The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that demand for accountants will outpace the average demand for all other professions between 2016 and 2026. Demand is projected to grow by 10% and bring 139,000 new accountants into the field. This makes becoming a CPA an exceptional career choice. In the state of Washington specifically the demand is forecast to grow by 21% by 2024. The median salary for accountants in Washington was $65, 290 in 2016, but with demand being so strong that total is likely to rise rapidly. Becoming a CPA is challenging but rewarding. If you're ready to start on a lucrative and in-demand career path, learn how to become a certified public accountant CPA in Washington.
Academic Requirements for Washington CPAs
CPAs often have specialized expertise, but each one must understand the core concepts of accounting. The Washington State Board of Accountancy (WBOA) requires all CPAs to have acquired minimum levels of education before becoming a CPA. Follow these steps to qualify to take the CPA exam:
Complete at least 150 credit hours or 225 quarter-hours from a four-year college with approved accreditation. If you are unsure whether an institution is accredited and approved by the WBOA, contact them directly.
Earn a bachelor's degree. An accounting major is not strictly required, but intense coursework in accounting is. Most CPAs who do not have a degree in accounting have on in business instead.
Compete the required coursework. In order for a degree to be recognized by the WBOA it must satisfy the following requirements:
- 24 credit hours or 36 quarter-hours in accounting subjects. At least 15 credit hours must be in upper-level or graduate level classes. Upper-level classes are typically defined as classes that require students to complete a lower-level course as a condition of admittance. Graduate-level courses count as 1.5 credit hours towards the 24 credit hour requirement.
- 24 credit hours or 36 quarter-hours in business administration subjects. Most courses qualify if they are offered by a graduate or undergraduate business department.
If you have earned a degree from an unaccredited institution, outside the state of Washington, or in a country besides the US it may still satisfy the educational requirement. The school and degree must be evaluated by a third-party to determine if it meets the state's requirements. A list of evaluation services is available here.
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Campus and Online Degree Options in Washington
A select number of employers will hire accountants with an associate degree in support positions and bookkeeping roles in some cases. Many individuals use an associate degree to gain valuable work experience before completing a bachelor’s degree. Learn More
The majority of Washington employers will require a minimum of a bachelor’s degree. For any accounting professional who has a desire to work for and earn promotions within a corporation, non-profit, or government entity, a bachelor’s degree may be a necessity. You can also specialize or choose a concentration at this degree level. Learn More
Given the highly competitive accounting job market in Washington and the highly sensitive nature of certain industries in the state, some employers require a master’s degree. If one has aspirations of teaching at private schools or community colleges, a master’s degree will be necessary. And a master’s degree meets the education requirements to become a CPA. Learn More
Doctorate or PhD
To become an accounting professor in Washington, a PhD or doctorate in accounting is likely to be necessary. The same is true for anyone who wishes to work in research. This degree level can also help improve annual pay and lifelong earning potential. Learn More
Online Degree Programs
Washington online accounting degree programs are highly reputable nationwide. An online degree from a Washington college or university will lead to great employment opportunities. Learn More
Pass the Uniform CPA Exam
To sit for the CPA exam, CPA candidates must have taken 150 semester hours. After you take the cpa exam you will qualify for the CPA certification. The Uniform CPA Exam is administered in almost every state and is designed to demonstrate core competencies and key skills. CPA candidates must register for the exam within 180 days of completing their education. Students are allowed to take the exam while still in school, but they must provide proof of enrollment and be on track to graduate within 210 days after graduation. Once you're eligible, follow these steps:
Apply to take the Exam. The WBOA contracts with the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy (NASBA) to handle exam registration. The Certified Public Accountants Examination Services (CPAES) is the specific office that handles examination issues. Register for the exam online, and be prepared to provide the following documents:
- An official transcript from every school listed on the Uniform Exam application. The transcripts must be sent directly from the school to the CPAES.
- A Certificate of Enrollment if you are still completing the educational requirements. This must be sent directly from the school to the CPAES.
- An International Evaluation is you have acquired your education outside the US. International transcripts in both the native language and translated into English are also required.
- A Testing Accommodation form if you are disabled and required a specialized testing environment.
Send all required documentation to certified public accountant CPA Exam Services – WA, PO Box 198469, Nashville, TN 37219
Wait to receive your Jurisdiction ID from the CPAES. This certifies that you are eligible to take the test. If you have applied to take the test previously and already have a Jurisdiction ID, continue to use that number for the remainder of the exam process.
Find a testing location and pay any applicable fees. The total cost of taking the test is different for first-time test takers compared to returning test takers. Testing sites in Washington are available in these locations:
- Mountlake Terrace
Study extensively for the exam. Typically the exam is administered within six months of a candidate being registered.
Access your score online after taking the exam. The NASBA reports your score to the WBOA which then notifies you of when and how it's available.
Meet the Experience Requirements
Education is essential for CPAs, but many of their responsibilities are learned on the job. The WBOA requires all accountants to work at lower levels before becoming eligible for a CPA license. These are the specific experience requirements:
Complete the Code of Professional Conduct course from the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA). You will receive information about this course along with your Uniform Exam score. You must pass the course with a score of 90% or above to meet the WBOA's minimum requirements.
Acquire the right kind of experience. It must involve the practice of public accounting in either a public- or private-sector organization. Experience in academia may count but it must be reviewed by the WBOA. All other experience must meet these conditions:
- Take place over a minimum of 12 months measured consecutively or non-consecutively.
- Include at least 2,000 hours of public accounting. One year of full-time work (40 hours per week) is approximately 2,000 hours.
- Take place under the supervision of someone with an active Washington certified public accountant CPA license that they have held for at least five years.
- Obtained within 8 years of when the certified public accountant CPA license application is received by the WBOA.
Ensure that work experience covers the skills/topics deemed essential by the WBOA. Those include:
- Assessing accounting objectives
- Developing documentation and data to support conclusions
- Understanding transaction streams and information systems
- Thinking critically when making decisions and solving problems
- Communicating effectively in multiple mediums and with a variety of stakeholders
Provide information and documentation to prove that the experience requirements have been met. This information is detailed on an Experience Affidavit. This document is prepared by you but then reviewed by your supervising CPA for accuracy.
Enroll in the course titled Washington State Ethics exam and Regulation for New CPAs. You must earn a minimum score of 90% and present documentation to the WBOA.
Apply for a CPA License
At this point you have extensive accounting experience under your belt and are ready to apply for an official certified public accountant license. Follows these steps to put the process in motion:
Review that you have met all the requirements. Here is a quick rundown:
Complete the license application through the online portal. You may begin using the certified public accountant CPA title as soon as the license is granted and listed on the WBOA licensee search.
- Earned a bachelor's degree with at least 150 credit hours and a concentration in accounting
- Pass the CPA Exam
- Completed at least 2,000 hours of public-accounting work
- Passed the Code of Professional Conduct course
- Completed the Washington State Ethics & Regulations for New CPAs course
If you are applying for a license from out of state there are additional steps that must be followed:
- Out of state candidates must prove their education/degree is compliant with Washington's certified public accountant CPA education requirements.
- Candidates who passed the Uniform Exam more than 4 years ago must prove they have completed 120 of continuing professional education within three years of applying for licensure. In Washington, you are not required to take an ethics exam but you are required to take four hours of ethics. At least 4 hours must be on ethics and regulations and must be completed within 6 months of applying for licensure.
- Candidates who have a certified public accountant CPA license in another state or from another country may be able to expedite getting a license in Washington state. However, these candidates must be able to prove they have completed equivalent requirements for education, examination, and experience.
Keep Up With Continuing Education
Every certified public accountant CPA in Washington is required to renew their license every three years. As a condition of renewal, CPAs must meet these requirements for continuing professional education (CPE).
In the first three-year reporting period after you are granted a CPA license you must complete 120 hours of CPE. At least four hours must be in ethics, and no more than 24 hours may be in non-technical subjects. CPAs must complete 80 hours of CPE within the first year and 40 hours within the second.
After the first three-year reporting period you must still earn 120 hours of CPE every three years. However, there is no requirement for how many hours you earn in any specific year.
Seek out CPE opportunities from approved sources. Some that the WBOA recommends include:
- The American Institute of CPAs (AICPA)
- State accounting societies
- University courses in accounting or business
- Trade and professional associations
- In-house training and programming
CPAs are only required to submit formal proof of completing CPE if they are selected for an audit. However, all professionals are required to maintain records of all CPE for at least three after the credit was completed. Failure to maintain and supply accurate records could lead to loss of license.
Accountant Career Concentrations & Salaries in Washington
Accounting Risk Manager
An accounting risk manager evaluates and analyzes the existing and potential future financial risks associated with operational activities, as well as safety and security. These accounting professionals will also determine strategies to minimize risk and monitor and prevent risks. Learn More
In Washington, a number of professional, semi-professional, and amateur sports teams exist and need professionals to maintain their books. As such, a sports auditor is a viable position in this state. These individuals are often the best in their field and have a thorough understanding of personal versus business expenses. Learn More
Controller & Comptroller
Controllers exist in all types of business including corporate, non-profit, small and large. A controller is often the second in command behind a chief financial officer (CFO) and many controllers will advance their careers to become the CFO. The daily responsibilities of a controller are to oversee budgets, mitigate risk, remain in compliance, and much more. Learn More
An international accountant typically works for a multinational organization. It’s essential to have a grasp on various international and domestic accounting practices to succeed in this specialized field. These individuals should also be trained in global business practices, as well as various cultural practices, money markets, and exchange rates.
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Washington Accounting Frequently Asked Questions
Which types of accounting employers are available in Washington?
Washington state is filled with accounting opportunities with nearly every type of employer including corporations, non-profits, government agencies, and more. A number of large corporations in growth industries employ accountants including Microsoft, Starbucks, Boeing, Deloitte, Ernst & Young, and many others. You could also choose to work for aerospace companies, e-commerce companies, and pharmaceutical companies.
What is the mid-career accountancy earning potential in Washington?
Upon reaching an accounting mid-career milestone in Washington, one can expect to earn more than many other states, with an expected salary of $87,452 in Seattle. This salary may be less outside of large cities and will vary based on roles and responsibilities, continuing education, employer size, and other variables.
Does Washington require certifications or licensure to become an accountant?
General accountants require a bachelor’s degree for most accounting positions. A certificate in a specialized area can help increase pay and provide a competitive advantage in the job market. However, certification and licensure are only mandated for individuals in Washington who wish to become CPAs.
Do Washington colleges or universities feature online accounting degrees?
A growing number of colleges and universities in Washington offer online accounting degrees, such as the University of Washington and Washington State University. It is possible to pursue both accounting degrees and certificates from Washington’s higher learning institutions.