According to Illinois State University Accounting Department Chair Deborah Seifert, passing the Certified Public Accounting (CPA) exam is not an easy task
“Nationally, the pass rates are 50 percent or less,” she said.
By contrast, Illinois State University’s graduate students achieved a pass rate of 70.4 percent, according to the 2017 report from the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy (NASBA).
The report measures the pass rate for students sitting for each section of the national exam for the first time. Based on that criteria, Illinois State had 61 master’s level accounting students take 159 sections of the CPA exam in 2017.
Illinois State had the third highest pass rate in Illinois for graduate level CPA candidates. Seifert noted the school surpassed both the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and Northern Illinois University.
The examination is notoriously difficult and requires tremendous preparation.
“It is a four-part exam, four hours per part. Students routinely study 300 hours,” Seifert said.
Before taking the exam, students must complete 150 hours of coursework. Typically 120 of those hours are completed at the undergraduate level and 30 in the master’s program. While undergraduate level students can sit for the exam if they have met these requirements, Illinois State’s highest performing group of test candidates typically consists of its students in the Master of Professional Accountancy program and those pursuing a Master of Science in accountancy.
“The master’s program is really good because it helps them develop advanced accounting skills. It helps them pass the exam,” explained Seifert before describing how the graduate level coursework provides students with a more in-depth understanding of topics such as taxes and audits.
Additionally, it helps to hone their speaking and reading skills, developing what Seifert describes as a higher quality candidate to take the exam.
“They’re very motivated,” she said of the Illinois State master’s degree cohort members. “They compete a little bit so they push each other to excel.”
Seifert spoke highly of the Illinois State accounting students, saying they are organized, active, engaged, talented, and bright. She also described the students as highly motivated and easy to teach.
“The students are really good,” the professor continued. “They come in with higher than the average ACTs. They place well. They earn quite a bit of money, and then, they invest it back for the future. So we’re just very proud that considering our competitors, our master’s kids can hold their own. We have 92 students in our master’s program and they can really hold their own against anyone.”
Illinois State has 900 students, including undergraduate and master’s degree candidates, in the accounting department. Enrollment in the graduate program, which screens applicants based on the Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT) scores, has grown over the last few years.
Seifert also noted Illinois State accounting students boast a 95 percent placement rate a year in advance of graduation.
“They’re in hot demand and rightly so,” she said.
Siefert says that she was drawn to the accounting field for its problem-solving aspects and because she finds it to be intellectually stimulating. Her students look to join the field for many of the same reasons.
“It’s not the drab profession that people think,” she said. “It’s one of the best careers for stability and growth, and you can move on and do a lot of other things.”