When is the best time to start studying for the CPA Exam?

It’s one of the most common questions we receive, and the answer is…it depends. That’s because CPA Exam candidates are varied and at different stages in their lives. In an attempt to address as many candidates as possible, we’ve provided advice for candidates at a few of the most common stages of their journey toward becoming a CPA.

Current Undergrad College Student

If you’re an undergrad working toward becoming a CPA, you can hold off on studying for the CPA Exam. While getting ahead of the game is noble, it’s more important to focus on the classes that will prepare you for the exam. Here’s why:

  • Studying for the CPA Exam takes a lot of time. That time should be reserved for studying to receive your bachelor’s degree — a requirement of becoming a CPA. 
  • Many states require that you pass the CPA Exam within an 18-month rolling window. If you don’t pass all four sections within the 18-month window, any section that you passed will be forfeited, including the fees paid to take each section.
  • Don’t forget that you’re in college. Enjoy your final years of undergrad. Hang out with friends. Go to the game. Enjoy a hobby. Studying for the CPA Exam too early can lead to burn out. You’ll have plenty of time to study when you’re done with undergrad classes.

Recent Undergrad/Grad School Graduate

If you recently earned your bachelor’s or master’s degree, congrats! You now have a couple of options, depending on your personal circumstances. Many candidates elect to move forward as quickly as possible, while others decide to take to time off to reset. There’s no one-size-fits-all approach, so listen to yourself.

If you want to get your CPA license as soon as possible:

  • Take advantage of your newfound open schedule, and start studying as soon as possible. Use the summer and fall months to study for the exam with the goal of applying for an accounting position upon passing all four sections. Passing the exam will give you a huge advantage when looking to fulfill your experience requirements for licensure.
  • If you start an internship or full-time position immediately after graduation, we recommend starting to study for the exam at this time. Many firms award bonuses to employees who pass the CPA Exam within a certain time frame.

If you prefer to take time off before licensure:

  • Create a timeline of when you would like to begin your career as a CPA, and work backward.
  • Give yourself a realistic time frame of how long it will take to study and pass all four sections of the exam. Whatever is left is how much time you can take off to reset.
  • You’re free to spend this time as you choose. Whether it’s traveling, spending time with family and friends, or simply watching Netflix, clearing your mind will allow you to approach the exam with a renewed spirit.

Working Professional

If you’ve worked in the accounting industry and have now decided to advance your career with a CPA license, we recommend studying as soon as possible. Here are a few ideas for fitting a study routine into an already-busy life.

  • Condition your body and mind to study at a specific part of the day. If you’re a morning person, find an hour or two before you go to work. If you prefer nights, study before you go to bed. Find the time that works for you, and stick to it.
  • If you have the resources and support, working part-time can free up your schedule. Work with your employer to find the best accommodations.
  • Ask your employer for a study vacation. While studying for an exam isn’t an ideal vacation, it can give you time to focus solely on the goal at hand — passing the CPA exam.

Every situation is unique, and we understand that these scenarios don’t cover all CPA candidates. Passing the CPA Exam requires commitment, planning, and flexibility. Make a detailed plan, and you can find the time to start studying that works for your goals, circumstances, and health. So when is the best time to start studying for the CPA Exam? When it works for you!

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