As the number of young people interested in accounting continues to dwindle, INSIDE Public Accounting Monthly caught up with a definite outlier to this trend in our October issue.
Believed to be the youngest person to pass the CPA Exam, Jimmy Chilimigras, 15, is dismayed that young people are growing less interested in accounting as an educational pursuit and eventual career.
Why? Because accounting is versatile and cool. “I think a lot of young people, if they really knew what accounting was all about and the beauty of accounting, would have a lot more interest for sure.”
Chilimigras started his path to a career when he scored a 31 on the ACT exam and graduated from high school in Bay St. Louis, Miss., at the age of 12. He then took about a year at Western Governors University (WGU) to earn his bachelor’s degree and another six months to earn his master’s degree in accounting.
Then he passed the Law School Admission Test with the highest score in 23 states at age 14 and notched another success with the CPA exam. Now he plans to combine his passion for accounting and legal work into a career in tax law after graduation from the College of Law at Loyola University, New Orleans.
During a break in classes, Chilimigras talked with IPA Monthly about how he achieved so much in so little time, his thoughts about recruitment and his career plans. Here are lightly edited excepts from that conversation.
How did you develop an interest in accounting? Were there accountants in your family?
My grandfather on my mother’s side was a CPA. My grandfather on my dad’s side was an attorney, so I’m the favorite grandchild (laughs). I do think there was some influence there. When I was looking at different majors to pick from, it seemed that accounting was one of the most difficult ones, and once I looked into it a little more I thought it was something that would be really useful no matter what I did in my life – if I started a business, or if I went to work for someone – no matter what I’m doing I’m going to have to pay taxes, so I might as well be good at it.
What was it about accounting that you developed a passion for?
I volunteered with the local branch of the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) to do tax preparation for the elderly and disadvantaged in my community and I really enjoyed that. I thought it was great to help people, and tax preparation is kind of cool. You’re problem-solving with this person’s information to help them as much as you can, and I think that’s pretty neat. There’s definitely a lot of opportunity for helping because everyone has to deal with finances and it’s such an important part of people’s lives. Finances can be one of the biggest stressors that people have.
How were you able to earn your bachelor’s degree in one year?
I think to move quickly you need a couple different things. You do need natural talent, which I’m blessed with, you need a good community of people to support you, and then you need to have focus and dedication to what you’re doing. I think some things that also helped me is I didn’t have to worry about a job or taking care of kids or anything like that. My education was my primary focus, and then through WGU, I was able to learn at my own pace.
How do you feel about the requirement to complete 150 credit hours to earn a CPA license? It’s a controversial issue in the profession.
To be honest, that’s not something I devoted a great deal of thought to. It was the 150-credit-hour rule that made me want to go ahead and get my master’s in accounting to be able to sit for the CPA Exam. In my case, I don’t think it was very bad for me, but I can definitely see it being a lot more difficult for people in different circumstances.
Did you pass on the first try? You’re not actually a CPA yet, right?
One section – FAR (financial accounting and reporting) – I did have to retake. I was off by two points. Some of that may have been a technical issue I had during the exam with formatting. The work experience requirement is one year in Mississippi. I fulfilled it while working on my education through bookkeeping for local businesses. Now I’m just waiting for my application to be approved.
What are you doing now?
I’m a quarter of the way through my first semester at Loyola Law so that’s been my main focus for the last few weeks. I’m enjoying it. It’s been a lot of work, but that’s what I bargained for. One thing I’ve found kind of interesting is the contrast between law and accounting. It seems like in accounting everything is very black and white – there’s a right answer and an answer that might get you locked up. With law it feels like there’s a lot more gray area where you have more room to work. That’s been kind of cool to me.
Were you interested in tax law specifically?
Initially, it was just the legal field in general, but after my accounting experience, I’m more interested in tax law. That’s what I’m hoping to specialize in.
Are you living on campus?
I’m commuting. At my age, my parents didn’t want to send me away just yet.
The decline of accounting majors who go on to take the CPA exam is a big concern in the profession. What advice would you give to people your age who are interested in pursuing a career in accounting?
Accounting is a great career. I think it’s sad that there’s a declining interest in it among young people. But I think a lot of that is because a lot of young people don’t know accounting is available to them, and they don’t know much about the field. When I was in high school, I just thought of it as business math. I didn’t really know what was entailed, or that it would be anywhere near as interesting as I found it to be.
Any closing thoughts?
I do think a lot of young people who are looking at accounting initially maybe don’t realize that you can really do a lot with accounting. Even within the accounting field, there’s tax, there’s bookkeeping, there’s audit or starting your own business, and these are all very different things. They’re all open to you, and it’s so useful to you throughout your lie. One other thing that’s important – the accounting community has been fantastic. They’re amazing, wonderful people.
I envision combining accounting and law and practicing tax law. I think that could be really interesting. Something else that could be cool as well is maybe working a little bit to improve the educational system. I’ve had a unique educational journey, but I think I’ve learned a lot from it, like the value of being able to go at your own pace. If I was not able to go at my own pace, I’d probably, unfortunately, still be sitting in a high school classroom today.
Are you still 15 or have you turned 16?
I’m still 15. My birthday is in January. I’m looking forward to it though. It will be nice to get my driver’s license finally.
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