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CPA Requirements: Meeting the 150 Credit Rule on a Budget

Happy Friday, people! Is it a blackout month yet? I guess not. But hey, we have a good question I received via Twitter yesterday to talk about. If you have a CPA exam question, life question, career question or general insult to hurl at me, tweet or email me.

Done w/ exam but do u have any recs on getting 150 cred other than grad school. I don’t want to pay the $$ for it. #cpahelp

Ahhh, the good old 150 rule. Intended to turn bright-eyed young accounting students into skilled leaders of the industry, the 150 rule has driven a lot of you right off the steaming pile of debt. But unless your state actually requires a Master’s (I can’t name a single one that does), there is absolutely no reason to take that route unless you feel that it will improve your salary prospects or if you can afford it. Otherwise? Please.

So. What’s a 4-year-college underachiever to do?

The truth is that many state boards accept credits from any educational institution recognized in that state, meaning you can easily sign up for 30 units at community college and meet the 150 unit requirement for licensure. Now, the key here is to take classes that you think will round you out as a human being, actually be interesting, or at least inspire you to show up for class. In my experience taking night classes at a community college back in the day, community college professors can actually be a lot more fun than the professors you might be used to. Many work in the industry or field that they will be teaching you about, which allows them a real world practical experience that many academic accounting professors might not have (sorry, guys, you know I’m right). If you are single, you can also definitely find some tail at community college, so there’s another bonus.

Community college will be your cheapest option (if recognized by your state board), but if that isn’t something you’re able to do, there are always online colleges. A lot of these are for-profit, overpriced and not always fun to attend, though I can’t say that from personal experience. I’ve heard stories, mmkay? If you have the money, there’s nothing wrong with enrolling to take some online classes this way but it is definitely more feasible for the left-brainers out there.

Whatever you decide to do, take the opportunity to get creative with your education. Those additional units are meant for you to advance your knowledge so you can be better at your job protecting the public trust or whatever it is you’re meant to do when you get your CPA. A fucking art class wouldn’t kill you, it rounds you out.

(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.