OSCPA Student Ambassadors share their insights with future CPAs

Feb 27, 2012

by Carey Lechner, OSCPA communications intern

The best way to gain advice and insight on how to accomplish personal goals is to seek advice from someone who has already achieved similar aspirations. OSCPA student ambassadors, who work on 12 college campuses in Ohio to debunk stereotypes and attract fresh faces to the accounting profession, know a thing or two about the path to becoming a CPA. In a question and answer style interview, five ambassadors, both previous and current, offer their knowledge and personal expertise about how hard work, internships, networking and more have put them on the fast track to earning their CPA license.

The experts:

  Name: Katie Paulin,CPA
  Hometown: Cincinnati, OH
  College:
University of Cincinnati
  Graduation Date: September 2009
  Employer:
Clark, Schaefer, Hackett & Co., Cincinnati, OH
  Title: Staff II Accountant
  Years served as ambassador:
2009-2010

  Name: Danielle Bates, CPA
  Hometown: Erie, PA
  College: Case Western Reserve
  Graduation Date:
May 2010
  Employer:
Accudyn Products, Inc., Erie, PA
  Title:
Accountant
  Years served as ambassador:
2009 – 2010


  Name: Maggie Donnelly
  Hometown: Willoughby, OH
  College: Cleveland State University
  Graduation Date: May 2010
  Employer: Cohen & Company Cleveland, OH
  Title:
Staff Accountant
  Years served as ambassador:
2009-2010


  Name: Casey Frame
  Hometown: Salesville, Ohio
 College: Kent State University
 Expected graduation date: May 2012
 Years served as ambassador: 2011-2012


 

 

Name: Brent Lee
Hometown: Indianapolis, Indiana
College: Xavier University
Graduation Date: May 2011
Employer: Katz, Sapper & Miller CPAs: Indianapolis, Indiana
Title: Staff Accountant
Years served as ambassador: 2010-2011 

Background

What influenced your decision to major in accounting and become a CPA?

“Going into accounting and earning the CPA license provides invaluable career flexibility. A mentor once told me, 'Accounting is the language of business,' and it’s a sentiment that has stuck with me. Accounting is not just about the numbers. It’s about understanding business as a whole, relating to other people and developing talents that make CPAs multifaceted assets for our clients, employees and employers.” Brent Lee

“When I was little, I helped my mother balance statements and sort files. I have always liked being organized and dealing with numbers knowing that at some point they typically have to match. My mother had a great deal of influence in my life because she is also an accountant.” Casey Frame

What interested you in becoming an OSCPA Student Ambassador and what did you learn from the experience?

“Taking charge of leadership opportunities is one of the greatest ways to get practical experience and stand out in college. The Student Ambassador Program gave me the opportunity to improve my planning, public speaking and organizational skills. More importantly, it gave me the opportunity to talk with students about why I decided to pursue a CPA career and provide insight into the profession and specifically my experiences as a marketer turned accountant.” Brent Lee

“I was nominated by one of my professors to be the OSCPA Student Ambassador. I learned how to be self-motivated in a job, because as an Ambassador, no one was standing over my shoulder to make sure I finished a certain number of tasks. I had to plan out my own time and add value to OSCPA and my school with the choices I made. I also continued to develop my public speaking skills and was able to network and interact with a number of accounting professionals throughout my time as Ambassador.” Danielle Bates

What scholarships did you receive in college and how did you learn of them?

“The College of Business at Cleveland State awarded me a few different scholarships. I applied for those through the College of Business when I was a junior and senior. I also received scholarships from the accounting department at Cleveland State. Many different accounting firms and endowments from the school allowed them to give away scholarships to students who met GPA and involvement requirements.” Maggie Donnelly

“I was in the Honors-Plus program in UC’s College of Business which provided a full tuition scholarship for my undergraduate education. I also received a partial scholarship from the Graduate School of Business for my master’s degree.” Katie Paulin

Internships

Did you participate in an internship before you graduated? If so, where?

“Yes, I was in the co-op program at UC and had six quarter-long internships throughout my undergraduate years. My first two quarters were spent at Jackson, Rolfes, Spurgeon (now Plante Moran) in Cincinnati doing primarily tax work. I wanted to experience a larger firm and also audit work so I switched to Grant Thornton for my remaining four quarters of interning.” Katie Paulin

“I did not have an internship prior to graduating, but I would definitely recommend accounting majors to seek an internship because they provide real world experience to help gain a better perspective of what is learned in the classroom.” Maggie Donnelly

During your internship, what did your daily tasks include?

“I worked in both the tax and audit departments, so my responsibilities varied depending on whether I was out of the office at an audit client or in the office working on tax-related items. On audit engagements, I would often be responsible for auditing cash, examining loan and receivables confirmations and proofing financial statements. On the tax side, I was responsible for completing 1040 and partnership returns, and compilations to be used in the preparation of a partnership return. Unbillable work consisted of preparing and sending out confirmations and delivering tax returns to clients around the Cincinnati area. A word of advice for any prospective interns: at times, it may seem like the work you’re doing doesn’t really add much to the overall engagement, but partners and managers appreciate even the smallest level of support because it helps to build the foundation for the success of the overall engagement.” Brent Lee

“As an intern at Accudyn, I was responsible for many managerial accounting tasks such as bank reconciliations and analyzing accounts receivable. I also worked extensively on quarter and year-end payroll taxes. At the bank, I learned a lot about loans and business banking and was responsible for working with a variety of customers in those areas.” Danielle Bates

Were there any prerequisites you had to complete before your internship?

“To get academic credit for the internship, I had to complete two classes - Corporate Accounting I and Accounting Systems.” Casey Frame

“Most internships require you to have completed Intermediate Accounting I and one tax accounting class.” Maggie Donnelly

How did you find out about your internship? Do you have any recommendations or tips for obtaining an internship?

“I found out about Clarke Schaefer Hackett (CSH) at a dinner put on by the OSCPA at Xavier during my sophomore year of college and the firm really impressed me. I paid special attention to the Xavier job positing website and recruiting events for any mention of CSH. I made it a priority to get to know the recruiter from CSH and any of the staff he had with him at Xavier recruiting events so that come interview time, I already had my foot in the door. For anyone looking for an internship, whether in public accounting or private industry, I strongly recommend networking like crazy. Talk with professors, friends, siblings, parents, friends’ parents and career coaches to figure out what you’re looking for in an internship and opportunities that might be available. It’s critical that accounting students actively seek out opportunities to establish themselves in fields they’re interested in.” Brent Lee

“My hometown is relatively small, so we do not have any of the Big 4 accounting firms in the area. In fact, the only firms we have are smaller community firms. I called the major banks in my hometown and was able to find an internship that way. My advice to students trying to find an internship in a small town is to not expect employers to come to you. In larger cities, firms will actively seek interns for their development programs. This is simply not the case in a small town. You may have to knock on a lot of doors, but with persistence you will succeed and find an internship.” Danielle Bates

CPA Exam

When did you decide to take the CPA Exam?

“I knew I was going to become a CPA as soon as I decided I wanted to be an accountant. I started taking the exam during my final quarter in graduate school and was able to pass all four sections before starting my full-time job.” Katie Paulin

“Everyone I talked to said that getting the CPA was one of the best things I could do for myself and my career, so I set out very early on to ensure that I was able to graduate in four years with 150 hours and all of the other prerequisites that the NASBA sets for CPA candidates. I began taking the exam only a month and a half after graduating.” Brent Lee

Did you take a CPA Exam review course to prepare? If yes, do you feel that the course was an important study tool to help you pass?

“I used the Becker Program to help me study for the exam. The course was very helpful and an important study tool to help me pass. I would recommend a review course to anyone planning to take the exam; however, the most important part of studying is the self-discipline and drive to continue studying day after day.” Katie Paulin

“I used the MDS CPA Review course. For me, it was absolutely essential to passing the exam.” Danielle Bates

What was your personal plan and motivation for passing the CPA Exam? Any advice for students just beginning the CPA Exam study process?

“During the summer and early fall, I spent time every day before work studying to prepare for the exam. My goal was to pass the first time. The main factor that motivated me during my studies was the knowledge that I wouldn’t have to study while I transitioned into my career. Trying to juggle both studying for the CPA exam and learning the ins and outs of a new job is an incredibly daunting task, so for anyone who is considering taking the exam, my main piece of advice would be to get the exam out of the way as soon as possible. It will make your work experience much more enjoyable knowing that you have the most essential credential for your job taken care of before life gets too busy.” Brent Lee

“Because I wanted to start making real money and working full time, I needed to pass the exam as soon as possible. Give yourself plenty of time between exams for studying; don’t try to study during busy season when you’re working 80 hours a week, and definitely take a CPA exam review course. You know your own strengths and weaknesses when it comes to studying, so play off of those and you will succeed.” Danielle Bates

Career

What type of accounting do you practice and what interested you in this field?

“I am in the audit department at Clark, Schaefer, Hackett & Co. I did internships in both audit and tax and learned that I like interacting with clients and helping them improve their processes better than working in tax.” Katie Paulin

“I practice mostly managerial accounting which means I’m analyzing financial statements and using financial information to make business decisions. I was interested in this field because it provides a new challenge every day and it’s what my family’s business needs to grow and remain profitable.” Danielle Bates

How did you land your first job?

“I met the recruiter at a Beta Alpha Psi networking event. I contacted her after the event, showing my interest in Cohen & Company. I was invited to a recruiting event and then I was selected for their summer round robin interviews. During the round robins, I met with teams of two employees who conducted the interviews. I was then offered a position in October of my senior year of college.” Maggie Donnelly

“I will be starting with Deloitte in the fall of 2012. I had an internship in the spring of 2011 and once it was completed, I was offered a full time position.” Casey Frame

Any advice for students who may be considering earning an accounting degree and becoming a CPA, but are unsure if this is the career path they want to pursue?

“If you are a student even slightly interested in accounting, give it a chance! There are so many opportunities in the accounting field, whether it’s working in public accounting or the private sector. The variety of work that an accountant can do varies by job, which can give you the opportunity to grow and become well rounded.” Maggie Donnelly

“My advice to students considering an accounting degree is to think about all areas of accounting before deciding whether or not it’s for you. If a large accounting firm doesn’t sound like the right fit for you, consider corporate accounting which can be much broader and involve both business and accounting skills. One thing I hear a lot from students who don’t want to go into accounting is “I’m not good at math.” I always tell them that all the math you will ever need to know for accounting you’ve already learned in first grade (add, subtract, multiply and divide), so don’t let that make you think that you can’t be an accountant.” Danielle Bates