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Q: What is the best way to gain accounting experience while still working toward a degree and passing the CPA exam?

The best way to gain accounting experience while still working toward a degree and passing the CPA exam is to participate in an internship program. Many public accounting firms and businesses offer very worthwhile internships where individuals can gain real-world experience in many different areas of accounting like audit, tax, and cost accounting.

College and university career service centers are a good place to start your search, since most firms and businesses place their internship opportunities with these centers. Some internships are also listed in the classifieds in college and university newspapers. Meeting potential employers at career fairs is also a great way to get your resume in the hands of the right people.

Internships vary among employers. Therefore it is extremely important to ask employers many questions about their internship program such as:

? Is it a paid internship?

? Will the work hours be flexible with my school schedule? (time needed for things like studying for exams, meetings for school projects, etc.)

? What are the duties/tasks assigned to an intern?

? What can I expect to learn from my internship?

? Will the internship lead to a possible full-time position?

Participating in several internships also provides a student with the opportunity to compare different employers and evaluate different types of accounting. This helps the student possibly find the right employer and the right type of accounting that best fits the student’s future career path.

Colleges & Classes, CPA Exam & Certification, Internships & First Job


Q: To become a forensic accountant or an FBI agent, what elective classes should I really look at taking. What kind of career path is suggested (auditing for a large firm?).

The difference between a forensic accountant (financial analyst) and an FBI agent is rather significant. FBI Agents need to go through the FBI Academy and become proficient in academics (classes such as law, procedure and statutes), physical conditioning and firearms training. Each agent candidate is evaluated on these three disciplines. Many FBI agent applicants are accountants, lawyers, school teachers, military personnel, police officers, linguists, computer technology experts and others from a variety of professions. Forensic accountants who are selected to become FBI employees are not required to carry guns or go through the rigorous training at the Academy. But, the forensic accountants are an essential part of the FBI mission. They are and will become the specialists FBI agents need to help them with the growing number of white collar criminal cases. Forensic accountants will be called upon to testify in court on the results of their (the FBI Agent’s) investigations.

1) To become a forensic accountant (with the FBI) or FBI agent, what classes should I take?

a. Accounting and auditing classes in sufficient number to allow you to take the CPA exam. Passing the exam is essential.

b. Computer classes dealing with analytical aspects- use of ACL, IDEA, Excel are great tools to use but knowing how to drill down into accounting details is essential. Finding fraud for example using these tools will be a big plus for accountants

c. Classes that help you make presentations and speak before large audiences is helpful. Forensic accountants and FBI agents need to have good presentation skills in order to convince juries and judges of the facts of their cases.

d. Writing courses, English courses- you need to be a good writer and fact gatherer to be a good agent and forensic accountant

2) What kind of career path is suggested?

a. Working for an accounting firm is important but not a deal breaker. Auditors make the best forensic accountants because they learn the audit process, various industries (financial services, health care, construction, retail, etc.), how to manage people, how to work in a team environment, how to look for fraud and how to use computers to assist the partner in finding fraud

b. Working in the computer forensic environment is also very helpful to a career in the FBI. Computers are the future of the profession (accounting) as well as the FBI.

c. Stay in good physical shape. Whatever job you have, please take time to stay in good condition. Upper body work (pull-ups), sit ups, and running are part of the pre-evaluation of agent candidates.

d. You must have three years of professional experience before you are considered for an agent position. Most agent applicants now are in their early 30’s so you have some time to get your professional experience on your resume.

e. Graduate degrees and specialized training are also helpful to build your resume for the FBI

Finally, I must say that the FBI is one of the best careers out there. I think being an FBI Agent is the best job in the world. But I also understand that forensic accountants feel the same way. I just finished making presentation to both the FBI Agent CPAs (about 350 of them) and FBI Analysts CPAs (about 100 of them) and both groups are very happy with the FBI and the work they are doing. The pay may be a little less than the outside world gets, but the thrill of the chase certainly makes up for the difference!

Being a CPA, Colleges & Classes, Government & Nonprofit


Q: Economics or Accounting? I have avid passion for both subjects yet I don't know which one to take as a major?
Ben Ellingson

Answered by:
Ben Ellingson, Partner

Based on my experience, accounting would be the clear choice. With an accounting background, you’ll have an incredible number of opportunities available to you, all of which will allow you to continue to stay involved in economics as well. With a passion for accounting and economics, you would be poised to become a great business advisor, business owner, or any other number of fine opportunities. Graduate with an accounting major, get your CPA designation, and your options will be limitless.

Colleges & Classes


Q: Is there a ideal age that accounting firms want for a new hire?

There is never an ideal age to join an accounting firm or business. There are certain recommendations that I would make that might advance your career more quickly. Since you are interested in working for an accounting firm, I might suggest going into a public accounting firm right out of college and during your time there get your CPA license. Depending on the career you want in public (e.g. the level of the job), you should stay with it and strive for positions higher up that may include senior associate or manager/ senior manager or even higher. If you decide that along the way, you want to explore other possible career paths, the CPA credential can and will help you do that.

Age is never a deciding factor . . . your education, credentials, work experience and work ethic will lead you to the career you want.

Internships & First Job, Public Accounting


Q: What are the advantages of getting my CPA now vs. continuing on to get a MAcc and then my CPA. I do not want to limit myself in the future. Does a MAcc degree give someone a decisive advantage?

Thank you for such a great question! I am assuming you are finishing up your Baccalaureate degree, that meets the educational requirements for CPA licensure in your state, and are deciding whether to enter the work force and pursue your CPA license or continue on in school and earn your MAcc degree.

I am a firm believer that any form of eduction provides benefits in one form or another, so whether you decide to pursue your MAcc, a CPA license or both, you will be well positioned for a rewarding career in accounting. My advice would be to finish your four year degee and enter the work force to start gaining valuable “hands on” experience in accounting and use this time to work towards earning your CPA license. I think this is the best course of action because it allows you time to gain professional experience and prepare for the CPA exam. Additionally, entering the work force gives you the opportunity to validate your career choice before you decide to dedicate more time and money to earning an advanced degree in that same field. For me, passing the CPA exam was one of the hardest professional challenges I faced; and once I passed, more opportunities were available to me.

Another point to consider is the fact that you may get more out of your MAcc degree once you have had a few years of work experience under your belt. I do not have a MAcc but I have a Masters Degree in Taxation. I beleive the program was more valuable to me since I already had my CPA and work experience. The “real world” experience helped me grasp the concepts presented more quickly than others in the program without work experience.

In addition, you maybe fortunate enough to work for an employer that will cover the cost of exam preparation and offer a bonus for passing the CPA exam. Furthermore, some employers may cover the cost of your MAcc degree so waiting to take on that challenge maybe more worthwhile if your employer covers the costs.

In closing I would advise you to gain work experience, earn your CPA and possibly pursue your MAcc in that order.

Good luck and I hope my insights help!!!!

Colleges & Classes