My Unique CPA Exam Journey


My name is Brad Searle and my journey to becoming a CPA has been anything but ordinary.

I grew up in San Diego before moving up the coast to Santa Barbara for college.

In January 2016, I packed up and moved from Southern California to Austin, Texas. I recently left the tax side of public accounting to transition to PwC Audit in Austin. On any given weekend, you can find me exploring the outdoors, reading a good book, or catching up with old friends.

While in Santa Barbara, I attended Westmont, a small liberal-arts college.

I left high school with the hopes of studying Math or going the pre-Med route. However, as a first-semester freshman looking to fill my schedule with another class, I contacted my adviser and he recommended I take Intro to Accounting. Although I had no idea what Accounting was, I ended up enjoying the class and noticed it came fairly easy to me. I majored in Business, as Westmont did not provide an Accounting degree. In fact, the emphasis on public accounting was so light that, as a recent graduate, I still did not know who the “Big 4” firms were. 

Therefore, upon graduating, I felt unconvinced that public accounting was the best route for me.

So I took a full-time bookkeeping gig at a local photography software company. Seven months later, my interest in public accounting increased and I took a tax internship at a local firm. I remember on my first day my fellow interns, who came from larger universities, were surprised that I did not know the four sections of the CPA Exam. This internship was a great experience and was the turning point, as I realized public accounting was and is a great fit for me. The implications were clear: it was time to start thinking about becoming a CPA!

After the internship, I moved back home to San Diego and studied for the CPA exam.

I researched different courses, and decided on Roger due to affordability and his engaging (and hilariously entertaining) teaching style. During these months, I worked 25 hours per week at a local CPA firm and studied another 25-30 hours. 

Being familiar with the basics of taxation, I decided to take REG first.

I put in around 150% of the recommended study hours (note this was totally unnecessary, I simply did not want to leave any doubt), and ended up passing with flying colors. That gave me the confidence to knock out FAR and BEC within the next couple months. Also, during this time, I passed the California Ethics exam. After another Spring tax busy season, I finished up with AUD, and danced for joy when I received my passing score!

As with many other CPAs, the biggest challenge in my journey was consistency.

Working part-time, I had a lot of time on my hands to study. However, I had to exhibit discipline and persistence to continue putting in the work, even when the San Diego waves were calling me to surf. One little action that kept me motivated was to write Roger’s phrase “If you study, you WILL pass!” in bold letters on the front of each study book. 

My best advice for CPA exam candidates is to get a mentor.

My mentor, Tyler Sterk, had passed the exams a year before I started studying, so the material was still fresh for him. He kept me accountable as far as consistency in studying, and he gave me his studying notes and other valuable test-taking tips and tricks. Like a coach or trainer, connecting with a CPA mentor will prove extremely helpful throughout the journey. 

In addition, it is essential to focus on the MCQ and TBS and celebrate your victories.

The lectures will provide the foundation, but your knowledge will grow exponentially when put into practice. Also, after passing a section, go out and celebrate; you deserve it! 

In conclusion, the CPA journey is a different course for everyone. It is a  marathon full of mountains and valleys, so learn from the challenges and remember to enjoy the successes. Don’t compare yourself to others and remember that everyone’s experiences are unique. Whether you figure out you want to become a CPA straight out of college or later down the road, the important thing to do to achieve that goal is to work hard day after day, find a mentor, work the practice problems consistently, and have a little fun in the process! 

–Brad Searle 

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