Hiring a CPA Student or Candidate? What employers need to know about the CPA Certification Program

By Lara Greguric, MA, CPA, CA; Published in CPABC in Focus magazine
Published: January 2014

By[1] Lara Greguric, MA, CPA, CA,

The CPA certification program[2] is designed to meet the needs of industry, government, and public practice by ensuring that all CPAs have the strong foundation of knowledge and skill needed to succeed in whatever role or position they take on. It offers students and candidates considerable flexibility to pursue areas of interest throughout the qualification process.

The certification program consists of the following components:

  • Academic prerequisites for admission to the CPA Professional Education Program (CPA PEP),
  • A graduate-level CPA PEP,
  • Examinations, including a Common Final Examination, and
  • Relevant practical experience.

So, what does this mean for employers?

If you currently employ CPA students and candidates, or if you’re looking to do so in the future, there’s some key information you should know.[3]

CPA PEP – the time commitment

In Western Canada, the CPA PEP was launched with the initial offering of Core Module 1 in late September of 2013.

As an employer, you may be wondering about the study time considerations for the program. While there may be a minimum number of days during which candidates will need to be absent from their employment to complete individual evaluations at the end of the core and elective modules, the team-based assessment at the end of the Capstone 1 module, and the Common Final Examination (CFE), CPA candidates will not need to be absent from work to prepare for these evaluations.

The core and elective modules include practice examination questions, and the mandatory Capstone 2 module is specifically designed to prepare CPA candidates for writing the CFE. All time away from the office to prepare for the evaluations, including the CFE, will be solely at the discretion of each employer.

Candidates should be prepared to make time for the following commitments to complete the two-year, part-time CPA PEP:

  • Structured activities: Each week, candidates will be expected to spend approximately 12-15 evening or weekend hours on structured activities in the core and elective modules; additional time may be required for reading or research.
  • Workshops: Each core and elective module has a two-day workshop. Core Module 1 has an additional two-day orientation workshop. These workshops are expected to occur on weekends.
  • Core and elective module examinations: Each core and elective module ends with a national examination, typically written on a Monday, Friday, or Saturday. These examinations, which include both case simulations and objective format testing, are each expected to be three hours long; however, candidates will be given a maximum of four hours to write the elective examinations.
  • Examination offerings for core and elective modules: Starting in September 2014, core and elective national examinations will be offered four times annually. However, it will be up to provincial or regional course deliverers to decide whether to offer the module content for the examination offering.
  • Mock presentation for Capstone 1: Capstone 1 will be offered for the first time in 2015. Candidates may need to take one day off work to prepare a mock presentation.
  • Examination for Capstone 2: There will not be a formal examination at the end of Capstone 2, as this module is considered preparation for the CFE.
  • Common Final Examination: CPA candidates will require three weekdays off work to write the CFE, which will be offered twice a year, in September and May. The first offering will take place in September 2015.

Qualifying practical experience

In addition to formal education, the new CPA certification program requires all candidates to complete a term of relevant practical experience no less than 30 months in duration, including allowances for time away from the office (for example, time off for vacation, illness, or study leave). Practical experience requirements for CPA certification are currently being finalized and will come into effect on September 1, 2014. The requirements will be based on the following principles:

  1. Candidates must be provided with the opportunity to develop ethical behaviour and professionalism;
  2. Candidates must have opportunities for development in accordance with the CPA competency map;
  3. Candidates must demonstrate professional development in accordance with the CPA competency map;
  4. Candidates must be appropriately supervised and mentored; and
  5. Practical experience must be subject to oversight by the profession.

These principles will be applied differently in different work environments and training structures, depending on the needs of the profession and of employers.

Two training models available

  • Pre-approved path model: Under this model, students and candidates are employed in training positions offered by offices/organizations in training paths that are pre-approved by the profession and are appropriately supervised and mentored. Employers will apply to have training positions pre-approved by the profession, identifying how they intend for the required competencies to be developed. The profession will work closely with the organization up front to ensure the appropriateness of the positions; significantly less work will then be required to assess the experience of the individual student or candidate.
  • Experience verification model: Under this model, students and candidates are employed in a work environment that provides relevant and progressive training positions, and are appropriately supervised and mentored. This model relies on students and candidates to demonstrate that they have developed the necessary competencies. These students and candidates will be required to complete detailed practical experience reports and submit them to the profession. Their immediate supervisors will be required to attest to the accuracy of the experience reported. Reports will be assessed by the profession at key milestones.

You might be wondering which model is most appropriate for your organization.

The pre-approved path model is expected to be appropriate for employers who plan to train CPA students and candidates on an ongoing basis. While these will include large and small public accounting firms, the model is not exclusive to public accounting. The pre-approved path model is suitable for government and industry employers as well.

The experience verification model is expected to be appropriate for organizations not training substantial numbers of CPA students and candidates, which would likely include many small and medium-sized businesses, as well as departments of larger organizations.

However, the two models need not be mutually exclusive. Depending on resourcing needs, organizations can choose to run both in tandem.

Making the transition

As a general principle, all education and experience that meet the criteria of a legacy program will count toward the CPA designation. No student or candidate transitioning from a legacy program will be required to redo education or experience that was successfully completed for their legacy program. However, students and candidates who begin in a legacy program and finish in the CPA certification program will require additional education (which will be provided by the profession in specifically developed transitional programs) and, in some circumstances, may also require additional experience. The profession will provide all transitioning students and candidates with the support they need to be successful.

Again, practical experience requirements for CPA certification, including transition requirements, are currently being finalized and will come into effect on September 1, 2014. Until that time, qualifying practical experiences of legacy designations remain in effect. CPA students and candidates who start employment and register with a legacy body before September 1, 2014, will be able to complete their practical experience requirements under that body’s legacy system.

For employers, this means that you can confidently extend employment offers for start dates on or after September 1, 2014, knowing that positions that were recognized by a legacy body will meet the registration criteria for the purposes of CPA practical experience. Note, however, that experience obtained by students and candidates will have to be assessed in its entirety to determine whether it will meet all of the CPA practical experience requirements. If changes are required, the profession will work with you or your students and candidates, as appropriate, to make sure the requirements are met.

Public accounting

Candidates pursuing careers in public accounting will have to follow a specific path within the CPA certification program, with distinct requirements for education, examination, and practical experience.

CPAs who do not qualify to practise public accounting at the time of certification will have the opportunity to complete a post-certification public accounting program, along with the additional experience requirements set out by the profession to meet eligibility requirements to practice public accounting.

CPA public accounting standards, and their dates of effective implementation, are currently under development. Legacy standards remain in place until the new CPA standards come into effect.

Additional resources

More information about the CPA program will be available in early 2014. You can expect detailed CPA practical experience requirements; transition information, including the specific date by which all legacy students and candidates will be required to meet the CPA practical experience requirements; additional details about mentoring; and CPA public accounting standards and their dates of effective implementation.
In the meantime, visit www.cpacanada.ca/en/members-area/profession-news/2016/october/cpas-navigate-change-and-drive-success for more information and updates on the CPA certification program.

Students and candidates – what’s the difference?

CPA students are those who have registered with CPA but have not yet satisfied the academic prerequisites for entry into the CPA Professional Education Program (CPA PEP). They include: those enrolled in the CPA Prerequisite Education Program; those attending university and obtaining relevant co-op and summer experience; and those obtaining experience but not yet enrolled in the CPA PEP.

CPA candidates are those who have registered with CPA and are in the process of completing, or have completed, the CPA PEP.

Lara Greguric, MA, CPA, CA, is the director of CA training offices and student standards at the CA School of Business.


  1. Based on recent CPA Canada communications.
  2. A diagram of the CPA Certification Program was provided in the September/October 2013 issue of CPABC in Focus, which can be found at https://www.bccpa.ca/news-events-publications/publications/cpabc-in-focus/issues/sept-oct-2013/.
  3. Information provided in this article is accurate as of November 2013.

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