Wednesday, February 17, 2016

My Journey to becoming a Certified Public Accountant (CPA)


Let me start off by saying one important thing: I posted this picture of myself on my instagram/facebook holding my CPA license. I look excited/happy - and I accomplished something pretty big. People only see that one part of it - they didn't see the hard work, and sacrifice that went into achieving this goal of mine. That's one of the reasons I wanted to write a blog post about it. Social media can be hard to scroll through sometimes - it's mostly filled with happy faces, fun trips, and big accomplishments.  But what you don't always see is the hard work and sacrifice that lead up to those very rewarding moments. ANYWAY - that rant is for another day, I just wanted to point that out, for when you start comparing your life to others based on what you see on social media. So...

I finally finally finally got my CPA license!! Oh my gosh, what a journey. I know my blog post about being a EY intern has gotten a ton of views from random fellow EY soon-to-be interns.. and thinking about it, I'm sure there aren't too many people that talk about accounting in their blogs hahaha (...I wonder why) so most of you won't care about this post, but if you're curious as to what a CPA is, or how people become CPA's (maybe 1 person), I'm dedicating this blog post to everything I now know about taking the CPA exam. 

Lets start off for people who aren't too familiar with accounting. CPA = Certified Public Accountant. At the big four (EY, PWC, Deloitte, KPMG) you need your CPA license to get promoted, and you eventually need it to sign off on tax returns, opinions etc. At PWC, I think you need your CPA to be promoted to Senior, but at EY you need your CPA to get promoted to a manager. Each state has different requirements to get your CPA. All require that you graduate college with a certain amount and level of Accounting classes and have  "experience" hours. Some states (like Utah) require you to have a Master's degree, while other states (like California) only require you to have a bachelor's degree. Also, a lot of my co workers went to law school and passed the Bar, so they take that rather than the CPA exams.

The CPA is four parts: Financial (FAR), Regulation (REG), Business (BEC), and Audit (AUD). My personal favorite was Reg, which is more "tax accounting" focused... go figure. There are open, and closed months where you can and can't take the test. During the year, it goes, two open months, and one closed month - So Jan/Feb are open, and March is closed.  So you have to plan your studying and tests accordingly and sometimes the timing is annoying but oh well, that's how it is! Also, your tests only stay valid for 18 months, so if you don't finish taking all four parts within a 18 month time span, you have to re-take the tests you've already passed (this has happened to many many of my fellow accountant friends and it's such a bummer...). You also have to get something called a notice to schedule "NTS" to take your test - this allows you to take your test anytime within a 8 month window. So when getting your NTS, you have to decide which tests you are going to take - because when you get your NTS, you are also paying for the tests. So if you don't end up taking it, it's a waste of $200. 

Oh, thats the other part - taking the test is pretty expensive. Each part of the test is $200. Then there is a $50 application fee, a fee every time you fail and have to re apply for a new notice to schedule etc. Then, once you pass, you have to take an Ethics test, which is about another $200, pay for an $50 application fee to become a CPA, get fingerprinted ($75), get your picture taken ($25), and become part of the AICPA - required at EY, I don't know about other firms ($310). Then the study material is super expensive. ($3,000k +)! The good news is, if you start at a big four, they pay for your study material, and they pay for all the fees, and the cost for you to take each test ONCE. So if you fail a test, and have to re-take it, you are paying $200 of your own money! I also decided to pay for note cards through Becker ($180)... soo it all adds up pretty fast! 

Now to my personal journey taking the CPA test 

For some people, I'm sure the CPA was easier, and for some harder. I know some people who locked themselves in a room, studied and took all of them in 4 months. I had a bit of a longer, more torturous journey... hahaha. I started studying for the CPA while I was in the Master's program at the U. I didn't really know much about it... but they offered a class as part of your required classes that helped you take the test. I really had NO idea what I was doing or what to expect.. and I had just started dating Joram at the time, sooooo to be honest, I didn't put any time of effort into that class and it was kind of a waste for me haha (whoops). When I got my full time offer with EY - they gave me the Becker CPA test prep course. It's basically awful/torture... but it does REALLY good at helping you prepare for the test. I decided to take my first test (Audit) three weeks after I graduated.. It was torture. All my friends were travelling around, and I just wanted to hang out with Joram before I moved to California (and chill after I had just finished finals!). I had asked to start my job at EY in October (so that I could focus on studying, and have a few more months in UT before I moved to CA), but they started me in July and I was SO sad. But looking back, it was exactly what I needed and not starting work until October would have been rough. 

Anyway, I took three weeks, probably from 10AM-3PM everyday (very distracted) did the practice questions, listened to the lectures... blah blah blah and I took the Audit test. After I walked out I was like WOAH, I failed for sure. Then I started studying for BEC. A few weeks later, I found out I got a 74% on my audit test. (You need a 75% to pass). sooo lame. So I hurried up and signed up for it again so it was "fresh in my mind"... then I took BEC the day before the fourth of July, and took a week off and Joram and I drove to California where he left me in California all by myself! I started work that week, and I took AUDIT again for the second time after 2 weeks of working.. My thinking was that I got a 74% the first time, so I just had to study a bit more and I'd be fine. I DIDN'T STUDY THAT WELL (obviously) and got a SECOND 74%!!!!!!!! It was torture. I cried and cried and cried being THAT close to passing it, but missing it by one point both times... soooo sad. On a brighter note, I passed BEC with a 86% so that was good! 1/4 of the way done! By then it was September! 

I decided to start studying for FAR after that (the longest one) Especially while working, and I was travelling back and forth from Utah to see Joram and work trips, I didn't have much time to study. It took me about 8 solid hours on average to get through a chapter and FAR had 10 chapters.. and if I took too long in between, I would forget details, and have to re-study/memorize/learn it. Anyway, I decided to take it in October! October was fast approaching, and I didn't feel ready for it at all... but November was my busy season, and December was a closed month, and I would be with family a lot, and I had to take REG in Janurary before my Notice to schedule expired. Sooo... after I rushed through the material, and not feeling confident at all, I took FAR and found out weeks later that I got a 72%....... so close yet so incredibly far. 

Now November. Busy season filled up all my time and weekends in November, and then Joram and I got engaged.. and after that, I started studying for REG. I took almost all weekends in December (closed month) to study. By this point, I had taken 4 tests, and only passed once. So I decided that something needed to change. If getting my CPA was  something I actually wanted, I needed to put in the time. I took REG in January and passed with a 95%!!! I think I was paranoid at that point and studied way TOO much haha. 

After I passed REG, I was half way done, and I had a wedding in two months. I decided to take those two months, plan my wedding, spend time at the gym (lol), and enjoy them while not worrying about the CPA. We got married in March, went on our honeymoon, bought a car, moved in together in a new area, and I began studying AGAIN.

Now it was tricky - at EY, if you pass all four of the CPA tests within a year of your start date, you get a $5,000 bonus. That left me with two months to take the two hardest tests. (June was a closed month) if I wanted the bonus... which obviously I did. 

So our first two months of marriage were prettttyyyy boring. My one and only client at work  was going through a huge transaction, so I was working 12+ hours on most days, and several weekends. My husband has to be in San Francisco by 6:30AM every day because he deals with stocks, and is on the New York Market timing...  which meant he was waking up at about 5:30AM. SO, because I wanted the bonus, I had two months to take my two hardest tests. I woke up at 5:30AM everyday with my husband, and I went to work at the same time he did.  Luckily I'm a morning person - so this part wasn't too bad. Plus I wanted SOME time with him so I didn't study nights, not that I had too much time to study nights getting home past 8PM. I would get to the office around 6:15AM and then study til about 9AM on days where I didn't have something urgent at work that I needed to finish first. 

Let me tell you. Those two months were very hard for me. I was in busy season, working long hours, and on top of that, all of my free time (mornings and weekends) went to studying. I normally go to the gym in the morning, and as stupid as this sounds... not only was I exhausted but I felt so fat and just gross. My whole life was accounting. I ended up deleting all social media apps to not torture myself with watching everyone doing fun things. I took Audit at the end of April after studying three weeks, and I took FAR a month later on the absolute last day possible for me to get my bonus (May 30th). I month later I found out I passed Audit with a 90% and Far with an 80%. Hallelujah!! I passed all of them... it was seriously, one of the best feelings ever. I FINALLY had time after work where I could come home and just RELAX without thinking in the back of my mind which chapters I should be studying. 

I've been afraid to admit parts of this because sometimes I feel dumb that it took me an entire year... and that I failed the SAME test twice with a 74%... but hey, my life isn't perfect, and unfortunately, I'm not naturally brilliant at all areas in accounting. I know some people who are just completely gifted and so smart, and can pass it faster and without failing - although math and numbers have always been my strength but I've always had to work hard for my grades in college, and that's nothing to be ashamed of. And I know others who take years and many many failed tests. So yeah, however you want to see it, I passed the CPA exam!! 

After that, I worked on taking the ethics test, getting the experience hours verified, applying for the CPA, getting my college transcripts sent and most recently, seven months later, I got the best certificate ever in the mail :) 

 

And that was my journey to becoming a Certified Public Accountant. Sorry if it was SO boring, but as always... you don't have to read it :) Good luck to everyone taking the CPA test, or anyone who has a friend or significant other taking the test. If I could do it while planning a wedding, and during the middle of busy season... anyone can do it! Just takes a lot of time, determination, and patience. Let me know if you have ANY questions and I will do my best to answer them! 


Love you all, 

B

PS!!!!!!!!!! Added this for fellow current CPA test takers: 
10 helpful hints for those currently taking the the CPA tests: 
1. BUY Enounce Myspeed this saved me. It is seriously a game changer. You can listen to the lectures on double speed and not fall asleep!! So worth the $30 it costs!!
2. Don't let your NTS expire!! Know the dates!  And after you take and pass a test... don't let them expire! 18 months!!
3. After you apply to start taking the CPA Exams and get approved, you aren't done. You still have to apply for your NTS. So I got approved, and didn't realize I needed a NTS to sign up... and went to the Prometric site to sign up to take my test (2 weeks before) and couldn't. By the time I got my NTS (takes about a week) ALL spots were taken!! Sooo I was very delayed. 
4. IF YOU FAIL DON'T GIVE UP. Trust me... it's worth it. RETAKE IT ASAP!
5. The Notecards - if they give you the chance to buy them, they aren't worth it. just use the digital ones that Becker has online. Just as good and saves you $200. 
6. KEY TO PASSING FOR ME: For people using Becker: Go through the chapters, get a blank white piece of paper and make a page of all of the KEY PHRASES (anytime you have to fill in those bubbles) and MEMORIZE the crap out of them. There is a reason they are so focused on in the material.
7. THE MAIN REASON I FAILED AUDIT: I had no idea you could use the resource tabs in the simulation section to get answers!! Don't make my same mistake!! USE THEM! There was an entire section on knowing the word for word language for an unqualified opinion and I was guessing while it was in the simulation material ON THE TEST. So mad. Definitely could have got 1% more if I would have known that....
8. If you are running out of time... focus on the simulations and practice questions and skip the lectures. LEARN the material in those. 
9.  Keys for each test:
BEC - focus on practice problems (simulations aren't worth as much) I hardly spent any time on them during the test and still got a 86%
FAR - Practice Problems over and over and over. This one is tricky.. don't take too much time in between the 10 chapters or you will forget the material.
REG - Simulations. I spent so much time on really learning the information in the simulations and doing them over and over until I felt good about them and it worked because I felt so good on the test.
AUD - MEMORIZATION. take the different opinions, put them side by side and memorize the differences. Know all of the keys in Becker SPECIFICALLY. Don't just quickly scan through. Take time knowing the very specific details.
10. If you have spare time and love torture... listen to the lectures while you drive in your car! It helped me :) 
**If you haven't started your full time yet - TAKE THE TESTS BEFORE YOU START. It's so much easier to find the time to study! **If you have started full time - my biggest advice: It's a total mindset. It will be a sacrifice. These tests aren't like being in college where you go to class, take a test and always pass... it takes a lot of time. So definitely take them buuut just realize, it's gonna be hard work so go into it with that mindset. It's worth it!! 

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  4. How brilliant to have your license! You are definitely right about many people not understanding the work that goes into such an achievement, so thank you for sharing your story. I hope you are very proud that your hard work and long hours have paid off, and that you celebrated well. Congratulations on your qualifications and on your marriage too!

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  7. I am a junior accounting student with a 4.0. Honestly, I don't feel like I have learned much so far and I worry that I am not getting it. How confident did you feel when you were college pursuing accounting?

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  9. Excellent tips! Congratulations on getting your CPA license! You are a great example for many college students. Thank you for sharing your inspiring story. Through hard work and determination, you were able to accomplish your academic goals and become a licensed CPA. I hope to one day follow your path and achieve my CPA license as well.

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