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Do I Have To Wait To Get My Degree to Apply for the CPA Exam?

For today’s edition of “help me figure out my life even though the answers are pretty much freely available on Google and/or here on Going Concern”, we get a reader question about the CPA exam application process or, more specifically, how to get a jump on the process. Let’s go:

I am a college student I will have 150 credits in May 2010. Do I have to wait until I get my actual diploma before I can start the process of applying to sit for the test? I guess I’ve heard that it take up to 2 months to receive an NTS so I am worried that I will have to wait until August to actually take the CPA exam. Are there loopholes?

Well, dear reader, firstly if you are going to write in asking us a question like this, it really helps to know what state you will be applying in. All jurisdictions have their own rules and their own crap to sift through, so application timelines can vary wildly depending on where you are applying. I know for a fact you can bypass California’s 8 – 10 week application time by applying when you are not eligible to sit for the exam (like your last semester of college) and then just reapply when you ARE eligible as it will only take about a week to get a reapplication processed. If you call the exam unit in California, they might even give you this suggestion themselves. As for other states? Without knowing where you are it’s hard to tell you what to expect.

The general rule is that you must meet your state’s requirements before application. Some states allow you to apply when you are not eligible as long as you will meet their requirements within a set period of time (like 180 days). Call your state board to see if this is an option.

If you’re lucky enough to be in a 120 state, you can apply for the exam with 120 units and just have to reach 150 by the time you have passed all four parts of the exam.

Most states require your degree to have posted to your transcripts before you can apply for the exam. Again, there are always exceptions so your best bet is to talk to your state board directly and ask. Asking “are there any shortcuts to licensure?” won’t get you very far so try instead to ask if there is a way to apply for the exam before you are eligible to sit or if they have any suggestions for speeding up the process.

The best way to accomplish that is to make sure you have all your paperwork in order and, if available at your school, have your degree fast-tracked to appear on your transcripts as soon as possible. Your school may charge you a nominal fee for this service, but ask them if that’s a possibility if you’re trying to get this over with sooner rather than later.

How a New Graduate Can Pass the CPA Exam (Almost) Before May 2011

This CPA exam candidate changes her name too often on Twitter to be linked to but asks us the following:

I am graduating this fall from [University of San Francisco] with an undergraduate degree in Accounting. My goal is to study and pass the test by May 2011.

I appreciate your input and advice.

First off, I love specific questions like this. If you have them you are, as always, welcome to send them in for future columns. If you have a particular goal (like passing before the 2011 changes or learning how to balance work, family and the exam), I feel better about wasting my time yelling at you because you’re much more likely to succeed. ROI, we all want one.


– Let’s start with the California Board of Accountancy. If you call their exam unit, they will tell you to expect a wait of 4 – 6 weeks for your application to be processed and you’ll get really excited when they cash the $100 application fee check three days after you mailed it. Don’t get excited, that’s the first thing they do (duh, it’s California). In reality, you can expect to wait about 8 weeks from the date you submit your application if you’re freshly graduated and applying with many other accounting grads in the state at the same time. Expect to wait 10 days for your payment coupon and 10 days for your Notice to Schedule once you get your ATT (Authorization to Test). So let’s say your school already posted your degree to your transcripts and you sent in your application today (7/16). You may not get approved until 9/16. Best case scenario they get you approved quickly and you get your ATT on 8/16 (don’t count on it).

Once you have that, it could be another 3 weeks until you are actually scheduling your exams. This year (since your goal is 2011, we’re assuming you’re starting as early as possible before new exam changes hit), the last window of the year will be especially hard to schedule. We’re just guessing on that since everyone seems afraid of CBT-e. It will be interesting to see the actual numbers once they are released.

Get the Hard Stuff Out of the Way – If you can get in one part this year, great. If you had to ask me which one you should take I’d usually say the one that will be hardest for you (since your rolling 18 month window doesn’t start until you actually sit for and pass that first one) but because of the 2011 changes I’m telling most candidates to take FAR. A lot of them are also trying to squeeze in BEC – I imagine they don’t like the idea of written communications and more economics but I could be wrong. Don’t take the easy route, you’ll regret it when you’re trying to pass that last really difficult section you put off and end up losing scores because 18 months came and went.

Don’t Be an Overachiever – I know the old timers will pipe in on this and say back in their day they didn’t have calculators and had to walk uphill both ways in the snow to get to the exam center twice a year to take all 4 parts over 19 1/2 hours but we humbly suggest sitting for no more than two parts per testing window. If you can get in for Q4 2010, you will have one exam done then take two more in Q1 2011 and the last one Q2 2011. So you may not exactly hit your May target but it’s OK to adjust your plans (don’t get mad at the Board of Accountancy but if you want a shortcut around their 8 week application time, get in touch with me) and you can still say you reached your goal.

The only other issue is getting those extra units to actually be licensed under Pathway 2 (the best idea for your own mobility) since you are an undergrad but you can get those in anything and have five years to meet the licensure requirements before you lose your exam scores.

Worry about that later. As for how to study, we’ve talked about CPA review courses, study strategies and things not to do in previous posts. Good luck!