What I Learned by Starting the CPA Exam as a Student

by Peter Erickson | Oct 24, 2016

My experience as a student taking the CPA Exam began in the fall of 2015 at Western Washington University. Nearly a year had passed since my last accounting class, and I felt new to the subject again as I entered my junior year. The thrill, excitement, and stress of recruiting season was in full swing. I joined the Accounting Society at WWU and set my sights on Beta Alpha Psi membership. I learned about the different accounting firms, and went to all of the events they sponsored. Someone said, “Buy a suit.” I did. Someone said, “Go to every BAP meeting.” I did. Someone said, “Apply for every internship opportunity.” I did that too.

While attending a résumé writing workshop that fall, I stumbled across the CPA Exam eligibility requirements. A quick calculation showed my eligibility date to be spring of 2016. I put that on my résumé. I thought finding an internship would be a sure thing.

Setting the Goal

Fall recruiting flew by. A few first-round interviews came my way, but nothing more. Disappointed, I took a step back and assessed how I could strengthen my résumé. I reflected upon my recent experience over the quarter. Recruiters told me not to be overly concerned about the CPA exam. They told me that their firms would provide study materials and support and that I would have time to study in between an internship and a staff position. A realization came to me. My peers were not focused on the CPA exam. If I took an exam section or two while in school, I could set myself apart from my peers. And as an added benefit, starting early would allow me to avoid the difficult task of taking the CPA exam while working.

Later in the school year, I joined the WSCPA and attended CPE events in Bellingham where I met CPAs. I asked for advice about starting the CPA exam, and received encouragement. “That’s a great idea!” “Take as many exam sections as you can before you start working!” “I wish I did that!” Convinced I was on to something good, I focused on school and waited for the appropriate time to apply to sit for the CPA exam.

By the end of spring quarter, I had become a Beta Alpha Psi officer. I had passed the pivotal “junior block” of accounting courses at WWU. I registered for summer quarter in order to finish my accounting degree earlier than planned. I visited the Washington State Board of Accountancy website, printed off the education evaluation sheets, and filled them in. I sent my official transcripts to the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy. I completed a Certificate of Enrollment for my summer and fall quarters, ensuring that my planned education would be included on my transcript. I was on my way!

Getting Ready for the Exam

As soon as the exam review books arrived, I dove in. While getting a feel for the material, I determined that my summer auditing class would dovetail with the Auditing section of the CPA Exam. I received notice to schedule, and picked a date about three weeks into August. I made a reservation with the testing service Prometric.

Five days from my scheduled exam date I got cold feet.

Scrambling through the NASBA and Prometric websites, I rescheduled the exam. Thirty-five dollars bought me seven extra days. I focused on weak spots in my comprehension of the material, and carefully assessed my results on practice exams. Seven days passed. I was due to sit for the exam. This time there was no doubt. I was as prepared as I could possibly be.

The two-week wait for exam results was pure torture. My mind raced, “The exam material was similar to the study material, but different. What was the deal with that one simulation? How did I answer it? Was I right? Am I sure I read the questions correctly? Did I pass?” At last, I put the exam behind me, and began to review the Business and Economics Section. Something was different. It was easier to engage with the material. I realized I now had confidence where before there was confusion. One afternoon, the results came. I shouted in my living room, “Ha! I passed! This is better than I thought! Thank goodness!”

New Year, New Opportunities

School has started again and fall recruiting has begun. My newest qualification has gotten my interview requests accepted with many of the firms I applied to this year. Knowing how important the CPA license is to the profession, I tell fellow students to study for and take the CPA Exam sections as soon as they are eligible. Doing so has increased and reinforced my knowledge of accounting and business processes, and enabled me to communicate on a deeper level with the professionals I meet today. The benefits I received from taking the exam have been many, but the best one is the fact that I am 100% less intimidated by the exam process and 25% done!

Peter Erickson is the WSCPA's campus ambassador for Western Washington University.

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