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When should you take the CPA Exam?

I'm a junior in high school interested in the CPA exam for a career as an accountant.

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grant’s Answer

Great to hear that you are starting to think about the exam at an early stage.

To determine the best time to take the Certified Public Accountant (CPA) Exam, it's important to consider several factors, including your preparedness, educational requirements, and professional goals. Here are a few key points to consider:

Educational requirements: Make sure you have completed the educational requirements necessary to sit for the CPA Exam. These requirements vary by jurisdiction but typically involve completing a certain number of accounting and business-related courses or obtaining a specific degree.

Knowledge and preparation: Take into account your level of knowledge and preparedness for the exam. The CPA Exam is a comprehensive test that covers various topics such as auditing, financial accounting, taxation, and business environment concepts. Adequate preparation through studying and practice exams is crucial for success.

Experience: Although not always mandatory, gaining some practical experience in the accounting field before taking the CPA Exam can be beneficial. Working in the field can help solidify your understanding of accounting principles and provide real-world context to the exam material.

Personal circumstances: Consider your personal circumstances, such as your availability and commitments. If you're currently working or have other responsibilities, you'll need to allocate sufficient time for exam preparation. Choose a period when you can dedicate focused study time without excessive distractions.

Exam schedule and deadlines: Familiarize yourself with the CPA Exam's scheduling and deadlines set by the jurisdiction or testing agency. Determine the exam's frequency, available testing windows, and any time limits for completing all exam sections.

Professional goals: Evaluate your career goals and aspirations. If you plan to work in a field that requires a CPA license or want to enhance your job prospects in the accounting and finance industry, taking the exam sooner rather than later may be advantageous.

Ultimately, the timing of when to take the CPA Exam is a personal decision. It's essential to assess your readiness, plan accordingly, and ensure you have met the educational requirements set by your jurisdiction. Consulting with professionals or mentors in the accounting field can provide additional guidance based on your specific circumstances.
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Zachary’s Answer

I agree with the other posters but wanted to add a few more tips. If you are set on a career in accounting and taking your CPA exam, spend some time finding a university that has a well structured curriculum to support taking the CPA exam. This can mean a variety of things depending on the state that you live in. For instance, some universities support a master's program on top of the bachelor's to provide 1) more time to obtain the number of hours needed to sit for the exam and 2) the opportunity to sit for some parts of the exam during your master's year. It is best to check with the "sitting" requirements in your state coupled with the universities that you want to attend. I give this background because I agree that I have seen many colleagues get overwhelmed with the amount of work they have in their "day job" after college while also trying to study for the exams, so I would suggest trying to take the exams in a period that you have plenty of dedicated time to do so.
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Luke’s Answer

Congratulations on your interest in the CPA exam and a career in accounting! The CPA exam is a challenging but rewarding exam that can open up many doors in your career.

The best time to take the CPA exam is when you are fully prepared. This means that you have a strong understanding of the accounting principles and procedures that are tested on the exam, and you have the time to dedicate to studying and preparing for the exam.

There is no one-size-fits-all answer to the question of when to take the CPA exam. Some people choose to take the exam right after college, while others wait until they have a few years of work experience under their belt. Ultimately, the best time to take the exam is when you are ready.

If you are a junior in high school, you are still a few years away from taking the CPA exam. However, there are a few things you can do now to prepare for the exam. First, you can start taking accounting classes in high school or college. Second, you can get involved in extracurricular activities related to accounting, such as joining the accounting club or participating in accounting competitions. Third, you can start studying for the exam by using online resources or taking a review course.

By taking these steps now, you can give yourself a head start on your CPA exam journey.
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Adam’s Answer

The optimal time to commence your studying endeavors is within the interval between completing college and landing your first accounting job. Should you choose to begin earlier, you might lack the requisite accounting knowledge to pass your exams. If you wait until you've already started your career, juggling both work and study can present a considerable challenge. Given that you're still in high school, the most beneficial advice would be to enroll in as many accounting courses as possible and seize every work opportunity that comes your way. This will enable you to cultivate and hone your accounting skills.
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Yaheng’s Answer

Drawing from personal experience, I highly recommend completing your CPA exam sections prior to entering the public accounting field. This is because finding time to study for exams can be quite challenging once you're immersed in the world of public accounting.
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Garrett’s Answer

Hey there! I totally agree with Luke on this one. Just to give you a bit more insight, the exam actually has multiple sections (there were 4 when I took it). It's pretty common for people to not pass all of the sections on their first try – I know I didn't. With an 18-month window to complete all four sections, it's important to set aside enough time to really get ready for each part.

From what I've seen with friends and colleagues, it usually takes around 100 hours of studying for each exam section. Juggling this with a full-time job can be a bit tricky, but it's definitely doable. There are plenty of both self-study and live study courses available to help you prepare – when I took the exam 10 years ago, Becker's FastPass was a popular choice for recent graduates. When the time comes for you to sit for the exam, just take a look at the different options and figure out which one will work best for you. You got this!
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Emily’s Answer

Hi Michelle, you will need to obtain a certain number of educational credits in line with the CPA guidelines in your specific state where you want to be licensed. Some of those educational credits are required to be accounting, and some are required to be ethics related (on top of other credit requirements). Some states require 150 credit hours before you apply, while other states will let you take the exam while you are still finishing your 150 hours.

It is most beneficial to take the exam before you start a full time job, typically the summer between when you graduate from college and starting a job. This allows you sufficient time to study and prepare, without the expectations of your first job interfering
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Chris’s Answer

I think the landscape of timing your CPA exams is changing. By the time you have enough accounting credits to sit for the exam, the structure, and rules surrounding exam credits will have changed significantly.

The exam format itself is changing. Starting January 1, 2024, the exam is switching to a Core + Discipline model. There is a good summary article that I have linked here:

https://nasba.org/blog/2022/02/25/transition-policy/

In the past, typically you would have 18 months once you pass one exam section, before it expired. Meaning, you would having 18 months to pass all 4 exam parts. Recently, the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy (NASBA) extended this timeline to 30 months. This extension still needs to be adopted at the individual state level, but presumably that will all be sorted out by the time you are eligible to sit for your first exam section. I have linked an article from the Journal of Accountancy detailing this extension below:

https://www.journalofaccountancy.com/news/2023/apr/nasba-approves-one-year-extension-cpa-exam-window.html

In my opinion, this makes taking the exam sections during your first few years on the job much more manageable. Before, it was very difficult to manage enough time outside of work over the course of 18 months to finish all exam sections. Now, I think this is much more manageable over a 30 month period. This essentially covers your first years as a Staff at your typical accounting firm.

Speaking from experience, I would still try and make sure to finish your CPA exam sections before being promoted to a Senior level in the public accounting space. It becomes more difficult to find time to study for exams as you progress through your career.

Hope this helps!
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Kristy’s Answer

As soon as possible after grad school! It is easier to take it while the information is fresh. Life just gets busier and it is harder to prepare for if you wait.
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Kaylea’s Answer

I found that the best time to start taking the CPA exam was before I finished college. You can submit a certificate of enrollment form that allows you to start taking the exam before you graduate. This was extremely helpful for me to be able to start taking the exam while the content was still fresh in my mind. Furthermore, I'd recommend trying to get through as much of the exam as you can before starting to work full-time. Otherwise it can be pretty overwhelming to try to work and study. I found the portions I took while I was still in school much easier to get through because I could treat it like extra homework while I was already in the studying mindset. While working it can be difficult to do both, however, I know multiple people who did not start until they were working and were still successful. Best of luck!
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Lauren’s Answer

Hi Michelle!

I just finished taking the CPA exams so I am happy to help with this question. There are two parts to the answer in my opinion:

Generally, I would recommend taking the test as soon as possible after you finish school. Start studying about a month before you graduate, or right after you graduate. Scores tend to drop significantly the longer you wait to start. As for a study platform, I suggest Becker as it has a ton of resources to help you plan out when you should take each test. Becker is very expensive so, if possible, wait until you have a job offer that will pay for it.

The more concrete answer, however, is that the actual day you can start taking exams is determined by your state board. Look up "[your state] state board of public accountancy" and a website should come up with all of the information you need to know. Look for any checklists of requirements so you know when to apply, where to send the application, etc. Usually, your program director our advisor would be a helpful resource in getting you started with the actual state board.

Things will change from state to state, but this will be a great starting point. Best of luck with the exam! It is challenging but definitely worth the time and effort.
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Victoria’s Answer

Hi Michelle!

I am a CPA at a Big Four firm (about five years into my career) and have met a lot of colleagues who took the CPA exam at varying points in their accounting journey. Personally, I took my first exam (there are 4 parts of the CPA exam total) after I received by bachelor's degree in accounting and while I was finishing my master's degree in accounting. I decided to get 1 of the exams out of the way during the last semester of my master's program and then I completed the remaining 3 exams during the summer after finishing my master's program. I finished all 4 exams before starting my career during fall after graduating. Looking back, I feel like I made a great decision by taking all 4 exams before starting my career, since studying can be very time consuming. However, some CPAs that I know took some exams before starting their career, and finished the remaining exams while working full-time. I know other colleagues that finished their college classes in the spring and then spent the remainder of the year focusing on passing the CPA exam before then starting their career the following January. Some other colleagues of mine were able to work full-time while studying for and passing the CPA exam.

Best of luck!
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Maria Clarette’s Answer

Hello Michelle,

It's wonderful to know that you're enthusiastic about pursuing a career in accounting and taking the CPA exam. When I was in graduate school, I took the CPA exam and it turned out to be an excellent choice. I suggest finishing all four sections before beginning your full-time job, as it can be quite difficult to complete them while working. Wishing you all the best in your journey to becoming a CPA!
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Sabeeka’s Answer

Great suggestions! Here's a summary with a focus on action steps: 1. Enroll in a college or university that meets the CPA exam requirements. 2. Gain real-world experience and confirm your passion for the field by doing an internship during your studies. 3. Take the CPA exam as soon as you can after graduation, as the material will still be fresh in your mind. Balancing work and other activities can make it harder to concentrate on these demanding exams later on. With determination and effort, you can achieve success!
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Stefanie’s Answer

Each state has its own unique CPA requirements, and I noticed you're in California. Here's a helpful link to the California Board of Accountancy Exam FAQ's, where you'll find information like "When can I apply for the Uniform CPA Exam": https://www.dca.ca.gov/cba/applicants/exam-faqs.shtml

To take the exam, you'll need a bachelor's degree with 24 accounting credits and 24 business-related credits. But, you can actually sign up for the exam 180 days before finishing your degree. Remember, while you'll need 120 credits for your bachelor's degree, you will need 150 credits to qualify for a CPA license. Check out the California Board of Accountancy CPA licensure applicant info page here: https://www.dca.ca.gov/cba/applicants/licensure-applicant.shtml

Studying for the CPA exam can take a lot of time. Ideally, you should study after college but before starting a job. However, not everyone can afford to be without work. If possible, try working part-time or finding a seasonal job (like tax preparation) that allows for study time. Also, many public accounting firms will cover the cost of a CPA review course and exam fees, so consider this when evaluating job offers.
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Ashley’s Answer

I agree with Adam. The best time to take the exam is right after graduating from college, before starting your first accounting job. Make sure you have the necessary credits to sit for the exam. If you land a job in public accounting right after college, balancing work and study might be challenging, but some firms provide support in this area. Either way, you're on the right track and achieving great things!

If time isn't a concern, consider working in accounting for a couple of years to gain knowledge before taking the exam. Keep in mind that most states require you to meet experience requirements before becoming licensed.
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Grace’s Answer

Important to note that you are not able to sit for the CPA exam until you have already completed all of the college course requirements. With this said, the sooner you are able to start sitting for the exams once you graduate college and meet those course and education credit requirements, I think the more successful you will be! You will already be in the groove of studying for tests and will have more time as a new staff or early in your career compared to if you wait as you get promoted through the ranks. Of course, some of your job experience will also help you with some of the exams (for example, if you join public accounting maybe you wait to take the audit or regulation exams for last if you are practicing either audit or tax services). It's not an easy test, but as long as you put aside the time to study, you can do it! Good luck!
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