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University of Delaware - Alfred Lerner College of Business & Economics

By Dena Hillison June 15, 2020

UD graduate Brandon Heggan has won the 2019 Elijah Watt Sells Award from the American Institute of CPAs (AICPA), which awards outstanding performance on the Uniform Certified Public Accountant (CPA) Examination. The CPA Exam is the examination administered for those who wish to become U.S. Certified Public Accountants. Heggan was one of 133 out of more than 75,000 CPA exam candidates who qualified for this award after scoring above 95.50 cumulatively across all four sections of the exam.

Heggan, who graduated from UD’s Alfred Lerner College of Business and Economics in 2018 with a bachelor of science degree in accounting and finance, sat down with Lerner to discuss the award, his future career goals and to share tips for how to succeed on the CPA exam.

Q: How did it feel to win the Elijah Watt Sells Award?

Heggan: It was exciting! I actually didn’t know about this award until after my third exam. A friend of mine who knew of my scores mentioned it to me, but knowing that didn’t change how I approached the last exam. I didn’t put any other pressure on myself. I just approached it like the others. The goal was to pass, because if you pass, you get your license.

But it was definitely exciting when I found out. I knew if I got a good enough score I’d be able to win the award. Once I saw that I had scored a 99, I knew I got [the award]. This is something I’m proud of, for sure.

Q: Why did you decide to take the CPA exam?

Heggan: I came into business school undeclared. I decided to go with accounting because it was what I felt most comfortable in and I had classes where it just clicked—that and finance. Once I was looking at some of the firms I’d be interested in working for in accounting, I realized that, for a lot of them, a CPA is needed in order to move up in the companies.

Also, further down the road if you’re looking to become a chief financial officer (CFO) or things along those lines, having the CPA is so versatile in the workplace. I just felt like it’s something where if you can accomplish it, it could do a lot more in both the short- and long-term.

Q: How did you prepare for the exam?

Heggan: I got an internship my junior year with the Santora CPA Group, and then I was offered a job with them that started in August of 2018. I graduated in May and then had a few months before I started work. I started studying [for the CPA exam] in early June. I decided to start with the part of the exam that many people would call the hardest part, that’s Financial Accounting and Reporting (FAR). Since I wasn’t going to be working until August, my best bet would be to almost treat studying like a job during the summer and study eight hours a day for that exam.

I took that part in September and then, after that, my next strategy was to take one part to finish out 2018. I knew I had to work for eight hours a day, then come home, and study for two to three hours. Then, come the weekend, I used that time to study too. Tax season for accountants goes from January through April, so I knew that it would be difficult to work 55- to 60-hour work weeks and also try to get studying in, so I took the next two exams in 2019.

It was definitely a lot on my plate but I had to stay disciplined with it. At the end of the day, it might feel like a long process when you’re going through it but when you look back on it, you’ll [think]: “That was only a year to a year and a half, and now I have the rest of my life to use this accomplishment and this license to further myself and my goals.”

Q: How did your time at the Lerner College help to prepare you for the CPA exam?

Heggan: Accounting is the main piece that’s going to help you through the exam but there’s always concepts that you pick up here and there from other courses that can help. When it comes to finance, I like markets and very high-level knowledge. I appreciated the high-level concepts that I learned [in finance], in terms of the exam, on the business environment and concepts section because that’s more about economic concepts than it is focusing on accounting.

I have to shout out to the professors at UD; they definitely helped! There are some professors like Professors Somerville, Dragone, Gillespie and then both Vermeers and a bunch of others. They helped in this process, set a good baseline of knowledge and set me up for success. I definitely want to give thanks to them and the UD accounting department as a whole.

Q: What advice would you offer to other accounting students who want to succeed on the CPA exam?

Heggan: When it comes to studying, the goal is to figure out what study process works best for you. There are recommended practices (especially if you use Becker or some other type of CPA study review course) that you’ll hear from other people taking the exam, but it’s not a one-size-fits-all. I know a few people who’ve done well by focusing a lot of their time on the multiple-choice section. They’ll hammer a bunch of those out and figure that if they can understand those, they can work their way around questions on the exam.

Me, I’m not quite like that. I’m the type of person who needs to understand the underlying concepts, so I spent a bulk of my time looking at the book and then using multiple-choice questions at the end of the review for that section. So that would be my first piece of advice: find what works best for you and don’t get discouraged if you hear other people talking about other ways that they’ve done it. At the end of the day everyone’s different.

My second piece of advice would be the old cliché: It’s a marathon, not a sprint. If you look at the entire roadmap for passing the CPA exam and the vast amount of information you have to put into your brain, it’s definitely overwhelming. You have to get yourself to just think of it one section at a time for each test that you’re taking. If you can just get a baseline knowledge in each section of each book that you’re reviewing, you should be pretty good. As soon as you start getting yourself overwhelmed and tricking yourself out into thinking this thing is massive and impossible, that’s never a good thing.

Q: What’s next for you professionally?

Heggan: My goals are, for now, to grow in the company I’m at, Santora CPA Group, because it’s a great company where I could see myself growing. Becoming a CFO is a long-term goal. That’s one of the top parts of a company and I know obtaining the CPA license is something that can help with that because you can work your way around financial statements and understanding them, things along those lines. That really would be a long-term goal of mine but, for now, definitely growing in great company.