New City, New School, New Adventures

Hello, everyone! My name is Caitlin Duke, and I graduated with my B.B.A. in accounting from East Tennessee State University. I’ve lived in the mountains of East Tennessee my whole life. But six weeks ago, I packed up everything I own and made the six-hour drive to Columbus. It’s been a bit of an adjustment, to say the least.

My beautiful mountains in Tennessee

Many people have asked me why I chose Ohio State when it would be much easier to go somewhere closer to home. After all, Columbus is about thirty times the size of my hometown and OSU is four time the size of ETSU. The easiest answer to that question is, “Why not?”

I’ve lived in the same place for 22 years. If there was ever a time to take a risk and move, it’s now. The MAcc program offers countless opportunities. This year is especially exciting as students have the chance to take classes in data analytics. It’s challenging, frustrating– and one of the coolest things I’ve ever attempted to learn. I’m more engaged with my education than ever before.

There is also a heavy recruitment schedule, including the Big 4 and other large, national firms. I would not even be on the radar of many of these firms if I had chosen to go to school closer to home. There is a wonderful team in the Office of Career Management who will work with you to find a job to fit your goals. And everyone here understands how difficult it is to start a new program and search for a job, so there’s tons of support.

I have no regrets about taking a chance and applying to a school so far from home. To anyone out there wondering if it’s worth it, yes. Just look at the people in my class: from Texas, Tennessee, North Carolina, China, and more. If we can survive the transition, so can you.

Is it Possible to Study for the CPA Exam while a Student in the MAcc Program?

Everyone will tell you something different, so here is my own take on my experience with juggling the MAcc program, CPA exam prep, and a part-time job. For reference, I am taking 8 credits this quarter (or 15 for the semester), work 10 hours a week, and study about 20-25 hours a week for the CPA. I am here to tell you, you can do it! It may take an extra cup of coffee in the morning but it is completely doable.

Hogwarts or Ohio State library?
Studying isn’t so bad when the Thompson Library reading room is this beautiful

They will tell you the program is not geared towards the CPA exam and it is not. However, you can make it align a little better for yourself. For instance, one of our first required courses is Financial Reporting. I knew this when registering for the exam and chose to study for the FAR section first. While the financial reporting class is not adding much benefit to my FAR CPA study prep, on the flip side, by studying for FAR CPA it has made my financial reporting class much clearer. We just took our first midterm and because I have been studying FASB rules and very detailed transactions for my CPA class, I had the background knowledge already drilled into my brain. This helped me so much on the midterm because if I ever got stuck I could always remember the basics, think back to my CPA class, and really think about why that transaction happened the way it did. So yes, the program is not geared towards the CPA exam, however, the material coincides pretty well.

What about finding the time to study? First of all, you should be aware that Ohio has a 150-credit hour rule to sit. This means that students hoping to sit for the Ohio CPA exam will most likely not be able to start taking the exam until they have completed the MAcc program. I am an out-of-state student, so I am able to sit at 120 hours. Each state is different. This is important to note for study groups! Because I am only able to study with a select amount of people who are also in the same boat as me, a lot of my study has to be self-disciplined. I aim to study 3-4 hours a day and if we have a football game I’ll give up my Friday nights to make up for those extra hours lost spent tailgating on Saturday. I sit for my first section of the exam in November. More to come on my study experiences as the date gets closer. Go, Buckeyes!

 

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.

The Columbus Arena District

One of my favorite parts of Columbus is the Arena District, and it is located in the northwest area of downtown. The focal point is Nationwide Arena, for which the district is named. Nationwide Arena is the home of the Columbus Blue Jackets NHL team and also the site of many big concerts. Another great concert venue in the district is The Lifestyles Community Pavilion (known as “The L.C.”). They host outdoor concerts during the spring, summer, and fall and indoors concerts year-round.

Not only is the Arena District home to Columbus’s hockey team, but it is also home to the city’s minor league baseball team, the Columbus Clippers! The AAA affiliate of the Cleveland Indians play at Huntington Park, and the stadium has a capacity of 10,100 fans.

The Arena District has a nice balance of buildings and nature. McFerson Commons Park (or Arch Park) is part of the Scioto Mile Parks System and is named after Dimon R. McFerson, the former Chairman and CEO of Nationwide Insurance. The Arch located in the park was recovered from Columbus’s Union Station.

For movie buffs like me, Studio Movie Grill is located in the Arena District. It is a dine-in movie theater where you can order food to be delivered to your seat at any point during the film.

In addition to being the location of many exciting Columbus sporting, musical, and cultural events, the Arena District has some of Columbus’s best restaurants. No matter what you choose to do in the Arena District, you can’t go wrong!

 

Me exploring the Arena District with my MAcc friends, Pat and Tanya
Exploring the Arena District with my MAcc friends, Pat and Tanya

 

 

 

 

 

The Big Decision: Tax or Accounting

Most accounting students know the two major areas of public accounting: Audit and tax. They probably also know the stereotypes associated with those jobs. Generally, audit involves traveling, a lot of client interaction and being on site. Tax, on the other hand, involves corporate tax preparation, researching tax law in the audit firm and tax planning. However, there are tax people who travel widely, shy audit associates and everything in between.

MAcc students in our business casual best

So why is it important to consider the “Tax or Audit?” question? Recruiters want to know your answer, and you meet then almost as soon as you step on campus. In addition to an informational panel with recruiters during the MAcc Career Foundation Seminar, there were two mixers before the first day of class. These events are great opportunities to ask questions about what it is like in each field. It can be hard to consider whether you want to do audit or tax at the same time you are starting the MAcc program if you do not have professional experience. Start thinking about it now. Do you click on news about recent tax changes, or get immensely bored trying to figure out if your student loan qualifies for a tax credit? Do you find “The Smartest Guys In The Room” fascinating, or could you care less about GAAS? Don’t choose a career path because you think your personality “fits” into one category or another. If you want the best of both worlds there are several smaller firms that require cross training for all entry level accountants. You can also apply for both tax and audit jobs at different firms, just not both within the same firm. Each career path can be challenging in different ways, both can offer great opportunities if you do your job well, and both can be rewarding. Most importantly, try not to over think it. Pick the area you find more interesting and go with it.

OUAB in the Kitchen – Graduate/Professional Student Activities

OUAB in the kitchen – BBQ

Ohio State University has many entertaining offerings beyond the Fisher campus even for the serious, and seriously busy, graduate student. One can easily become absorbed in their own program and in the rigor of recruiting and academic work or research. It is acceptable and encouraged to engage in activities on and off campus. OUAB, The Ohio Union Activities Board, arranges events specifically for graduate and professional students. These events are timed appropriately for our programs and vary in area of interest and even location. OUAB has events ranging from Kickboxing to Happy Hour. Many events are exclusive to graduate/professional students. I chose my first OUAB event as the OUAB in the Kitchen – BBQ. OUAB has arranged a series of interactive cooking classes, in a variety of topics and cuisines, which allow the busy grad student to take a break, get to know people outside of their discipline, and to just participate in a fun campus activity.

Held in the lower level of the Ohio Union on campus the OUAB in the kitchen classes are taught by a well trained staff. Not the best at–home –chef? Not a big deal, the class is very fool proof. Ingredients are measured out for you and a combination of live demonstration along with personal help from the head and sous chefs and good old fashioned team work will keep you from ruining your meal. You get to eat what you cook and take home leftovers so this is a particularly delicious event to participate in, choose wisely though! In general, you are limited to 3 OUAB Kitchen classes per semester.  I chose to go to the BBQ class where we made BBQ chicken, jalapeno corn muffins, baked beans and banana cream pie.

My group consisted of graduate students from all disciplines and we had great time. My partner and I were in charge of making the banana cream pie and if I may say so, it was delicious!

 

Chef Marc was great. He helped us out, gave great tips, and made sure we did not ruin our dinner.  The room was full of lively conversation throughout the whole class and everyone was enjoying themselves. At the end of the class tables were pushed together and arranged with real china and silverware for a family style meal to enjoy the food that we had all cooked.

I would definitely encourage anyone to try and sign up for an OUAB in the kitchen event! You are even allowed to bring a non-student or non-graduate student guest as long as you register them along with yourself. In addition to guests there are some classes which are open to families and are kid-friendly. The popularity of these classes has led to an increase in topics, class times and overall number of events. Snatch up a spot while you can before the class fills up!

Click HERE to see a list of Graduate and Professional OUAB events for Fall 2013.

Return of the MAcc

I will begin by saying the title of my first blog is a bit misleading. The Fisher Master of Accounting program only lasts one academic year, so you only get one Fall to be a MAcc student. However, it is the title of a song by Mark Morrison I used to listen to as kind of a joke during the long nights I spent self-studying for the GMAT last October.

I do not recommend doing this if you can avoid it, but if you do, start with Cracking the GMAT. I self-studied out of books from the library and videos I found online because getting into the MAcc program felt like a long shot for me and I am a risk adverse investor. My background is somewhat different than the typical MAcc student, insofar as there is such a thing. I received my bachelors degree in 2008 in Philosophy and History. After figuring out I did not want to be a lawyer and experiencing several part time jobs I decided to take an accounting course at a community college. One class led to many more and I ended up with the 30 hours of upper level accounting courses required to sit for the CPA exam. OSU’s MAcc program was the only one I seriously considered. In terms of reputation, quality of education, and geographical proximity, it was simply my top choice. The extensive amount of electives that make up the curriculum meant I could focus on what I was really interested in, a somewhat more career oriented version of the approach I took when choosing my undergraduate majors.

What I considered to be a distant possibility happened. Orientation was fun and its fast and furious pace set the tone for grad school. But the fact that all of the hard work I had done had paid off really only hit me during my first class, which happened to be with Dr. Arya. The first time I met Dr. Arya was during a tour of Gerlach last January, right before I was about to hear if I had been admitted. That day we sat down with the student tour guide and had a discussion about why I wanted to be a MAcc student and what the program entailed. To actually be sitting in a class with this same man who had I had talked with when I was so hopeful and uncertain was a bit overwhelming. I was here, in Gerlach. I had done it. So in a way, that hopeful accounting student really did get to return to the MAcc program.

OSU Commencement and Closing Thoughts

As much as I wasn’t ready to say goodbye to Ohio State as a student, Spring Commencement was celebrated on Sunday, May 5.  Over 8,000 graduates were packed onto the field in Ohio Stadium, and I was surrounded by my MAcc classmates as we listened to President Obama, OSU President E. Gordon Gee, and many others encourage us to dream big and change the world.   OSU graduates were fortunate to have a sitting president speak at our commencement, and I’ll share my favorite message from our keynote speaker:

The point is, if you are living your life to the fullest, you will fail, you will stumble, you will screw up, you will fall down.  But it will make you stronger, and you’ll get it right the next time, or the time after that, or the time after that.  And that is not only true for your personal pursuits, but it’s also true for the broader causes that you believe in as well. 

There were so many wonderful moments of graduation:  walking across the field to receive my diplomas as the victory bells chimed from the stadium, meeting my friends’ families after the ceremony, and plenty of hugs from my proud parents and sister.  Of course, we had to stop by Fisher after commencement, where many business student graduates were gathered to take pictures and say their goodbyes.

I’m going to miss this place!

As I write my last blog post for My Fisher Grad Life, I’m not sure there’s a better way to leave than by closing with the words of “Carmen Ohio,” the alma mater of the school of which I am now a proud member of a group of over 500,000 living alumni.  So, here goes…

Oh! Come let’s sing Ohio’s praise, 
And songs to Alma Mater raise; 
While our hearts rebounding thrill, 
With joy which death alone can still. 
Summer’s heat and Winter’s cold, 
The season pass, the years will roll; 
Time and change will surely show 
How firm thy friendship — O hi o.

Some great friends I’ve been lucky enough to spend my last four years with at Fisher!

Fisher MAcc Graduation Ceremony 2013

It’s hard to believe my eighty classmates and I have completed our Master of Accounting degree from the Fisher College of Business!  On Friday, May 3, we gathered at the Ohio Union with faculty, family and friends, to celebrate our success in this program.  The evening was complete with a reception where I was able to meet the families of many of my close MAcc friends and chat with faculty members one last time before the summer.  A formal ceremony followed with touching remarks from our director, Professor Arya, and many others.  Several students were also recognized for different successes in the program, including the top ten percent of students based on academic performance, the top performers on our MAcc exit exam, and the members of MAcc Council.

One recognition that was particularly special was the E&Y Award for Excellence in Teaching.  This year’s winner was Professor Zach, our instructor for the academic research course in the program.  I had the pleasure of having Professor Zach as an instructor for my first accounting class as an undergraduate as well, and I was so happy to see him recognized for the fantastic job he does in encouraging students in research and academic development.  For all of the future MAcc students who will take his research class, you’re in for quite the experience!

Professor Zach, this year’s MAcc Professor of the Year, and me at the MAcc reception!

Awards, speeches, and other formalities aside, this celebration was a great way to end the program.  I can’t begin to describe how amazing my final year was at Ohio State because of my decision to pursue my MAcc degree.  There are too many people who made the year special to name them all, so to all of the incredible faculty and classmates – thanks for an unforgettable year!  I will miss this group…

The graduates of the MAcc Class of 2013