Succeeding Without an Accounting Degree

Part of my decision to apply to the MAcc was to challenge myself academically. I studied broadcast journalism at a school known for a demanding and cutthroat culture, but I never felt challenged the way I do daily at Fisher–perhaps because journalism is an inherently easier subject than accounting.

The MAcc attracts many students with non-accounting backgrounds and places them into successful accounting careers after just 9 months of coursework. How? Magic. No, not quite. Make no mistake– there are situations where I can tell an accounting degree would be helpful, but it’s more than possible to do well in this program without one.

My non-accounting undergrad means there are many concepts I’ve never been exposed to being taught to me at the graduate level. Intimidating? It can be! (I will admit: the day that Professor Arya started talking about derivatives, I felt a chill go down my spine.) The key is to put forth a strong effort and take the right steps to ensure success:

  • Meet with professors: All the professors in the MAcc program are more than willing to meet with their students. Many have flexible office hours. It’s better to seek additional help than to drown in new material. Make sure to have made an effort with the concept or problem before the meeting; this will help maximize the time spent.
  • Form groups with students with accounting degrees: I’ve made sure my groups have at least one person who studied accounting at the undergraduate level. Sometimes, a classmate can help clear up a concept or explain a different way to solve a problem.
  • Don’t get frustrated with the learning curve: There are some topics in accounting that won’t make sense at first, or even after several days. As a perfectionist, it’s easy for me to get frustrated when something doesn’t click right away. But I know that I should eventually understand the concepts, even if it takes a few extra hours.
  • Embrace the challenge: It would be a stretch, if not downright inaccurate, to say the MAcc is a cakewalk even for the strongest accounting undergraduate; I know because I’ve asked classmates who were strong accounting undergrads if they feel challenged. Students here want to be challenged. And you should, too. I’d much rather work hard than breeze through life.

There are about 2 weeks left in this 7-week session of classes. Though this is the hardest I’ve ever had to work in school, I’m enjoying the process, and look forward to performing well on finals.



The Benefits of Groups

One of the biggest concerns I had about the MAcc program was the emphasis on group work. Like most people, I’ve dealt with more than my fair share of poor academic groups. I’m in five classes this seven-week period, and each class has a group. Even though it’s early in the year, my groups are already meeting often. It’s not avoidable; you’ll work in groups.

The difference from undergrad is that I enjoy these groups. Yes, really!

gerlach hall
The graduate student lounge on the second floor of Gerlach Hall is a place where you can meet with your group.

In graduate school, throw away your preconceived notions about teams. Working with others is a great experience.

Here are a few things that make group work great in the MAcc:

  • Motivated students: There are no slackers here. Everyone made the choice to attend graduate school (no one is here “just to be here”) and is intelligent. People want to excel. In my groups, everyone pulls his or her weight, and we produce better results because of that.
  • Real world prep: Unlike many of my classmates, I had a year of work experience before entering the MAcc. I can attest: the professional world involves group work everyday. Working with teams in graduate school is a great way to prepare for the rest of your career.
  • Different perspectives: My groups are a mixture of students from different universities, countries and undergraduate degrees. This means for every case or project we discuss, a variety of viewpoints are presented. How I look at a case won’t be the same as how someone with an economics degree analyzes it. A variety of backgrounds also allows us to maximize each member’s strengths. As a journalism undergrad, I take the lead when it comes to producing written work, while some of my teammates who are stronger with raw calculations help me with the numbers. Working with students from different backgrounds also exposes me to different personalities and cultures; it’s important to learn how to get along and respect as many people as possible to prepare for career success, where more than a grade depends on successful team projects.
  • Get to know classmates: If you can believe it, not every second spent in a team room is spent working on the case at hand. There’s idle chatter and off-topic conversation–and I get to know my classmates as people. I look forward to working with my groups because they aren’t a forced administrative burden; they’re groups filled with people I know and respect.

I’ve enjoyed my experiences working in groups thus far in the MAcc and look forward to more successful meetings, case studies and projects over the next eight months.

Pre-MAcc Success

As a non-accounting undergrad, I had to enroll in the Pre-MAcc program before officially entering the MAcc. It’s one of the most rigorous academic experiences you’ll ever have–approximately equivalent to completing 2 intermediate accounting classes in about 2 weeks!–but it’s set me up for success in the academic year and, more importantly, my career.

I recommend the following to maximize your chances for success in the Pre-MAcc.

  • Ask Questions: As my classmates would attest, I never stopped asking questions. If something is the slightest bit unclear, ask. Accounting builds upon concepts. If you miss Step A, you’re going to be lost on every subsequent step. It’s graduate school. Everyone is motivated to succeed. There’s no “stigma” against asking questions like you might’ve encountered in undergrad. And there are no dumb questions.
  • Learning > Memorization: Think about the swath of material you’ll be covering. It’s impossible to memorize most processes and methods in the Pre-MAcc and succeed. But if you understand the “how” and “why” to what you’re doing, you’ll do well. The exams are often structured in a way that requires you to understand concepts. Don’t expect to be asked a basic question. Expect to use multiple pieces of concepts and problem solving to find solutions. Journal entries will only get you so far.
  • Commit To Success: Part of what makes the Pre-MAcc challenging is the time required. Class could run from 9 until 5 (ok, they let us take a lunch break) and on weekends. It’s easy to fall into the trap of going home after class, too exhausted to keep studying. But you must persevere. Hit the books until you feel comfortable with the material. Study nightly rather than cram for the exams.
  • Accept The Learning Curve: Nothing frustrates me more than not understanding something after seeing it once; the Pre-MAcc frustrated me many times. It’s intermediate accounting. It’s not as easy as recording sales revenue. It’s fine if you don’t understand how and why a concept is the way it is the first time. Or the second time. Or the sixteenth time. Keep at it and you’ll have an Aha! moment where everything makes sense. Don’t get discouraged.
  • Study Smart: Flashcards were effective for me. A lot of flashcards. (My classmates didn’t share my love for those glorious 3 by 5 index cards.) Know how you learn best and focus your studying around what works.

If you’re concerned you’ll struggle because your undergrad education is so far removed from accounting, don’t worry. I majored in broadcast journalism (a running joke amongst my undergraduate classmates was communications majors couldn’t do math–yikes) and received an A for the course. Accounting is an interesting discipline that blends rules, logic, reasoning and (often) basic arithmetic. My opinion is your undergraduate major doesn’t matter for success in the Pre-MAcc. What matters is your willingness to work hard and challenge yourself. If you identify with that, you’re on the right path for Pre-MAcc success.