Monday, June 10, 2013

The Student's Perspective: Tax, Audit...or Other?

By Samantha Burch
Social Coordinator, Beta Alpha Psi, James Madison University

Editor's note: This is part of a series of guest posts from members of the James Madison University (JMU) chapter of Beta Alpha Psi, an honors fraternity for accounting students. These posts will cover topics of interest to accounting students. If you have a question you'd like a Beta Alpha Psi member to cover, please email VSCPA Communications Specialist Chip Knighton.

“Oh, you’re an Accounting major? Are you interested in tax or audit?”

This question is one that every accounting student has encountered multiple times during his or her time in college.  During the first two or three years of school, the answer is likely, “I’m not sure yet”, but by the time senior year rolls around, most of us have discovered which sector of accounting we fit into.  Taking classes, participating in externships and internships, and talking with professionals in various lines of service provide valuable exposure to the sectors and can help you make the decision.  However, an easy mistake for students to make is to believe that they are limited in choosing between audit and tax because these are usually the two most highlighted sectors.  Students are presented with two general stereotypes:  Tax professionals travel less, have less client interaction and have an intense busy season from January to April while audit professionals travel more frequently and have more extensive client interaction. Most people can easily identify with one of those descriptions over the other; but what happens if you are like me, and unable to imagine yourself in either line of service?  What happens if you do not “fit”?

When someone asks me that question, I smile and reply, “Neither”.  I will not yet say for certain what I am interested in, but I feel that neither tax nor audit is the right field for me.  At first, this was concerning, and I wondered if I had chosen the right major at all. But with some research and the help of mentors, I discovered that there are a multitude of other opportunities to pursue, such as forensic accounting, accounting outsourcing, and consulting.

Fellow students, if you find yourself feeling less than enthusiastic about tax and audit, do not be discouraged. There are several steps you can take to conduct your own research and find your own perfect fit.

  • Talk to your professors. They are knowledgeable about different careers that you can access with an accounting degree. They also have contacts that can give you more information about areas that interest you.
  • Know what concentrations or upper level classes universities offer before you choose which to attend for a graduate degree.  Look for a place that offers a variety of courses unrelated to tax or audit so that you can sample them before you decide.
  • Research accounting firms in your area that have service lines other than tax and audit. Apply for an externship program if they have one; chances are they will spend a portion of that time introducing you to the service lines you may not be familiar with.  I recently participated in such an externship, where I discovered that accounting outsourcing greatly appeals to me.
  • Look for firms that do rotational internships.  This means that you will get to work in each of their lines of service during your internship.  Real world experience is the best way for you to know whether you enjoy something or not because you will be doing it all day long, five days per week. Even if you do not fall in love with any particular service line, you may be able to rule one out.

These steps may take a bit of extra effort, and additional time to explore everything that the accounting world has to offer. You may even feel downright maverick when someone asks you the dreaded audit/tax question. But it will have been worth it when you find your own personal niche.

Samantha Burch is a rising senior at JMU seeking a master's degree in forensic accounting. She is the social coordinator of the Eta Delta chapter of Beta Alpha Psi, as well as a student member of the VSCPA and a 2012 Leaders' Institute attendee. She works in JMU's financial reporting department and is currently interning with Robinson, Farmer, Cox Associates.

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