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Ex-Marine Who Missed Internship Deployment Looking For His Next Assignment

Do you guys ever get an insidious sense of deja vu when reading some of these advice posts? I know I do. Anyway, here’s another lost little sheep looking for a sense of direction in this big scary world. If you’re feeling lost, hopeless, confused or otherwise unsure, hit us up with your issue and we’ll do our best not to make fun of you in front of everyone.

Dear GC,

I have a situation that may be just a little bit different than most college undergraduates but can’t be the only one in this situation. I attend a small private business sch I am a Marine Corps veteran of 4 years and currently using the G.I. Bill as an undergraduate accounting student with a 3.62 GPA. I am in my second year; however, this is my 4th semester and because I do summer semesters as well and I got 21 credits from military experience, I am right along with the Juniors in terms of graduation date. In fact I will have more credits than them when they graduate needing only 15 more to get the 150. The problem arises in me being ahead, yet behind. I am far ahead of the the sophomores, yet a little behind the juniors in regards to accounting courses completed. I am taking Intermediate I and AIS this semester and Intermediate II and Tax in the Spring. I thought because I didn’t have that many accounting courses completed going into this semester that I should wait to apply for internships, especially Big 4. Then I found out that the most accounting firms around here do all of their recruiting in September. Even though Deloitte and PwC are the only big 4 firms recruiting at my school. So I started applying for internships in October to smaller firms and filling out talent profiles on the Big 4 websites. I do plan on attending University of Pittsburgh’s MAcc 1 year program after graduation so I would in a sense have another summer opportunity to get an internship. My question is, should I in the meantime try and get an internship doing individual tax returns or private accounting at a chain retail company? (I have offers for both) Ideally I want something in Public, and eventually that is what I want to; however, would either of those internships help me at all in the long run towards getting an internship with the Big 4 next year? Also like I said only those 2 seem to recruit at my school. Is there anyway to really have a chance at E&Y or KPMG? Thank you in advance.

First off, thank you for your service to this country. My grandfather was a Marine (enlisted just before the end of WW II and missed the action), so out of respect to you for your service, I’m not going to make an excessive number of comments about how much editing I had to do to make your letter readable. But I will make a humble suggestion (in case you weren’t just being sloppy given who you were emailing), please tighten up your writing a bit before you go out there sniffing for Big 4 gigs. Granted, most recruiters can’t spell recruiter but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be putting your best foot forward here.

Now that we got that out of the way, can I ask you something? Why are you so dead set on the Big 4? You’re not actually planning on spending your entire career there, are you? It is unclear from your email why you want to be in the Big 4 so bad, so we’re going to assume here that either you drank the Kool-aid or don’t realize that there are a myriad of other opportunities for someone with your background.

Coming from a small school with low recruitment and boasting a 3.62 GPA probably won’t make you stand out on any HR desks anytime soon but the tide could definitely turn when you get in to the University of Pittsburgh MAcc program, assuming you do well and are able to attend recruiting events that are likely more active than the ones at your current school. As you noted, this is good. Also good: your military service (they eat that stuff up, it shows an ability to take orders and not revolt) and the fact that you will definitely be CPA eligible from the moment they bring you on.

What’s the rush in the meantime? Are you looking for the experience? Trying to get your foot in the door in public? Have bills to pay? Just want to get out of the house? You have plenty on your plate (not to mention the CPA exam ahead of you), if I were you I’d just focus on school for now instead of considering doing tax returns in your spare time. Unless that’s what you want to do with the rest of your career.

Since many accounting students participate in VITA anyway, telling recruiters you interned on tax returns probably isn’t going to earn you many points. And unless the “private accounting” gig involves work under a licensed CPA that you can use toward your experience requirement for CPA licensure, I wouldn’t bother.

Comment section is open for the Peanut Gallery’s (much appreciated) two cents.

Let’s Try to Talk This Soon-to-Be CPA Exam Candidate Off the Ledge

I’m no longer surprised by the fact that otherwise (allegedly) rational human beings think it is appropriate to ask a bunch of assholes on the Internet what they should do with their lives. No offense to any of you but I’d hardly bet my life’s decisions on the input I get from a bunch of Internet trolls hiding in cubes around the country making dick jokes amongst themselves.

That said, I’m hoping you guys have some good input for this guy. And by good, I think you know what I actually mean.

Dear GC,

I’m a B4 intern graduating in May 2012. Unfortunately, I won’t have 150 credits by that time, but I’ll hopefully have a full time offer from the firm. While this doesn’t seem like an uncommon problem, I feel like I’m between a rock and aof hefty Master’s programs’ tuition rates and the intensity of CPA studying. Therefore, I have the following dilemma…

I could take the CPA right after graduation (to become NY certified) and take a one-semester Master’s program in the Fall. I’d have the whole summer to study and pass the CPA, but I’d be paying $15K for the Master’s and delaying my start time (and future promotions/bonuses) to January 2013. I want to start making money sooner rather than later to pay off my mounting college debts.

The other option is finishing off my last 12-15 credits at a local community college (far cheaper obviously) immediately following graduation. I could then study for the exam either during or after the extra courses. I would be able to start (I think) around October and avoid the massive MAcc tuition. However, I don’t think I’d have enough time to study and pass before beginning full time work, and I’ve heard the longer into your B4 career, the harder it is to find time to study and pass the first time.

I have a tough decision to make and enough time to become more well-informed. People have been telling me it’s all about preference, but I don’t think that’s a good enough answer. There are strong pros and cons in both, but I’m worried my mind will continue to stagnate as it gets closer to decision time. Do you have prior-experience-related advice that will lead me in the right direction? Thanks in advance.


Where do we start with this? First of all, you’ve a) already fallen into the debt trap and b) totally fallen for the myth that you’ve got to get a MAcc to get anywhere in this industry. You’re tripping. Nowhere in the NY exam requirements does it state that you have to take on more debt and another degree to be a CPA in the state:

A bachelor’s or higher degree from a program that is registered by the Department as meeting New York’s 150 semester hour education requirements; or a Masters degree in accounting from an AACSB accredited accounting program; or a bachelors or higher degree from a regionally accredited college or university and completion of 150 semester hours in the following content areas, including the following:

* 33 semester hours in accounting with at least one course in each of the following areas:
• financial accounting and reporting
• cost or managerial accounting
• taxation
• auditing and attestation services
* 36 semester hours in general business electives and
* The curriculum must also include, either as stand alone courses or integrated into other courses, the study of business or accounting communications, ethics and professional responsibility, and accounting research.

(Acceptable course work is detailed further in the 150 semester hour course content table.)

As for the rest of it, anyone who has taken any of the routes you mentioned will probably have some advice for you related to their experience but please keep in mind that it is just that: their experience. Your own will be based on a lot of factors, such as the actual level of debt you are willing to sustain, your motivation to get a CPA/MAcc/awesome Big 4 job, your skills and how committed you are to any of the decisions you make. So that’s probably why you’re getting really vague answers on this from others.

What’s this about your mind stagnating? Knock it off, take responsibility for whichever path you desire to take (not which path the Internet or your parents told you to take) and take that path like a motherfucker. It sounds to me like you’re not all that into any of these options, and that’s probably the biggest cause of your inability to make a decision right there.

Do you want a MAcc? Do you want to get through the exam in less than a year? Do you want to take Advanced Accounting from some musty community college teacher? No one can answer those questions for you. You’re a grown up now and obviously NOT too young for this if you managed to get this far, so grow up and decide already.

You are doing the right thing by reaching out but what I mean to say with all this yelling at you is that, ultimately, the decision is yours. I would always advise you to avoid as much debt as possible at this stage in your life; you are already assuming you are going to have to slave away to pay it off, why would you want more unless you either absolutely have to or truly desire a MAcc? It doesn’t sound to me like you do. So don’t.

(UPDATE/CORRECTION) A CPA Exam Study Timeline for Masters Students

When this future CPA from South Carolina wrote in asking for our sage advice, he noted that we’d probably answered this exact question before but he thought email might be the best way to get a more specific answer. While we may berate you for not using the fancy search bar in the upper right-hand corner of this website (I’m speaking directly to you, guy who emailed me asking a question I just answered a week ago), that doesn’t mean we don’t want to answer your questions. Really it just means that we’re bitter and the vodka supply is running low at GC HQ. So if you have a CPA exam question, by all means get in touch. If I have written about it already, Caleb’s next trip to Costco for 1.ld fix that right up.

Anyway, enough about our vices, let’s get to the question:

I am currently in the second semester of my masters to fulfill the 150 hour requirement and am starting with my firm in October of this year. My firm also offers to pay for a B—– course for us to help with the studying. What is a simple timetable for when I should start studying, when I should start the tests and such[?] I am looking to earn my companies bonus for completing the exam in a year, but I also know that with school and everything I am most likely behind the 8 ball for that.

First, we have to thank you for bringing the phrase “behind the 8 ball” to our attention. I’ve never used it myself (though I’ve certainly been in that position) and I have to say looking at your situation you’re not exactly there either. By all appearances, you have a good education behind you and a career in front of you. In other economic times that probably wouldn’t be enough but for now, you’re head and shoulders above many of the sad saps who we talk to on a near daily basis that have degrees growing mold and not a single job prospect ahead of them. Be grateful you only have to decide which CPA exam part to take and not which flavor of ramen noodle to spend your rent money on.

My biggest piece of advice to you is to use your review course. My professional experience has been that those who get courses “free” from work almost always blow it off, buy it at the wrong time (hello, don’t sign up in January) or otherwise waste a good opportunity. If you had to shell out $2,000 of your own hard-earned money, you’d be much more likely to get the most out of it, right?

Then there’s your bonus. The fact that you’re acknowledging a bonus of $5,000 if you get this done shows that you might already be using that as a motivator – which is fine! We aren’t suggesting you run out and blow $5,000 on a home entertainment system as if you already have it but you are an accountant and money is your thing so use that to your advantage when you’re feeling unmotivated, lazy or overwhelmed. Which brings us to our next point.

It is now February and you start in October, the problem being you won’t actually be able to sit for the CPA exam until after you meet South Carolina’s 150 requirement. You are exactly the sort of future CPA we think should be allowed to sit for the exam at 120 units but we doubt the South Carolina Board of Accountancy reads Going Concern and even if they do, you might be a partner by the time the rule actually changes. Guess this is where your position behind the 8 ball comes in, eh?

UDPATE: Apply to sit now while you are eligible and try to nail as many exam parts as you can while you have some time. With a Masters program going on, that could be just one (or zero) but hey, at least you’ve got a head start before you are working and will leave less work later.

Talk to your firm and see what sort of support they offer for studying. We’re pretty sure they’ll laugh directly in your face but it’s worth a shot.

Assuming they are like just about every other firm out there, you’re going to want to apply for the exam as soon as you are eligible so you can get the paperwork part out of the way and begin to study shortly thereafter so the information is freshest in your mind. Don’t make the mistake of studying now months in advance (even though this appears to be an optimal time to do it) as you’re just going to have to do it all over again later. You’re going to need to be diligent – if not anal – about a study schedule once you start working, which we recommend you use to your advantage. Get up at 5am to study for two hours before work, that way if you’re exhausted at 4 or 5 or 9 pm when you’re still slaving away for the man, it won’t matter because at least you’re still getting paid to do it. You can study for the entire exam in 400 hours. There are about 730 hours in a month. Got it?

It will be excruciating but it can be done. I’m sure any number of the poor slobs who did exactly that before you will be chiming in in the comments any minute now.

CORRECTION: an earlier version of this article incorrectly stated South Carolina was a 150 state. It’s actually a 120 state. We realize the error of our ways and will repent all weekend on the NASBA website.

Prioritizing the CPA Exam, Getting a Masters and a Big 4 Job Part MMXXXII

In today’s edition of “let me figure out your life for you and push the CPA exam down your throat”, our little would-be Big4er writes in wondering:

I’m trying to figure out some options to get to a Big 4 firm. I interned at a regional firm in Los Angeles this past summer and realized that I want to be at a Big4 firm instead. I have been through the on-campus recruiting process this quarter and unfortunately I did not receive any offers after going through PwC’s second round interviews. I did receive an offer from a regional firm in the San Francisco area. Though, my ultimate goal is to end up at a Big 4 firm.

I will be graduating in March 2011 and was planning on begin studying for my CPA exam. I hopby October or at least a majority of the exam. Do you guys recommend I study for my CPA and go through the recruiting process again next year or continue my education and get a Masters in Accounting and go through the recruiting process after that?

I love when you kids have a plan, or rather when you have a goal in mind and come banging on our door asking how to get there.

Anyway, as always, I am inclined to recommend getting the CPA exam out of the way before anything simply because it’s easier to do now before you’re bogged down with commitment (OK, mostly a really time-consuming Big 4 gig). However I’m a little sketchy on your actual timeline since you say you are graduating in March and plan to be done by October; does that mean you’re planning on taking two parts per testing window after you apply and are approved to sit for the exam?

Assuming you are applying in California (you mentioned LA), might I recommend you take the exam shortcut now while you still can? Here’s the deal: submit your application to the state board now while you don’t qualify, pay your $100, wait 8 – 10 weeks for a rejection letter and then apply again in March right after your degree posts to your transcripts so you can be approved to sit in just 1 – 2 short weeks. That way you cut down on the waiting time while you’d still be waiting anyway, can jump right into taking your exams and can get in April/May, July/August and October/November instead of trying to cram in four parts in two testing windows.

Keep in mind that tackling the CPA exam before going to the Big 4 – or any firm for that matter – can sometimes work against you. If you really stand out as a public accounting rockstar and have already passed the entire exam they might assume (usually correctly) that you’re simply trying to get your foot in the door for your two years of experience. So be careful with the overachieving there, it might be wise to get through two parts or perhaps just get started on the exam without actually blowing through all of it before you go knocking on PwC’s door again.

Unless you absolutely want a Masters in Accounting, keep in mind it isn’t necessary to have one in California and you can just as easily pick up 30 extra units in just about anything to meet the 150 requirement. I usually discourage California CPAs from taking that route unless they absolutely have to so if it isn’t something that you really want, don’t do it just to do it. You can always get a Masters later when you’re more settled in the profession, know what you want to be when you grow up, have finished the CPA exam and have made a dent in your undergrad student loans (always a good idea before you take on any more debt).

The only issue with blowing off a Masters now is that you will obviously have a harder time getting the Big 4’s attention after you graduate so I would say plan to get started on the CPA exam as quickly as possible and put on your best game face next time the Big 4 come sniffing around at your school while you can. Hopefully that lands you something for the fall, giving you a chance to complete the exam before your start date, at which time you can try out Big 4 life and then maybe get back to us on how that’s working out.

Hope that helps and good luck!

How Do I Prioritize Taking the CPA Exam, Finishing a Masters in Accounting and Getting a Job?

If you have a career related question that also involves the CPA exam (like “should I take it before I try to get this awesome job at x firm?” or “Will I still get hired if I have a CPA and therefore scare the crap out of recruiters who want me to be as moldable to their whims as possible?”), please email me directly. Emailing [email protected] will just mean you getting trapped in Caleb’s inbox for weeks.

Now then, today’s reader question comes from a finance world immigrant looking to elbow his way into public accounting:

I graduated in 2005 with a Finance degree, I spent one year as a Staff Accountant then moved onto to become a Corporate Financial Analyst for the past 4 years. I am interested in making the change to public accounting and began the MSA program last year to get the requisite hours, I’ll be eligible for the CPA at the end of the Spring Semester but won’t quite be finished with the MSA program. There is the background…

…now my question is would I be better off staying in my current position and finishing the master’s program before I take the CPA and find a new job? Or would it be more beneficial for me to attempt to find a lower level job at a firm during the spring semester to start getting some experience, then attempting to take the CPA next fall? I’m eager for a change, but I would like to know what the best course of action might be and if it’s realistic to think I could find a CPA firm job before I have finished the master’s program or taken the CPA exam. Thanks for your help.

Here’s the obvious disclaimer: I am heavily biased towards the CPA designation for many reasons.

Firstly, having one obviously makes you more employable because it shows a level of dedication that employers salivate over. Forget all that junk about a CPA showing that you know your stuff, getting one shows that you have the ability to grind through months or even years of studying your ass off, which employers are into because it means that you might just show the same sort of dedication to ticking and tying.

Secondly, having a CPA allows access to a professional network that cannot quite be accessed from the fringes (read: unlicensed fringes) and puts you in a different caliber. For someone trying to break into public accounting, having a CPA (or being darn close minus the work experience) right off the bat can put you on the fast track to career advancement that might otherwise be out of reach were you to both come from another industry and lack a CPA. Just my 2¢.

All that being said (possibly in more words than were necessary), yes you can find a job with a CPA firm before you have passed the exam but the best avenue to take is always to tackle the exam as early as you can before you get involved in life, work, family… you know, all that stuff that will turn into excuses for not having time to study later. Even your best-laid plans don’t always turn out as well as they appeared on paper, so that low level gig at a firm (if you can get one) might turn into a longer-term position that you can’t or won’t walk away from. Ask anyone who has studied for the CPA exam while grinding out their first year in public accounting if you need more clarification on just how large a pain in the ass that plan can be. You know, if you’re planning on having a life.

My suggestion: take the CPA exam as soon as possible and put your feelers out in the job market. Don’t bank on a CPA firm position landing in your lap but if you find one, it will be best to have as much of the exam done as you can get before you actually start. Good luck!

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.

Grad Student Wants to Know if Previous non-Accounting Chops Will Help Him Land Big 4 Gig

Back with another edition of “Help! My career is in shambles,” an MSA student has a background in “project management” and wants to know what their options are upon graduation. Will the professional experience make a difference?

Have a question about your career? Need ideas on how to improve the prestige of your firm? Thinking about running for office on the lawyers suck platform? Email us at [email protected] and we’ll get you the prestige or public office you so desire.

As for our seasoned soonockquote>I’m currently in a one year MSA program. I am in my late 20s, so not exactly a professional spring chicken. I went to a liberal arts college for undergrad, and I got really good grades there. Prior to enrolling in the MSA program, I worked for 5 years doing Project Management. I (finally) realized that line of work wasn’t for me and didn’t see where I could go with it that would make it for me, and so decided to go back to school in something more practical than my undergrad. Right now, I’m beginning to explore my options for after I get out of the MSA program. Ideally, I want to try to get to a place where my previous experience is appreciated and valued right away, but am wondering if that is possible if I go Big 4. On the other hand, I keep seeing on job boards that previous Big 4 experience is a crucial requirement for many experienced accounting openings.

My questions are: will the Big 4 look favorably or unfavorably on my previous experience? Are they more likely to fill their entry level positions with younger graduates as opposed to those that have many years of professional experience behind them? If I’m a more attractive candidate, can I leverage that into better starting salary/benefits? Finally, is it worth it to do Big 4 for a couple years knowing that in the long run it will probably help with job prospects, even though in the short term I might be giving up potentially more lucrative possibilities because of my past experience? How can I use my past professional experiences to my advantage as a “non-experienced” hire – Big 4 or otherwise?

Interesting dilemma. We’ll do our best here and invite our readers to share their thoughts on this particular situation. We’ll address the questions one at a time.

Is your experience viewed as favorable or unfavorable? – In the opinion of this blogger your experience is valuable, no matter what it is. Dealing with stupid people, managing various resources and being familiar with a professional routine puts you light years ahead of any grasshopper that just did half a dozen keg stands over the weekend. That being said, a Big 4 firm (via a recruiting professional) might not share our perspective. Depending on what your “project management” experience entails, it could be viewed favorably or unfavorably. Have you managed groups of people? Do you have any client-facing experience? Any leadership roles? These are all good (and partly addresses your last question) and can be perceived as key strengths. If the answer is no, no, and HELL NO, then your experience is less meaningful.

Are they more likely to fill their entry level positions with younger graduates? – Yes. YES. YES. It isn’t unheard of for the Big 4 to hire someone with your background (i.e. older) at the entry-level and in fact, we’ve seen instances where non-traditional types skip ahead of others in their class but as a general rule, you’re at a big disadvantage here.

Can I leverage previous experience into better starting salary/benefits? – The Big 4 firms have plenty of options for benefits packages. The “super-secret project management experience benefits package” does not exist. As far as salary is concerned, you can leverage your experience by applying for jobs that require previous experience. If you go after an entry-level position you will end up with an entry-level salary.

Is it worth it to do Big 4 for a couple years even though in the short term I might be giving up potentially more lucrative possibilities because of my past experience? – Look friend, we hate to be the one to break this to you but in the short-term, your life at a Big 4 firm could quite very well be hell. The Big 4 provides professional services; is that the kind of job are you looking for? Do you really want to be an auditor? God, I hope not. Tax? Again, you’re looking at quite a bit of pain here and your experience could be marginalized. A position in the advisory practice would be ideal for you but without more details on your experience, it’s hard for us to gauge if that’s a realistic possibility.

How can I use my past professional experiences to my advantage as a “non-experienced” hire – Big 4 or otherwise? – Like we mentioned above, push any leadership, management and client-facing experience. These are crucial for an aspiring Big 4 rock star.

Bottom-line here is, what is it that you’re trying to achieve with this MSA? Is a Big 4 firm the ideal place for you to land out of school? Maybe. Maybe not. Finding the right fit of your past professional experience combined with your brand-spanking new advanced accounting knowledge will take some work on your part. While a Big 4 firm on your résumé will open a few doors down the road, a job in-house may make more sense with your PM experience. Choose wisely.

Career Options: Masters in Taxation, MBA or CPA Exam?

We’re often asked which way to go when it comes to pursuing additional education or tackling the CPA exam before moving on to grad school (if you’re in one of those awesome 120 states or somehow loaded up on units after graduation) so let’s see if we can offer some insight on the matter.

Reader question is as follows:

Hello, I am looking at a public accounting career in tax and will graduate with a bachelors and 150 credit hours after 4 years. I am wondering if there are benefits to a Masters in Tax or MBA versus entering the workforce.

Funny you ask, have you checked with Going Concern contributor Joe Kristan? He can tell you all about taking the Masters route AND tax work so hit him up (you’re welcome, Joe) for more insight. “I think if you have good grades otherwise, a M.Acc can give you an edge in getting hired, especially with big firms. For me it gave me a huge edge – my M.Acc beats my B.A. in history with CPA firms everywhere,” he told us awhile back. Somehow we’re not surprised to hear his history degree wasn’t useful once it came time to find a sweet number-crunching gig.

Back to School
I think your payoff depends on what exactly you’re trying to get out of your career and which direction you plan to go. An MBA offers you flexibility (which comes in handy when the economy is in the can and jobs are scarce) while a Masters would keep you tethered to whatever path you take but either would make you more desirable to employers – depending on who you are applying with.

Keep in mind that for some employers, an over-qualified, well-educated candidate also means someone who will need to be paid more and could (in a normal job environment completely unlike the one we’ve got going now) easily find a better, more well-paid position with any number of employers. People may be desperate nowadays but the economy will recover eventually and employers have to consider that when deciding to offer you a position.

The Real World – CPA
The advantage to heading straight into the workforce out of school is that you can get the CPA exam out of the way and then, should you want to, choose to head back after you have been licensed and pursue a Masters. The advantage to this is that you are less of a threat to employers once you actually have your CPA since they don’t have to worry about you leaving after 2 years to the day once you have your experience requirement met so you can leverage your additional education to land a better job. Then again, the advantage to staying in school – for the moment, at least, job market being what it is – is that you can buy yourself some time, make yourself more of an asset and hope that things look better from a hiring standpoint once you have completed your Masters program. Many are taking this route simply because they’re afraid of the job market (for good reason).

Under the getting your CPA now route, you have the advantage of getting to know your profession before committing to a specialty – that means being able to change your mind before you’ve given up another year of your life and the costs associated with a Masters (or MBA) program. I don’t want to talk you out of what you’ve decided to be when you grow up but there’s something to be said for real-world experience (and I’m sure more than one old timer can tell you they wish they knew what they were getting into before they did).

Keep in mind also that if you’re looking at an MBA, work experience may be a requirement for admission so you might not have a choice in the matter. Take the CPA/work route and come back later when you have a little experience under your belt and more insight to allow you to make an informed decision on where you want to go with your life.