WHEN TO TAKE THE CMA EXAMBy
Each person has to decide about the timing, but there are good reasons for taking the plunge while you’re still in school.
Should students sit for the CMA® (Certified Management Accountant) exam? Just ask Hallie D’Agostino. Hallie earned her M.S. degree in accounting from Kent State University in May 2015. While a graduate student there, she served as the president of Beta Alpha Psi and the Accounting Association, vice president of the IMA® (Institute of Management Accountants) student chapter, and graduate assistant for the Introduction to Financial Accounting courses. She passed both parts of the CMA exam as of January 2015 and sat for all four parts of the CPA (Certified Public Accountant) exam this summer. Next month she will be starting her career with Grant Thornton LLP in Cleveland, Ohio, as an audit associate. In the future, Hallie hopes to obtain her Ph.D. in accounting and teach an accounting introduction or audit course at a university.
Dennis: What made you decide to pursue the CMA as a student?
Hallie: Throughout my time in school, the two certifications that I had heard my professors talk about the most were the CMA and the CPA. Before coming to college, I knew I wanted the CPA, but I liked the fact that the CMA certification would provide me an additional advantage in the job market, especially if I enter management accounting. I decided to pursue the CMA as a student due to my involvement in Kent State University’s IMA student chapter. A group of students and I founded the chapter this past academic year, and I served as the vice president of the organization. Additionally, I was lucky enough to receive IMA’s CMA Scholarship, which allowed me financially to take the exam as a student. Since I planned to sit for the CPA exam this summer, I knew that I wanted to knock out the CMA exam beforehand.
Dennis: How well did the CMA exam align with what you were learning in school?
Hallie: The CMA exam aligned quite well with everything I have learned in school. Our curriculum at Kent State University covered the majority, if not all, of the topics that were tested on the exam. This was a great advantage for me because I felt like studying was more of a review than having to teach myself new material. It was interesting to see little bits and pieces of material that I learned in so many different courses all being tested between the two CMA exams. The courses that I found the most helpful in my studies were Cost Accounting and Financial Management. Cost Accounting covered a lot of the material that was tested on the first exam, especially cost management and planning, budgeting, and forecasting. Financial Management was more helpful for the second exam. This course covered financial statement analysis, corporate finance, and investment decisions. I think I was very lucky to have attended a school with such a well-rounded curriculum.
Dennis: How did you prepare to take the exams?
Hallie: I used the Gleim CMA Review system to prepare for my exam, and I felt the system was extremely helpful. The program included lectures, note outlines, various multiple-choice quizzes, and essay simulations. My favorite part of the program was that the multiple-choice quizzes and essay simulations were set up to look identical to the actual exam. This took off a lot of pressure while I was taking the exam because I felt so comfortable. It was almost as if I were just completing another practice quiz or essay.
Dennis: What kept you motivated throughout the CMA exam process?
Hallie: My biggest motivation throughout the CMA exam process was my family. I am the oldest child of five and a first-generation college student. It is very important to me to continually strive for success in order to set a good example for my younger brothers and sisters. I want to show them that the opportunities are endless as long as you are willing to stay motivated and work hard. Additionally, my mentor and former professor, Dr. Wendy Tietz, was another huge motivator for me. She was our advisor for the IMA student chapter at Kent State and the one who nominated me for the IMA CMA Scholarship. I don’t think it would have been possible for me to get through my studies without her advice and encouragement.
Dennis: How do you think the CMA exam will help you as you enter the workforce? What qualities do you think you’ll bring as a CMA once you are certified?
Hallie: I will be starting my career as an audit associate for Grant Thornton LLP Cleveland and think that passing the CMA exam will make me a better auditor all around. The knowledge that I have gained through my studies will help me to better understand my clients’ accounting processes through an internal perspective. I believe that having that internal perspective in addition to the external perspective taught through preparation for the CPA exam will allow me to better serve my clients’ needs. Also, I feel that the CMA program helped me bridge the gap between college and the professional world. I feel so much more prepared and confident to enter the workforce because passing the CMA exam has showed me that I am able to actually apply all of the knowledge I learned in school to real-life accounting situations.
Dennis: Where do you want to be in your career in five years?
Hallie: In five years, I would hope to be a manager at Grant Thornton LLP or starting a Ph.D. program for accounting. I love how fast-paced and interesting it is working in the public accounting field, and I feel that working in this field will teach me so much. But I would ultimately love to end up as an accounting professor. I discovered my passion for teaching through tutoring and my graduate assistantship for the Introduction to Financial Accounting courses at Kent State University. I would enjoy teaching an introduction course or an auditing course for which I think my knowledge and experience from my career in public accounting and my CMA certification will be very helpful.
Dennis: What advice would you give to other students who are thinking about taking the CMA exam?
Hallie: My best advice to other students who are thinking about taking the CMA exam is to make studying fun and rewarding. I created a study plan and rewarded myself for completing each step of the plan. Knowing that I had a little “reward” to look forward to after completing a study unit was really motivating. Whether I had a fun weekend planned with friends or got to treat myself to a small shopping trip, I knew completing a step meant that I had something fun and exciting to look forward to. Another important factor to consider is to be sure to give yourself plenty of time to study and some room for flexibility. Since I was taking the CMA exam while still in school, I gave myself six months in between both exams to fully prepare. That way, when I felt overloaded with my schoolwork, I didn’t feel guilty giving myself some time off from studying.
A FEW MORE ADVANTAGES
The CMA is a global passport that provides opportunities to work in companies around the world. Passing the CMA exam shows that you have met a rigorous standard and validates competence in the skills most in demand on finance teams today: planning, analysis, control, decision support, and ethics. Having these business insight skills provides many job opportunities.
In addition, CMAs earn one-third more than noncertified professionals and can earn more than $500,000 in present value terms over the course of their career. More than 46,000 CMA certifications have been issued since 1972, and the number keeps growing worldwide.
Taking the CMA exam as a student is a great career move because it differentiates you from your peers, giving you an advantage when you go for that first job. Many major companies around the world recognize the value of the CMA. Also, as a student you are used to studying and taking tests, and you have the accounting material fresh in your mind. Upon graduation and after you obtain two years of accounting experience, you would be granted the CMA. Taking the CMA exam as a student has great value, and Hallie can attest to that!