Should you start studying for the CPA exam while in college?

Some ambitious students want to get a leg up on the CPA exam. They start studying during their last semester of college and hope to knock out two of the four exams before they graduate.

Generally I don’t think this is a good strategy.

The CPA exam takes about 120 hours of study time per section at a minimum. Most college students don’t have an extra 250 hours to spare in their last semester. It is possible to stack your courses such that you are taking easy courses in the final semester. However, in my experience you never really know what will be the “bird brain courses.” Sometimes you end up getting a C in some intro to astronomy course that everyone said would be easy. Professors can change their marking habits in an instant.

You don’t want to be studying for the CPA exam if it will take away from college course study time. You don’t want to damage to your GPA which is still a crucial component of your career plans.

Secondly, all four sections of the CPA exam must be passed in the 18 month window. This puts considerable pressure on you to at least knock out the two hardest sections while in college. Afterwards, you would want to leave yourself at least months to pass the last two sections of the exam. However, in my experience, students put a lot on their plate and end up having to rewrite one of the CPA exam sections. If that ends up happening you have basically negated all of the benefit of starting to study early.

Finally, what is the big rush? The college experience is a unique and privileged experience. Most people look back at life with lots of regrets and miss their college days. Fast forwarding your career by six months does not mean much in the grand scheme of things. For most students, it is better to postpone studying for the CPA exam until after you graduate.