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No Shirt, No Shoes, No Accounting Degree, No Probl– Actually, Small Problem

Remember Part 1 of this where a few of you asked "what was the point of this post?" Welcome to Part 2, where I explain that very point.

Let’s recall a few details from Part 1, as this article is really only relevant to two unique groups of students:

  • Double majors who declared a first major and subsequently added accounting for the purpose of obtaining a CPA
  • Anyone who obtained a non-accounting degree who decided to go back to school to obtain the courses necessary to sit for the CPA

I’ve decided to add an additional blanket assumption whereby out of financial or otherwise necessity, these students need to finish their accounting studies (and become CPA eligible in the process) as quickly as humanly possible1

Why does this matter?
In my experience, you have two relevant entities here: a state board of accountancy and a university who would seem to have similar interests with respect to their students/customers, however this is not necessarily the case. This is where the efficiency and expedited timing of getting through an accounting program can become as confusing as watching David Bowie’s “Labyrinth” while in the throes of an LSD trip.

So here’s our situation: our friends from above just finished meeting with their accounting faculty advisor. Their simple question was taken verbatim from the paragraph above:

“How can we become CPA eligible as fast as humanly possible?”

In response, their advisor gave them a brochure including the university’s accounting degree requirements and said:

“Take these courses and you’ll get there, no problem.”

Here’s my question: Did the students receive an adequate response from their advisor? In my opinion: no, they didn’t. In fact, their advisor (potentially) could have done each of his students a great disservice by offering such a response.

Let’s take a look at the Virginia Board of Accountancy’s accounting-specific education requirements:

“Minimum of 24 semester hours of accounting courses, to include: courses in auditing, financial accounting, management accounting, and taxation;”

In more transparent2 terms, Virginia is telling you:

If you want to sit for the CPA: Take Audit, Intermediate, Cost, Tax and 12 hours of whatever-the-fuck-other accounting courses you want.  But let me be crystal-fucking-clear: Take Audit, Intermediate, Cost and Tax. I couldn't care less what the other 4 classes are. Just make sure they begin with “Acct” and end with a 300 – 500 number.

Seems simple enough, right? So let’s look at the accounting degree requirements3 from Virginia Commonwealth University, a public school located in VA (duh), just for giggles.

Required (24 hours):
ACCT 205 Introductory Accounting Survey
ACCT 303 Intermediate Accounting I
ACCT 304 Intermediate Accounting II
ACCT 305 Intermediate Accounting III
ACCT 306 Cost Accounting
ACCT 307 Accounting Systems
ACCT 405 Tax Accounting Principles
ACCT 406 Auditing

Not rocket science here. The state CPA’s requirements seem different — albeit in subtle ways — than what is going on here at this school. This, however, doesn’t even scratch the surface that is the often arbitrary and always complex web of required prerequisites students must navigate through when selecting courses. By way of example, at the referenced school a student must take Intermediate Accounting I and Accounting Systems before enrolling in Audit (one of the four, explicitly required courses by the VA BOA). Where is Accounting Systems located in the VA BOA list of requirements?4

Imagine this scenario: it is your last semester prior to sitting for the CPA. You have 21 accounting credit hours knocked out and only need one last class: Audit. You attempt to enroll in Audit, but are denied the ability to do so.

Why did this happen?
You did not take Accounting Systems. You took another arbitrary accounting elective, deemed perfectly suitable by the VA BOA, but in the eyes of university administration, you are unfit and thus ineligible to enroll in Audit.

So what’s the big deal?
Recall our completely fictitious, not-at-all-based-in-reality students' primary interest in completing these CPA requirements was to do so in the most efficient manner possible. In this example, the university’s prerequisites have inhibited their ability to fulfill the VA BOA requirements in the most timely and cost efficient manner possible. The added cost comes in both monetary terms (at least $1,000 for an extra 3-credit course + books) and more importantly, in that student’s time. On a normal semester schedule, a student who would have completed their studies in December of a given year may now have to wait until May. A thousand bucks and 6 months: this is accounting education’s version of a DUI.

What’s the answer?
Assuming our students eventually pass the CPA exam, this will probably be a long forgotten memory. As a few of GC’s coolest/most-humble/overall-best readers commented, the “route” an individual takes to the CPA is virtually never detailed by anyone once it is obtained and I’ve never been in a position where anyone, no matter what, cared about what undergraduate or otherwise ancillary set of studies a person completed prior to or in fulfillment of the CPA. The only question anyone ever cares about is: CPA, got it or not?

The fact remains that you as the student are in the position of walking the delicate tightrope that is balancing the incompetence of state accountancy boards/university administration and the not-so-hidden agenda of whatever university is holding your wallet hostage. Educate thyself accordingly.

1 This timing prerequisite is everything, boys and girls

2 I’ve spoken with VA BOA representatives on numerous occasion as to why this requirement is not more clearly spelled out

3 The below includes only the specific course requirements; there are additional suggested electives not listed below

4 It’s not (explicitly, anyway)