Sarah Lapolice ’09, an accountant from West Springfield, MA, is taking down the CPA exam one step at a time thanks to Elms’ graduate certificate program.

The Number Cruncher Myth

For the past three years, Sarah Lapolice ’09 has worked as a staff accountant at Burkhart Pizzanelli, P.C., an accounting firm based in West Springfield, MA. While her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Elms prepared her for the technical aspects of the business, they also laid the groundwork for a lesser known side of accounting: relationship building.

Photo of a BA/MBA graduate


“What I found is that it’s completely different,” she explained. “We work with clients for the entirety of the year. I’m not just sitting in a cube with a calculator crunching numbers. We get to be involved with the complexity of running a business and ask ourselves, ‘how can we strategize to benefit this company?’”

Asking complex questions like this motivated Sarah to pursue the ultimate benchmark in her profession: the certified public accountant (CPA) exam. Knowing that the four parts of the exam take place over a grueling 18 months, she began exploring the various study resources available on the market. While she initially tried her hand at self-guided review, she quickly realized that she needed more structure. At that point, she enrolled in the graduate certificate program in public accounting at Elms.

Question, Question, Question

“I would be going through these self-studies, and the professor on the lecture video would say X, Y, and Z, and I would want to ask a question. And you’re not able to do that,” Sarah said.

In contrast to the impersonal aspect of self-study resources, the certificate program at Elms offered Sarah and her cohort the chance to engage their professors in dialogue, ask questions, and build a support network amongst themselves.

“In the certificate program, you can be going through essentially the same lecture as you would in a self-study, but it gives you an avenue to ask questions,” she added. “If you’re not grasping something when you’re doing it at home, who do you have to ask?”

Reflecting on her Auditing & Attestation class (AUD), Sarah said that her professor, Carly Cavanaugh, CPA, brought the curriculum to life with pertinent examples drawn from her personal work experiences.

“She utilized real life examples, which made everything click,” she said. “I think that interaction and real-life comparison really helps you grasp the concepts.”

Tackling the CPA Exam

Each of the program’s four classes mirror a part of the CPA exam. Students complete a course, sit for the corresponding portion of the exam, and then repeat the cycle. Classes include Auditing & Attestation (AUD); Financial Accounting & Reporting (FAR); Regulation (REG); and Business Environment & Concepts (BEC). According to Sarah, students favor this approach because they can maintain their momentum from class when sitting for each exam.

“In the certificate program, you’re active. You’re studying with your professors and classmates. A week after the class section ends, you’re sitting for the exam while the material is fresh in your mind,” she said.

Having completed the AUD and REG portions of the CPA exam, Sarah is halfway toward earning her license. Once she has obtained her credentials, she plans on continuing her work at Burkhart Pizzanelli. The decision is an easy one, as Sarah strongly identifies with the company’s culture of relationship building.

“The leaders within the firm have that same mentality, which is: it’s about the customers and the relationships,” she said. “Finding a place like this that really fits who I am as a person has been one of the best things for my career, because it makes going to work enjoyable.

“Once I get my CPA, I hope to add more value to the firm and continue to grow along with it.”

Are you ready to elevate your accounting credentials to the next level as a CPA? Contact us for more information about how our graduate certificate program in public accounting can prepare you for this professional milestone.