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(UPDATE/CORRECTION) A CPA Exam Study Timeline for Masters Students

When this future CPA from South Carolina wrote in asking for our sage advice, he noted that we’d probably answered this exact question before but he thought email might be the best way to get a more specific answer. While we may berate you for not using the fancy search bar in the upper right-hand corner of this website (I’m speaking directly to you, guy who emailed me asking a question I just answered a week ago), that doesn’t mean we don’t want to answer your questions. Really it just means that we’re bitter and the vodka supply is running low at GC HQ. So if you have a CPA exam question, by all means get in touch. If I have written about it already, Caleb’s next trip to Costco for 1.ld fix that right up.

Anyway, enough about our vices, let’s get to the question:

I am currently in the second semester of my masters to fulfill the 150 hour requirement and am starting with my firm in October of this year. My firm also offers to pay for a B—– course for us to help with the studying. What is a simple timetable for when I should start studying, when I should start the tests and such[?] I am looking to earn my companies bonus for completing the exam in a year, but I also know that with school and everything I am most likely behind the 8 ball for that.

First, we have to thank you for bringing the phrase “behind the 8 ball” to our attention. I’ve never used it myself (though I’ve certainly been in that position) and I have to say looking at your situation you’re not exactly there either. By all appearances, you have a good education behind you and a career in front of you. In other economic times that probably wouldn’t be enough but for now, you’re head and shoulders above many of the sad saps who we talk to on a near daily basis that have degrees growing mold and not a single job prospect ahead of them. Be grateful you only have to decide which CPA exam part to take and not which flavor of ramen noodle to spend your rent money on.

My biggest piece of advice to you is to use your review course. My professional experience has been that those who get courses “free” from work almost always blow it off, buy it at the wrong time (hello, don’t sign up in January) or otherwise waste a good opportunity. If you had to shell out $2,000 of your own hard-earned money, you’d be much more likely to get the most out of it, right?

Then there’s your bonus. The fact that you’re acknowledging a bonus of $5,000 if you get this done shows that you might already be using that as a motivator – which is fine! We aren’t suggesting you run out and blow $5,000 on a home entertainment system as if you already have it but you are an accountant and money is your thing so use that to your advantage when you’re feeling unmotivated, lazy or overwhelmed. Which brings us to our next point.

It is now February and you start in October, the problem being you won’t actually be able to sit for the CPA exam until after you meet South Carolina’s 150 requirement. You are exactly the sort of future CPA we think should be allowed to sit for the exam at 120 units but we doubt the South Carolina Board of Accountancy reads Going Concern and even if they do, you might be a partner by the time the rule actually changes. Guess this is where your position behind the 8 ball comes in, eh?

UDPATE: Apply to sit now while you are eligible and try to nail as many exam parts as you can while you have some time. With a Masters program going on, that could be just one (or zero) but hey, at least you’ve got a head start before you are working and will leave less work later.

Talk to your firm and see what sort of support they offer for studying. We’re pretty sure they’ll laugh directly in your face but it’s worth a shot.

Assuming they are like just about every other firm out there, you’re going to want to apply for the exam as soon as you are eligible so you can get the paperwork part out of the way and begin to study shortly thereafter so the information is freshest in your mind. Don’t make the mistake of studying now months in advance (even though this appears to be an optimal time to do it) as you’re just going to have to do it all over again later. You’re going to need to be diligent – if not anal – about a study schedule once you start working, which we recommend you use to your advantage. Get up at 5am to study for two hours before work, that way if you’re exhausted at 4 or 5 or 9 pm when you’re still slaving away for the man, it won’t matter because at least you’re still getting paid to do it. You can study for the entire exam in 400 hours. There are about 730 hours in a month. Got it?

It will be excruciating but it can be done. I’m sure any number of the poor slobs who did exactly that before you will be chiming in in the comments any minute now.

CORRECTION: an earlier version of this article incorrectly stated South Carolina was a 150 state. It’s actually a 120 state. We realize the error of our ways and will repent all weekend on the NASBA website.

Grant Thornton’s New CPA Policy: Bonuses and Requirement for Promotion

Grant Thornton rolled out some policy updates today related to obtaining a CPA (full email after the jump), including some impressive bonuses for its newest employees (hired after April 15, 2010). The largest available is $10k if you happen to be of the Elijah Watts types and “are among the top 10 candidates earning the highest cumulative scores on the four sections of the CPA Exam in the country.”

Other bonuses include:

• $5k for passing all four sections within one year of full-time hire.
• $3k if you pass within 18 months of full-time hire.
• $7.5k for those in the top ten in their state but not good enough for national recognition.

The firm is also paying a small bonus ($1k) for current employees who have epicly failed so far but��������������������exam between August 1, 2010 and July 31, 2011.

While most people easily get hung up on the money aspect of things, the bigger change is the requirement for new employees (again, those hired after April 15, 2010) to have passed all four sections of the CPA prior to being eligible for promotion to Senior Associate. That goes for both audit and tax employees.

We covered CPA exam policies in a couple of posts earlier this year and the only other firm that has this requirement is PwC for the audit practice. The tax practice requires a CPA for promotion to manager.

So some pretty interesting developments at GT and it seems to be a fair transition – from a timing standpoint anyway – as those hired in the last six months can hardly find their ass with both hands, let alone be ready for a promotion to SA. But again, this is major policy change going forward and GT is, at the very least, making the case that they will be holding all of their associates to a higher threshold of performance than firms that don’t have such requirements.

Sound off your support or displeasure in the comments on the bonuses or promotion requirements below. And for the non-GTers out there, what do you think of your firm’s policy? Does it need updated to keep the pace with GT’s move? Are changes in the works? Keep us updated by emailing us at [email protected].

Policy update
Important information regarding CPA licensure

At Grant Thornton, we are a dynamic global organization that is committed to making a difference to our colleagues, clients, the profession and our communities. As part of our commitment to providing our clients with distinctive service and the highest quality, I am pleased to announce two important changes effective immediately.

Introducing the CPA Pass Bonus
It is our goal to continue to attract intellectually curious, talented individuals to our firm and to encourage them to pass the CPA exam and earn their license as soon as possible. As such, I am delighted to announce that Grant Thornton will now offer a CPA Pass Bonus.

Grant Thornton will pay professionals who joined the firm as entry-level associates from campus on or after April 15, 2010
· $5,000 – For passing all four parts of the exam prior to or within one year of their full-time date of hire

· $3,000 – For passing all four parts of the exam within 18 months of their full-time date of hire

· $10,000 – For those who are among the top 10 candidates earning the highest cumulative scores on the four sections of the CPA Exam in the country

· $7,500 – For those who are recognized as earning the highest cumulative scores on their initial sitting for the four sections of the CPA Exam within their state and were not national winners

To recognize a transition within the spirit of the new policy, Grant Thornton will pay a one- time “catch up” to experienced associates through senior associates

· $1,000 – For passing all four parts of the exam, if they pass during the August 1, 2010 and July 31, 2011 time period only

CPA requirement for promotion to senior associate
In addition to paying a bonus to those passing the CPA exam, the firm has made the decision to require audit and tax employees to have passed all four parts of the CPA exam in order to be promoted to senior associate.

For employees hired on or after April 15, 2010

· This new promotion policy is effective immediately.

For employees hired before April 15, 2010 or as experienced associates and senior associates:

· Employees who have not yet passed the CPA exam will be “grandfathered” under our current policy. In that regard, we encourage all individuals currently at the associate 2 level or above to pass the CPA exam within the next 2 years. However, they must be a licensed CPA prior to being promoted to manager.

For additional information, please see the CPA Pass Bonus Policy linked here.

If you have any questions about either of these changes, please contact your practice leader or local HR professional.