The licensure requirements to become a certified public accountant (CPA) are many and completing them all is not an easy task. In fact, receiving a CPA is one of the most difficult professional credentials to receive, and it is highly regulated at the national and state level. Each state has its own unique standards, including Alabama. The Alabama State Board of Public Accountancy sets the standards for Alabama CPA education, professional experience, and testing leading up to the full designation. You will want to take special care with each step of your education and training so that you pass the exam and achieve your goals quickly. Accounting majors who study hard should be well-prepared for the CPA exam. If you are concerned, tell your faculty adviser that you intend to become a CPA in the great state of Alabama.
Education is the longest part of the journey for a certified public accountant (CPA). Alabama has very specific educational requirements to satisfy before taking the exam and you should structure your college career according to those needs. Students beginning their career as an accountant with an associate degree in accounting (AA) will learn some core accounting terms, skills, and requirements, as well as gain an overview of essential functions that will be expanded upon in future education advancement. As you work towards your Alabama bachelor's degree with a major in accounting or economics, make sure you satisfy the following additional content requirements for every student:
- 9 credit hours of financial accounting courses
- 6 hours each of auditing and taxation
- 3 hours of management accounting
- 3 hours of government and non-profit accounting
- 6 hours of electives in accounting
- 27 graduate or undergraduate hours in Business courses such as marketing or management
Due to the policy that all CPA candidates in AL must have completed 150 semester hours, it's not a shock that most students view a master's degree as 100 percent necessary, and they find the info and skills they gain well worth their time. Taking additional accounting courses on top of those required for the major also helps them pass the CPA exam. If you are in an online MBA accounting program with the end-goal of becoming a CPA, make sure that you satisfy these requirements. Note that if your undergraduate work included a few, but not all, of these requirements, you can take graduate courses and complete your transcripts to satisfy the Board. You can always review your transcripts with an academic advisor for free while in school, or contact the Board through their website for help determining what requirements you still need to satisfy.
For your Alabama undergraduate degree, make sure that your college or university has been accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Universities, or a regional equivalent. If you are entering the accounting field from graduate school, your program should be accredited in either business or accounting by the AACSB. If the AACSB did not accredit your graduate program, an equivalent institute or group is acceptable. Please discuss any other accrediting body with the Alabama board prior to application for the CPA exam to make sure it is recognized and don't select any school that doesn't have accreditation. Unaccredited or under-accredited schools in Alabama have low quality faculty, technology, etc. and top accounting firms don't often hire graduates from these schools.
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Campus and Online Degree Options in Alabama
Associate Degree in Accounting
Typically, accounting students with an Alabama associate degree do not have enough training to launch careers as a certified public accountant, though they may have access to some entry-level positions in the field. Most accounting majors, at this phase of their development, will continue on to a four-year Alabama state institution and at least undertake a bachelor’s in accounting, which is optimal for launching an accounting career. Students that wish to complete accounting associate degree programs can study at Jefferson State Community College for $4,800 in tuition per year for in-state students and $8,670 per year for out-of-state students. Learn More
Bachelor’s Degree in Accounting
This is a key phase in the development of all successful accounting majors in pursuit of a successful career. Most accounting students will complete a bachelor’s degree in accounting at a 4-year accredited college. An accounting major will likely satisfy most of the requirements needed to take the CPA exam. Top accounting schools in the state include the University of Alabama, Birmingham Southern College, Samford University, and Jacksonville State University. Accounting majors from these schools proceed to very great careers, indeed. Learn More
Master’s Degree in Accounting
Alabama students looking to acquire the certified public accountant (CPA) credential, which can be a prerequisite for many top-level accounting jobs, may elect to complete a master’s degree in accounting. This is because the typical bachelor’s program is completed within 120-128 credits, but the CPA exam requires 150 college credits or more, which means they must have more credits than just what you get with a bachelor’s degree. Schools with great master’s programs in accounting include the University of Alabama and the University of Mobile. Learn More
PhD in Accounting
Most practicing, career certified public accountants in Alabama do not need to undergo a doctorate or PhD program. Those who pursue PhD programs in accounting will look to build academic careers in the field and undergo years of intense research to become an accounting scholar. To help find a tenure-track position, aspiring professors should pass the cpa exam. The University of Alabama offers a PhD program and requires students to submit GMAT or GRE scores, GPAs, letters of recommendation, completion of prerequisite courses, and undergo an interview. Learn More
Online Accounting Degree Programs
There are several options for online accounting degrees in Alabama, usually at the bachelor’s and master’s degree level. Online accounting programs are offered by the University of West Alabama and the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Perhaps soon more schools in the University of Alabama system will adopt online courses and degrees. Learn More
Taking the CPA Exam in Alabama
There are many CPA exam requirements. All future CPAs who are looking to sit for the CPA examination must formally apply by including a completed, signed, and notarized application with a 2” by 2” photograph attached, the necessary fees, and an official transcript from each institution of higher education from which applicable credits were earned.
All CPA exam candidates must pay both an application fee and an examination fee, and can sign up to take one, two, three, or four sections of the exam. Your Notice to Schedule is valid for six months after it is issued. The application fee is $120 and is required regardless of how many sections you take, and each section has an associated examination fee of $208.40.
Passing the Exam
The Board of Accountancy will mail test scores as soon as they are received. You may take the CPA exam sections in any order, once per each three-month window. If you do not obtain a passing score of at least 75, you are eligible to retake the exam section you did not pass within a rolling 18-month period. If you do not pass all sections within this 18-month period, any passing scores will be lost and the section must be retaken.
Testing is not available in March, June, September or December, but may be taken at any time January-February, April-May, July-August, October-November. Be sure to mark your calendar and pace your preparation accordingly.
The Uniform CPA Examination is administered by Prometric, and may be taken at any licensed Prometric center after you have received a Notice to Schedule from the board.
You must bring two forms of government issued photo id and your Notice to Schedule to your test.
Alabama is considered a two-tier state. That means that you must complete both academic accounting requirements (including the exam) and experience requirements if you wish to launch a career as a CPA. Without the work requirement under your belt, you can hold a certificate as a certified public accountant (CPA,) but not a state license. Though you may be able to do the work of a CPA, you will need a licensed accounting professional to review and sign off on your work, especially tax return or other official government filings. In fact, some businesspeople have careers based on a CPA certificate but not full Alabama licensure.
When you are in the field to become a career CPA, you must work under a licensed CPA and complete a minimum of 30 hours per week. The state does not accept averages. The board does not require that your supervisor be licensed in Alabama, but they must be in good standing with whichever state issued their credentials.
If you wish to become a public accountant, you will need one year of experience working in public accountancy. You must complete your 30 hours/week under the supervision of a CPA licensed in the field of public accounting. During this year, make sure you account for all of your experience. Log all hours spent performing tax services, consulting, and audits.
Industry or Business Experience
This specialty requires that you work for two solid years as a staff accountant for a private firm or supervisor qualified in industry or business accounting. Your school may help you find an alumni who is interested in aiding your development. During this phase of your development, you must be involved in the following:
- Financial accounting
- Installing internal control systems
- Providing financial or management advice
- Tax or other regulatory compliance
To qualify as a government accountant, you will need to work in a government agency responsible for auditing and other accountancy functions. A few examples include:
- Internal Revenue Service
- Alabama Office of the State Auditor
- Defense Contracting Audit Agency
- Government Accountability Office (GAO)
Before you embark on experience towards licensure, make sure that your hiring agency and supervisor meet the requirements of the Alabama Board of Accountancy.
If your desire is to make your career as a faculty member in the acconting department at the college or university level, your CPA licensure requirements are a bit different. You must first teach, often as part-time faculty, with a CPA certificate. In order to satisfy Alabama's requirements, your experience should be for institutions accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools or a regional equivalent. If you are unsure whether your employer meets the requirements, consult with the Alabama board site to ensure that your experience will count towards licensure in the state. Ideally, and for best success, your accounting education will come from a nationally accredited college or university. Their rigorous courses will prepare you to pass the CPA exam and become a highly successful member of any esteemed accounting department.
You will need to account for your time working in the accountancy field before you qualify for licensure. Thus, as you accrue experience, you will want to be diligent in recording all of your duties. In this process, make sure that you delineate what time was spent in each area of accounting – auditing, consulting, tax accounting, installing controls, etc. The Alabama Board is keen on seeing a detailed application from each CPA candidate.
Once you have your time accounted for, and you have completed a full year of public accountancy, or two years in the other specialty areas, you should prepare a letter to the board. This letter should be addressed to the Executive Director of the Alabama State Board, dated, and include the following, on company letterhead:
- Your full name
- CPA number
- Dates of employment
- Job title(s)
- Job description(s)
- Contact information for the person signing off on your experience – phone and email address
- Signature of supervisor or HR personnel, if your supervisor is not available
One of the core requirements for Alabama CPAs is residency. The State Accounting Board requires that you have residency in the state, hold a valid social security number, and be over the age of 19. If you move to Alabama, you will need to prove that you are a legal American resident. Incoming CPAs also need to provide transcripts, test scores, and pay all applicable licensing fees to the Board.
In order to attain full CPA licensure in Alabama, you will need to satisfy certain requirements.
You must account for your accounting education with full, official transcripts from every school you have attended. Your academic record should reflect 24 hours of accounting instruction above the introductory level, 9 hours in financial accounting, 6 hours studying tax accounting, 3 hours of auditing, 3 hours of management accounting, 3 hours of government or non-profit accounting, and 3 hours of business law that concentrates on the Uniform Commercial Code.
Whether you are applying with an undergraduate or graduate degree, your college or university must be fully accredited. Your undergrad degree should carry an accreditation from a regional accreditation board and your graduate program should meet the standards for either business or accounting from the AACSB or its equivalent, as deemed by Alabama's board of accountancy.
Your practical accounting experience should be accounted for in a letter to the Executive Director of Alabama's accountancy board. Remember that for a public accountancy, you will need one full year of experience at a minimum of 30 hours per week. If you wish to practice in industry, government, or the academic environment, you will need to complete two full years, at a 30hrs/week minimum. All experience must be under the supervision of a CPA licensed by a state board, not necessarily Alabama's. You could perhaps find an alumni of the University of Alabama in neighboring Georgia who is interested in nurturing your development.
The uniform CPA exam is the ultimate test of your knowledge and accounting abilities. The test is provided by the Association of International Certified Professional Accountants (AICPA), a national association. It is comprised of four sections, each of which are allotted four hours:
- Auditing and Attestation
- Business Environment and Concepts
- Financial Accounting and Reporting
In order to sit for the CPA exam(s), Alabama requires that you first complete the education requirements.
In addition to the uniform cpa exam, Alabama is a state that requires all of its CPAs pass an ethics exam. You can take your time with this portion of your licensure application as you will have 2 years to pass with a score of 90. The test is also administered by the AICPA, who provides an 11-hour online preparation course that includes a practice test of 40 multiple-choice questions.
To maintain your Alabama state CPA licensure, you must continue learning and updating your knowledge of accounting. Alabama requires that CPAs complete a minimum of 40 hours of continuing education credit per year, every year, ending on September 30. At least eight of those hours must be in the field of accounting and auditing. The board limits behavioral coursework to eight hours. This sort of professional development can be invaluable. Not only do you satisfy the Board, but your continued development will be a boon to yoru accounting practice.
There are associations, such as the Alabama Society of CPAs (ASCPA) or the National Association of the State Boards of Accountancy (NASBA) who provide educational opportunities via in-person seminars, webinars, and self-study programs. Seminars are held at various conferences and stand-alone seminar sessions across the state year-around. You can also take courses through other associations or at a local college or university. You may even take courses online at universities in other parts of the nation.
If you decide to conduct independent study and writing, the Alabama board will recognize your time in completing published articles or books towards your CPE requirement. These materials must directly apply to the field of accounting and the board will determine how much credit is given. You can use published materials to count for up to one quarter of the total required CPE credits. Thus, any time you spend over 10 hours writing and researching a publication may not be counted.
Accountant Career Concentrations & Salaries in Alabama
The public accounting career pathway focuses on teaching accountants the technical skills required to handle tax reporting and other public accounting issues. This pathway requires accountants to pass the CPA exam. Students at the University of Alabama, for example, must complete an undergraduate accounting degree and can be admitted to the Master of Accountancy or Master of Tax Accounting to complete their CPA. Learn More
Managerial accountants will focus on analyzing financial information and writing reports internally for a company or consulting agency to provide guidance for assessing financial metrics. The skills needed for this pathway will typically be covered in an undergraduate accounting program in Alabama without students needing to choose a concentration. Learn More
This accounting concentration is typically a fit for those looking more for a generalist role post-graduation, rather than a specialist role. Some accounting programs in Alabama, like the University of Mobile, allows students to choose a 5-year integrated accounting concentration that culminates in both the Bachelor of Science in accounting and an MBA upon graduation.
The demand for accountants and auditors in Alabama is higher than average, which is why the pay is competitive. The majority of the professionals in the state make above $60,000 per year, and those at the highest levels earn upwards of six figures. The largest salaries in Alabama are available in Huntsville, but compensation in other major metro areas does not lag far behind. There are currently around 8 accountants for every 1,000 employees in Alabama, underscoring how important these financial professionals are to the state and its local economies.
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Alabama Accounting Frequently Asked Questions
What types of accounting jobs are available in Alabama?
For job seekers with 0-3 years of accounting-related work experience, there are a variety of open accountant, staff accountant, and senior accountant job positions available in Alabama, both in private companies and in local government agencies. For job seekers with a longer accounting career, usually 5 or more years of related work experience, there are accounting lead and accounting director positions looking to hire as well.
What is the earning potential of a graduate with an accounting degree in Alabama?
The average salary range for an Alabama staff accountant, usually an early career job title for accountants with a few years of experience in the field, is between $47,900-$57,900. As hires gain more experience in accounting and are promoted to more senior titles like senior accountant, the average salary range becomes $68,900-$84,400, making accounting a field with good earning potential.
Who is hiring accountants in Alabama?
Most organizations will need an accountant’s help to keep their books and balance sheets in line. Aspiring accountants or experienced ones looking to move to Alabama can work to become in-house accountants at an organization or staff at a full-time accounting firm. Job openings range from positions with Vaco, a management consulting company, to Pearce, Bevill, Leesburg, Moore, P.C., a professional accounting firm, to the State of Alabama Personnel Department.
What important support groups are available for accountants in Alabama?
Accountants in Alabama can tap into the Alabama State Board of Public Accountancy and Alabama Society of CPAs. These organizations will help accountants stay up to date on the latest state and federal accounting regulations and provide important avenues for networking and career advancement.
Do colleges in Alabama offer online degrees?
Yes, students in Alabama have the opportunity to study accounting in 100% online programs through accredited institutions. The University of Alabama at Birmingham offers both a Bachelor of Science in Accounting and Master’s in Accounting through a fully online degree program that prepares students for the CPA, CISA, CIA, CFE, and CMA exams.