Carrie Benson is a remarkable woman, and so is her journey to becoming a CPA. After raising her children as a single mother, Carrie went back to school at age 50 and got her accounting degree. And now, at age 56, she has passed her CPA Exam.
Becoming a CPA, however, was not what Carrie originally envisioned for herself. “I started college at 18 as a biology major,” she says. It wasn’t until her then-husband’s grandmother passed away that Carrie was bitten by the accounting bug. “It fell to me to take care of her estate and finances, and I discovered I was good at it.” Plus, she says, “accountants make a lot more money than biologists.”
Here’s what Carrie had to say about the CPA Exam and her journey to becoming a CPA.
You describe yourself as “a white-haired, 56-year-old grandmother.” Was there anything you found uniquely challenging about being older than your average CPA prep student?
Time management was tough. Older students have more facets to life—children, work, mortgage. It’s really hard to fit in studying with all those responsibilities. That was the hardest part.
But all the resources Wiley CPA offers made it doable. I used paper text along with the online resources and the flashcards. I would take pages out of the book and prop them up on the treadmill at the gym. Between that and the flashcards, I was able to fit in a lot of studying.
Plus the Wiley CPA materials were so similar to what’s on the exam…if you take the time to study you will pass because everything on the test is in the CPAexcel course.
What made you decide to pursue your CPA certification?
I liked the idea of achieving something that was held in esteem by others. My professors told me that I’d studied so much for my accounting degree, I should just take that next step and get my CPA. Plus, I’d be able to make more money and have more job opportunities.
If I ever have trouble finding an employer because of my age, I could open my own small firm.
So, money, prestige, security…those are the main reasons I wanted certification.
Now that you have your CPA, what are your plans?
I currently have a position with a CPA firm. I love it so far. There’s so much more variety than other positions I’ve had. As I work and get real-life experience, I can put it all to good use. My goal is to get as much experience as I can, find a certain niche, and then go into my own practice.
Tax season was exciting. I want to do more work in tax returns. When you do tax returns for someone, they often get money back. I really enjoy that. People appreciate it and it gives me a sense that I’m helping others.
What was the most challenging part of the exam for you?
Time management within the sections of the test. You have X minutes for each section. You don’t want to spend too much time on a section, but you can’t look ahead either. You want to do the best you can but don’t want to linger too long on any one section. It’s a difficult balance.
Figuring out how much time to spend on each section for FAR was especially challenging. My tip to others is to become as proficient as you can. Practice and practice and do as many exam questions as possible. You’ll be better off when you know the material and know you can go through it. When you get a tough question you’ll have the time to sit and think.
The Wiley CPA mock exam software is so close to the real test. Studying that is really helpful.
What tips or advice do you have for people studying for the exam now?
I did the test over a 16-month period. If I tried to cram, I never could have done it. I just kept at it constantly and it worked. If I wasn’t working or doing dishes, I was studying my Wiley CPA review materials.
Try not to let it bother you emotionally. When you walk out of a test, you feel like there’s no way you passed. But when get your score you can’t believe you passed. I didn’t feel at all confident during the time between taking the test and getting my scores. But once I got used to that, it was a lot easier.
If you take your bachelor’s degree seriously, then do the Wiley CPA review course. You will pass. You get what you put in. It’s a very do-able test if you put in the time.
What’s your favorite thing about being a CPA?
The recognition. It makes me feel special that I’ve taken the time to gain these skills and knowledge. Having these letters after my name is saying, “I’m worth what you’re going to pay me.” It says, “this person has integrity and is ethical and will serve you as best they can.”
I also like the achievement. I took the extra step to be as good as I can be. I’m just so satisfied that I was able to reach my potential.
And it says to my kids and younger relatives that you can set a goal and reach it. Even if it takes a while.
I’m just tickled I was able to do this and I don’t know if could have done it without Wiley CPA.
Hopefully, I’m going to get a colleague to take my books and go for her certification.
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