Meet the Expert
Lori Lopez

Certified public accountants, or CPAs, hold the most prestigious certification an accountant can earn and it's granted by the AICPA. The AICPA is the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants. To earn this licensure in California has specific CPA requirements for candidates including meeting high standards of educational excellence in college courses, passing the Uniform CPA examination, and completing a specific amount of accounting work experience. The two most important goals to focus on in your quest to become a CPA are gaining licensure and passing your CPA exam, and it all begins with the educational requirements.

Education Requirements

First and foremost, make sure your school is accredited as accepted by the State of California before you take the courses you'll need to become a licensed CPA. According to the California Board of Accountancy (CBA) you'll need a minimum of a bachelor's with an accounting emphasis, as well as 150 semester hours in courses specific to accounting before you can sit for the CPA licensure exam. This should take around four years. While the bachelor's degree can be in any subject you wish to select, the state policy is that 150 course hours must cover specific content including a minimum of 24 units of accounting, 24 units of business, 20 units of accounting study, and 10 units of ethics.

California has specific requirements to become an accountant and one of the first steps is obtaining an associate degree (AA). The requirements are narrowed even further by detailing the following full list of subjects be taken by students:


Accounting Subjects: 24 Semester Hours

  • Accounting
  • Auditing
  • Taxation
  • Financial Reporting
  • Financial Statement Analysis
  • External & Internal Reporting

Business Subjects: 24 Semester Hours

  • Business Administration
  • Business Communications
  • Business Management
  • Business Law
  • Business-related law courses offered at an accredited law
  • Computer Science & Information Systems
  • Economics
  • Finance
  • Marketing
  • Mathematics
  • Statistics

Accounting Study Subjects: 20 Semester Hours

  • Minimum six semester units in accounting subjects (as listed above)
  • Maximum 14 semester units in business-related subjects (as listed above)
  • Maximum nine semester units in other academics relevant to business and accounting work with a maximum 3 units from any one area
  • Maximum four semester units in internships or independent studies in accounting or business subjects
  • Skills-based courses in Communications, English, Journalism, and the Physical, Life, Natural, and Social Sciences
  • Foreign Languages/ Cultural & Ethnic Studies
  • Industry-based courses which may include courses in the following disciplines: Architecture, Engineering, and Real Estate

Professional Ethics Study Subjects: 10 Semester Hours

A minimum of 3 semester hours in accountants’ professional responsibilities or accounting ethics at an upper division level or higher is required.

  • Maximum seven semester hours in courses in any of the following subject areas: Auditing
  • Business, Government and Society
  • Business Law
  • Business Leadership
  • Corporate Governance
  • Corporate Social Responsibility
  • Ethics
  • Fraud
  • Human Resources Management
  • Legal Environment of Business
  • Management of Organizations
  • Morals
  • Organizational Behavior
  • Professional Responsibilities

In addition, the ethics portion may be comprised of a maximum three semester hours in courses from the following disciplines:

  • Philosophy
  • Religion
  • Theology

But the course title must contain one of the following words or terms:

  • Introduction; General; Fundamentals of; Survey of; Introductory; Principles of; Foundations of.

This course requirement list is quite strict and credits cannot be used to qualify more than once. For example, if you take a three credit hour course titled "Business, Society, and Government" you could use all three credit hours towards your Business or Ethics requirement or split the hours with one going towards Business and two going towards Ethics requirements but you'll find that you cannot use the class as three hours towards Business as well as three hours of learning toward Ethics requirements.

If you have earned your master's degree in accounting it will satisfy the 20 semester hours of accounting study, and the hours completed in the fulfillment of the master's degree can be counted toward the other three educational areas: 24 semester units of accounting subject, 24 semester units of business-related subjects, and 10 semester units of ethics study. In addition, completion of a Master of Accounting, Taxation, or Laws in Taxation is equivalent to the 20 semester hours of accounting study.

Campus and Online Degree Options in California


Associate Degree

This degree can generally be completed in two years. It can prepare students for entry-level work in the field. Basic courses may include business and tax law, accounting software, and microeconomics. Many students receive their AAS from community colleges. Learn More


Bachelor’s Degree

This degree is generally completed in four years. Degree requirements usually include 120 credit hours. After completion, the graduate may work as an accountant. A bachelor’s degree is necessary to sit for a CPA exam. Learn More


Master’s Degree

You can usually finish this degree in one to two years, with completion of between 30 and 36 semester hours required. Candidates must have an undergraduate degree in accounting or a related field such as mathematics. Students may specialize and earn a degree in forensic, management, auditing, or other accounting fields. Learn More


Doctorate or PhD

Those seeking to work in research or academia may want to earn an accounting doctorate or PhD. Programs range between 70 and 120 credit hours. Completion requires between five and seven years. Candidates should pursue research into the accounting field, focusing on original research or critical issues. Learn More


Online Degree Programs

Students may earn associate, bachelor’s, and master’s degrees from colleges and universities offering online accounting programs. These programs offer flexibility and the ability for students to work on their own schedules. Learn More

Exam Requirements


You may sit for the exam once you have earned your bachelor's degree and have completed the 24 semester hours each in accounting and business. The California CPA exam is overseen by the California Board of Accountancy, the state board associated with the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy (NASBA), so your first step will be to start the application process on their website. Your school transcripts must be submitted directly to the CBA so that should be your first step after creating an application account. Keep in mind that most schools allow two to six months until degrees are posted on official transcripts and another 10 to 15 days to process a transcript request so there may be an extended time frame from when you start the process and when you are eligible to sit for the test.

Make sure all information is correct on your application, and keep your account information updated if you move during the process. The initial application fee is $100 and, if you need to reapply at a later date, the fee is $50. The CBA does comply with Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act, so if you require reasonable accommodations if you have a physical or mental disability or medical condition, don't keep it to yourself, you should let them know in advance.

The exam itself is comprised of four sections and you may take them separately or all at once, though most people spread them out since they last four hours each and are particularly difficult. You should know how you plan to take the sections and in what order long before you sign up.

  • The Auditing and Attestation (AUD) section covers generally accepted auditing standards and procedures as well as the ability to apply them in auditing.
  • The Business Environment and Concepts (BEC) section assesses your knowledge of responsibilities of the profession as well as the legal implications of business transactions as they relate to accounting and auditing.
  • The Regulation (REG) section evaluates your knowledge of principles and procedures for federal income, managerial accounting, estate, and gift taxation, and accounting for governmental or a not-for-profit association.
  • The Financial Accounting and Reporting (FAR) section covers knowledge of generally accepted accounting principles for businesses, including financial accounting concepts and standards as well as their application in public accounting engagements.

Because the exam sections may be taken individually, you will pay separately for each section as follows:

  • AUD $208.40
  • FAR $208.40
  • REG $208.40
  • BEC $208.40

It will take about a week to process your payment, at which time you'll receive your Notice to Schedule (NTS). You'll need the NTS for admittance to the exam so keep it in a safe place.

The test is given in three month windows with the first two months of each window being the time frame for sitting for the exam. They are as follows:

  • January-February
  • April-May
  • July-August
  • October-November

You may take one or all four test sections in any given window but may not take the same section twice in the same window. The test is given at Prometric Testing Centers throughout California so you'll be able to choose a testing center site convenient to your location. When you arrive at the testing center you are required to have your NASBA issued NTS and two forms of valid, current identification (ID) including one with a photograph. You will not be allowed to sit for the exam if you do not meet these requirements, and these are the only items you'll be allowed to carry into the exam room. All other possessions will be stored in a locker during the testing period.

Test scores are released approximately two weeks after the exam is completed and can be found on your CBA account, which is updated daily. A score of 75 or higher is a passing grade, and you have an 18-month window to complete and pass all four sections of the exam. Failure to complete all four exams successfully within the 18-month time frame will result in having to take one or more exams over, even if you passed that section in the past.

Required Experience


To apply for your California licensure you'll have to meet other criteria such as job experience. You'll need to verify a minimum of 12 months experience in a type of service involving the occupation of accounting, such as providing accounting advice, attestation, accounting, financial advisory, or tax. Your experience must be documented on a specific form from the CBA that is supervised and signed by a licensed individual. Note, there are different experience forms for private and not-for-profit organizations.

Experience in academia also qualifies if it is an accounting subject such as auditing, internal or external reporting, accounting, taxation, or financial statement analysis. This type of experience must be documented and signed by the dean or chair of the department that has oversight.

Military experience and education is also accepted as long as it conforms to requirements and is properly documented.

California CPA Licensure Requirements


Before you apply for your CPA license you'll also need to pass an ethics exam. In California the CBA only accepts the PETH exam as administered by the California CPA Education Foundation.

  • PETH examination topics include:
  • Ethics in business
  • Basic concepts and philosophy of professional conduct
  • Code of Professional Conduct
  • Independence, integrity and objectivity
  • Interpretation of Securities and Exchange Commission rules
  • Commissions and fees
  • Form of practice and name
  • Advertising and solicitation
  • Sanctions
  • Tax Services
  • Accountancy Act and CBA Regulations

You'll also need to provide your social security number, fingerprints, and a Criminal Conviction Disclosure Form as part of the licensing process. In California, the fingerprint process is the Live Scan Service which is an electronic format which interfaces with the background check system.

The CPA licensure application fee is $250 and the hard copy fingerprint processing fee is an additional $49. Because your license expiration date is your birth month, once your application is reviewed and accepted you will be given a license fee prorated to the length of time it is valid.

Once your application is complete and you've paid the fees, you'll receive an acknowledgment card noting your application was received. In 30 days you'll receive a status update that will outline any missing information you need to submit to complete your application; if all necessary information has not been provided within 60 days you'll receive a status notification and your status will be placed on a pending list.

Once all documents have been successfully submitted you'll receive a notice that your license application is under review. Within four to six weeks you should receive your notice of acceptance.

Current military personnel, honorably discharged veterans, and spouses and domestic partners of California-based active military members all receive help from the state in the form of expedited service on their applications; proper documentation must be provided.

License renewal and continuing education


Your CPA license is valid for a two-year period, and it expires every other year at midnight on the last day of your birth month. The renewal fee is $120 and you must provide proof of continuing education requirements (CE) when you renew your license.

Your CE courses must be completed within the past two-year time frame and a minimum of 12 hours must be in non-technical subject areas such as the following:

  • Auditing and Accounting
  • Computer and information
  • Consulting
  • Fraud
  • Financial planning
  • Taxation

The other eight hours of CE will be in non-technical subjects such as:

  • Communication skills
  • Negotiation and motivational techniques
  • Marketing and sales
  • Office management, practice management, and personnel management
  • Word processing

Because continuing education requirements may change you should keep abreast of the subject through CPA organizations and associations as you work in the field.

California Accounting Career Options and Salaries

City Employment Annual mean wage 10th percentile 25th percentile 75th percentile 90th percentile
California 143,670 $83,540 $47,720 $58,960 $97,350 $129,030
Anaheim-Santa Ana-Irvine, CA 15,580 $78,790 $47,340 $57,830 $92,220 $119,430
Fresno, CA 1,760 $65,560 $43,110 $50,740 $78,490 $95,180
Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim, CA 58,520 $82,670 $45,640 $57,630 $97,250 $128,110
Oakland-Hayward-Berkeley, CA 9,590 $89,590 $53,170 $62,290 $102,140 $142,130
San Diego-Carlsbad, CA 10,610 $81,110 $47,830 $58,380 $96,930 $125,440
San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward, CA 26,240 $91,950 $54,430 $64,980 $105,170 $143,320
San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, CA 12,470 $97,910 $53,110 $66,600 $113,680 $160,000
City Employment Annual mean wage 10th percentile 25th percentile 75th percentile 90th percentile
California 1,200 $117,950 $67,420 $85,210 $144,930 $170,800
Anaheim-Santa Ana-Irvine, CA 120 $105,400 $65,220 $76,860 $127,310 $153,560
Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim, CA 600 $108,480 $67,610 $84,350 $126,210 $160,270
San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward, CA 350 $133,500 $66,870 $91,140 $159,860 $197,220
City Employment Annual mean wage 10th percentile 25th percentile 75th percentile 90th percentile
California 7,090 $53,950 $67,380 $84,850 $104,810 $127,710
Anaheim-Santa Ana-Irvine, CA 740 $65,600 $77,290 $94,580 $116,540 $142,540
Fresno, CA 70 $41,940 $48,220 $62,230 $80,450 $96,020
Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim, CA 2,570 $56,310 $72,310 $92,160 $114,890 $137,550
Oakland-Hayward-Berkeley, CA 330 $68,680 $75,680 $89,180 $109,440 $130,740
San Diego-Carlsbad, CA 700 $58,090 $68,020 $80,850 $98,860 $118,970
San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward, CA 930 $66,880 $76,470 $92,910 $113,070 $131,750
San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, CA 470 $61,740 $75,550 $94,470 $115,400 $132,720
City Employment Annual mean wage 10th percentile 25th percentile 75th percentile 90th percentile
California 27,550 $75,570 $37,790 $51,710 $93,990 $122,590
Anaheim-Santa Ana-Irvine, CA 3,220 $73,920 $35,040 $51,920 $95,000 $121,150
Fresno, CA 710 $74,020 $38,380 $48,350 $90,450 $118,660
Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim, CA 8,830 $69,930 $34,470 $47,010 $88,700 $110,440
Oakland-Hayward-Berkeley, CA 2,630 $88,740 $48,390 $59,840 $111,210 $145,320
San Diego-Carlsbad, CA 2,720 $72,620 $41,910 $53,640 $88,200 $111,370
San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward, CA 4,460 $91,740 $50,590 $63,080 $113,680 $147,890
San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, CA 1,870 $91,890 $47,920 $60,980 $112,340 $133,300
City Employment Annual mean wage 10th percentile 25th percentile 75th percentile 90th percentile
California 36,080 $109,580 $56,770 $72,340 $128,120 $179,550
Anaheim-Santa Ana-Irvine, CA 3,680 $99,050 $53,770 $67,980 $116,350 $154,910
Fresno, CA 150 $92,400 $45,130 $53,550 $102,220 $159,570
Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim, CA 12,340 $102,470 $54,660 $69,410 $122,240 $160,710
Oakland-Hayward-Berkeley, CA 2,580 $109,090 $60,670 $75,000 $128,380 $165,130
San Diego-Carlsbad, CA 2,640 $97,280 $54,590 $66,430 $114,870 $155,240
San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward, CA 10,310 $127,800 $65,110 $80,670 $151,150 -
San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, CA 5,270 $115,820 $61,840 $80,980 $139,270 $185,630
City Employment Annual mean wage 10th percentile 25th percentile 75th percentile 90th percentile
California 10,710 $61,970 $27,450 $36,440 $77,950 $110,850
Anaheim-Santa Ana-Irvine, CA 1,520 $58,980 $26,630 $35,000 $75,690 $84,050
Fresno, CA 190 $39,930 $21,420 $22,430 $45,790 $76,090
Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim, CA 4,770 $59,510 $25,310 $36,400 $75,980 $106,120
Oakland-Hayward-Berkeley, CA 410 $85,370 $45,560 $69,390 $109,150 $128,190
San Diego-Carlsbad, CA 940 $61,020 $32,160 $35,830 $78,480 $106,980
San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward, CA 1,690 $75,280 $35,320 $50,300 $100,180 $122,810
San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, CA 1,000 $75,190 $35,030 $47,450 $86,770 $128,060

Accountant Career Concentrations & Salaries in California


Cost Accountant

Also known as managerial accountants, cost accountants work in businesses and government agencies. Some cost accountants run their own practices and consult for smaller companies who cannot afford a full-time employee in this position. No matter where they work, their role includes data analysis for the purpose improving efficiency and cost control. Their exact role may depend on the particular industry or government agency they are a part of. Learn More


Financial Advisor

Accountants who like working with the public may want to use their skills to become financial advisors. Keep in mind that, while accountants usually receive a salary, financial advisors often work on commission. Financial advisors require licensing through the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA).


Forensic Accountant

This concentration focuses on auditing financial records of private or public companies in search of potential fraud and other financial crimes such as money laundering or tax evasion. In essence, a forensic accountant is an integral part of a criminal investigation. Many forensic accountants work in conjunction with attorneys. Forensic accountants often appear in court to testify about their findings. Learn More


Tax Accountant

The duty of tax accountants is to ensure that the businesses for which they work are tax compliant. They also help companies design tax strategies and keep managers informed about potential tax consequences of company financial decisions. Learn More

California is one of the top states to work as an accountant or auditor. The demand for these professionals is projected to grow by 18 percent between 2014 and 2024 and bring 6,970 new accountants into the ranks. And in order to attract all those number crunchers, California companies are likely to increase their already high salaries. Around the Bay Area salaries are thousands of dollars higher than the national average, and even in lower-cost locations like Sacramento they are in line with that average. Notably, the highest-paid accountants in California are some of the highest paid anywhere.

City Annual Median Wage
San Francisco $72,600
Oakland $62,400
Los Angeles $59,300
San Diego $58,800
Sacramento $53,700
Entry Level Mid Career Late Career
$49,000 $56,700 $61,900
  • California Average Cost Estimator Salary: $64,300
  • California Average Auditor Salary: $66,400
  • California Average Budget Analyst Salary: $67,300
  • California Average Credit Analyst Salary: $58,600
  • California Average Financial Analyst Salary: $64,300
  • California Average Personal Financial Advisor Salary: $63,700
  • California Average Financial Examiner Salary: $97,000
  • California Average Tax Examiner, Collector, or Revenue Agent Salary: $45,000
  • California Average Tax Preparer Salary: $33,800
  • California Average Actuary Salary: $91,000
  • California Average Forensic Science Technician Salary: $52,800
  • California Average Payroll and Timekeeping Clerk Salary: $39,000

California Accounting Frequently Asked Questions


How many accounting jobs are available in California?

California holds the distinction of having the highest levels of employment in the accounting field. Texas and New York hold second and third place, respectively. Approximately 148,000 people hold accounting jobs in the Golden State. Out of every 1,000 California employees, 8.5 work in the accounting field.


What is the annual mean wage for accountants in California?

The annual average salary in California is $84,000. The average hourly wage is $40.34. That’s about $2 an hour higher than in Texas, but $7 an hour less than in New York. Your total income will, of course, depend on your exact location, experience, and job title.


What metropolitan areas in California have the greatest number of accounting jobs?

The Los Angeles - Long Beach - Anaheim metropolitan area has the second highest concentration of accounting jobs in any US metro area, just behind New York City. Approximately 60,000 people are employed in the field in this region.


Do California colleges offer online accounting degrees?

Many California colleges and universities offer online accounting degrees. Among them are those schools in the California State University system. CSU East Bay offers a Bachelor of Science degree in business administration with an accounting concentration.

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