Grad Scores in Nation’s Top 10 on CPA Exams
Performance on Grueling Series of Accounting Tests Was Also Best in State
June 15, 2009
For his stellar performance, the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants has awarded Vaughan one of its 10 Elijah Watt Sells Awards for 2008. Vaughan is the first UT Dallas student to receive this national award, which dates to 1923.
“Having Gabe represent the accounting program here at UT Dallas is what it would be like if we had a football team at UT Dallas and we had Colt McCoy as our team’s quarterback,” said Amy Troutman, assistant director of the school’s Accounting and Information Management program. “Gabe’s CPA scores were breathtaking. It’s an honor to all of us in the School of Management that he represented us so well on a national platform.”
When Vaughan started at UT Dallas in 1998 as a freshman after graduating from nearby Berkner High School, he didn’t even list accounting as a goal. “My undergraduate degree was in Business Administration, and back then I did not really know what I wanted to do,” he said. “I didn't really begin the focus on accounting until graduate school.”
After returning to UT Dallas to earn his MBA in 2004 and then a master’s degree in Accounting and Information Management in 2005, Vaughan knew what his goal was – to become a CPA.
The Uniform CPA Examination contains four parts. Those who fail any portion may retake just those sections to pass. Vaughan’s honor reflects his cumulative score on all four parts on his first try and is all the more noteworthy knowing that universities have a “pass rate” on the first attempt of 50 to 75 percent.
Liliana Hickman-Riggs, the School of Management professor who oversees and teaches the CPA review courses at UT Dallas, called Vaughan’s grades on the exam “phenomenal.”
“I cannot begin to describe what an extraordinary accomplishment this is. This is the highest honor a young CPA can possibly receive,” Hickman-Riggs said. He scored 94, 97, 99 and 99 on the four tests.
Vaughan said his goal was to pass the tests on the first attempt. “I definitely did not set out to be a top scorer. I was worried about even passing. I think that because I was so worried, I studied and worked incredibly hard, and I ended up overshooting my target. I had heard horror stories about students with 4.0 GPAs failing the CPA exam. I had a 4.0 GPA in grad school, but I was worried I would end up being one of them. ... I did not want to have to take the exam over and over. It’s an expensive and time-consuming ordeal, so I wanted to succeed the first time. I did not want to be one of those poor souls who find out they made a 74 on a section, missing by one point, and realizing all that time was wasted.”
Interestingly, Vaughan credits some of his success to his experience with his UT Dallas fraternity, where he served as president. “I was heavily involved in Zeta Beta Tau fraternity at UT Dallas from 2001 to 2002,” he recalled. “Fraternities get a bad reputation at times, but without the confidence I gained from that experience, I don't know if I would have achieved this.”
Just being eligible to take the CPA test requires candidates to have 150 college hours, including 30 hours of upper-level accounting classes and 24 hours of business coursework. The four portions of the test cost almost $900 in fees.
And that’s before the hours and hours of test preparation, both with the commercial Becker CPA Review course and with Liliana Hickman-Riggs at UT Dallas.
While reviewing for the exam in late 2007 and 2008, Vaughan continued working full time for a real estate and property management company in Dallas. “There were many late nights,” he said. “Going to work after four hours of sleep is not fun. Energy drinks were my best friend. My body was thankful when that exam was over.”
It also helped, Vaughan said, that his wife, Cara, “had an incredible amount of patience” and that his parents, in-laws and brother were supportive while he studied.
“We have a lot to be proud of at UT Dallas,” Hickman-Riggs said. “Gabe has worked very hard; we all have worked very hard, and this is the first of many top national awards to come.”
“Obviously having Liliana Hickman-Riggs teaching was a great thing,” Vaughan said.. “She did her absolute best to prepare all of us for this incredibly difficult exam. It meant we had to stay late some nights, but it was well worth it.”
Vaughan and his wife, whom he met at a Zeta Beta Tau party at UT Dallas, are expecting their first child this fall. He is now a staff accountant at FelCor Lodging Trust, a publicly traded real estate investment trust in Irving. His company took him out for lunch to celebrate his success, and he was the candidates’ speaker at the Texas State Board of Public Accountancy’s CPA swearing-in ceremony last November. All in all, an exciting year for someone who just a few years ago, didn’t really know what he wanted to be when he grew up.