Accounting isn’t always featured in the popular media as the most exciting field. “Everyone comes into my class with their own biases about accounting,” said Lyudmyla Krylova, CPA, an accounting lecturer at Texas State University in San Marcos. Stereotypes about accounting can be difficult to overcome, even when they are far from the truth.
“I still see a lot of students who don’t really understand the potential of a career in accounting,” said Rebecca Bogie, DBA, professor of accounting at Louisiana State University in Shreveport.
And other factors influence whether or not students choose to major in accounting as well.
Americans have more than $1 trillion in outstanding student loan debt, said Scott Dell, CPA, DBA. The assistant professor of accounting at Francis Marion University in Florence, South Carolina, said some students just want to graduate and start their careers. However, accounting is a tough major that can take students four years or more, especially for those who want to become a CPA and must complete 150 credit hours before taking the Uniform CPA Exam. There are also new specializations such as data analytics and information systems competing for students, he said.
But accounting is a great profession, and faculty members agree that it’s important to engage students in accounting by broadening their view of the field and the opportunities it offers. They shared these tips:
Connect students with practicing accountants. Krylova usually invites a guest speaker at the start of the semester to talk with her students about what it’s really like to work in accounting. The guests are often former students who are now working in the field. It helps to keep in touch with your alumni through LinkedIn or other methods, she said. Many students at her university are changing careers or are first-generation students, and it’s important to find speakers who have similar backgrounds, she said.
When classes went online during the COVID-19 pandemic, she started asking students in her Introductory Financial Accounting and Accounting in Organization and Society classes to interview a friend, a relative or neighbor who has worked in accounting for at least two years. She encouraged students to ask accountants what they like and dislike about their jobs, what they consider to be the most exciting times in their careers, and whether they would recommend the accounting profession. “When they interview someone they know, it makes it a personal effort,” she said. “I really want them to feel connected.”
If students don’t know anyone in the accounting field, Krylova has them watch Start Here, Go Places videos that discuss the wide variety of opportunities in the industry. They feature professionals from diverse backgrounds in different specialties. “I did it as a discussion board,” she said. “They would do the interview or watch the video, divide into groups of four, post their experience and comment on what they learned from the posts of other students.” She has heard from many students about how listening to real accountants has helped change and shape their perspective in the field.
Faculty may also consider using the Student Engagement Toolkit, an AICPA resource designed to help educators introduce the profession to students.
Emphasize the variety of jobs available. Many students don’t understand the wide range of organizations that hire accountants, which includes financial firms and agencies such as the CIA and FBI, Dell said. In association with the South Carolina Association of CPAs, he recently took a group of students to Washington, DC, where they learned about jobs in public and government accounting.
“People don’t realize the magnitude of things they can actually do with a career in accounting,” Bogie said. She acknowledged that accounting teachers have a lot of material to cover. That’s why Bogie asks students to take the lead. She asks each student to produce a video on an assigned topic related to accounting, including potential jobs. Students could study opportunities for forensic accountants, for example, or the skills needed to pursue healthcare accounting. “You get a lot more interest once they start to see that there are aspects of bookkeeping they can do that’s not just about preparing financial statements,” she said. .
Integrate a variety of resources. Bogie encourages students to use different sources when researching their projects, including articles from publications such as the accounting journal and job postings on LinkedIn or Indeed. This way, students can learn a lot about the day-to-day responsibilities of accountants in different positions, as well as the qualifications needed for different roles.
Networking can help students learn about the types of opportunities available in accounting – and it goes a long way in finding jobs and internships. The use of LinkedIn accounts for a small portion of the grade in Dell courses. It provides checklists of activities to complete for students with existing accounts and those new to the website. Students can earn additional credits for reaching 100 or 500 connections.
Dell also uses videos, newsletters, blogs and reports to keep students up to date with what’s happening in the profession. “I think it’s all about engagement, and these tools are about engaging students,” he said.
Highlight the benefits. Students usually don’t realize that the accounting industry is constantly changing and accounting professionals have plenty of opportunities to get creative, faculty members agree. This is an aspect of the industry that professors should emphasize. For example, Bogie discusses the regulatory environment with his students. “It’s a dynamic profession where constant learning is necessary,” she said. “There are a good number of students who like this aspect.”
In addition to emphasizing the benefits of continued career growth and financial stability, there is another aspect of the profession that attracts today’s students: the ability to work remotely or even foreigner. Krylova took students to study abroad in Prague, where they met American accountants working for Pfizer and PwC. Make sure your students are aware of the opportunities like these that accounting can provide.
Promote student associations. Accounting student organizations are great for promoting the profession, Krylova said. The accountancy club and Beta Alpha Psi chapter at his university host office tours, speakers, and other events. Encourage students to get involved if you have an accounting group at your school.
Dell took members of an accounting student organization to meet with finance department officials from the Green Bay Packers and Milwaukee Bucks when he previously worked in Wisconsin. Such opportunities can really influence students, he said. Club meetings are also a great place to talk about current happenings in the accounting world — like blockchain and bitcoin, both of which were covered in recent meetings at her school, Dell said. These topics can inspire students and make them feel more connected to the real world.
— Megan Hart is a Florida-based freelance writer. To comment on this article or suggest an idea for another article, contact Courtney Vien at [email protected]