Students Identify Opportunities in the Accounting Profession
George Violette and John Sanders
PricewaterhouseCoopers published a paper titled Educating
for the Public Trust, in which the company outlined its
position on accounting education. The paper suggested reforms
in the delivery of formal accounting education that are needed
to attract and develop “a consistent flow of quality
talent” to the profession. It stressed the need for
professionals and faculty to work together “to ensure
that students understand both the benefits of majoring in
accounting and the challenging reality of actually practicing
in the profession.”
believes that “faculty should ensure that their students
make critical choices with sufficient, reliable information
… and create and maintain connections with students
who have not yet chosen a major.” Students need help
understanding the roles and responsibilities of a practicing
accountant and what it means to be a member of the profession.
They suggest the need for students to meet frequently with
members of the profession, especially those at the senior
level, from the beginning of their accounting education
the first accounting course shapes how prospective majors
perceive the profession, it must properly portray the practice
of accounting so that students understand the importance
faculty at the University of Southern Maine also recognized
many of the same issues identified by PricewaterhouseCoopers
and added a course to the curriculum to try to improve student
understanding of the accounting profession. A new freshman-level
course, “Introduction to the Accounting Profession,”
was designed to inform both declared and potential majors
of the diversity of exciting career opportunities available
(see the Exhibit).
of the Course
course, given for one credit, pass/fail, met once a week
for about an hour and a half in early evening over seven
weeks. No textbook was used, but several handouts were distributed.
Students were required to become members of either the AICPA
or the Institute of Management Accountants (IMA), though
the instructors encouraged membership in both.
Week 1, the instructor presented an overview of the profession
and career opportunities available, along with an overview
of the course. In Weeks 2 through 7, a series of panels
covered assorted topics, including: accounting career opportunities
in public, industry, government, and not-for-profit organizations;
the value of membership in professional organizations; discussion
of certifications available and how to obtain them; the
benefits of internships; and educational opportunities available
to learn accounting. The second time the course was offered,
the panels were expanded to include representatives from
the finance sector, to help support students interested
in learning about related career opportunities in finance.
to each class, the students were given background information
on the panelists for the coming week. After a brief introduction
to the topic, a panel of three to five individuals was introduced.
Each panelist presented in turn, with the instructor acting
as moderator. Students were encouraged to interrupt with
questions, and did so frequently. Generally, each panelist
had about 15 to 20 minutes to present materials and answer
questions. Informational handouts were usually distributed
to supplement the presentations. At the end of the course,
all students were required to submit a final “reflection”
paper, which summarized their understanding and learning
of the topics presented, including an evaluation of the
week the panelists discussed career opportunities in their
area and were asked to share their unique experience and
the story of how each came to be in the profession, and
what they were currently doing. It followed the PricewaterhouseCoopers
paper’s suggestion of exposing students to senior
members of the profession. Panels contained a diverse mix
of individuals, and frequently used USM alumni.
first panel consisted of four senior partners from large
and small area firms. The panelists discussed careers and
opportunities in public accounting, and compared the differences
and opportunities between small and large firms.
second and third panels discussed careers and opportunities
outside public accounting and included: a controller from
a local closely held company; the chief accountant at a
small corporation; the head of internal audit from a large
publicly traded bank; an FBI agent; a senior accountant
for a local not-for-profit organization; experienced small
business counselors; and the deputy auditor of the State
of Maine. The panelists discussed accounting opportunities
available in industry, government, and not-for-profits and
compared these opportunities to public accounting experiences,
from which many had come.
fourth panel discussed certifications and specializations
available in the profession (e.g., CPA, CMA, CIA, ABV, PFS,
CFA) and the importance of being involved with national
and local professional associations (e.g., the AICPA, the
IMA, the Maine Society of CPAs). This panel included professionals
such as the chairman of the Maine Board of Accountancy,
the executive director of the Maine Society of CPAs (MSCPA),
past presidents of the MSCPA, a current Maine representative
to AICPA Council, and a past president of a Maine IMA chapter.
fifth panel, which focused on the value of internship experiences,
featured a mix of current and former students that had internship
experiences in public, private, or not-for-profit accounting
in organizations of assorted sizes, along with a public
accounting firm’s recruiting liaison. In the final
panel, all the full-time faculty of the department told
their own stories and promoted the value of majoring or
minoring in accounting. Details of the 150-hour rule and
graduate education opportunities were also presented.
were 36 students that completed the course the first time
it was offered and 88 students the second time. In the first
offering, 94% of students indicated that they enjoyed the
course and felt the classes were informative and worth attending,
with 97% indicating that the stated course objectives were
met. In the second offering, the numbers were similarly
strong, with 90% of the students enjoying the course and
97% indicating that the classes were informative, worth
attending, and met stated objectives.
students were required to complete a paper that summarized
their understanding of the topics presented as well as their
general comments on the course. The questions students were
asked to consider in the paper were open-ended and allowed
them to further explore their reactions to the topics. Many
students indicated that the course had significantly changed
their perception of accountants’ work. Several were
amazed at the breadth of opportunities in accounting. Students
liked hearing from panelists with a diversity of experience,
and were surprised about the variety of career paths and
certifications available. They learned what it meant to
be a member of a profession and the value of involvement
in the profession.
many, the course helped reinforce their choice of accounting
as a career; for others, it caused them to seriously consider
accounting as a career option. For a few students, the course
helped them to determine that accounting was not for them.
Many expressed that “all majors” should have
a course like this, and that they were glad it was offered.
on the success of this course, accounting programs that
want students to connect with professionals and understand
the opportunities available in the accounting profession
could benefit from offering a course like this. Many schools
do not offer their first accounting course until the sophomore
year. By offering this course in the freshman year, students
that expect to major in accounting can confirm that desire
and meet professionals and faculty.
it is too early to tell, this early exposure to the profession
will hopefully result in additional majors and minors, as
well as improve retention. Discussing this course with university
and college academic counselors would help promote it as
a means for undecided students to explore an interest or
aptitude for business or accounting. Part of the reason
for the increase in students in the second offering was
a result of the work with academic counselors. The first
two offerings of this course have been a success for students,
professionals, and faculty. It reinforced the choice of
an accounting major for many students, and encouraged others
to look at a possible major or minor in accounting.
accounting profession needs a consistent flow of quality
talent to ensure the continued success of the profession.
Early communication about the roles and responsibilities
of accountants makes it possible for students to understand
the profession more fully and make an informed decision
about becoming an accountant, thereby attracting to the
profession interested quality students. Such a course enables
professionals and educators alike to market the discipline
and excite students about the breadth of career opportunities
available in the accounting profession.
Violette, CPA, PhD, is a professor of accounting
at the University of Southern Maine in Portland, Maine, and
past president of the Maine Society of CPAs.
John Sanders, CPA, is an associate professor
of accounting at the University of Southern Maine.