Life After the CPA Exam: Deciding on a MAcc

 

My name is Erica, and I passed the CPA exam in February of 2011. In my earlier blog, I discussed the fact that we all face some dilemmas after the CPA exam. What do we want to do with our lives? Where do we want our careers to go?

Working in a smaller, regional firm (about 35 full-time employees) means there are only so many “juicy” projects to go around, and not very many opportunities to train on such projects with other staff. If my opportunities to increase my knowledge through experience are going to be limited within my firm, I decided I would need a “leg up.”

This was reinforced by my observation that when a manager-level position is available, the position is typically filled not by advancing lower-level staff and training them to fulfill the duties, but by going outside the firm for fresh faces.

Like most firms, the regional firm where I work provides a mix of CPE opportunities. Each year we do some basic A&A update classes in-house, and each year I take an annual income tax update course to refresh on the tax changes for the new year.

The rest of my CPE tends to consist of a variety of web casts and single-day courses taken through my state CPA society. While this type of CPE is great for keeping up-to-date on recent developments, it doesn’t really help to advance your knowledge and abilities as a staff member in any practical way unless it is accompanied by projects that regularly utilize the knowledge you are gaining.

While taking my last two sections of the CPA exam, I had to take 6 college credits to complete my 150-credit requirement for licensing. Going back to school, however briefly, reminded me of how different my academic drive is now compared to when I was in college.

My overall GPA in college was not ideal- 2.47. I started out in engineering and it wasn’t until I switched to accounting that I started to get motivated to graduate. As a result, my GPA for my last 60 college credits was about 3.0, and for my last 30 credits was 3.47. My GPA on my 6 college credits last year was 4.0.

The realization that I am not quite ready to be done learning hit me in fall 2011. During a discussion with one of my former professors, the idea of academic life popped up. Apparently there is a huge shortage of accounting instructors, especially with PhDs.

This shortage is due to the fact that many PhD programs require a certain amount of work experience, and it is extremely difficult for an accountant to go from making a decent salary to the $25,000 per year stipend you can expect while working on a PhD.

While a future PhD isn’t necessarily in the cards for me, I decided that getting a MAcc (Master of Accountancy) would be a good choice. Many people get a MAcc to complete their 150-hour requirements.

I, on the other hand, am taking it because I want to find an area in which to specialize and to maximize my career prospects. I want to understand in greater depth some of the trickier topics that we only touch on during the CPA exam.

And as an added bonus, a MAcc would give me the opportunity to potentially teach at a regionally accredited college or community college if I decide I don’t want to stick with public accounting. Or, I could do as one of my former colleagues did, and teach part time on the side while continuing to work in public accounting.

Lastly, the MAcc could potentially open doors for me. If my GPA is good enough, and I achieve a 700 score on the GMAT, I could conceivably apply to a PhD program if I decide that academia is where I would like to go.

So for me, the MAcc is about having a broader selection of career options when I am done.

I have learned some lessons during the application process. First off, let me note that all the programs I considered were either 100% online or online with occasional “in-service” weekends during the program.

I also learned that not all MAcc’s are created equal! Many schools are regionally accredited, and some are AACSB accredited (the highest designation) while some are not accredited at all!

For example, Golden Gate University in California has a very popular program that is regionally accredited. While this would be terrific if my *only* goal was to increase my knowledge or potentially teach at a small school, it would likely not be good enough for some PhD schools if I choose to go that route.

So after some research and a recommendation from a former professor, I concentrated my search on only AACSB-accredited schools. This narrowed the field quite a bit and presented me with a limited number of choices for an online program.

Tuition costs can vary greatly. Some programs I looked over have tuition as high as $1,500 per credit, or $22,500 per year (total cost of $45,000) while most others have tuition less than half as much. The $45,000 program is Florida Atlantic University’s Forensic Accounting specialized online MAcc.

Other AACSB programs, such as those at Georgia Southern University, Auburn University, Stetson University or University of Michigan-Flint have tuition ranging from about $600 per credit (total cost of $18,000 for the program) to around $850 per credit (total cost of $25,500). This is especially a consideration if you plan to utilize federal student aid, which maxes out at $20,500 per year depending on income and number of students in the family.

Another lesson learned during the process was that some schools require you to sit for a GMAT exam, and others will waive the GMAT requirement if you are licensed as a CPA and can document your CPA exam scores. So hold on to that “congratulations” letter from NASBA containing your final scores, because it may come in handy later on.

The final lesson I learned during the MAcc search was not to put all my eggs into one basket! I applied to FAU and was accepted, but then realized that A) I might not want to specialize in forensic accounting, and B) the tuition was much higher than other schools.

I then applied to Georgia Southern, where I planned to attend this fall. However in early July I was notified that due to low applicant numbers they were delaying the next cohort until Spring 2013! So in a rush I contacted Auburn, Stetson and University of Michigan-Flint, all of whom have given me excellent customer service as I have rushed through the application process.

My new life plan included starting this fall, so I elected not to wait until spring and try to begin this fall at another school. As a result, I have been madly studying for the last two weeks for the GMAT exam, as two of those three schools do not waive GMATs for CPAs.

I sit for the exam shortly, and should know in the next couple of weeks if I have been accepted. If I get in, I will begin my next journey towards the MAcc and the career options that come along with it!

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