Accounting isn't always portrayed in popular media as the most exciting field. "Everyone is walking into my class with their own prejudice about accounting," said Lyudmyla Krylova, CPA, an accounting lecturer at Texas State University at San Marcos. Stereotypes about accounting can be tough to overcome — even when they're far from the truth.
"I still see a lot of students who don't really understand the potential of an accounting career," said Rebecca Bogie, DBA, an accounting instructor at Louisiana State University in Shreveport.
And other factors influence students' choice whether or not to major in accounting as well.
Americans have more than $1 trillion of outstanding student loan debt, said Scott Dell, CPA, DBA. The assistant professor of accounting at Francis Marion University in Florence, S.C., said some students just want to graduate and start their careers. However, accounting is a difficult major that can take students four years or longer to complete, especially for those who want to become CPAs and must complete 150 credit hours before sitting for the Uniform CPA Examination. There are also newer majors like data analytics and information systems that are competing for students, he said.
But accounting is a great profession, and faculty members agree that it's important to get students excited about accounting by expanding their views of the field and the opportunities it provides. They shared these tips:
Connect students with practicing accountants. Krylova typically invites a speaker early in the semester to talk with her students about what it's really like to work in accounting. The guests are often previous students who now work in the field. It's helpful to stay in touch with your alumni through LinkedIn or other methods, she said. Many students at her university are career changers or first-generation college students, and it's important to find speakers who have similar backgrounds, she said.
When classes went online during the COVID-19 pandemic, she began having students in her Intro to Financial Accounting and Accounting in Organization and Society classes interview a friend, relative, or neighbor who has worked in accounting for at least two years. She encouraged students to ask accountants what they like and don't like about their jobs, what they consider to be the most exciting moments of their careers, and whether they'd recommend the accounting profession. "When they interview someone they know, it makes it a personal endeavor," she said. "I really want them to feel connection."
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, split into groups of four, post about their experience, and provide comments about what they learned from other students' posts." She has heard from multiple students about how listening to real accountants helped change and shape their perspective on the field.
Faculty may also consider using the Student Engagement Toolkit, an AICPA resource intended to help educators introduce the profession to students.
Emphasize the variety of jobs available. Many students don't understand the broad 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, D.C., where they learned about public and government accounting jobs.
"People don't realize the breadth of things they can actually do with an accounting career," Bogie said. She acknowledged that accounting faculty have lots of material to cover. That's why Bogie has students take the lead. She has each student produce a video on an assigned topic related to accounting, including potential jobs. Students might investigate opportunities for forensic accountants, for instance, or the skills needed to pursue health care accounting. "You get a lot more interest once they start to see that there are aspects of accounting that they can do that are not just preparing financial statements," she said.
Incorporate a variety of resources. Bogie encourages students to use different sources while researching their projects, including articles from publications like the Journal of Accountancy and job posts on LinkedIn or Indeed. In this way, students can learn a lot about the daily 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 — plus it goes a long way when it comes to finding jobs and internships. Use of LinkedIn counts for a small portion of the grade in Dell's classes. He provides checklists of activities to complete for students with existing accounts and those who are new to the website. Students can earn extra credit for achieving 100 or 500 connections.
Dell also uses videos, newsletters, blogs, and reports to keep students abreast of what's happening in the profession. "I think it's all about engagement, and these tools are all about getting students engaged," he said.
Highlight the perks. Students typically don't realize that the accounting industry is constantly evolving, and there are lots of opportunities for accounting professionals to be creative, faculty members agree. It's an aspect of the industry that professors should emphasize. For example, Bogie discusses the regulatory environment with her students. "It's a dynamic profession where constant learning is required," she said. "There are a fair number of students who like that aspect."
In addition to highlighting the benefits of continued career growth and financial stability, there's another aspect of the profession that appeals to today's students: the opportunity to work remotely or even internationally. Krylova has taken students to study abroad in Prague, where they met American accountants working for Pfizer and PwC. Make sure your students are aware of opportunities like these that accounting can provide.
Promote student organizations. Student accounting organizations are great at promoting the profession, Krylova said. The Accounting Club and Beta Alpha Psi chapter at her university organize office visits, speakers, and other events. Encourage students to get involved if you have an accounting group at your school.
Dell took members of a student accounting organization to meet finance department leaders from the Green Bay Packers and Milwaukee Bucks when he previously worked in Wisconsin. Opportunities like that can really influence students, he said. Club meetings are also a great place to talk about current events in the world of accounting — like blockchain and bitcoin, which were both covered in recent meetings at his school, Dell said. Those topics can inspire students and make them feel more connected to the real world.
— Megan Hart is a freelance writer based in Florida. To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact Courtney Vien at Courtney.Vien@aicpa-cima.com.