Note: This post was written during the school year.
Now that you are pursuing your M.S. in Accounting, what comes next? After graduating with their degree from McIntire, many students go on to pursue their Certified Public Accountant (CPA) licensure. The CPA license is one of the most respected professional licenses out there. With a master’s degree from UVA McIntire in hand, you will surely be prepared to take on this ambitious task. But is it manageable to study for the CPA exams during the school year? I sat down with three of my peers to get their opinions and advice.
Schedule Time to Relax
Miranda Dong (M.S. in Accounting ’22), in the Financial Reporting & Assurance Track, recently finished the Audit section and is beginning her studies for the Financial Reporting section. Regarding her time management, Miranda suggests having a very routine schedule.
“It is a very challenging task to balance both CPA and schoolwork. You kind of have to have that mental preparation to know you won’t have much personal time. I always have a weekly and a daily goal for CPA studying.”
While it may be challenging to balance, Miranda also emphasized the importance of leaving yourself some time to relax. She added that the most important thing to remember when embarking on your CPA journey is “to always find support around you.”
The CPA is a very personal journey that looks different for each person. Miranda encourages students not to compare themselves to their peers too much, stating that it is okay if you don’t pass the first time or need to reschedule an exam. “Don’t be embarrassed to reschedule an exam. You know yourself the best, so if you feel like you aren’t ready, you aren’t. There’s nothing to be embarrassed about.”
Start Studying Early
Another student, Nicholas Fiouris (M.S. in Accounting ’22) in the Tax Consulting Track, is preparing to take the Financial Reporting section. He emphasized the importance of not getting bogged down in the details and starting the studying process early. Nick tries to rely less on lectures for studying and more on utilizing the practice problems. Nick said, “I get bogged down and start wasting time if I spend too much time on the lecture that has nothing to do with journal entries. Find the journal entries for a section, and do the practice problems.”
About time management, Nick suggests being proactive about actually scheduling your exam. He says it “puts a little fire under your feet, which will help you start.” Once the exam is scheduled, you will be more motivated to actually study.
Nick finds any downtime he has to work on CPA practice problems to stay on top of his studies. For example, he said he would pull out Becker and work a few practice problems if he had an hour before dinner plans. “I found out I have a lot more free time than I expected,” Nick said.
Becker is a CPA exam review course offered to incoming accounting associates by many accounting firms. It provides lectures, quizzes, mini exams, simulations, and complete CPA practice exams and is very useful for preparing for exam day.
“You learn how to prepare. Practice problems over and over again were the key for me.” – Nick Fiouris
Schedule Your Day
Finally, I spoke with Patrick English (M.S. in Accounting ’22) also in the Financial Reporting & Assurance Track), who has already taken the Auditing section and is preparing to take the Financial Reporting section. Patrick echoed many sentiments of his classmates, such as the importance of preparing early and carving out time to study. “Prioritizing things on your schedule is the biggest thing. Try to schedule out your day and find pockets to study.”
Patrick also emphasized the importance of staying firm in your study habits. “Start as early as you need to, and don’t let people sway you, because we’re all in different positions,” he said.
After taking his first exam, Patrick said he realized he had overstudied for the first section. Patrick suggests starting with a section other than Financial Reporting, which is known for being the most challenging section. Most people who have pursued their CPA say that the first exam you take will teach you how to study.
Find a Support System
Pursuing your CPA can be very challenging and time-intensive but will also be very rewarding in the end. It is crucial to find the best way to study for you, as there are no “right” or “wrong” ways to study. The CPA is a very personal process that you truly learn as you go.
While you can take the four exam sections in any order, all three of the students I spoke with suggested starting with a “confidence builder” exam. They all suggested maybe not starting right away with the most challenging exam.
Finding a support system around you and creating a schedule you can follow are crucial. Network with your peers and professors, and surround yourself with positive-minded friends and family. But always remember to build in time for yourself and be gracious with yourself if you have to reschedule an exam or even retake an exam. About half of all CPA candidates have to retake at least one section of the exam, so do not be discouraged and do not give up.
While the CPA route is not everyone’s path, it is an excellent opportunity to consider, and one many students pursue. And yes, it is possible to start studying while in graduate school! The M.S. in Accounting Program at McIntire creates an outstanding learning community where you will be supported and encouraged no matter what path your degree takes you.