Lawyers spends months studying for the bar exam. Nurses devote countless hours to the National Council Licensure Examination, or NCLEX. Educators cram for the Praxis. Yet one exam stands out as one of the most difficult professional exams to master, with less than half of test takers passing – the CPA exam.
Students in the School of Accountancy’s Master of Accountancy (MAcc) program haven’t been intimidated by the national pass rates of the four-part CPA exam. After all, Harbert College accounting students have a long history of producing well above national averages. This year, 80 percent of the MAcc program’s graduating class passed three or more sections of the CPA exam, and 67 percent passed all four sections.
So what are the trade secrets that allow Harbert College MAcc students to achieve such a high level of success? Colby Lakas, assistant director and internship and recruiting coordinator for the MAcc program, primarily attributes it to the design of the program. Since 2005, the program has integrated study material for all four sections of the CPA exam into the spring semester curriculum. Starting in January of each year, students take the Becker CPA Review Course to gain the right tools and information to pass the exam.
“The Becker Review Course has amazing results, and they have it down to a science what candidates have to do to pass,” said Lakas. “It’s like the Mercedes-Benz of review courses.”
Students in a cohort study for the same section at the same time and sit for the tests on the same day. The program is designed this way, Lakas said, so that students do not have to go through it alone. Forty-hour weeks of studying may not sound appealing, but being able to do it with other students makes it more bearable. Lakas believes this kind of peer support helps students to stay focused and motivated.
With a carefully constructed schedule to keep them on track, the curriculum to make studying efficient, and the study mates to keep them accountable, MAcc graduates complete the CPA exam before graduation and are ready to start their careers.
“It’s a big selling point for our program because, for an aspiring young CPA, going into the profession with the exam already completed automatically puts you ahead of your peers,” Lakas said. “You’re automatically promotable, because most firms are not going to promote you without that designation.”
Not all business schools graduate accounting students who have already passed the CPA exam, which means graduates will have to take time off from their job to study and take the exam. Employers are attracted to Harbert College graduates because they already have the exam completed and can focus all their attention on client needs, Lakas said. The MAcc program is committed to placing 100 percent of graduates within three months of graduation, and the past two years, they have placed all students before graduation.
“Employers know that Auburn MAcc students pass the exam,” said Lakas. “It’s an easy sell. Employers are lining up to hire Auburn graduates.”
Ultimately, Lakas believes the program is successful because it attracts high caliber students. The program recruits students with outstanding undergraduate academic credentials who are high achieving by nature. Though the one-year program is intense, they choose students who will perform under stress.
“Someone who is not serious about getting the CPA exam done is not going to choose our program, because it is a daunting thing,” says Lakas. “Our students have a tremendous work ethic and great study skills. I think it’s something that is intrinsic in the type of people we have in the program.”