How to Become an Accountant or CPA in Illinois

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What is Accounting?


An accountant is a financial specialist who has earned one of several college degrees. They may have entered a college of business’ bachelor’s accounting degree program, where they began to learn the basics. Or, they may have decided to begin with an associate degree before moving up to earn a bachelor’s accounting degree in Illinois, only later going on to their master’s or even a PhD in accounting. Students can also earn their degree through online programs, which allowed them to complete the core curriculum in the accounting program of their choice.

The occupational employment of accountants and auditors in Illinois is strong. There are more than 49,500 accountants and auditors in the state, and the industry shows no signs of going away or shrinking significantly any time soon.

While they may examine and work on financial records, this is only a small part of an accountants work. For example, cost accounting means the accountant works within a systematic set of procedures that enable them to record and report the measurements on the cost of manufactured goods and services. Or they may focus on taxes, auditing, and more.


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Accounting Education in Illinois


Many companies, corporations, and business owners have found their way to Illinois. Case in point: Walgreens, State Farm, Boeing, Sears, and other businesses are headquartered in the state.

Looking at the top five industries in Illinois, these include:

  • Professional and business services ($118.4 billion)
  • Real estate, rental, and leasing ($108.9 billion)
  • Manufacturing ($107.4 billion)
  • Finance and insurance ($88.7 billion)
  • Educational services, healthcare, and social assistance $75.6 billion)

Even with a statewide population decline, there are still plenty of businesses still active in Illinois. The state leads in clean energy, with ethanol fuel production and wind farms. After you account for general professional and business services and real estate, the largest industries are manufacturing, finance and insurance, and education. Energy, biotechnology, and agriculture are also high on the list.

And, as you may have already realized, it really doesn’t matter which of these industries you would prefer if you are looking to work as an accountant. Accounting jobs are available, and necessary, in every industry. With an accounting degree, you might find yourself performing basic ledger accounting for a small business, tracking sales for an agricultural conglomerate, or saving on taxes for a young, green energy business.

The Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation (IDFPR) is responsible for ensuring the safety and financial soundness of financial institutions. It is also responsible for making sure that only competent professionals are awarded licenses to provide their services to the general public. IDFPR also ensures that commerce in the state is strong, which benefits all state residents. This agency also licenses certified public accountants, public accountant CE sponsors, public accountant firms, and more.

Associate Degree in Accounting (AA)

Students in Illinois who enroll in an associate of arts in accounting degree may later decide to transfer to a four-year university to continue their studies in accounting. A well-designed program offers opportunities for students to learn about today’s technology, with well-qualified instructors who provide a strong foundation in accounting for additional study or an entry-level job after graduation.

Students who enter the best accounting schools in Illinois, regardless of their educational level, may leave prepared to launch a rewarding business career. They will also learn about accounting information systems, which may make their future work easier. Depending on their long-term goals, they may one day work as a certified public accountant, internal auditor, IRS agent, tax accountant, or assistant controller if they are able to earn enough experience to overcome their low level of education.

Bachelor's Degree in Accounting (BAcc)

If accounting may be called a language, it is the language of the business world. This essential service helps businesses large and small to know where their funds are going, and where new funds can be found. Business employees who understand the principles of accounting may well become some of the most valued members of the company’s team. Accountants can find employment in government, corporate, non-profit, and public accounting.

Accounting students in the student body of many Illinois universities receive personalized attention from knowledgeable business and accounting professionals. Via internships, they can gain networking connections to future employers and colleagues.

Students who earn their bachelor of science in accounting can find rewarding careers as tax professionals, auditors, budget analysts, bookkeepers.

Master's Degree in Accounting (MAcc)

While in school to earn their graduate degree, students learn the accounting competencies they need to distinguish themselves from others. Comprehensive curriculum also allows students to build the expertise they need in analysis methods. Students who have earned their MSA may be ready to study for and take their CPA exam.

Students may add to their knowledge and develop expertise in a number of accounting fields during their graduate study; more than are available at the bachelor’s level, in fact. These include forensic and investigative accounting, finance, taxation, internal auditing, cost accounting, etc.

Earning an MBA with an accountancy concentration is also a great way for students to prepare themselves to take their CPA exam. Private and public universities offer AACSB-accredited programs to students so that they are able to prepare themselves for leadership roles in corporate accounting and other vital roles.

PhD Degree in Accounting (PhD in Accounting)

Accountants who have earned their bachelor’s and master’s or their MBA in business administration or accounting may have plans to earn their PhD or doctorate. This doctorate may be in business administration, with a focus on accounting.

These programs work to educate future scholars so that they are able to establish their careers in teaching and research as professors at universities with leading business administration programs. Students can benefit from faculty engaged in active research and article publication in journals of accounting and finance.

CPA Exam Education Requirements in Illinois


To become a CPA (Certified Public Accountant) and take the state boards exam, Illinois regulation requires CPA candidates to have completed a bachelor’s degree program or above, as well as 150 credit hours from an accredited university or institution in the U.S. The National Association of State Boards of Accountancy requires you to take and pass the cpa exam in your state to work in public accounting. When you pass your state boards exam in your state you will become a certified public accountant. Becoming a CPA is challenging but rewarding.

To take the CPA exam, you must also meet one of the following prerequisites:

  • Hold a graduate degree in accounting from an institution accredited by the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB) or the Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs (ACBSP)
  • Hold a graduate degree in business from a school that’s been accredited by the AACSB or ACBSP, along with two accounting research hours and 30 credits worth of accounting courses including:
    • Auditing
    • Tax
    • Financial Accounting
    • Managerial Accounting
    • Economics
    • Business Law
    • Business Statistics
    • Business Ethics (may not count for more than three credit hours)
    • Business Communication (may not count for more than three credit hours)
    • Marketing
    • Finance
    • Quantitative Methods
    • Internship or Experience requirements (may not count for more than three credit hours)
  • Hold a bachelor's with the following courses taken:
    • Auditing
    • Tax
    • Financial Accounting
    • Managerial Accounting
    • Two semesters in accounting research and analysis
    • Internship or life experience (may not count for more than three semesters)

    24 credit hours studying business as an undergrad or grad student, including:

    • Economics
    • Business Law
    • Business Statistics
    • Business Ethics (may not count for more than three semester hours)
    • Business Communication (may not count for more than two semester hours)
    • Marketing
    • Management
    • Information Systems
    • Finance
    • Quantitative Methods
    • Internship or Experience (may not count for more than three semester hours)

If you’ve not yet met all of these requirements and you want to become a CPA but you’re in the process of completing your learning, you may be able to obtain provisional approval to take the CPA exam. If granted, you’ll have 120 days from the time you take and pass the CPA exam to submit your final college course transcripts.

CPA candidates who attended a university outside of the United States will need to submit their credentials for verification to the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy (NASBA).

Taking the CPA Exam in Illinois


Once a candidate has completed the minimum necessary education, they can move on to CPA exam review and get ready to take the test.

Here’s what you’ll need to do:

  • The Illinois state board of accountancy is called the Illinois Board of Examiners (ILBOE). I their online system, you’ll need to create an account so you can submit your application. Plan to choose one of the following application types that best fits your circumstances:
    • Pre-Evaluation
    • Domestic Evaluation
    • Foreign Evaluation
    • Total Transfer of Credit
    • International Qualifications Exam

Be careful not to leave out any information about the colleges or institutions you’ve attended. You’ll be able to pay the $200 application fee online with a credit card upon applying on their site or you can pay by check. Foreign applications are free of charge if an individual earned all credits outside of the United States.

Submit your final transcripts to the ILBOE upon completion of all the education prerequisites. You can include original copies, which can be sent by mail to the Illinois Board of Examiners, 1120 E. Diehl Rd, Suite 110, Naperville, IL 60563. You can also email transcripts to etranscripts@ilboe.org.

Go to the ILBOE online system to complete the Initial Examination Request. Expect to be charged a fee ranging from $40 to $120, with the number depending on how many exam sections you’re looking to schedule.

Sit back and wait for a letter of approval from the ILBOE to arrive. If you haven’t paid your fee yet, you’ll receive a payment coupon that will be good for the next 90 days. If not paid by then, you’ll have to reapply. Once all fees are paid, you’ll receive a Notice to Schedule (NTS). Policy is that you must set up an exam appointment within six months.

You can now go ahead and plan the date for your exam through Prometric’s website at a testing center. Contact the ILBOE or consult their website for information regarding scheduling details. Be sure to sufficiently study, and complete your exam. You can expect to receive your score within one to two weeks.

CPA candidates must complete a class on professional ethics offered by the AICPA, followed by an open book ethics exam on which you must score a 90% or higher to earn a passing grade. AICPA will send your results to the ILBOE upon request.

Once you’ve completed these steps and passed both tests, you’ll receive a certification of CPA Exam Completion as well as a certification from the ILBOE as a CPA. Now you are on your way to become a CPA. However, this doesn’t mean that you’re licensed to start practicing on your own, but you can practice directly under another licensed CPA in the industry of your choice.

License Requirements

After you’ve finished your year of supervised CPA employment, you’ll be eligible to apply for your CPA license.

On the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation (IDFPR) website, locate and download the application packet. Submit the application along with any supplemental information (including experience verification) and required fees to Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation, ATTN: Division of Professional Regulation, P.O. Box 7007, Springfield, IL 62791.

Consider these passing rates from 2017:

Auditing and Attestation 48.5%
Business Environment and Concepts 53%
Financial Accounting and Reporting 44.4%
Regulation 47.2%

A passing grade on each test is 75. Once you have completed the test, your scores will be available for private viewing on the NASBA website.

Continuing Professional Education Requirements


Once you’ve received your Illinois CPA license, you’ll need to routinely brush up on your skills to make sure you’re up to date on current general regulations and information.

Every three years, the state of Illinois requires CPAs to complete 120 hours of continued professional education (CPE), four of which must pertain to ethics. For your first license renewal, you’ll be exempt from the continuing education requirement, but be prepared to take future classes to keep your skills sharp, learn tech systems in order to keep up with change, and review past content.

To find CPE courses, consult the Illinois CPA Society or the NASBA registry.

You may also consider joining a professional group to make sure you’re current on current news and regulations. The Illinois CPA Society is a great local choice, as is the American Institute of CPAs (a nationally based group).

Become an Accountant in Illinois


  • Certified Public Accountant

    Public accountants who plan to do particular types of accounting, including preparing financial statements or financial planning for individuals or businesses, are required to earn a certification in public accounting. Before they earn their certification, they must pass the exam. They are also required to pay application fees and submit documentation to the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy and to the Illinois Board of Examiners (ILBOE).

    Applicants pay for the pre-evaluation application process, a domestic evaluation application process or a foreign evaluation application process. Those candidates who have both domestic and foreign credits are able to combine both their domestic and foreign application paperwork in one application. After receiving approval of their credentials from the Credential Evaluation application, applicants may schedule their CPA exam (this is posted on their Notice to Schedule).

  • Certified Internal Auditor (CIA)

    The Institute of Internal Auditors issues this certification to auditors who have passed the CIA exam. This professional certification indicates to employers that the certified internal auditor holds the skills and possesses the required competencies to perform internal audits.

    While the CIA candidate is still in school, their accounting program should have included courses on the auditing process. After accumulating some years of professional experience, the candidate may decide that it is time for them to earn their certification. By making use of review courses, they may also fine-tune their skills and efficiencies in accounting and auditing in order to be fully prepared for their exam.

    Earning their CIA means a professional may also increase their advancement potential, as well as their potential for earning a higher salary.

Careers for Accounting Graduates


  • Senior Accountant
    After being on the job for several years, an accountant may move to a senior position, in which they will continue some of the same activities, such as preparing financial reports, but they are likely to do so at the head of a team or with greater pay. They may perform account reconciliation, carry out research and analysis, keep the general ledger, help with audit preparations, prepare taxes, and work on other accounting responsibilities as assigned.
  • Financial Controller

    A financial controller may also be known as the chief accounting executive within their organization. Their responsibilities may change from company to company and an organization’s size may influence some of what they do. The number of employees within the accounting department as well as the challenge presented by the finance and accounting actions may also impact what the financial controller does.

    This professional works in conjunction with or directly beneath the chief financial officer, providing valuable financial information.

  • Business Manager

    Business managers oversee and manage their organization’s operations and employees. They carry out a variety of tasks that ensure the company is productive and efficient. This may include putting business strategies into place and making sure metrics are hit. A business manager may also evaluate the company’s performance and supervise employees throughout the organization.

    Having excellent leadership and interpersonal skills are necessary for this role. The ability to ensure employees are working together as a team may help the business to succeed. Having a high degree of verbal and written communication skills means you will be able to get all team members on board.

    Some of their responsibilities include determining the company’s goals and objectives, carrying out employee evaluations regularly to find areas of improvement, and making sure the company meets its goals.

  • Chief Financial Officer (CFO)

    This professional may have reached the C-suites because of their accounting education, knowledge, skills, and accumulation of experience. They may have chosen to earn a master’s degree in business administration with a specialization in accounting. Their hands-on experience will allow them to run the entire finance department for the organization, regardless of the company’s size.

    Their responsibilities include making sure the organization is consistently using its finances wisely and correcting any financial risks that may take the organization off-track. Because the CFO earned at least one degree in the college of business, they are able to use their full depth of experience and knowledge while leading the finance department.

  • Finance Manager
    Finance managers are responsible for analyzing the daily financial activities of an organization. They offer advice and guidance to upper management personnel regarding future financial plans and may be responsible for running and providing reports to those who make the big decisions. They may hold positions in a variety of environments including private and public sector organizations, healthcare, finance, insurance, or banking, among others.
  • Other possible positions include:
    • Corporate Controller
    • Tax Manager
    • Assistant Controller
    • Claims Adjuster
    • Accounts Payable / Accounts Receivable Specialist
    • Accounting Manager / Controller
    • Business Intelligence Manager
    • Financial Analyst
    • Benefits Specialist
    • CPA
    • Accountant
    • Budget Analyst
    • Bookkeeper

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