Althea DeGree

Office of Strategic Management, Department of the Treasury

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  • How I got here

    In the summer of 1989, I sat for the CPA Exam in Richmond, VA, after graduating with a bachelor’s degree in Accounting from American University. Unfortunately, I did not pass any of the parts, but believed that one day I would. The next 20 years were filled with rewarding work experiences in the Washington, DC, tax department of Arthur Andersen & Co., AT&T’s managerial accounting department in Greensboro, NC, and as the founder and president of the Home Education Center—Covenant Learning Co-op, a private school for homeschoolers in Loudoun County, VA.

  • Getting informed

    After the oldest of my six children graduated from high school, my desire to pursue my original goals of CPA licensure returned. In May 2012, I received my Masters of Business Administration from Howard University. During that time, my mentor, Frank Ross, director of the Howard University School of Business Center for Accounting Education, gave me a copy of A White-Collar Profession by Theresa A. Hammond. Ms. Hammond shared the incredible story of Theodora Rutherford.  Ms. Rutherford graduated from Howard University with a degree in accounting in 1923. “In 1924, she became the first African American to earn a master’s degree in accounting from Columbia University. Despite her education, the experience requirement prohibited her from taking the CPA examination until 1960, when she was 56 years old. By that time, she was a distinguished professor of accounting at West Virginia State College. The reason that she was eventually able to sit for the exam was because West Virginia changed its CPA law to allow people with master’s degrees to sit for the CPA examination without holding the necessary years of experience with a CPA firm.” If Ms. Rutherford could still believe in her dreams, how much more could I believe in mine.

  • Planning for the exam

    I wish we could put life on hold to plan, prepare, and study for the exam. However, family and work life still requires your attention.  After using two other review courses and three failed attempts, I earned my first part, BEC, using the Becker Online CPA Review program. Planning for each section went as follows: 1) determine how many chapters are in the review program, and take one week to complete each chapter’s lectures, review questions, and other study materials; 2) add an additional two weeks for your final review of the materials. For the review course plan that I chose, I allotted myself eight weeks to properly plan for BEC.

  • Exam strategy

    Your exam strategy begins from the time you wake up until you hit the final submit button on the computer. I preferred late morning exam times because I could have breakfast, a final one and a half hour review, relax during my commute to the testing location, and enjoy a quieter testing facility (the early test takers were out of the way). Remember, you prepared for the exam for at least eight to twelve weeks depending upon the part you are taking.  I would tell myself, “You are ready, go handle your business, and get out of there.” Finally, have an exit strategy. You have sacrificed so much over the last several weeks. I would always have my afternoon and evening planned. Whatever refuels your tank and rewards your efforts should be the way you finish your day. Remember, after a one-week break, the studying for the next section must begin.

  • How I studied

    A systematic study system is critical for success. I would break each section down into manageable pieces in order to cover the material without brain overload.  I would listen to a lecture, complete the multiple choice and simulations, print the questions and answers for questions I missed, write the mnemonic devices, and make any other notes or flash cards needed. I also had a “spiral approach” to studying. After completing a subsequent chapter, I went back to the previous chapter(s) and reviewed my notes, missed questions, and mnemonic devices. Therefore, by the time I sat for the BEC section, I had studied chapter one six times, chapter two five times, etc. The material remained fresh and I was able to make needed connections between all of the chapters.

  • The first section

    Passing BEC was a journey. I wish my story was like others—I studied and I passed—but that was not the case. I had to learn how to use the tools, carve out the needed time, ask for help, and most of all believe that I could do it. 

  • Taking the rest

    This is where the rubber meets the road. It took 11 attempts to earn the four parts. I had mentors, accountability partners, my family, and friends that cheered me to the finish line.  I had servers who encouraged me as I spent endless hours at restaurants. When they saw me coming in, they knew to prepare my comfortable booth near an outlet, because I was going to spend the day with them. I believed I must stay focused and systematic until I finished. When you find what works for you, continue to do it and never give up.

  • Bonus tips

    Eleven CPA Exams later, hours of self-study, classroom meetings, flash cards, and mentoring, I am very grateful to say that I attended the 2015 AICPA National Conference on Banks & Savings Institutions as a Certified Public Accountant. I have continued to pursue my career goals while working for the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency.

    I hope my story challenges, encourages, and inspires you to never give up. Becoming a CPA doesn’t just have to be a dream. It can be your reality!

Althea DeGree

Althea persevered and passed all four sections.

Do the scores really matter?