How to earn a BSBA Accounting from scratch, with the full 150 hours for CPA licensure, for less than $12,000 [2023-2024]
This post doesn't apply to many people. But it needs to be on the Internet.
The topic of how to meet the educational requirement for the CPA exam comes up frequently on Internet forums. This can range from high school students asking about pathways, to associate degree holders transitioning to the full undergraduate degree, to BS holders needing to finish their 150 hours. This post is my magnum opus on these topics, and thus covers the process of obtaining the full degree from scratch, meaning you currently have zero semester hours of college credit.
Subscribe for free to receive actionable tips for starting and growing your startup.
There are multiple ways to do this. This is just one path. There are potentially faster and/or cheaper routes available, especially via the University of Maine-Presque Isle (UMPI) and Western Governor’s University (WGU). This plan is completed by several dozen people every year, most of whom are working full-time jobs and have families. It’s simply a matter of making the time. It’s possible to complete all 150 semester hours in only 6 months, people have done it.
The general plan should meet the educational requirements for CPA licensure in all but a handful of states. For states such as Texas, Florida, South Carolina, Hawaii, and maybe some others, you’ll need to take a few more of the University of North Alabama (UNA) courses, which will add a few grand to the total cost. A few states also impose an upper-level credit requirement for business courses, so you may need to adjust business courses, too. Bottom line: Check your state board of accountancy for exact educational requirements in your state, and adjust as necessary.
The plan below utilizes Thomas Edison State University (TESU) in New Jersey. All costs are presented using out-of-state tuition and fees. TESU offers both a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration (BSBA) with a concentration in Accounting, as well as a Bachelor of Science (BS) in Accounting. I personally recommend the BSBA Accounting route, as it provides greater flexibility within the degree program to make any necessary adjustments for your state board requirements. Even if you’re in New Jersey, the BSBA route can still meet state requirements.
TESU is one of the few universities in America that will accept more than 30 semester hours of transfer credit, which is the core reason this plan works and is so cheap. You can transfer in up to 114 of the 120 semester hours for the degree. Yes, only 6 credits need to actually be taken at TESU. Of the 114 transfer credits, up to 90 of them can be from ACE or NCCRS evaluated sources (commonly called “alt credit”).
This means that only 30 semester hours need to come from a regionally accredited (RA) college or university. Since 6 of those credits must come from TESU (the cornerstone and capstone courses), the other 24 can either come from TESU or someplace else. If you’ve already taken some classes from your local community college, a state college, or if you’re still in high school and have the option for dual enrollment while still in high school, you may already have these 24 hours done or can do them cheap/free. Transfer those classes to TESU, even if they don’t map to a degree requirement. They’ll count towards the RA requirement, and even the 150-hour CPA requirement.
If you already have either an associate's degree or a bachelor's degree in another major, then it becomes even faster and cheaper.
If you already have a bachelor's degree, and want to become a CPA, you don't actually need to finish the degree. Instead, you can just take the business and accounting courses and "credit bank" them at TESU for $400 so they appear on a university transcript. This can save you about $3,000.
Much of the information for creating this guide came from countless hours of reading on the DegreeForum.net board, a forum for alt credit and adult learning, plus many hours with the TESU academic catalog, and even more hours studying state statutes and board of accountancy regs.
Last thing before the plan: I’ve outlined this using the least exam-intensive option. If you’re a really good test taker, there’s an alternative path that involves mostly just taking tests, which is also much more affordable. I’ve made notes regarding that alternative pathway where appropriate.
Apply for admission to Thomas Edison State University in Trenton, NJ. They are an online-only public university that caters to adult learners. ($50)
Register for AP-100-TE, Medical Terminology. This is a 1-hour credit-by-exam course, but don’t actually take the test. This is merely a “hack” to become an enrolled student, which gives you unlimited transcript evaluations at the university. You’re going to take this as a course later, for other reasons. ($55)
Create an account on Credly.com. This is a transcript delivery service used by many online education providers. Be sure to use the same email address for Credly as you do for all other platforms. (Free)
Sophia.org – Your best friend for general eds and 150-hour filler credits
Create an account with Sophia.org. I recommend either the 4-month plan for $299, or the $599 plan for 12 months. Decide that based on how aggressively you’re going to tackle this. You absolutely can complete all the courses required here in just 4 months, people do it all the time. For the sake of title calculation, I used the $599 option, however. ($599).
Sophia courses are relatively quick to get through. There are no proctored exams, and only a few classes have written assignments.
Take the following classes on Sophia, one class at a time:
· English Composition I
· English Composition II
· Public Speaking
· Intro to Statistics
· College Algebra
· Environmental Science
· Human Biology
· Intro to Sociology
· Intro to Ethics
· US History I
· US History II
· Workplace Communications
· Business Law
· Principles of Management
· Principles of Finance
· Accounting (Financial Accounting)
Note for CPA candidates with a degree: If you already have an accounting degree, Sophia.org is an excellent source to take additional courses to meet the 150-hour requirement. Take classes that don’t overlap with courses you already took for your degree, then “credit bank” them on a TESU transcript for a mere $400. TESU calls this an “Individual Learning Account”. Sophia offers a lot more courses than just the ones listed above.
An even cheaper alternative / Saylor.org: If you’re really looking to save every last dime, and you’re really good with taking tests, then note that many of the courses above also have equivalent CLEP exams (see below) and/or equivalent exams on Saylor.org. Saylor courses are free, and the exams are a mere $5 each. The Saylor courses themselves aren’t very well put together, but you can’t beat the price. Oh, wait, you can…
CLEP Exams / ModernStates.org (FREE): ModernStates.org provides free study guides for CLEP exams. They also provide vouchers that allow you to the CLEP exam for free, and they will also reimburse you for proctoring fees. Many Sophia courses also have a CLEP exam if you’d simply like to do them all via exam. I’ve taken two CLEP exams in a single day, and also taken one a day for four days in a row, and it wasn’t that bad, but I’m one of the “good test taker” types.
· For degree general ed requirements, take CLEP exam American Government.
SeeMore Impact Labs - https://www.smilabs.org/solutions/individuals
· CSM for Individuals ($39) – This meets the Quantitative Business Skills requirement. It’s kind of an oddball course, but it’s pretty easy.
This is where you’re going to take the bulk of your accounting classes. They do offer Accounting I here, also, and you may prefer to take them here because of the fact that they build on each other. Some people finish these accounting classes in a single weekend, but I’m assuming that you’ll take two full weeks per class. Membership is $199/mo. At two classes per month, this is 3 months, so $597 total here. If you’re counting upper level accounting credits for your state CPA requirements, this here is 15 semester hours of upper level credit. We’ll finish upper-level requirements at UNA.
· ACCT-102: Into to Managerial Accounting
· ACCT-201: Intermediate Accounting I
· ACCT-202: Intermediate Accounting II
· ACCT-302: Advanced Accounting I
· ACCT-301: Applied Managerial Accounting
· ACCT-303: Cost Accounting
University of North Alabama (UNA)
UNA has a unique program intended for non-accounting degree holders to take classes required to sit for the CPA exam. That’s literally what the program was created for. Make of that what you will. These are fairly affordable for what they are: Regionally accredited (RA) upper-level accounting courses. These count towards the TESU 30-hour RA requirement. If you live in a state that requires 30 semester hours of upper-level accounting, such as TX and FL and a few more, you’ll need to take a few more UNA classes to fill that requirement. Cost is $545 per 3-credit course.
To only complete the TESU degree, pick one:
· AC-462: Federal Income Taxation I. Note: There is a Federal Income Taxation TECEP Exam that is half the price, but it’s a fairly difficult exam and I’m assuming you have no prior tax knowledge. Take the UNA course instead, in my humble opinion.
· · AC-463: Financial Statement Auditing I
If you live in a 24-hour upper-level accounting state, take both the above plus:
· AC-465: Federal Income Taxation II
· AC-467: Financial Statement Auditing II
If you live in a 30-hour upper-level accounting state, pick two more:
· AC-361: Financial Reporting I
· AC-362: Financial Reporting II
· AC-365: Financial Reporting III
TESU (RA) -
Apply for admission to Thomas Edison State University in Trenton, NJ. They are an online-only public university that caters to adult learners. Yes, they're a real, state university, regionally accredited, and participate in all federal financial aid programs. The business school is ACBSP accredited. ($50 application fee)
TESU has a very simple residency requirement: 15 semester hours of courses taken at the school. TECEP exams do NOT count towards the residency requirement. Tuition at TESU is fairly expensive, so you really don’t want to take many classes directly with them if your goal is to keep costs low. If cost is not a concern, then the only courses you must take at TESU are the cornerstone and business capstone.
You can pay an extra fee, currently $3,288, in order to waive the 16-hour residency fee. However, their out of state full-time flat-rate tuition cost is $4,778 per term. Since the 6 credit cornerstone/capstone combination would cost $3,210 anyway in tuition, many students simply take one aggravating semester of full courses to knock out both the capstone and cornerstone, and the 16-hour residency, and some of the 30-hour RA requirement. This post assumes you’re going to do one nasty semester, but it mostly consists of easy classes. The business capstone is the hardest of this bunch. Here we go.
In one single 8-week term, register and take all of these:
· Cornerstone: SOS-110 Information Literacy (3)
· Business Capstone (3)
· CIS-107 Computer Concepts and Applications ePack (3)
· PHI-130: Critical Reasoning (3)
· Introduction to Psychology (3)
· APS-100 Medical Terminology (1) – this is the exam you registered for first in order to enroll, now you’re taking the 1-credit class in order to hit the 16-hours for this term.
TECEP Exams - https://www2.tesu.edu/listalltecep.php
This is a credit-by-exam program offered by TESU. Each exam is 3 semester hours. These count towards the 30-hour RA requirement, but not the 16-hour residency requirement. Lower-level exams are $52/credit, upper-level exams are $77/credit. If you decided to take additional UNA accounting classes due to your state board requirements, you don’t need to take as many TECEP exams. Some of these are offered via CLEP, Saylor, or Sophia at a much lower cost or even free.
· Introduction to Marketing (3)
· Managerial Communications (3)
· Business in Society (3)
With that, your degree plan is almost done. Depending upon the adjustments you made to the plan based on your state board requirements, you may have filled up the
Additional Upper-Level Business Courses
If your state board requires additional upper-level business courses, here are some options for you.
TECEP Exams: There are several more TECEP exams at the 300-400 level: Security Analysis, Financial Institutions, Marketing Communications, Sales Management, Advertising, Operations Management.
Davar Academy: DavarAcademy.com is kind of a weird service. Their “classes” are just one giant PDF for you to work through on your own, then an exam. The nice thing is that they offer a lot of upper-level business classes you won’t find anywhere else in an exam-only format, and they’re pretty affordable. They also offer the option of using the RPNow proctoring service, which records your test session to the cloud instead of requiring a scheduled proctoring time. So you can take a test at random at 3am if you want. Price listed includes proctoring fee. They offer a cheaper $99/mo option for 2 business classes per month. They do offer additional courses besides those listed here.
Additional Upper-Level Accounting Courses
If your state requires even more upper-level accounting courses, check out Coopersmith.
Coopersmith Career Services: CoopersmithCC.net is very similar to Davar. They are exam-only, cost is $150 per 3-credit class. They offer the most robust selection of business and accounting courses by exam, including several graduate classes. If you need additional upper-level credits in accounting or business to hit your 150, this is another option. It’s also an option if you simply want to do an exam-only route in place of the Study.com courses.
Upper-level accounting courses here include:
· Accounting Information Systems (graduate level)
· Accounting Research and Communication (graduate level)
· Advanced Accounting (ACC-400)
· Cost Accounting (ACC-385)
· Federal Taxation of Business Entities (ACC-352)
· Federal Taxation of Individuals (ACC-351)
· Forensic Accounting (ACC-325)
· Fraud and Forensic Accounting (graduate level)
Almost Done / Getting to 150
With that, your degree plan is almost done. Depending upon the adjustments you made to the plan based on your state board requirements, you may have already filled up the 15 hours of free electives required by TESU for just the degree. You may even be close to the 150-hours for CPA. If not, the solution is really simple: Go back to Sophia.org and take whatever random courses sound easy or interesting. This is another reason for doing the $599/yr option when you register for Sophia.
· TESU Application Fee: $50
· First TECEP Registration Fee: $55
· TESU 16-hour semester: $4,778
· Additional Minimum TECEPs: $543
· TESU Graduation Fee: $298
· Sophia.org 1-year subscription: $499
· CSM for Individuals: $39
· 3-month Study.com Subscription: $597
· One UNA course to complete degree: $545
Total Cost for Minimum Degree + 150-hours: $7,404
Cost For Degree + Upper-Level Credits in a 30-hour accounting + 24-hour business state:
· Additional UNA accounting courses: $2,725
· Additional TECEP, Davar, and Coopersmith upper-level business courses: $1,050 - $1,617
· Total: Up to $11,746
Edit 1: Financial Aid
TESU is just like any other state university. They participate in federal financial aid programs.
If you qualify for federal Pell Grants, this entire degree program suddenly becomes almost free if you're taking the minimum path. You'll have one semester at TESU as a full-time student, that 16-credit term.
For the 2023-24 financial aid year, the Pell Grant cap is $7,395. Your semester at TESU will cost you $4,778 in 2023, leaving an overage of $2,617 on your financial aid account. The school will cut you a refund check for that amount, which must be used for other legitimate educational expenses (which can include room and board, by the way). This $2,617 will cover the cost of Sophia.org, Study.com, some UNA courses, etc.
So if you qualify for the full federal Pell Grant, this entire degree could cost you only $9.00 out of pocket.
Subscribe for free to receive actionable tips for starting and growing your startup.