For 18-year-old Belicia Cespedes, the 2015 fall semester was the first time she stepped foot on the California State University, Northridge campus. However, she wasn’t an incoming freshman — she was a college graduate who is currently on path to receive her master’s degree in accounting before her 20th birthday.
Cespedes — deemed an “accounting prodigy” and listed as one of the most influential people in accounting by editiondigital.net — finished high school at 13, received her bachelor’s degree from Thomas Edison State College at 16 and began working toward her master’s degree at CSUN right after turning 18.
On top of that, Cespedes became one of the youngest documented Certified Public Accountants (CPAs) in the world after she passed the four-part exam two months after turning 17.
“I’ve never seen this feat before,” CSUN accountancy professor Kiren Dosanjh said about Cespedes passing the CPA exam at 17. “Knowing Belicia now, I am not surprised that she was able to achieve this very impressive accomplishment.”
One thing Cespedes makes perfectly clear is that she wasn’t born knowing her passion would be accounting.
“After I graduated high school at 13, I wasn’t planning to work or go to college anytime soon, so I took a bunch of fun online classes and one of them was bookkeeping and accounting,” Cespedes said. “Once I took that class, I knew [accounting] was what I wanted to do.”
The idea of graduating ahead of schedule isn’t a first in the Cespedes family. Cespedes, like her four sisters, were either homeschooled by their mother, Vicki, or completed classes online.
Cespedes’ oldest sister, 19-year-old Ivana, is pursuing her doctorate degree in nutrigenomics — the study of the effects of foods and food constituents on gene expression, 17-year-old Briana is in law school, 15-year-old Giana is pursuing her bachelor’s degree online in Interpreting American Sign Language and 5-year-old Eliana is in second grade.
In Cespedes’ case, the faster she finished school, the faster she’d be able to look toward her future.
“Once I got the ball rolling, I didn’t want to stop,” Cespedes said. “When I was almost done with high school, I was like ‘wow I’m almost done?’ I just wanted to keep going.”
“It all starts with being thankful,” she continued. “If I saw my education as a burden like a lot of kids do, then [graduating early] would have been very hard to get through.”
Shortly after receiving her high school diploma in 2010, Cespedes enrolled in classes at College of the Canyons. Less than two years later, Cespedes earned her bachelor’s degree from Thomas Edison State College and began working as a part-time accountant.
CSUN seemed to find Cespedes out of the blue, just like accounting did for her.
“Belicia met [CSUN accounting professor David Primes] at a CPA conference and he told her about the master’s program,” Cespedes’ mother said. “The timing seemed perfect.”
And so far, Cespedes said her experience at CSUN has been very fulfilling and she hasn’t been intimidated by her classmates being mostly five or six years older than her.
“The students at CSUN are great and I really appreciate the diversity of people on campus,” Cespedes said. “I’ve always been around an older crowd, especially when I was taking the CPA exam or going to CPA conferences, so that part doesn’t make a difference to me.”
When Cespedes isn’t working on homework, she’s usually at her internship at the prestigious accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) or speaking at CPA engagements.
Although much of Cespedes’ life has been focused on getting ahead in school or her accounting career, the teen said she always found time to hang out with friends and catch a movie at the theater.
Perhaps Cespedes’ best attribute isn’t that she’s one of the youngest and most decorated up-and-coming accountants in the nation, but her awareness to the fact that she has plenty of time to decide if she wants to do something other than accounting in the future.
“I don’t think you can truly know what you want to do until you actually do it,” she said. “The great thing about being a licensed accountant at a young age is that you have time to make career decisions that might not be the right ones.
“I could side-step and still be on track and I don’t have pressure on providing for anyone but myself right now. I have freedom to try different things like internships while still finding where I fit.”