Academics

How M.S. in Accounting Students Can Prepare for the CPA

Paige Frey (M.S. in Accounting '22) describes how the program helps prepare students for the CPA.

Being a Certified Public Accountant is the goal for most of us, right? Ensuring that the graduate program you choose is geared to helping their students be as prepared as possible for it was something I researched extensively. What I researched and have experienced as a current M.S. in Accounting student has surpassed my expectations. Something that has stuck with me is that the UVA M.S. in Accounting Program has an 85% first-time pass rate, compared with the national average pass rate of approximately 54%. Well, after being in the program, this number seems so reasonable. The professors and classes we are offered and required to take all help us be prepared for the CPA examination right away.

After researching how McIntire prepares students for CPA, I also considered how they prepare students for entering the workforce as new professionals. Most of us will have some overlap between when we are studying for the CPA and transitioning into accounting professionals. The preparation we have already mastered in the fall semester makes balancing studying in the spring to be certified easier. It also is helpful that you are encouraged to take courses that you are interested in! All of these topics will be touched on throughout this blog post.

Fall Semester: Required Courses

Both tracks in the M.S. in Accounting Program are required to take courses that don’t overlap with what we learned at our undergraduate university. The courses everyone is required to take for the fall semester are Leadership in the Accounting Profession (1.5 credits), Communicating Effectively as an Accounting Professional (1.5 credits), Data Management & Analytics for Accountants, and Accounting Policy. We are broken up into small groups for the entire fall semester that we work with in Leadership, Communication, and Accounting Policy. These courses not only help to prepare the M.S. in Accounting students for the CPA but to easily transition into working as an accountant.

Leadership in the Accounting Profession is taught by Professor Roberts. This enables us to work with our peers through group work, assessing group dynamics, speaking with current successful professionals/UVA alumni, and teaching specific skills that correlate to the transition into many professions. Leadership helps to work through any differences and communicate effectively while also having fun and getting close with group members (especially Starbucks group meetings on the Corner!).

Next is Accounting Policy and Communicating Effectively as an Accounting Professional. These two courses are integrated, and the professors work hard to maneuver projects that work on our communication regarding complex accounting information and standards. This has personally helped me to break down complex ideas into ways that inexperienced audiences can understand. These tools are highly beneficial in the workplace when working with clients and their controllers. The overall goal for Accounting Policy is to ask the WHY behind accounting policies and confirm concepts we learned in our undergraduate schools. Understanding the big picture of ideas, we have already learned helps with studying as a whole and with courses we will take in the spring semester (Corporate Financial Reporting and Government accounting). The purpose of this course is to break outside of the box of memorizing journal entries, but critically thinking about concepts that will appear on the CPA and in work.

How do accounting policy and communication relate to the CPA?

We gain practice working on fasb.org to find standards that correlate with what we need to use as evidence for our arguments. These arguments are in memorandum format, which is a common writing portion on the BEC section of CPA. I had no prior experience with working on the FASB Standards Codifications. These can be very high level and complex to understand. Professor Lefanowicz uses class time to thoroughly explain to students why codifications matter. The guidelines he provides us at the beginning of the semester helps to maneuver the website and filter to find exactly what we need (whether that be subsequent events, disclosures, etc.). We also produce group and individual memorandums, an important skills to develop now because of the importance of BEC. BEC is simply put as written communication in memo format. These two classes place importance on memos, and it has now become second nature to me (whether I liked it at the moment or not). The purpose of memorandums is to ensure you completely understand the complex ideas discussed in them. In order to be concise and to produce a well-written memo, you must understand WHY and critically think about how to communicate the concepts to a variety of different audiences.

Accounting Policy not only helps in preparation for BEC but using ASC references helps to break down complex accounting information like revenue recognition, derivatives, and fair value. These topics are commonly touched on in the FAR exam so ensuring we have this knowledge and references to back it up is an important aspect of studying. The group dynamic for the memo helps to confirm ideas regarding those complex ideas and has been an important part of gaining more knowledge for me. Corporate Financial Accounting and Government and Nonprofit Accounting use Accounting Policy as a basis to build on more concepts that will further our preparation for FAR. Conceptual Framework, Standard-Setting, and Financial Reporting make up 25-35% of the FAR exam.

Elective courses students can take that help with CPA depending on undergraduate courses taken in the FALL include:

  • Advanced Financial Accounting – FAR
  • Accounting for Decision Making and Control – BEC, FAR
  • Advanced Auditing and Applied Data Analytics – AUD
  • Judgment and Decision Making in Accounting – real-world and BEC
  • Financial Trading – real-world & background knowledge for FAR concepts
  • Taxation and Partnerships – REG
  • Federal Taxation – REG
  • Intro into Cybersecurity – ethic sections of AUD, BEC, & REG

Elective courses students can take that help with CPA depending on undergraduate courses taken in the SPRING include:

  • Government and Nonprofit Accounting – FAR
  • Taxes and Business Strategy – REG
  • Environmental, Social, and Governance Accounting – FAR
  • Tax Research – REG
  • Advanced Corporate Tax – REG
  • Ethical AI and Algorithms – AUD
  • Real Estate Investments – FAR, real-world
  • Consultants and Other Advisors – real-world
  • Python for Data Science – real-world data
  • Key to Entrepreneurial Thinking – building network, real-world
  • Managing Sustainable Development – REG
  • Information Technology in Finance – real-world, hands-on experience with hedging

Required courses for FRA students in SPRING:

  • Corporate Financial Reporting – FRA
  • Accounting Analytics and Fraud – AUD, FRA

Required courses for TAX students in SPRING:

  • Taxes and Business Strategy – REG
  • Advanced Corporate Tax – REG
  • Tax Research – REG

Elective Courses I Took in the Fall

The elective courses I chose to take were Judgement and Decision Making in Accounting (JDM) and Financial Trading. As mentioned before, JDM applies to the studying process as a whole and will be especially useful in BEC and other ethics sections in AUD and REG. We relate many psychological ideas to the accounting profession and how many attributes take place in the profession. For example, how auditors process information and different task variables can affect the efficiency of an audit. JDM is a very interesting course that encourages students to critically think about topics that they will encounter in the workplace. The critical thinking skills have helped me to think about how I need to maximize my CPA studying as well as think about decision-making in terms of ethics. Again, this course is focused on the big picture, which is important in order to prepare for complex ideas on CPA.

Despite Financial Trading not directly preparing me for the CPA, it will prepare me to feel confident in investing when I graduate. I have gained experience in trading options, stocks, futures, and derivatives. We learn how to look at the market and why fluctuations happen. These topics we may come across on the CPA. For example, if we can understand what a derivative is and why it changes, we will be able to understand why the accounting for it occurs. This gives a different perspective to the program. I took Financial Trading because I have a personal interest in financial markets and I was able to learn more about it, while also feeling completely prepared for CPA. At UVA, you don’t have to choose between CPA focus and personal interests because we are encouraged to explore both!

We get all the support and preparation we need to feel confident for the CPA exams, but we also get to network with people from different backgrounds. Financial Trading has helped immensely in building my network, which goes beyond the CPA. We have had guest speakers from trading companies and hedge funds, entrepreneurs, and day traders who have become very successful as a result of their abilities. These experiences have widened my knowledge past accounting and the CPA and are an important aspect that prospective and newly admitted students should consider when looking for programs. McIntire creates well-rounded graduates who go into the workforce with more than just being a Certified Public Accountant. We will enter with knowledge, experiences, and networks that go way beyond passing that scary four-part exam.

The M.S. in Accounting Program, directly and indirectly, prepares each student for the CPA. We are more than those three letters next to our last name. UVA does a fantastic job at preparing you for CPA and this goes beyond anything I expected. This is seen by the consistent 85% first-time pass rate for the exam as mentioned before. You read that right…FIRST TIME! Not only that, but on average a McIntire student will score 85 on each exam. Yes, 85 must be a lucky number at UVA! These statistics speak for themselves, so looking beyond the CPA into the next two or three years into our careers, what will make us successful? How do we gain tools that will help us throughout our various careers? The M.S. in Accounting Program at the University of Virginia is your answer. McIntire cares about every student to ensure we all reach our individual goals and full potential. You can captain your education and choose what relates most to you. The required courses will help ensure you are well prepared for your exams. You know what to do…APPLY, and GO HOOS!

Want to learn more? Head to the M.S. in Accounting webpage for more details on the program and admissions process.

Explore the Program

Get important admissions news and updates delivered straight to your inbox.