On 17 April 2020, the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) announced the winners of the 2019 Elijah Watt Sells Award. This award is given to individuals who scored above an average of 95.5 across all four sections of the CPA exam. Of the 75,000 individuals who took the CPA exam in 2019, 137 students qualified for this award, including four from the School of Accountancy (SOA) at the BYU Marriott School of Business. This is the tenth year in a row that graduates from BYU Marriott’s School of Accountancy have qualified for the award.
The BYU Marriott SOA alumni who received the award this year were Nathan Bartholomew of Salt Lake City; Carson Lord of Tysons, Virginia; Mariana Bravo Salazar of Pittsburgh; and Nicholas Underwood of Phoenix.
Many consider simply passing the CPA exam an impressive feat, and scoring high is even more impressive. The exam is a rigorous test that consists of four sections: auditing and attestation (AUD), business environment and concepts (BEC), financial accounting and reporting (FAR), and regulation (REG). Each section takes four hours to complete, but the four sections can be taken separately over a period of eighteen months.
Because the exam covers such a large variety of topics, the studying process requires an extensive time commitment. “The AICPA recommends studying for 120 hours, on average, for each test,” Lord explains. Underwood and Lord both spent most of their time during the summer following graduation preparing for the exam.
While 120 hours of study may seem daunting to some, this level of commitment is familiar to BYU Marriott SOA graduates. “The accounting program is known for being especially rigorous during the junior year, and that kind of rigor helped me develop the discipline of being able to study all day long and not get totally burned out,” says Underwood.
Lord agrees that the SOA prepares its students for success by not only helping its students pass the CPA exam, but also in becoming accountants. “BYU Marriott’s accounting program, for both undergraduates and graduates, prepares you well, and not just for this test,” says Lord. “The fact that we learn so many different things that aren't strictly accounting based is the biggest thing that sets us apart from other schools.”
Underwood adds that SOA students will be familiar with the material on the CPA exam as a result of the program’s curriculum. “The material covered by the accounting program is often more in-depth than what was even on the CPA exam,” he says.
Although one doesn’t have to pass the CPA exam and become a certified public accountant to qualify for an accounting job, Underwood says that doing so does provide more opportunities in the workplace. “The advice that I've been given by pretty much everybody is that getting your CPA will open many more doors for your career life than just having an accounting degree,” he explains. “The CPA exam represents a certain level of knowledge and dedication and has a certain level of prestige.”
For Lord, receiving the award was an honor. “When I found out, I was excited,” says Lord. “Elijah Watt Sells is a prestigious award, and not a lot of people receive it. I am thrilled to contribute to BYU’s streak of winners.”
Both winning the award and his high test scores took Underwood by surprise. “I was totally shocked,” he says. “After I took my first exam, I seriously thought I had failed it.” However, like Lord, he feels grateful to be a part of SOA’s ongoing streak of awardees. “I was proud to be coming from BYU,” he says. “Receiving the award is a great way to represent the school.”
Writer: Sarah Calvert