If you haven’t heard, there’s a new CPA in town. Her name is Belicia Cespedes and she was just 17 years old when she passed her CPA Exam. You read that right, 17. Which pretty much makes Belicia the world’s youngest CPA.
[UPDATE: In honor of her accomplishment, Wiley CPAexcel has just launched the Belicia Cespedes Accounting Scholarship!]
You’re probably asking yourself, how did she do that? For starters, Cespedes and her 3 sisters were homeschooled by their mother. Each graduated high school between ages 11 and 14.
After graduating high school at age 13, Cespedes, who lives in Canyon Country, California with her mom, dad and sisters, started classes at a community college and ultimately earned her bachelor’s degree through online classes at Thomas Edison State College.
While those are all remarkable accomplishments, passing the CPA Exam at such a young age is something else all together—a whole new level of amazingness. To do it, Cespedes studied hard but was also determined to keep a regular schedule that included tennis practice and generally having a life.
To do that, Cespedes relied on Wiley CPAexcel. “I knew I wanted something interactive—Wiley CPAexcel fit my learning style.” She continues, “I definitely benefited from the bite-sized lessons.. I felt like I was actually getting stuff done. I don’t know how people do it with just a book.”
So, what is life like for THE youngest CPA ever? We recently caught up with Cespedes to find out just that.
What have you been doing since passing your CPA Exam?
Right now I’m focused on exploring. There are tons and tons of avenues in accounting. I’ve been meeting up with different people, going to conferences. I really want to find a specialty and master it, maybe even do some teaching.
I’ve also been working part time in my dad’s landscaping construction company. I’m the controller and in charge of all the financial and banking relationships. I also have a part time job in an accounting office in Ventura. We just got through my first tax season.
What areas of accounting in particular are you interested in?
I’m really interested in IT accounting and financial planning and wealth management. I also like forensic accounting.
You’ve said before you might try law school. Is that something you’re still considering?
Law school is still on the table. Accounting and law are really intertwined. I want the knowledge law school offers more than I want to practice. If I went, I wouldn’t necessarily take the bar. I’d maybe just get a graduate degree in legal studies.
How do people react when they meet such a young CPA?
People say it’s great, but then ask, “what is CPA?” I tell them it’s like a law degree but in accounting. Then they seem impressed.
People who know what a CPA is are really congratulatory. Then they usually say something about themselves like, “what am I doing with my life?”
I’m used to people’s reactions from finding out I was homeschooled, but this is an adjustment because the professional world sees it as a great accomplishment. It helps me be more thankful and encouraged, like maybe I accomplished something greater than I thought.
It might surprise people to know there were two sections—FAR and REG— you didn’t pass the on your first try. How did you deal with those disappointments? How did you adjust your study strategies for those sections?
FAR and REG are really hard. I went into them thinking less about passing and more about prep for the next time. It was more of a practice session the first time. I wanted to see what they were like. I was taking mental notes.
Not expecting to pass helped. I was actually more encouraged when I saw my score because it was closer to passing than what I thought it would be. The next time I took those sections, it was easier.
What advice do you have to offer people studying for the CPA Exam now?
I’d tell them to keep their goals high. Have a mentality of not giving up. And always stay positive.
I allowed myself 2 to 3 years to pass. I failed 2 sections the first time but didn’t get discouraged. My mom said, “when you fail you get to learn a topic better.” You’re going to be doing this rest of your life. Might as well as know it as well as you possibly can.
Getting through all of the material was important to me rather than perfecting everything. For each section, I would dedicate a month studying 10-12 hours per day and then take 3-4 days off before I took an exam part. Instead of thinking of an entire exam, I would break down the curriculum in to small parts. I relied on the exam planner in CPAexcel to help pace me. I would set small goals and short-term rewards for reaching them, like a night at the movies and the Cheesecake Factory.
What’s your favorite thing about being a CPA?
The variety of possibilities is really attractive to me. You can be a super cool accountant or any number of other things. Researching that has been fun. There’s always something I can be exploring and something new to discover. It’ll never get boring.
I’m getting to work with a lot of people. One thing I love about CPAs is how willing and ready to help they are. They want to guide you and help you figure out what you want to do and to share what they do. I love it.
Finally, What advice do you have for aspiring CPAs?
Get your feet wet once you have your CPA. Figure out what different jobs are like on a day-to-day basis. Shadow people at different firms and see what their days are like. Explore, have fun. You’re going to be doing this rest of life. Don’t get stuck on one thing. There’s so much out there. Look at it all.