure

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 site here. Additionally, Rady has developed a similar tool to help students assess their progress.

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.  

  • Semester and quarter units are weighed differently (semester units x 1.5 = quarter units).
  • The blue sections must be complete before you take the CPA exam. 
  • The green and red sections of requirements do not need to be completed before you take the CPA Exam. However, you must complete them before you apply for your CPA License.

Education required to take CPA Exam:

36 units Accounting
Translation: 9 Accounting classes
Complete the accounting minor (7 classes) plus the two optional accounting electives, MGT133 and MGT134.

36 units Business
Translation: 9 Business classes
Major in Economics, Management Science, International Studies - International Business, International Studies - Economics, Math or Computer Science. Or, combine a mix of 9 different business-related classes from Rady with another major.

Additional education required to attain CPA license:

30 units Accounting
Translation: 3 extra Accounting classes + 5 Business and GE classes
UCSD does not offer enough accounting classes to fully meet this requirement. Take 3 extra accounting classes (no overlap with accounting minor) 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 three ethics courses: MGT16: Personal Ethics at Work, MGT166: Business Ethics and Corporate Social Responsiblity, and MGT164: Business and Organizational Leadership (4 units each).  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.

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.

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

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, Jessica Muñoz, Esq., MFS, at, visit the Undocumented Student Services website, or stop by the Rady Undergraduate Academic Advisor's office (2E113) for more information.