2019 saw Syme earn two degrees, plus gain CMA and CPA designations

12/19/2019 ASHLAND, Ohio – You could say it’s been a big, alphabet soup-kind of year for Jessica Syme, but that would be an understatement.

Syme, who graduated with both bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Ashland University in the spring, has also been able to accomplish what only a very few do: she has passed on the first try both sections of the Certified Management Accountant exam and all four parts of the Uniform Certified Public Accountant exam.

All of that, in just one year.

Now an accounting associate on the staff of Whitcomb & Hess in Ashland, Syme admitted at times she felt a bit too busy, but all the studying and exam prep paid off. “I didn’t have a lot of free time. My planner was my friend,” she said. “Having really good time management skills helped.”

She honed those time management skills while completing high school through the Ohio Virtual Academy while also coming to Ashland to take College Credit Plus courses at AU. This gave her an opportunity to sample a few classes in the AU business core, which led to her double major in accounting and finance.

What also helped, she said, was AU’s accelerated accounting program, which made it possible to earn both her undergraduate and graduate degrees simultaneously and at the same time earn the 150 credit hours required before taking the CPA exam. Syme also was part of the Eagle Investment Group and completed four internships, the last of which turned into an offer of full-time employment.

But the idea of sitting for the CMA exam came largely as a result of Syme’s involvement in the IMA Accounting Club, where she learned more about the certification, and the preparation course for which would count as credit toward her MBA. “I figured if the review course went well, I might take the (CMA) exam,” said Syme. “But it wasn’t set in stone.”

When she did decide to take the exam, the IMA provided a scholarship to cover her fees.

“I have known Jessica since 2016 and have had the opportunity to work closely with her in the classroom as well as in the IMA Accounting Club,” said Sue Mullen, AU professional instructor of accounting. “She was an extremely valuable member of the organization and the president from 2018-2019. She has always exuded a high level of maturity and professionalism.”

Syme took the first part of the CMA exam in January and the second in May, all while taking classes and completing an internship – and studying for and taking the first part of the CPA exam, which she did in February. She tackled the remaining three sections, one by one, in July, September and November.

And the “pass” notifications started coming – and never stopped. “It was very exciting,” Syme said. “Every score I got, I was like ‘I can’t believe I did this’.”

It is, Mullen said, no small feat. Each of the two parts of the CMA exam consist of 100 multiple choice questions and two essays. The four-part CPA exam covers 18 content areas and includes multiple choice and essays, but also task-based simulations, which Mullen explained “are short case studies that test the candidate’s know of real-life, work-related situations.”

The worldwide pass rates for the CMA have averaged about 45 percent over the last five years, while the CPA pass rate is a bit higher – 51 percent. “In my professional career, I have seen candidates take upwards of three years to pass the CPA exam and two years to pass the CMA exam,” said Mullen. “This does not include the candidates who decide to stop pursuing these certifications.” The pass rate for first time exam takers, particularly on all four parts of the CPA exam, is rarer still.

With exams and school behind her, Syme said, “It’s so nice to just go home and relax,” and she credits a support network of family, friends and faculty for supporting throughout a very busy – and very successful – year.

And as for her new career, all the work was worth it. Where others might think of accounting as column after column of numbers, Syme said, “I think of it as helping people. I’m helping a person reach their financial goals and that’s the connection I love. It’s the piece of mind we’re able to bring to people.”

Ashland University, ranked in the top tier of colleges and universities in U.S. News and World Report’s National Universities category for 2018, is a mid-sized, comprehensive private university conveniently located a short distance from Akron, Cleveland and Columbus, Ohio. Religiously affiliated with the Brethren Church, Ashland University (www.ashland.edu) deeply values the individual student and offers a unique educational experience that combines the challenge of strong, applied academic programs with a faculty and staff who build nurturing relationships with their students. ###