A Primer on the 150-Hour Requirement
Since July 1, 2000, those seeking to become a CPA in New Jersey must obtain 150 college semester credits. This added a fifth year of education, up from the previous 120 credits required. The 150 credits must include a bachelor’s degree, 24 credits in accounting and 24 credits in other (non-accounting) business courses. The other 102 credits are undefined. This change, commonly referred to as the 150-hour law, was designed to have CPAs receive a more broad-based education in areas such as communication, technology, soft skills and others that should help CPAs better serve the public and their employers. Previously, the requirement included 30 credits in accounting and 30 in other business courses. Ironically, the additional 30-credit requirement comes with a reduced accounting and business requirement. This reduction in required courses was designed to allow universities and CPA candidates to tailor educational programs toward individual and professional needs.
Obtaining the Credits
Schools have struggled to create a five-year program that would accomplish these goals. The traditional path consists of obtaining a Masters in Accounting or Taxation. Programs vary among colleges with many adding concentrations such as forensics, audit or data analytics. In many cases, those programs do not address the original concern about lack of needed non-business courses. Many students have opted to take the additional courses outside of a masters program by taking additional courses each semester or during the summer. Those courses have not always been part of an organized plan of education that would address the concerns which brought about the law change.
When New Jersey adopted the 150-hour law in 1995, it was one of the first to allow candidates to take the CPA Exam after obtaining a bachelor’s degree which includes 120 credits. This allows them to take the Exam sooner and to obtain the additional credits later. While this rule was modified a few years ago by adding that the degree must have the required accounting and business courses, candidates are still allowed to take the Exam before obtaining the additional year of education.
Many candidates have focused on obtaining the 150 hours as soon as possible in order to qualify for licensure and enhance their resume. Under this path, the candidate will pursue their career in the following order:
- Obtain a bachelors degree including the required accounting and business courses.
- Pass the CPA Exam.
- Work in the profession and find the area of interest for their career path.
- Take courses, with the option of a masters degree, that will enhance the opportunities in that career path.
Following this sequence has many advantages:
- It allows the candidate to take the Exam at a time when they are best positioned to pass.
- It grants them the opportunity to focus the courses in areas they know will enhance their career.
- It spreads out the cost of the last year over a longer period of time.
- It allows more flexibility in scheduling classes.
Taking the Exam soon after an undergraduate degree can be instrumental in successfully passing. Studies have shown that the chances of success in passing the Exam decrease proportionately with delays in taking the Exam.
The ability to focus on more meaningful courses is increased by working prior to taking the fifth year as they will better know what skills they need. For example, if they enjoy tax, they can focus on a tax program, or if they decide they would like to work in the industry, they may feel an MBA will better further their career. This is preferable to rushing into a traditional Masters in Accounting program that many schools developed as their five-year program. A bonus to this approach is that classes are more meaningful to the student, and the student with work experience will come with more maturity. This is why many top business schools prefer graduate students who have work experience.
Kenneth A. Heaslip
Kenneth Heaslip, CPA, MBA, MS, CGMA, is a director at Cullari Carrico, LLC as well as a discussion leader for The Loscalzo Institute. He is past president of the NJCPA’s Essex Chapter, a former NJCPA vice president and is currently a member of the NJCPA State Taxation, Federal Taxation, Nonprofit, Governmental Accounting & Auditing, and Accounting & Auditing Standards interest groups as well as the Student Programs & Scholarships and Professional Conduct committees. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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This article appeared in the January/February 2020 issue of New Jersey CPA magazine. Read the full issue.