My CPA Exam Success Story: From Opera Singer to Certified Public Accountant

Angela Zullinger has trained as a professional musician since the age of 15, working as a freelance opera singer, pianist and music teacher. After starting a family, Angela reconsidered her work in the music industry and transitioned her efforts to accounting, starting with an online master’s program and then pursuing her CPA licensure. Despite her busy life balancing motherhood and working at an accounting firm, Angela still manages to keep up with music and often welcomes opportunities to sing.

opera singer turned CPA, Angela Zullinger

Read on as Angela Zullinger shares her transition from working as a professional musician to a certified public accountant and offers tips for other working parents who are studying for the exam.

Was there a special draw to accounting after your reconsideration of being a musician?

 My ultimate goal is to be able to help artists with their taxes and financial planning. I have a special empathy for artists who make their living in fine and performing arts. I lived their reality for years – trying to eke out a living with meager, sporadic income that was subject to self-employment taxes, constantly “selling my product” in order to ensure future employment, and spending a great deal of money on training, promotion, travel, and supplies. Quite often, artists have neither health insurance, nor do they have retirement accounts. They are usually shocked by, and unprepared to pay, their income tax liability. I would like to provide artists with the peace of mind that accompanies financial stability, so that they can continue to infuse the world with beauty and inspiration.

I graduated with my MSA this past June, and just recently passed FAR – due in large part to the Newt Becker Scholarship. I consider that award to be one of the biggest sources of external validation I have received on this journey, and I will always be immensely grateful for it.

Why did you decide to become a CPA?

My work at the accounting firm has become increasingly complex and I’m faced with new challenges on a daily basis. Earning my CPA license won’t necessarily change my professional trajectory at this firm, which is largely based on experience, but I will be better compensated for the same work. It’s also a confidence builder to have those three letters after my name and gives me more credibility when speaking to clients.

How do you manage your time studying for the CPA, working at your firm and maintaining your personal life? What did your study schedule look like?

Juggling motherhood, a full-time job, and studying for the exams has not been easy. I usually stay up very late, once my girls are in bed, in order to keep up with it. Occasionally I get a moment during the workday to do some reading or run a question bank. When I was studying for FAR last fall, I came in to work on Sunday mornings to take the mock exams at the exact time of day my real exam was scheduled, so that I could get used to what that felt like and how to pace myself. I then took three days off from work immediately before the exam in order to do an extremely intensive review of my weakest areas. I found the mock exam statistical reports extremely helpful for deciding where to focus my review.

Any tips for other working students, especially parents, to get motivated and focused?

When you look at the CPA Exam process and think that 2 years is a long time – remember that those 2 years will pass anyway. You might as well spend them on something that’s going to pay off in a big way. Take it one chapter at a time, set up small goals along the way, and reward yourself when you reach them (massage, dinner out, etc.). Also, focus on understanding concepts, don’t just memorize. If you can explain it to someone else, that’s when you really know it.

Jump start your preparation for the CPA Exam with our all new Becker Bundle. Now with Unlimited Access, you can use those mock exams that Angela found so useful. – plus, our SkillMaster videos, Final Review, flash cards and more – for as long as you need them to pass the exam! After you pass the exam and earn your three letters, stay in the Becker family and earn your CPE credits.

Be sure to share your story with us on Instagram using #beckercpa!

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