If one were to ask the students in Fairfield University’s Masters of Science in Accounting (MSA) program how they spent their summer vacation, the response might be: What summer vacation?
“We have our program set up so that we start them traditionally day after graduation, usually in mid-May,” said Kathi M. Mettler, coordinator for the graduate accounting programs and instructor of the practice of accounting at Fairfield University’s Dolan School of Business.
“They take three classes in the summer section, which runs from mid-May until roughly first week in July. Then they start with the CPA review for the rest of July and August. We prefer for them to take the first part of that CPA exam at the end of August.”
And there is little time for the MSA students to pause and enjoy the autumn foliage.
“In the fall, they have a full course load of four courses,” Mettler continued. “For the winter break, if they want to do winter internship they can take that for credit from January through mid-March. If they do a winter internship, when they come back they need to do two classes. If not, they do classes for a total of 10 classes.”
When asked if that workload is rather rigorous, Mettler beams with approval. “It’s incredibly rigorous,” she said. “I tell them at the welcome aboard that this is your year to invest in yourself. And it’s not so much about learning, it’s about maturing and developing, having a thirst for knowledge and try to learn the content. You are going to need the content in your job and the CPA exam, because everything in accounting sort of builds on each other.”
Mettler, who was previously a director in the International Tax Services Group of PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP in Stamford, noted there were 67 students in the current MSA program, with one-third of the students focused on tax studies and two-thirds on assurance studies. Over the past few years, she has witnessed an increase in the number of students pursuing graduate studies in accounting and attributes that rise to the distinctive place accountants play in the economy.
“There is no better way to get to know industries and companies and the world than understanding how business works,” she said. “And accountants understand how the business works.”
Part of that equation is knowing the right and wrong ways to conduct business, and ethics is stressed throughout the program.
“To be an accountant, you have to operate at the highest ethical and moral obligations pursuant to the law,” Mettler said. “Individual students have to be comfortable with who they are and be able to pull themselves up to their highest abilities.”
Mettler pointed out that the MSA students are required to keep abreast of current events that impact the accounting profession. The ramifications of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act signed into law last December by President Trump have been part of the class discussions.
“The MSAs who just graduated in May were more prepared and probably more knowledgeable about the law than some working professionals,” she said. “We actively encouraged them to leverage that when they started working full time. Similarly, the MSAs spent a lot of time talking about current events and how tax law changes impact their clients and the industries they’re going into.”
To date, the MSA program’s retention rate is near perfect.
“As far as I know, the retention rate is 100 percent,” Mettler said. “I am aware of one student who put the program on hold because she started working full time, but she’s coming back to finish her last class.”
The program also includes career fair meetings and roundtables with representatives from the Big Four accounting firms plus other companies interested in learning more about the students. Mettler credits Fairfield University’s location with putting students at close contact with firms in New York City, Stamford and Boston. And if any MSA student regretted their studies, Mettler has not heard about it.
“I recently met a 2017 graduate, who said to me, ‘The program was grueling, but I was glad that I put the time in,’” she said.