CPA topnotcher talks life as scholar, shares tips for accountancy

Everyone loves a good success story. The real-life accounts of grit and conquest are the fires we tend to keep our spirits warm. In the same breath, the success of our scholars are the stories that make us believe in the power of dreams.

When 23-year-old Clark Castillo ranked ninth in the recent Certified Public Accountant Licensure Exam, he recalled crying. When you’ve been a consistent top student and an institution-backed scholar, board exams can still make you second-guess yourself.

The Professional Regulation Commission (PRC) has announced that 3,155 out of 10,421 passed the May 2024 CPA exam.

“I’m not sure how I managed but I think it’s got to be because of God, my family, friends and the constant support of USJ-R (University of San Jose-Recoletos),” said Clark.

But dreams alone aren’t enough. For Clark and many scholars this just goes to show how, with the appropriate support structures in place, students — particularly scholars — prove that success is not only reserved for a select few.

Academic life

The topnotcher from USJ-R comes from a family of four. Despite humble beginnings, Clark is bound for greatness.

“I do not come from a well-off family. So when I heard of a profession that ‘only requires a signature for money,’ I immediately wanted to go down that path,” said Clark.

He also mentioned that after taking the National Career Assessment Examination when he was in high school, he found the results were more inclined towards an Accountancy path. It seems things just fell into place for someone who’s been determined from the first day.

“I received a scholarship from USJ-R — one of the best Accountancy schools — requiring me to take up a degree program with a board exam,” added Clark.

Looking back, he realized that the belief that accounting guaranteed wealth was not entirely accurate. Fast forward to today, the journey of accountancy was a rollercoaster of heartbreaks and happiness that would shape him in unexpected ways.

After cruising through four years of his degree program, even the smartest students like Clark couldn’t dodge the pressure of upcoming board examinations.

Clark’s study routine mainly involved listening to discussions and answering handout questions ahead of the instructor to improve his speed. He preferred exercises and problems over reading, turning to online videos on his review centers’ websites for clarification on confusing concepts.

“On the days when I did not have any scheduled review lectures, I’d wake up at around 8 a.m. and still had to do some other stuff (cleaning up, feeding my cats etc.) so I started studying at around 12 noon. I liked taking breaks in between study sessions, too,” said Clark.

Clark is grateful to his parents for not burdening him with household chores during his review season.

“My parents would also make sure that someone would knock on my room to call me for meals. With their help, I did not have to worry about other things and just focused on the review classes and preparation,” said Clark.

Tips for students

The newly minted certified public accountant is sharing his insights with incoming accountancy students as a way of paying it forward. If you’re still hesitant, Cebu’s latest top achiever might just change your mind.

“Learn to be open-minded and ‘teachable’ every step of the way. Next thing you know, you’ve already reached the place you used to pray for,” shared Clark.

Clark points out two common mistakes he sees among accountancy students: not taking their undergraduate years seriously and overthinking during exams, leading to carelessness.

“I’ve seen some cases where they did not take their undergrad lessons seriously thinking that something magical happens during the review. I don’t think that works (unless you’re really exceptional). The board exam preparation starts during the first year, not during the review season so learn as much as you can,” said Clark.

Clark suggests that if you find a subject tough, just put in more time on those topics. Also, skip the memorization and really get into understanding the concepts.

“There are already topics that really need memorization (RFBT and Tax) so for other subjects, try to understand the concepts so you can allot whatever ‘memory storage’ you have for the tax rates and law requisites/exceptions,” said Clark.

Clark also emphasized the importance of connecting with seniors already in the industry, as they are the ones who have applied the updated industry standards of accountancy.

“Ideally, your school would implement ways to make sure that the standards and laws we learn are the updated versions but it also wouldn’t hurt to exert additional effort on your end. Some steps could include joining accounting groups, following Facebook pages of the ‘Big 4’ firms, and subscribing to free email notifications of standard-setting bodies,” shared Clark.

Support system

As one of the top three students in his batch, he received a monthly allowance from USJ-R. Additionally, a prominent accounting firm in the Philippines has awarded him a monetary scholarship, further alleviating his financial burdens. These supportive measures show how concrete support can transform dreams into reality.

Imagine the profound impact that every struggling student had access to similar support. With financial worries lifted, students could focus more on their studies and personal growth, unlocking their full potential.

While Clark’s story is one of hard work and fortunate circumstances, students who do not have access to the same level of support can still look ahead to a bright future. By learning from his example, students can gain insights into the importance of seizing opportunities and making the most of the resources available to them.

“Trust the process. So long as you exert effort and do your part, everything will eventually make sense,” added Clark. S