One of the most common questions we get from our prospective students is “When is the best time to start studying for the CPA Exam?” This is a great question, especially considering the fact that so many of our students are in different stages in their lives. While we can’t address all the unique situations that everyone faces, here are some of the overarching categories that many CPA Exam candidates can relate to as they think about expanding their career toward this coveted designation.
Current Undergrad College Student
If you already know that you want to become a CPA, and you’ve known this since birth, and you’re already taking all of the necessary classes to ensure that you have the appropriate credit hours to sit for the Exam, that’s great! You’re definitely on the right track and are ahead of the game. But if you’re a year or 2 away from graduating with your Bachelor’s degree, we recommend that you hold off on studying for the CPA Exam for a few reasons:
- It’s important to focus on getting your degree first. Studying for the CPA Exam takes a lot of time and you want to make sure you’re passing all of your classes with adequate grades to ensure you get your Bachelor’s!
- Many states require that you pass your CPA Exam within an 18 month rolling window; any sections you took and passed will be forfeited (along with the fees) if you don’t pass all 4 sections within that 18 month time frame. This can be difficult to do especially if you have other tests, reports, homework assignments, and papers to complete!
- 3. Don’t begin studying for the CPA Exam too early—it can burn you out. Enjoy your last couple years in college being normal, which includes hanging out with friends and having free time to enjoy your hobbies. There will be plenty of time to get down to the nitty gritty of studying for the CPA Exam when you’re done with school.
Recent Undergrad/Grad College Graduate
If you just graduated with your Bachelor’s or Master’s degree, there are a couple common routes you can take:
1. You want to get your CPA license as soon as possible:
- If you’re not currently working but you’d like to get your foot into a firm, we would suggest studying immediately. Take advantage of the fact that you’re not working and that you’re out of school. Use the summer/fall months to devote your time to studying to pass all 4 sections of the CPA Exam within a window or two. This will give you a huge advantage when you’re looking for a position in the accounting field and will definitely give you a chance to get the experience you need to apply for your license (if you don’t have it already!).
- If you are currently working either as an intern or have a position with a firm already, you know that many firms give out bonuses for completion of the CPA Exam in a certain number of months. In this case, we also recommend that you begin studying immediately, obviously because you have a designated time frame in which to pass all 4 sections and also because you want to leave room for any type of setbacks that may occur.
2. You want to take some time off before you dive into it
This is another good option for recent grads who wish to just take some time off and enjoy life before they get into another horrific bout of studying and test-taking. If you’re not in a hurry to meet a firm’s bonus deadline, aren’t working, or simply have had enough of school and would rather not rush into another type of educational program, this option could be for you. Create a timeline of when you would like to begin your career as a CPA and work backwards. Give yourself a realistic timeframe of how long you would like to take to study and pass all 4 sections of the exam (such as 3, 6, 9, or 12 months, etc.) and then see how much time you would be allotting yourself to take off. Use it to travel, spend time with family/friends, or simply binge on Netflix. This way you will have less regrets and hatred toward the Exam if you’re able to take it on your own time after you’ve gotten some travel or hang around bugs out of your system.
If you’ve been in the accounting industry a while and have decided to pursue your CPA license for better, more sustainable career opportunities, you’re most likely wondering how it’s possible to work full-time while studying for the CPA Exam. The answer is that where there’s a will, there’s a way! Here’s a couple things that can work for you:
- Study early in the morning before you go to work or in the afternoon/evening after you get out of work. The former option is usually more difficult since not everyone’s a morning person. But with any type of routine, conditioning is key. Get your mind, body, and emotions on the right track with timing and the rest will fall into place. This does take a great amount of commitment, but only by following through with such a strict study schedule will you be able to achieve your goals.
- 2. Go part time. We know this is easier said than done, but if you can afford to cut your hours in half, many people take this option as well for obvious reasons. You can spend 1/3 of your day at work and the other 2/3 studying for the Exam. You have much more time and it takes a load off of the day’s pressure/stress.
- 3. Ask for 1 or 2 days of the week off or to have a half day. This option is also a good one to consider and kind of takes the in-between working full/part time route. This will give you a great chunk of time to spend focusing on the Exam while not becoming a full on part-time employee. Many candidates also ask their employers for either a few days or an entire week off before the day of their exam to bunker down and do a final review.
While there are many other types of scenarios we haven’t laid out here, what every unique situation has in common with one another is the level of commitment to make your CPA dreams come true. Do what you can with what you have and you’ll find that you can do anything you set your heart and mind to!