Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility

Aspiring CPA Wants to Know if Grad School GPA, CFE Will Overshadow Lackluster Undergrad GPA

Back with another edition of “I need advice from a bunch of strange accountants,” a soon-to-be MSA grad is concerned about their low undergrad GPA. Will the Big 4 crush him out like a stale Parliament?

Have a question about your winding career road? Concerned about a recent pest problem and not sure how to handle it? Watching other companies bail on their new logos and wondering if you should do the same? Email us at [email protected] and we’ll give you some better options than Helvetica.

Meanwhile, Back on cI graduated from college with a BA in business and have a 3.1 undergrad gpa. After working in a supply chain department for three years I left a low-level management position for a one year full-time MSA program. I will graduate next summer and I currently have a 3.9 gpa. Also, I recently passed the CFE exam, I will be CPA eligible in December, and I’m hoping to join BAP.

What advice can you give me for when talking to recruiters or attending job fairs this fall? Will firms look past my unimpressive undergrad gpa if I keep my grad gpa high? How do recruiters typically view candidates that are a few years out of undergrad and have little accounting work experience? Is there anything I can do to positively differentiate myself from students who are following the traditional 5-year accounting path? Will I have a shot with the Big 4? I really want to work in public accounting, but if I don’t get competitive offers from large firms I may stay in school and pursue an MBA.

Have we talked about grades in the past? Sigh. We’ll go over this again.

In this day and age, the Big 4 is being more choosey with their entry-level hires. They simply aren’t pulling hobos off the street, asking them to pick up a calculator and start solving client’s financial reporting and tax issues. That said, your low undergrad will likely put you at a disadvantage versus your fellow recruits, especially in the eyes of set-in-their-ways partners who look at grades as a measure of potential success within their firm (which only takes the best and brightest!).

Is it bullshit? In the opinion of the editor – yes. But that’s the dealio, so let’s move on.

Judging by your pending CFE credential, it sounds as though you could possibly be interested in forensics. If that is the case, this interest and your CFE – that your tradish 5-year grad won’t have – differentiates you from the pack. You know exactly what you want to do and you have tangible proof. USE THAT to stand out from the crowd. There may be a 23 year-old 4.0 wunderkind that has the firms drooling but they have not one iota about that person’s ambitions. You know exactly what you want. Make them understand why that will be an asset to them.

And what about your previous work experience combined with your graduate GPA? DWB says that can help you too:

Sounds like you had a successful stint in the corporate world once you graduated. One could also assume you found your legs; you have a good head on your shoulders moving up to a management role. Your recent work history and grades during the MSA program are more indicative of your abilities than what you did when you were 20.

The odds are still against you but you’ve got a shot. And if you really want to work in public accounting, don’t forget that the Big 4 is not the end all to be all. Grant Thornton just picked up Huron Consulting’s investigations practice which could be a good fit for you. Many of the other top ten firms (choose your list: Vault or IPA) out there will have forensics shops, so your public accounting aspirations can easily be realized. Get out there and make it happen.

Do The Big 4 Use Intermediate Accounting as a ‘Weed-Out’ Course?

Back from the meat sweat-infused Labor(less?) Day Weekend with the latest edition of “help me get my career out of the crapper,” a young accounting student is concerned that their “C” in Intermediate Accounting will derail their Big 4 dreams of fame and fortune.

Have a question about your career? Need advice on how to handle the client contact who just happens to be a complete lunatic? Undecided on whether or not you should eat the frozen pizza that isn’t yours when you’re working at 1 am? Email us at [email protected] and we’ll get you back on the crooked and wide.

Back to our latest gradeobsessed recruit:

I’m currently a Senior at ASU, graduating in May 2011 and plan on enrolling in the MTAX program at ASU that Fall. I currently have a 3.52 G.P.A., but ended up with a C in Intermediate Financial Accounting (For the record, I took an accelerated 5-week course and was also working full-time). I have heard that many firms (mostly Big 4) use this course as a “weed out” of candidates. I have maintained all A’s in my other accounting courses but am worried that this C will turn off recruiters. If I plan on going into Tax, will this pose a problem? Any recommendations to counter potential problems?

Here’s the deal with grades people – they shouldn’t be a dealbreaker. There are tons of fine candidates out there who weren’t as naturally talented in the academic sense of double-entry accounting but have a lot more intangibles to offer.

Unfortunately, the current reality is that most Big 4 partners and those in recruiting are of the mindset that looking at a candidate’s grades is most efficient way to identify the best candidates. Is that bullshit? In the editor’s opinion, yes. Do you have to deal with it, anyway? Yes. Is impossible to have a low-ish GPA (between 3.0 – 3.5) and still land a gig with Big 4? No, but be prepared to sell hard why your lower GPA isn’t an issue.

In this case, while the “C” in Intermediate Accounting may rise an eyebrow or a brief mention from someone on the recruiting team, it is not the ‘weed out’ course that you are picturing in your head. Your 3.52 GPA is good enough that the Big 4 will give you a serious look and if you received “A” grades in your other classes, the “C” will look like an outlier that a partner may ask you about briefly, “What happened there?” in an attempt to be funny. You’ll give him/her the story and that will likely be the end of it.

Plus, since it sounds like you’re most interested in joining a Tax Practice, this shouldn’t be an issue at all. They’ll look at your Grad School grades and the classes you took in the program to decide where you’ll best fit into their practice. They likely won’t give your “C” in Intermediate a second look.

Apparently Ernst & Young Doesn’t Buy the “C’s Get Degrees” Mantra

We know that lots of you out there are perfectionists, so this could never happen to you but for you mere mortals, you can sympathize a little bit.

Courthouse News Service reports that a class action suit in California has been filed against E&Y claiming that the contracts signed by graduating seniors “compel” them to work for the firm but allow the company “to legally renege or cancel the offer of employment” if the senior does not maintain “continued strong academic standing.” Apparently this means if you slack off your senior year and slip a couple of C’s in there, you could be out on the street.

Yunjung Gribben, 43, is the named plaintiff in the suit and she is seeking damanges for wrongful termination, age discrimination, breach of employment, specific performance and violations of the Labor Code.

Ms. Gribben claims that she graduated from Cal State Fullerton with a 3.6 grade point average but, “After working for Ernst & Young for a month, Gribben says, she got a call from human resources, questioning her about the C’s she got in her senior year. She says she was fired the next days [sic].”

She claims that “continued strong academic standing” was not defined in her contract, although she admits that there is a “hazy reference” to the term on the firm’s website.

Dale Fiola is representing Ms. Gribben and he us, “No student should be under the impression that they have an employment agreement once they graduate. Most of the time when people sign offers of employment they think they’ve got something.”

The suit alleges that other students have cited the “continued strong academic standing” language and in Ms. Gribben case, “younger employees were allowed to stay at the company.”

Ernst & Young spokesman Charlie Perkins had no comment at the time our post was published.

Class Sues Ernst & Young Over Contract [Courthouse News Service]