Lysern Marcelino is a senior at UC Berkeley who is going through the Big 4 recruiting process and fulfilling some accounting internships. Learn more about what advice she has to offer as a busy student and working professional looking to become a CPA--specifically when it comes to fulfilling the 150-unit requirement to become a CPA in states that enforce this rule.

I decided that I wanted to become an accountant in 2015, while I was in my second year of college. 

In 2014, the California Board of Accountancy instituted a new educational requirement that CPA candidates would need 150 semester units (or 225 quarter units) to be licensed. Most undergrads graduate with 120 semester units (or 180 quarter units), so aspiring CPAs need to take an extra year of classes to be eligible for California licensure. 


To me, an extra year of college sounded expensive and time consuming.

And trying to obtain CPA licensure in another state was not an option I was considering. I briefly questioned my career goal of becoming an accountant, but I decided to leave that can of worms for my mid-life crisis. Once I was dead-set on becoming a licensed CPA in California, I set a goal to obtain my 150 units before graduating with my bachelor’s degree. Every semester, I would plan out my course schedule to meet my 150-unit goal, and I successfully graduated from my undergrad program with more than 150 units.


Here are my tips to meet the 150-unit requirement before you graduate with your bachelor’s degree. 

1. First, calculate all the eligible college units you have. 

  • Your units from your undergraduate institution will probably be your main source of units, but that doesn’t mean that they are the only ones you can count. 
  • Remember those AP credits? If your college offers units for AP exams, you can use these units towards the 150-unit requirement, as long as the AP credit units are listed on your transcript. In order to get units for your AP exams, check in with an academic counselor at your college and ask them if you can submit your AP exam scores for unit credit. Many universities, colleges, and community colleges give credit for AP exams, so it doesn’t hurt to ask. Also, if you’ve already submitted your AP scores to your college, they may have already given you credit for them! Check your transcript to see if the units are listed. If you need help, consult with an academic counselor at your school. 
  • Have you taken any community college courses? Community college courses count towards your 150, so send your community college transcripts to the Board of Accountancy when you apply for licensure.


2. Once you have calculated your unit total, how do you get to 150 units? Take courses at a community college.

  • Community colleges are a great resource for aspiring CPAs, because they are offer a breadth of courses in accounting and business. Also, if you’re like me (or any accountant for that matter) you’re money-conscious, and community college courses are budget friendly without sacrificing quality! 
  • Also, some community colleges offer courses to fulfill the Accounting Ethics requirement! You can earn some extra units while fulfilling the Accounting Ethics requirement if you find an eligible course at a community college near you. 
  • Take summer courses 
  • If you’re not interning full-time during the summer, take a few college courses to beef up your unit count. I recommend taking courses that sound interesting to you, because being bored to death is no way to spend your summer. Also, if you’re lucky, your college or university offers a special summer program to help you earn additional accounting units. My alma mater offers a special summer program called the Berkeley Charter of Professional Accountancy or BCPA program, which helps students earn 30 accounting units over two summers. Check with your college or university to see if they offer any summer programs for to reach your 150-unit requirement. 
  • Take online courses (from a community college) 
  • Online courses are a great way to fulfill your unit requirement. Online courses give you the flexibility to do the work on your own terms, since you don’t have to physically show up. If your schedule allows, you can take an online course in addition to your regular courses. I highly recommend taking online community college courses, because they are much cheaper than other online courses. Before enrolling in online courses from for-profit or other non-profit institutions, double check to see if a community college has a similar course to save some money. 


In summary, taking additional courses in the summer or during the school year will help you reach the 150-unit requirement once you graduate. Also, finishing the 150-unit requirement before you graduate with a bachelor’s degree will give you an edge in recruiting, since many firms look for candidates who have completed or will complete 150 units. 


Lastly, keep in mind to check directly with your state board of accountancy. 

Every state has different educational requirements that need to be met in order to sit for the CPA Exam and become a licensed CPA in that state. In order to ensure that you're fulfilling those requirements, I highly recommend that you get in touch with your state board of accountancy. While many states enforce the 150-hour rule, the ways in which they enforce them can vary (such as specific classes that need to be taken). So don't leave anything to chance. It's always better to be safe than sorry!

I hope this article helped you take a step closer to become a CPA!