Academics

Navigating the CPA Exam as a Full-Time Student by Lydia Elsey (M.S. in Accounting ’21)

Recent M.S. in Accounting graduate Lydia Elsey explains how she found time to study for the CPA exam while taking a full course load.

If you had asked me a year ago if I felt ready for the CPA exam, I would have laughed. The idea of tackling what felt like one of the most daunting exams out there made me extremely nervous. And to be honest, all I really knew about the exam was the low passing rate—lower than many other professional certifications—and that it was going to test me on every Accounting class I had ever taken. After reading Macy Foster’s (M.S. in Accounting ’20) take on the CPA exam, though, I understood more about the process.

I originally planned to begin preparing for the exam after graduation, as I was nervous about balancing school and studying. But after an extended winter break was announced due to COVID-19, a classmate and I decided to tackle the most extensive section: Financial Accounting and Reporting (FAR). We began the day after finals were over and studied, utilizing each other for support and additional explanations throughout the break. We both took the exam the weekend before spring classes and successfully passed!

It wasn’t until I began studying that I saw how much just one semester at McIntire grew my understanding of accounting. In fact, one of the first chapters I reviewed for the exam was closely related to the content covered in one of the classes I took during the fall. For example, I had previously written memos applying the accounting conceptual framework to case studies, so when faced with multiple-choice questions regarding the conceptual framework, I breezed through. Even though our class wasn’t necessarily a “FAR test prep” course, I still developed the skills and knowledge to make it through this section of the exam. I also was already a master of consolidations because of the skills I gained in Professor Julia Yu’s Advanced Accounting course. I was able to calculate and comprehend much larger consolidations than in the exam. From just my first semester, my education at McIntire went beyond the scope of the exam to offer a greater understanding of these concepts to apply them to our careers and not just simply to the CPA.

Although this was the route I chose, not every student opted to study over winter break. Many soaked up their last months before jumping into the professional world and took time to be with their families over the holidays. Some of my classmates also utilized the spring semester to continue to study for exams. One of my classmates, Ryan Albert, set high goals of tackling both FAR and AUD before graduating this spring. He studied for FAR over winter break and AUD during the spring semester. When I asked him about his experience studying for AUD, he said, “Studying for the CPA during school is very challenging, but it really helps me learn how to balance my work and life. This experience will be beneficial for my upcoming job, as I will need to balance multiple tasks as well as take care of myself!”

No matter when you decide to begin your journey to pass all four sections of the CPA exam, I can tell you one thing for certain: McIntire’s M.S. in Accounting Program will prepare you for way more than just the four exams, but for a successful professional life down the road.

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