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Alumnus wins prestigious accounting award

April 6, 2012 : By BJ Williams/Liberty University News Service

Liberty University Online alumnus Eric Hartel (’06) was one of the top 19 scorers in the nation on the Uniform Certified Public Accountant (CPA) certification exam, earning him the Elijah Watt Sells Award this year. More than 100,000 people take the CPA exam across the country.

Hartel received his Bachelor of Science degree in Business from Liberty University Online, with a specialization in finance. He holds a Master’s of Business Administration from Lakeland College in Sheboygan, Wis.

Hartel said he was surprised when he was notified of his score.

“I knew I had done well, but I didn’t realize that I had done that well,” he said by phone from his office in Kennesaw, Ga., where he is the senior revenue accountant with CCH Small Firm Services. Hartel joined the firm after taking accounting jobs at a pair of small companies, one in software and the other in health care services.

Hartel sat for the CPA exam in 2010; award recipients were notified in March this year.

Presented by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA), the award is named in memory of Sells, a founding partner for one of the first “professional services” firms in the country, Haskins & Sells (this was a predecessor to firms such as Ernst & Young and PriceWaterhouseCoopers).

The award is typically given to the top 10 scorers on all four parts of the exam (for 2010, there were several tie scores). The exam features questions on various areas of accounting, such as auditing, taxes and financial statements among others. Those who sit for the exam have one year from the time it begins to complete all four parts. To be eligible for the award, they must pass all four sections on the first attempt.

Hartel said he rigorously prepared for the exam.

“After I took a two-month course in preparation, I studied for three months prior to each section, 15-20 hours a week,” he said.

According to James Schiavone, Manager for Media Relations at the AICPA, it can take up to a year to receive and process all of the exam scores from the state boards of accounting, and then a few more months to confirm with the winners’ respective boards before presenting the award.

Hartel had high praise for his Liberty University Online professors, who, according to Hartel, made sure the students were active in class discussions, working hard on team and individual projects and that the students were fully understanding the concepts being taught.

His advice for those interested in finance or accounting, is to “learn to enjoy working with numbers,” “take as many accounting classes as you can,” and to consider an online degree for the flexibility it provides.