From scratch. No accounting background

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    Hi, can someone give me advice. So I don't have an accounting degree. I have an economics degree. I've been a finance manager/sr analyst in my 10+ years of work experience. I've been debating whether to pursue a MBA (con- very expensive) or CPA (pro- less expensive, con- cheaper but not guaranteed to pass). If I take the required accounting classes and hours from an online school, will that be sufficient to help prep for the exams? Has anyone out there gotten their CPA after taking online courses.


    I've heard of people passing with just accounting books, but it's probably not very easy. Expect to spend around 2-4k on a prep course in your planning. The money you pay on a prep course will probably be well worth the time you save.

    The classes alone will probably not be sufficient to pass; however, they will likely provide you with the foundation information, which you need to do the prep courses/exam. For example, a prep course probably won't cover the idea that revenue goes on the credit side of a T-account (at least not very thoroughly).

    Conceivably, you could pass without even taking the classes, you would just need to self teach yourself everything (credits/debits, etc.); it would just be brutally difficult.


    I took a mix of community college classes and online classes.

    I have a strong bias here – MBAs as a class of people are useless, and you aren't getting an actual skill. You'll certainly work a lot harder in accounting – it's a real study course.

    You can basically buy an MBA – you're going to work for a CPA.

    AUD - 96
    BEC - 84
    FAR - 89
    REG - 86
    Aaron and always remember, YMMV

    I profit from your CPE frustration. You're welcome.


    CPA is totally doable. I have 0 accounting background as well (studied law in a foreign country, work with international taxation in the States). I used Becker as my prep course, 2 months per section (even if working full-time) is more then enough time to prepare from absolute scratch for this exam.


    MBA has a very low ROI and at the end of the day if you're looking at accounting or finance positions a CPA will get the job over an M.B.A. almost every time. Only time it's worth doing is if it's on someone else's dime. ANYBODY and I mean ANYBODY can pass the CPA. It's not rocket science but it's about remembering enough information at one period in time to take 6 college finals in a four hour period

    Old timer,  A71'er since 2010.

    Finance manager/HR manager




    I wouldn't discount the MBA if you're attending a top 50 school and want to go more into finance vs accounting. Just my two cents.

    AUD - 94
    BEC - 86
    FAR - 85
    REG - 90
    If you pray enough, you can turn yourself into a cat person.

    I am also taking the exam kind of from scratch, no formal accounting education, European legal background, but I have tax experience in Big Four in Eastern Europe. I started out with REG as it seemed to make sense because of my work experience, however it turned out to require a lot more hours over several months than usually reported by or expected from a “normal” US candidate. I heavily relied on CPA review courses plus occasionally IRS website in my preparation for REG. Now I am going through FAR and will be taking it at the end of Q3. I am primarily using Becker + Wiley test bank.

    I apologize for hijacking this thread, but

    @Son, it was quite interesting to read your posts on this forum, it is really impressive to achieve a tax manager position in the US Big Four firm with a non-native English background. Have you had US tax experience before joining Big Four? How did it all play out for you to make a move from Europe to the US?

    I pursue CPA to make me more marketable in Europe in countries where there is significant US tax work (UK or Switzerland), however it would be great to get your feedback on my chances to get a job in the US or elsewhere. AFAIK, there is no PM on this forum so it would be nice to be in contact with you via email, my address is tasmena at mail dot ru. Definitely, subject to your agreement / availability.

    You mentioned that English is your third language. What are your first two? As for me, besides English, I speak Russian and Polish.


    S&P 500 FP&A for 4 years, Mathematics major. Decided I wanted to get a CPA instead of the MBA to wait for the MBA until later in my career. Did half online half in class. You can see from my signature now long it took. Hasn't got me any extra recognition at work other than a small bonus. But after an informational interview with an accounting firm they did let me know they are dying for CPAs so I feel like I could make a change if I wanted to. Just don't want to go back to entry level after the progress I've made in my current role. Still worth it in my opinion, spent about 10k-12k between classes, tests, Becker, Ninja MCQ,and superfastCPA notes.

    Done! 9 tests over 16 months. Failed first 3 with Becker. Passed 4 of next 6 with Ninja MCQ.

    I agree with @SaveBandit, an MBA from the right school is highly valuable. As for getting your CPA without any background, totally doable. I had an accounting degree going into studying for the exams, but still didn't really know anything about accounting (wasn't a great student in college – other interests). Just study diligently and consistently and you can totally pass the exams without any accounting education or experience.

    CA CPA - est. Dec 2016

    I know of a lot of people who were in the same boat! Check out UNC-CH they have an awesome MAC Program and you can do it online if you're not local.


    @cpa2bee, I feel quite relieve hearing from someone who has the same experience like me. I graduated a year ago, and just started my CPA journey. I was never a good student so my account background doesnt help in this situation. I do study diligently and consistently, but i don't seem to be able to retain the information well. Quite a slow learner too. Sure, that doesn't apply to you since you already passed all 4 parts, I am curious how long did it took you to pass all 4 parts?


    @setmefree I had my struggles don't get me wrong. I will say one thing, had I applied myself in college not only would I have had stronger accounting knowledge going into the exams but I would've had much better study habits and study abilities as well. That was part of my learning process with the exams, I had to teach myself how to study the right way and effectively. So even though its doable without accounting knowledge, there is still something you'll probably have to compensate for along the way if you're going into it with less than your average candidate.

    It ended up taking me about 14 months to pass all 4 parts. I failed FAR, AUD, and REG all one time so a total of 7 exams I sat for. My AUD and REG fails were 71 and 74. Don't get me wrong, a fail is a fail, but that 14 months could've been more like 9-12 months had those gone the other way. But take your studies day-by-day and keep learning something new about the material everyday. Also take some time to review what you've already studied every day, not just the last 2-3 weeks. Constant reinforcement will help the material stick. Good luck and just keep studying!

    CA CPA - est. Dec 2016

    @CPA2BEE, thank you so much for your tips and feedback. You do give me a new sight and hope in passing this exam, hope this journey will be well worth it in the end.


    @cpa2bee, i do regretted for not studying hard in college, but i think now its the time to repay


    @setmefree Just don't even think about the student you were in college, just focus on what you can accomplish now! You will still be just as much of a CPA as the kids who had straight A's in college.

    CA CPA - est. Dec 2016

    Created with Compare Ninja


    I'm really wondering what OP ended up doing. I am also planning on taking the exam with absolutely no accounting experience. Hardcore science background with plenty of test taking experience.


    You need to take accounting courses just to qualify to take the exam. You may as well do a MSA program and then take it. That's what I did although I made the mistake of putting off the CPA exam for like 4 years instead of doing it right when I graduated. I looked at MBA but it didn't seem worth all the extra courses I would have had to take over the MSA program.

    Also make sure to get quality internships while you're in school. Particularly in the case of the big four, your chance of being hired plummets once you're out of school.

    Studying with Gleim
    FAR - 97 (10/12/17)
    BEC - 95 (01/15/18)
    AUD - 88 (04/06/18)
    REG - 89 (11/16/18)

    I largely agree with Aaronmo, Missy, and Tim.
    You can basically buy an MBA – you're going to work for a CPA.
    These days in many states you need complete half an MBA to become a CPA.

    I started the CPA pursuit with about 15 years of finance & trading operations experience, plus a half dozen NASD (FINRA) licenses. I nightschooled an exec MBA program while my wife was getting MBA. Still, as a former science major, I was forced to take years of undergrad accounting, statistics, law courses, and complete a masters. Even with my science background and most of an MBA complete, I was required to take one more CS course before they'd let me sit for the exams. With over 200 college hours, they still dismissed enough of my science college work that it was a little touch and go at the state level to meet all their required ticklist when getting the CPA.

    Over 25 years, Times change: collectively an undergrad Ivy league education, Ivy league MBA, CFA, and CPA- the CPA was the longest grind. As someone said, in the end you are basically super cramming for several final exams to be taken in a 4 or 5 hour exam. Then you will do it at least 3 more times.

    The MBA and CFA are somewhat in decline, having seen their top pre Great Recession. No, not even a top Ivy MBA is that special anymore. George W. Bush had one, but I wouldn't hire him for my company's needs. Historically the CPA is least respected, as it was much easier to get pre govt regulation and there are still many pre Sarbanes ones around. When we hire an auditor, first thing I check is whether the auditor got their license pre or post Sarbanes. It tells me much about the level of competence to expect. But those will be your seniors for another decade or two.
    I can say with confidence that there will be a shortage of CPAs in the long run. Govt regulation requires them on so many levels, in the USA, Canada, and internationally. It will take a decade before people don't think of CPAs as primarily people who do taxes.

    When push comes to shove, I'd rather hire a CPA.

    -Yes it's Ne'O.

    AUD:  72, 89

    FAR:  71, 80

    BEC:  83

    REG: 82


    Ne'0 – You have ivy league degrees and CFA ?


    CFA is definitely lot more challenging and more prestigious than CPA. Anyone currently studying for it here? If so, what material are you guys using?


    I'd go for the CPA if I were you. As some others have said, MBA is a rather useless degree that can, for a price, be obtained by any idiot. I hate to say that, but these days it's true.
    It has much, much less prestige as a credential than it once did. The CPA carries more weight because you have to pass these 4 godawful exams – but if you have a good memory and can remember a lot of material, and if you have the prerequisite academic hours and degrees that your state requires, you can take the CPA exams. If I were a hiring manager and I saw that you had an MBA, I wouldn't think much of it. If I saw that you had a CPA **and** some really good work experience to go along with it, your resume would be at the top of the stack. Mind you, there are a lot of dumb CPAs out there, just like there are a lot of dumb MBA's out there. What you do with your knowledge and experience paints the whole picture, not merely credentials. Although, CPA currently is considered one of the best ones to have. You are probably correct in that CPA is cheaper. Assuming you get a review course, that will be somewhere between $1 and 3 thousand dollars. I'd recommend Gleim for $1,000 – it's access 'til you pass. Assuming you pass all four exams on the first try, that will run you another thousand dollars or so, between what you pay to NASBA to take the tests and what you pay to your state board for their fees. Then after you pass, I think it's another few hundred bucks for background checks and fingerprinting and such. All in all, it could cost as little as a few thousand. Isn't an MBA like 15-20K minimum? Too rich for my blood. Like some others, I did both online and community college courses. All told, it probably cost me about $8K for my education.

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