A career that counts

College students share what it’s really like to major in accounting

by Samiha Khanna

College may seem like it’s a long way off. But it’s never too early to start thinking about what you’re going to major in. We may be biased, but we think accounting’s a great choice. And so do Brittany Okossi, Roberto Rosas, and April Zebarjad, three accounting majors ready to leave their mark on the profession. Here are their thoughts about what it’s like to major in accounting, what they plan to do after graduation, and whether all accountants need to be math geniuses. 

Brittany Okossi

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign 

Hometown: Romeoville, Ill.

Roberto Rosas

San Diego State University

Hometown: San Diego, Calif.

April Zebarjad

UCLA

Hometown: Tehran, Iran

Why did you want to study accounting?

Brittany: I started taking business classes in high school, such as economics and orientation to business. I hated English but I always cheered up when it was time for a math or business-type class. I enjoyed learning about the behind-the-scenes work of businesses and how, maybe one day, I could be successful as an entrepreneur. 

Roberto: In a surprising twist, it was my passion for languages that led me to choose accounting as my major. Growing up in a Spanish-speaking household, I was exposed to languages early on and I saw how much they open doors to opportunities. When I opened my first accounting book, it described accounting as “the language of business.” I was sold!

What’s it like being an accounting major? Is it tough? 

Roberto: As an accounting major, your life is pretty busy. The accounting program at SDSU is pretty rigorous. Although it is challenging and can be difficult at times, it’s very rewarding.

April: Studying accounting is very practical. You can use what you learn in day-to-day life. Ever since I started taking accounting courses, I manage my money more wisely and think about ways to invest and save for my future goals.  

What was your most interesting accounting class, and why? 

Roberto: Accounting Information Systems, a class about the IT side of accounting, which focuses on internal controls and securing financial data. I really liked how it was related to technology and how we were working through real examples of situations you would read about in The Wall Street Journal. The course was contemporary and relevant because accounting is changing along with technology. 

April: Individual Taxation. I liked it because the goal of the course is to find ways to save money for clients by minimizing their taxes. Although paying taxes helps the government function smoothly, overpaying taxes can hurt businesses and investors. So as tax advisors, we help individuals and businesses save money and stay in business. This class was also the most challenging because there are a lot of laws to memorize and to consider in tax planning.

Do you have to be really great at math to be an accountant? 

Roberto: Contrary to popular belief, you don’t have to be a math whiz to be an accountant, but you do need to know basic arithmetic and algebra. Statistics is also really useful, because you can use it to understand probabilities, or the likelihood that a certain event will occur. This is called risk assessment, and it’s essential to some types of accounting. 

What other skills make a good accountant?

Roberto: Good interpersonal or “people skills,” solid communication skills, and technical ability with programs like Excel. An accountant is constantly working with others, like teammates and clients, to provide solutions to issues. Great accountants leverage these abilities to be successful.

Brittany: Teamwork and patience. As an accountant, you’ll be working with teams, and you’ll need to collaborate with others to get the job done. Patience is a good trait to have because working in teams can be a bit draining, especially if your teammates do not have the same work style as you.

What will you do when you graduate from college?

Roberto: One of my top priorities is earning a master’s degree. I’m interested in the one-year MBA program called the Schwarzman Scholars program that takes place at Tsinghua University in Beijing. I envision having an internationally-focused career and gleaning lessons in the realms of intercultural awareness, leadership, and global and cultural dexterity.

Brittany: I plan on obtaining my master’s degree in accountancy and then working full-time at a major accounting firm such as Ernst & Young, where I am currently doing my internship.

April: I am interning in one of the nation’s largest accounting firms this summer, and that will lead to a full-time position working in a tax department at an accounting firm next year.

What part of being an accountant do you look forward to the most?

Brittany: My passion is to help people develop financial literacy, and get them out of debt. My dream job is to work for an accounting firm or a Fortune 500 company and climb the corporate ladder. I want to be a CEO of a well-known company one day.

Roberto: It’s a wonderful profession and I’m really looking forward to gaining first-hand experience working with clients. I’m also excited about the opportunity to travel. Accounting is a much more global profession than it was 20 years ago, so that’s a really exciting development.

The AICPA’s Start Here, Go Places website (www.startheregoplaces.com) is a good place to find information about accounting careers. Where else would you recommend students look?

Roberto: I started by going to the library and looking at different books on different types of accounting careers. I also looked at websites like ThisWaytoCPA (www.thiswaytocpa.com), which does a great job of presenting information in a way that’s friendly to a younger audience. 

Samiha Khanna is a freelance writer living in Durham, N.C.