Earlier this year, Belicia Cespedes passed all four sections of the CPA exam. At age 17, she may be the youngest CPA in the world. Now fully licensed, she works as an accountant for her parents’ landscaping and construction company in Canyon Country, Calif. She’s also the youngest voting member of the American Institute of CPAs (AICPA).
I had an amazing childhood. As the second eldest of five girls, I always had a wealth of activities, friends and fun, including tennis, music, vacations, church, weekly parties and school. Yes, school was an activity, like cooking or building a tire swing, but what separated it from other activities was that it challenged our minds.
Individualized education through homeschooling
Homeschooling was perfect because it allowed me to learn as much as I wanted, at the pace I wanted. It provided the opportunity for individualization.
By the time I began high school at 10 years old, the habits of independent study and self-motivation, which are part of the homeschooling model, were already ingrained in my character. At 13, I was done with high school and began taking classes at our community college to explore various fields of study.
Online bookkeeping course
Thanks to my father’s ever-entrepreneurial spirit, I decided to take a few business classes, as I already knew I had a propensity in that area. To my great pleasure and surprise, as well as that of my parents, I excelled far more than I had expected. One of these classes was an online bookkeeping certification course. After finishing and becoming a certified bookkeeper in just over a month, then moving deeper by taking a few accounting classes at the college, both my parents and I realized that God had given me a natural bent and ability to learn it well.
On to college accounting
That’s when I decided to pursue a bachelor’s degree in accounting. At the same time, we decided I should begin gaining work experience hours, so that if I ever decided to go for the CPA license, it would be an easy transition.
That’s right, even at this time, I still questioned whether I should shoot all the way to the end for the CPA license or be satisfied with simply a degree in my profession. Little did I know that a year and a half later, by the time I was 16, that I would begin studying for and taking the CPA exam.
CPA exam 'practice sessions'
At the outset of 2014, I’d graduated from Thomas Edison State College and was interning at Anthony Bonenfant & Co. That’s when I sat for my first section of the exam, Financial Accounting and Reporting (FAR). Rather than becoming weary and disappointed when I failed both the FAR and the Regulation (REG) sections the first time, I was actually rejuvenated and even more motivated.
I attribute this to a couple of things. First, I thought of each exam as a “practice session.” I went into the testing center each time thinking about how I could learn and be better prepared for my next attempt. I was thinking “experience” rather than “expectation.” That way, when I received a 68 or 69, it was actually encouraging to know I was closer than I would have thought. I knew the specific topics the exam favored, so I knew how I could improve the next time to push myself over that 75 mark — the total reported score to pass each section of the CPA exam.
Incentives for the youngest CPA (to be)
Another motivating factor that kept me going through the testing process was the knowledge that the more time I studied, the better I would do. After all, this is what I would be doing for the rest of my life, so I might as well know it as well as I could.
Also, my mom would treat me to the Cheesecake Factory and a movie after each section, so I didn't mind the prospect of going back!
I received my scores to the final part of the exam in August 2014. My family threw a huge surprise party, with about 40 of my friends. I am still just as excited and thankful to be able to call myself a CPA as I was that day.
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Editor's note: This post was updated in 2016 to reflect more current information.