In today’s edition of “let me figure out your life for you and push the CPA exam down your throat”, our little would-be Big4er writes in wondering:
I’m trying to figure out some options to get to a Big 4 firm. I interned at a regional firm in Los Angeles this past summer and realized that I want to be at a Big4 firm instead. I have been through the on-campus recruiting process this quarter and unfortunately I did not receive any offers after going through PwC’s second round interviews. I did receive an offer from a regional firm in the San Francisco area. Though, my ultimate goal is to end up at a Big 4 firm.
I will be graduating in March 2011 and was planning on begin studying for my CPA exam. I hope to have it passed by October or at least a majority of the exam. Do you guys recommend I study for my CPA and go through the recruiting process again next year or continue my education and get a Masters in Accounting and go through the recruiting process after that?
I love when you kids have a plan, or rather when you have a goal in mind and come banging on our door asking how to get there.
Anyway, as always, I am inclined to recommend getting the CPA exam out of the way before anything simply because it’s easier to do now before you’re bogged down with commitment (OK, mostly a really time-consuming Big 4 gig). However I’m a little sketchy on your actual timeline since you say you are graduating in March and plan to be done by October; does that mean you’re planning on taking two parts per testing window after you apply and are approved to sit for the exam?
Assuming you are applying in California (you mentioned LA), might I recommend you take the exam shortcut now while you still can? Here’s the deal: submit your application to the state board now while you don’t qualify, pay your $100, wait 8 – 10 weeks for a rejection letter and then apply again in March right after your degree posts to your transcripts so you can be approved to sit in just 1 – 2 short weeks. That way you cut down on the waiting time while you’d still be waiting anyway, can jump right into taking your exams and can get in April/May, July/August and October/November instead of trying to cram in four parts in two testing windows.
Keep in mind that tackling the CPA exam before going to the Big 4 – or any firm for that matter – can sometimes work against you. If you really stand out as a public accounting rockstar and have already passed the entire exam they might assume (usually correctly) that you’re simply trying to get your foot in the door for your two years of experience. So be careful with the overachieving there, it might be wise to get through two parts or perhaps just get started on the exam without actually blowing through all of it before you go knocking on PwC’s door again.
Unless you absolutely want a Masters in Accounting, keep in mind it isn’t necessary to have one in California and you can just as easily pick up 30 extra units in just about anything to meet the 150 requirement. I usually discourage California CPAs from taking that route unless they absolutely have to so if it isn’t something that you really want, don’t do it just to do it. You can always get a Masters later when you’re more settled in the profession, know what you want to be when you grow up, have finished the CPA exam and have made a dent in your undergrad student loans (always a good idea before you take on any more debt).
The only issue with blowing off a Masters now is that you will obviously have a harder time getting the Big 4’s attention after you graduate so I would say plan to get started on the CPA exam as quickly as possible and put on your best game face next time the Big 4 come sniffing around at your school while you can. Hopefully that lands you something for the fall, giving you a chance to complete the exam before your start date, at which time you can try out Big 4 life and then maybe get back to us on how that’s working out.
Hope that helps and good luck!