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Alumni Experiences

Accounting Alumni Awarded CPA's Highest Honor

During summer 2021, an estimated 75,000 accounting graduates across the United States took a 16-hour exam to become a licensed certified public accountant (CPA). The CPA exam is a rigorous test, with passing rates ranging from 46 to 60 percent. Two accounting alumni from the BYU Marriott School of Business, Kathrine Jensen and Jared Nielsen, not only passed the CPA exam but aced all four sections and received one of the most prestigious recognitions in accounting: the Elijah Watt Sells Award.

“Earning the Sells Award creates a platform for those who aspire to obtain higher leadership roles and responsibility,” says BYU Marriott’s School of Accountancy (SOA) director Doug Prawitt. “This accomplishment propels CPAs to become some of the most trusted advisors in business. As faculty members, we are so proud of our students. This is just one example of how hardworking and outstanding our students are.”

These BYU Marriott alumni have continued the SOA’s historical run as the only school in the nation with recipients of the Elijah Watt Sells award for 13 consecutive years.

Jensen graduated from BYU Marriott with a MAcc in 2020 and is currently employed as an audit associate with KPMG in Salt Lake City. Jensen says that she studied for a month leading up to the exam by rereading the textbook, completing practice tests, and performing task-based simulations.

Kathrine Jensen
Kathrine Jensen
Photo courtesy of Kathrine Jensen.

She credits her success to the skills she was taught during her time at BYU Marriott. “The curriculum I learned in the SOA laid the framework for me to prepare more effectively for the exam,” she says. “Studying for the exam was less daunting because the SOA helped me hone my study skills so that I would succeed.”

Nielsen, who graduated from BYU with a MAcc in 2019, shares that his time in the accounting program thoroughly prepared him for the CPA exam. “The junior core of the accounting program covers the topics on the exam, so my test preparation felt more like a review,” he adds.

Jared Nielsen
Jared Nielsen
Photo courtesy of Jared Nielsen.

Nielsen also partially credits his success on the CPA exam to the examples of hard work he witnessed from his professors and peers. “The most significant lesson I learned during my time at the SOA is the importance of being completely dedicated to your goals,” Nielsen said. “Both the faculty and students are examples of working hard and making dreams a reality.”

The Sells Award was created in 1923 and named after Elijah Sells, one of the first CPAs in the country. This award is presented annually by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants, the world’s largest member association representing the accounting profession. Test takers must obtain an average score of 95.50 across all sections of the exam to receive the award. This year, only 0.1 percent of the approximately 75,000 test takers met these qualifications.


Writer: Kaylee Hepburn