Please enjoy this content brought to you by Benedictine University.
Deciding what you want to do after graduation can be daunting –- not unlike knowing how to answer at age twelve the question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” But while the latter question doesn’t have to be answered, the question of where you’re going after you graduate does and it’s not a decision that should be left until the day your student loans are due.
What you do after earning your bachelor's degree will likely influence the rest of your career: the kinds of firms you work for, the industries you’ll work in, your earning potential and more. Even your sense of professional fulfillment can be influenced by what you choose to do after graduation.
But what are your options?
For most students, there are three paths after college: graduate school, working for someone else or working for yourself -– or all of the above -– and they each have their own requirements.
Go to graduate school
Pursuing an M.B.A. is almost a no-brainer these days. According to Benedictine University in Illinois, an M.B.A. carries professional benefits including a higher salary, a better chance at promotions and a broader skill set:
A Higher Salary: A professional degree often leads to a raise in salary. Statistics vary depending on the field, but MBA holders generally earn more and are less likely to be unemployed. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, professionals with a Master's earn an average of $1329 more per week than those without.
Higher Likelihood of Promotion: Employers often give preference to workers who earn an MBA to advance their career. The knowledge and management skills acquired qualify an individual for managerial and other higher level positions. In fact, according to a poll administered by the Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC) 60 percent of executives, managers and recruiters polled plan to hire MBA degree graduates
Advanced Skills: An MBA provides the opportunity to develop communications, research, and collaborative skills, while better understanding ethical decision making and key areas such as marketing, finance, and economics.
Furthermore, if working in public accounting is the goal, graduate school helps fulfill your 150-hour education requirement to obtain a CPA license. More and more aspiring CPAs are meeting that requirement through the pursuit of a master's degree in accounting or an M.B.A.
Even if working as an accountant or an auditor isn’t what you want to do with your degree, an M.B.A. can also set you up for success in executive and managerial positions, as well as entrepreneurial pursuits.
Gaining admission to a graduate program usually requires an application and solid GMAT scores; some schools even prefer candidates with some work experience -– regardless of whether the experience was in the accounting field or via and internships.
Work for someone else
For some students, working for someone else is always the goal –- with or without going to graduate school. While reporting to someone else isn’t the best fit for everyone, landing a job at a Big 4 firm, the family business or another company offers a certain amount of perks.
For Matt Doxtator, an audit manager with BPW&C Certified Public Accountants in Albuquerque, New Mexico, working for someone else meant his expertise lead to some unexpected jobs.
“I got some advice that was like if you have an accounting degree and get an accounting job, you can always change your course. Accountants can go do anything. Learn the language of business and you can go anywhere,” he said.
While Doxtator started out in public accounting, his expertise landed him positions within the health care industry, as well as a finance position with a “big, public company that was traded on the NASDAQ.” The latter position allowed him the chance to use his natural leadership skills and polish other strengths such as consulting, being an adviser, recruiting and working in business development.
Furthermore, the experience led him to understand that he didn’t want to work for himself when he returned to public accounting years later.
“When I came to a crossroads in my career, I realized that public accounting offers all of those things (that I enjoy.) Business development is everyone’s job — not just the partners. Firms have a lot of turnover, so they're constantly recruiting. The things I missed were the things that you don't get working for a big corporation,” he said.
“The other thing is that I feel like I have an entrepreneurial bent, but I don't have the guts or the fortitude to be a small business owner, so working for a firm you get to exercise those entrepreneurial muscles without being a start-up.”
Doxtator recommends that students who wish to work for someone else take advantage of career fairs, recruiting season, open house sessions offered by firms and any other tools offered by their university.
Launch your own firm – or another venture
For those that don’t aspire to work for someone else, starting your own business or launching a start-up with someone else is always an option. Much like going to work for someone else, though, launching your own firm means grad school and a CPA license. But starting a different kind of business –- a marketing and PR firm for accounting firms, for example –- is a possibility, too.
Victor Amaya, founding partner of ClearPath Accountants in Denver, started his firm in 2010 after being laid off from PricewaterhouseCoopers a year before during the Great Recession. Although the layoff played a part in the firm’s creation, Amaya says he always wanted to work for himself.
“I always knew that I wanted to have my own business at some point, but I really enjoyed working with the people that worked at those firms. I just wanted to get more knowledge and learn as much as I could so that when I went out on my own, I was prepared,” he said.
While some questioned the move to start a business then, Amaya partnered with someone who had expertise he lacked –- tax -– and set about bringing in clients and building his workload. Six years later, the experience remains a positive.
“I think for me, I enjoy the freedom it affords me at certain points — the business ownership — that you may not have as an employee. Usually, if you are in the profession long enough, you can start creating some of that freedom for yourself anyway. I don't know if it's a pro or a con, but there’s more risk, too. Being self-employed versus an employee — that's a big risk and you're responsible for your success.”
Amaya warns that anyone who’s not comfortable with decision making, taking risks or failure probably shouldn’t pursue starting their own business. For those that do make the jump, he suggests pursuing a special designation such as certified public accountant or certified management accountant because it will help “to standout in the job market overall.”
Keeping the right mindset is important, too.
“It’s going to be a lot of hard work and you have to remind yourself that it’s for your own benefit in some way or another. Some days will be awful and some days will be great. Just ride the rollercoaster,” he said.
If graduation day has come and you still can’t decide what to do or where to go, plan to at least study for the CPA exam and devote time to activities that will boost your resume. Volunteering for a nonprofit or pursuing an internship –- or even intentional travelling -– all reflect positively on a prospective job applicant and can provide you with a better sense of what path is best.