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Studying for the CPA Exam When You Have Kids

Portrait of Casie Cook

Being a parent doesn’t mean you can’t become a CPA, but it can complicate things. Thankfully, there are some steps you can take to prevent stress and improve your odds of meeting your career goals.

Casie Cook, CPA, knows first-hand what it is like to study for the CPA Exam while raising a child. We spoke to Casie and asked about the hurdles she faced and how she overcame them. She had a lot of great points and provided excellent advice for parents who are considering taking the CPA Exam.

Read about Casie’s journey to become a CPA and check out the six tips she wants other candidates to know.

Keep your goal in mind, this is temporary

I had limited family time compared to what I was used to. I still made time for family, but it required setting my alarm to get up at 4:30 or 5:00 in the morning and studying before my son woke up or studying after he went to bed. TV was no longer going to be a part of my life. Exercise was no longer a part of my life [ . . . ] Social life was kind of no longer a part of my life. But I knew that if I did it right, I would make this session as short as possible by really getting serious about studying and knocking it out. I knew that it was temporary, so I had to keep reminding myself of that.

Going back to school to advance your career

The decision to go back to school isn’t always easy, but Casie had great reasons for looking towards accounting as the way to advance her career. Plus, as a recent mother, Casie needed to be sure she had a career that could support her family.

While Casie originally studied journalism in college, she found work in the financial industry. She survived the 2008 recession, but still felt very vulnerable because while her performance was excellent, her education was in a different field.

Casie Cook prepares a presentation table.

“Knowing I had a child made me think: ‘I really need to cement my ability to be employable.’ [. . .] At the position I had before actually getting my accounting degree, I was the only one without a business or accounting degree. I survived the recession of 2008, and it was ugly. It really reinforced that I needed to have an airtight plan to make sure that I was set. The accounting degree was that plan.”

Accepted by the Metropolitan State University of Denver (MSU), Casie began to go to school full time. A commuter school, MSU had a very diverse student population. This meant Casie could enjoy meeting many different students whose experiences and ages were less uniform than at a more traditional university.

Involve your kids in the process

When I started studying, Adam was 4. He had the concept of what a test was but he certainly didn’t understand exactly what I was doing. I would explain to him, I’ve got a really important test, and it takes a lot of studying. If I pass this test, I can get a really good job. This is just a priority I have to make happen.

Deciding to pursue the CPA

At first, Casie intended only to get a bachelor degree in Accounting. While she was in the Accounting program, she was convinced to go for her master’s degree. She recalls dismissing the CPA Exam at first, “I was told that in order to become a CPA you would also need your masters in accounting or, you know, 150 hours in total. I thought, ‘that’s great, but I have zero desire to do that. That sounds too hard.’”

In the end, it was the influence of a professor and a Gleim Campus Rep that changed her mind. “The person I took over the Gleim Representative position from assured me that the course was really well laid out. It’s almost just like a course you would take in college. If you follow the study planner, it’s like there’s due dates for assignments but for finishing certain chapters or segments instead. Knowing that it was super structured gave me hope.”

Casie Cook in her Gleim Campus Rep Shirt

Set aside family time and study time

I was used to spending my evenings and all of my weekends with my husband and my son. That was starting to change because I was studying, so I would carve out Sunday. Sunday was the day that we were going to do family stuff.

I decided that [family time] was going to be a lot more effective if I spent that time fully engaged. I wasn’t the mom at the park on my cell phone. I was gonna be fully present, and I think that helped eclipse any of the other times that I was out-of-pocket not as available to engage with. When I was there, I was fully there. That made a really big difference.

Passing the CPA Exam while raising a son

Casie Cook visits a farm with her son.

Casie Cook was not on her CPA journey alone. Supporting her every step of the way was her outstanding husband, Craig, and their son, Adam. Casie made excellent use of her support network to pass the CPA Exam. While she thinks she may have been able to pass alone, she credits her husband for making the process much less difficult than it would have otherwise been.

While the support was appreciated, studying with a family does come with it’s own complications. Study time eats into family time, and a strained schedule puts stress on everyone. Thankfully, planning ahead and discussing the temporary changes can help smooth the entire process. “Maybe we had more drive-through dinners than home prepared meals, which was abnormal for us, but you just have to give yourself a pass and accept things aren’t going to be as perfect as you want them to be.”

It is important to accept that life will be different while you’re studying for the CPA Exam. Don’t strain yourself too much trying to make everything perfect.

Be kind to yourself

Once in a while I would have to study when Adam was up and around. Maybe I would put on a movie. You know, it’s not going to ruin his childhood if he has watched movies a few times. I think you have to give yourself a pass sometimes. I think that people pursuing this particular career path probably have perfectionist tendencies and that probably translates into parenting as well.

This is a blip on the radar of his childhood, and we’re all going to be better off for it. Again, remember this is a temporary period of time. You can get through it.

Recovering from a failed CPA Exam section

One of the most difficult things many candidates will face is failure.

The CPA Exam is a difficult exam, and with four sections to pass, many candidates may find themselves needing to retake one or more parts of the CPA Exam. This can be extremely difficult if you’ve made sacrifices while studying for the exam. “You really have to be prepared to take failure and be able to bounce right back from it. It can be devastating. If you’ve given up family time for two or three months for one particular section, and you don’t pass it, that’s tough, that’s a really hard pill to swallow.”

That said, failing doesn’t mean you’re starting from scratch. You’ve put valuable time and effort into your studies, and even if you’re taking a section again, that time will build towards your exam success. “I had to remember that I wasn’t restarting from zero. I had a bunch of studying already under my belt. I was still at least halfway there, and I had to keep that in perspective and not let it get to me.”

When things got tough, Casie remembered something a previous employer had told her about the CPA Exam, “You know, this isn’t a test of intelligence. It’s a test of discipline.”

Rely on your support network during rough times

I can’t underscore how important it was that I had a super supportive husband who backed me 100%. Honestly, without him being there I’m sure I could have still passed, but it would have taken a lot longer, and it would have been much more brutal.

Keeping motivated and passing the CPA Exam

Casie Cook and her family standing on a snow covered mountain.

In the end, passing the CPA Exam is doable. It takes a lot of hard work, and it can require sacrifices while you’re studying for it, but you can do it.

In the poem, A Servant to Servants, Robert Frost wrote, “I can see no way out but through.”

Much like the poet, Casie kept her motivation by focusing on how far she’d already come and realizing that the best way out was forward.

In the end, Casie made it out. She passed the CPA Exam and continued to work hard. In August 2019, Casie Cook received her CPA License.

It is like a burden has been lifted off. It is so major. It’s a personal and professional milestone, and it was worth it. It’s just like this emotional rollercoaster, but it was well worth it.

In a way, I can’t believe it, but I guess I should because it took a long time. It’s a great feeling. I’m very, very, very happy I made those sacrifices.

It won’t seem like it when you’re in the middle of it, but looking back, it’s like, oh that went kind of fast. I don’t even really remember how bad it was. I think it’s like childbirth, you kind of forget how bad it probably was when you’re on the other end of it.

Casie Cook, CPA

Join us in congratulating Casie Cook, CPA, on this outstanding milestone.

Caise Cook can be found on LinkedIn or by joining our new LinkedIn Group, Gleim Connect.

Trust your study plan

I would say first you’ve got to trust in the process.

For instance, the Gleim study package has a well-defined plan. If you stick to it, you will be successful. It’s easy to get overwhelmed, but you just need to keep things in perspective, and take it one day at a time. Stick to that study planner. Know that it’s possible to do this.

Join Gleim and tell your CPA Exam story

No matter your situation, you can pass the CPA Exam, and Gleim is here to help. With our Access Until You Pass Guarantee®, you’ll have access to our review materials until you pass the exam—no strings attached. Try our free CPA demo today to see why more CPA candidates pass with Gleim.

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