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How will you finance your education? In what area of accounting do you want to work? What do you expect to be doing in three years? In five years? In ten years? These are easier questions to ask than they are to answer. Setting goals will help you establish guidelines when deciding on a career.


It is never too early or too late to learn how to set goals. A student in high school or one starting college should be familiar with the process and use it for career planning. You should learn how to separate wishing from planning when setting your goals.

Business organizations are looking for people who can develop and implement their goals. The process of developing clearly stated goals involves brainstorming, thinking, refining, and ranking. It is important to have a clear picture of goals. They should be stated in specific language so you know when a particular goal has been achieved. Write the goals down because written goals are easier to remember, update, and revise. An example of a vague goal and how to make it more specific is shown in Table 10.1.

An important part of goal setting is to remember that it is acceptable for goals to change. In fact, it is necessary for your goals to be updated as you grow professionally.

Goals should be established for long and short time frames. Drawing a time line (Figure 10.1) and placing personal and professional goals on it aid an individual in determining whether certain goals are compatible and in proper sequence.

Activities that will help accomplish the desired goal should be listed. An example of a goal and some suggested related activities leading to the accomplishment of that goal are shown in Table 10.2.


The old saying “it takes money to make money” comes to mind when talking about the cost of a good education to launch a career in accounting. Fortunately, there are many sources of funds. The federal government’s loan programs are divided into three types of loans: Stafford, Perkins, and Plus loans (Parents Plus or Direct Plus). There are other types of money available from the government, such as consolidation loans and Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity grants (FSEOGs). Be sure to ask about them, but remember, they are more specialized loans with limited applicability. In addition to loans, the government offers outright grants, through the Pell Grant program. These grants to qualifying students do not have to be repaid. To determine if someone is eligible, the Department of Education uses a standard formula set by Congress.

Stafford Loans

The Stafford loan program is available to both undergraduates and graduate students. Current ceilings on loan amounts for dependent undergraduates are $2,625 for the first-year or freshman student (interest rates are currently 7.66 percent, with a 10-year term).

An independent student is eligible for $2,625 in subsidized loans plus $4,000 in unsubsidized loan funds. Subsidized means you don’t have to pay any interest until after you graduate. The loan is repaid after graduation and a grace period, and deferrals are possible. The interest rate can change annually on July 1. It is tied to U.S. Treasury bill interest rates, but under current law it can’t exceed 8.25 percent interest for the balance of the loan term.

After completing one year of studies, the student can borrow up to $3,500 for a dependent undergraduate, on a subsidized basis; unsubsidized loans of $4,000 are available to eligible independent students. A junior or senior can borrow slightly more, currently $5,500 subsidized, and independent students can qualify for up to $5,000 in additional unsubsidized loans. A graduate student can borrow up to $8,500 subsidized, and $10,000 unsubsidized.

The upper limit on total Stafford loans to a graduate or professional school student currently is $65,500 in subsidized and $63,000 in unsubsidized funds. The limit on total debt from all Stafford loans is currently set at $46,000 for qualified undergraduates and $138,500 for graduate students.

Perkins Loans

The Perkins Loan program was set up to serve students in financial need. A Perkins loan is a low-interest-rate loan currently offered at a 5 percent rate. It’s open to both undergraduates and graduate students. The student’s school determines need based on family finances and contributions to education.

For an undergraduate, credit lines run up to $3,000 a year and top out at a ceiling of $15,000. A graduate student, however, can receive as much as $5,000 each year up to a total of $30,000 (including undergraduate loans). The loan has to be repaid in ten years. Typically, it’s paid back on a monthly installment plan after graduation.

Direct Plus Loans

A newer addition to the government loan program is the Direct Plus or Parents Plus program. There is no limit on these loans. The loan amount is calculated based on your total need less any loans you already have. If a student has a $6,000 need, for example, and $2,000 is taken care of by other loans, he or she can get up to $4,000. The only requirement is to pass a credit check.

The school furnishes applications. The interest rate currently can’t go above 9 percent, but the government adjusts the applicable rate each year on July 1.

Taking the Plunge

Taking a loan is a big responsibility. The student (and parents) should be sure all loan terms are well understood before closing on the loan. Some time-tested advice from various sources follows.

Before you enroll in a college program, talk to your school counselor about financial aid. Talk to family friends who’ve gone through the whole process. There are many sources of aid. When you’ve gathered the latest information on those you qualify for, compare them carefully to find the best aid package: the lowest interest rate (or blended rate if you have two or more loans) and a flexible repayment schedule.

How to Apply

For the U.S. Department of Education loan programs (the Stafford Loan, Perkins, Parents Plus), apply on campus if your school participates in the Direct Loan program, or apply to a participating local lender in the Federal Family Education Loan (FFEL) program. Your money will come from the government directly to the school or the lender and then to you. If you’re applying based on financial need, you don’t have to start paying the loan back immediately; you can arrange for a deferred payment plan. Otherwise, the loan payments with interest begin as soon as you get the money.

To qualify, you have to be a full-time or half-time student in a qualified program, and meet certain other requirements. You apply by filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FEFSA) at your school or lender and sign the promissory note, which is a legal document promising to repay the loan.

You can also call (800) 801-0576 for a copy of the new FAFSA Express software that allows you to fill out an electronic version of the loan form. Or if you’re able to access their web site, go to and download a copy of Express for your own use. General inquiries are handled at (800) 4-FED-AID. Ask for a copy of the Direct Loans Repayment Book and other literature on student loans. A tip from the Feds: apply as soon possible after January 1 . Having your tax return information for the current year will help.

Other Sources of Funds

If the terms of the government loans don’t suit you, look into other sources of funds, private as well as public. Scholarships for your field, from your local schools or community organizations, and various national educational organizations (National Merit Scholarships, etc.) are worth a try. Your state is also a source of scholarship funds. Lenders now have programs designed for college-bound students and their families, though interest is charged at market rates, not subsidized like the government’s. Still, lenders may be competitive on the basis of loan term (a home equity loan can be stretched out over 20 years, versus the government’s 10-year term).

Rates and loan terms change frequently, and federal funding is subject to budget constraints and congressional approval, so be sure to get the latest information before deciding on an aid package. You’re going to be an accountant, so you’ll want to figure out the best loan package for you!


Joining Beta Alpha Psi

Beta Alpha Psi is a national honorary accounting fraternity for college students majoring in accounting. There are local chapters at various colleges. Requirements for membership vary from college to college, but generally grades in accounting and overall grade point average must be maintained at a B level or higher. Another usual requirement is a minimum number of accounting classes necessary before membership is granted.

Usually at least two meetings are held each month throughout the regular academic school year. Students, faculty, and persons from the community employed in various areas of accounting attend. At professional meetings speakers discuss topics of interest to students, including such items as interviewing practices, local employment outlook, computers, and auditing.

Social meetings may find a company’s employees playing a volleyball game against the students, competing at bowling, or enjoying a picnic. A formal induction into the club is held in conjunction with a banquet for both fall and spring terms of school.

Tours of local accounting firms and business offices are arranged during which students can observe office facilities and employees. These tours give students a chance to see work environments and ask questions.

The advantages of joining Beta Alpha Psi are the interaction with people employed in various areas of accounting and the prestige of being a member of an honorary fraternity in one’s chosen field. Membership in Beta Alpha Psi will enhance your chances of getting a job in accounting.

Participating in an Accounting Internship

An accounting internship program is a cooperative program between a college and a public accounting firm, corporation, or government agency. An accounting senior or second-semester junior may work full or part time for 10 to 15 weeks as a member of a professional accounting staff performing entry-level accounting assignments. Students obtain academic credit for the work (ranging from 2 to 12 credits). The student usually returns to the university for one or more terms of study after completing the internship. An alternative to the internship program is a cooperative education program (coop). A co-op program usually involves at least two separate sessions at the same company or firm, with the student alternating school terms with the work experience.

Before students decide on a program, they should talk to various companies and firms to determine the right internship program for them and to decide if the potential delay of graduation for one academic term is worth the experience. Some companies prepare brochures describing their internship programs, while others send representatives to the campus to explain their particular programs.

An internship or co-op program can be beneficial to students by giving them an opportunity to obtain valuable on-the-job training before graduation. A student has the chance to apply accounting concepts and theory already learned in the classroom to practical job-related situations. These experiences cannot be simulated in textbooks or classrooms. There will be many opportunities for an intern to use good judgment, show responsibility and technical ability, demonstrate a cooperative attitude, and communicate with others. Learning the routine of an eight-to-five job is a different experience for many college students.

Interns who accept an assignment become paid members of the company’s professional staff. Compensation levels are normally standardized within a university’s internship program and generally average about 75 percent of the entry-level salary. The company usually pays no fringe benefits, such as vacation or insurance. At many of the companies and firms, the interns are compensated for overtime hours, but often at the straight-time pay scale.

Depending on the company or firm, an intern may either be reviewed weekly or at the completion of each major job assignment. At the end of the internship, the performance review will be discussed and formalized as part of the exit interview. A copy will usually be sent to the intern coordinator at the college. General areas where the intern’s performance will be rated include:

  • knowledge of accounting
  • ability to follow instructions
  • accuracy in performing tasks
  • tact and interpersonal skills
  • willingness to cooperate
  • appearance
  • punctuality
  • communication

A successful internship or co-op program usually leads to a job offer with the firm or company. It gives the student valuable experience and aids in the student’s future decision about what accounting areas to consider for a career.

Any student interested in an internship or co-op program should discuss the alternatives with an accounting teacher or chairman of the accounting department to become familiar with any specific requirements or filing deadlines.


Preparing a Resume

A good resume can and should open doors for you. A resume is a selling document, and its major purpose is to persuade the reader to grant an interview. It is standard practice to send copies of the same resume to several different companies. For accounting students it is advisable to write a different resume for each type of job sought. The resume written for a job in public accounting, for example, would have a different job objective than a resume targeted to a corporate job.

Resumes that get results usually include (1) a specific job objective, (2) a section showing experience for the job, and (3) a detailed but concise description of education, special honors, and awards.

It is suggested that any work experience related to the position desired be listed before education. Everyone applying for the job will have an educational background quite similar to yours, so it is very important to stress your experience related to the job. For example, if you have worked in the accounts payable section of a company for summer employment, a line in the experience section of the resume might read, “Handled and expedited invoices from suppliers.” A student who participated in an internship or co-op program would include that information in this section. The key to describing your experience is to use action verbs that indicate management functions. Words considered action verbs include, for example, advised, communicated, controlled, created, generated, managed, negotiated, surveyed, and trained.

In the education section, name the college graduated from and list all degrees. Mention your cumulative grade point average only if it is 3.0 or better. List all your academic honors and special achievements; include any special seminars or courses you have taken beyond the required courses in your field of study. List your membership in Beta Alpha Psi or an accounting club.

Personal data, including marital status, height, weight, age, health, race, and number of children should not be listed on the resume, because the Equal Employment Opportunity Law prohibits such factors from being used as a basis for discrimination in hiring.

On a resume it is usually good to include the statement, “References will be provided upon request.” It is important to spend some time deciding whom to use as references. You should ask one or two of your professors for a letter of recommendation. Professors should be provided with more information about you than they have from classroom interaction alone. Try to provide this additional information at the time you ask a professor to give you a reference. Use an employer as one of your references if possible.

There are professional resume writers, but an individual can usually do an adequate job with thought and a little research. Every library has books that contain sample resumes. Edit the final draft for completeness and conciseness. Most recent graduates should be able to get all essential information about them on a one-page resume.

Writing a Cover Letter

Each resume sent should be accompanied by a cover letter. The specific title and name of a person within the company should be used in the heading of the letter. You should stress what you feel you can contribute to the operations and goals of this particular company. If possible, study the annual report of the company. Most college libraries have reference materials that can be used to provide current information on specific companies. The person who receives your letter should feel the letter is directed only to that one company. Keep the letter brief: three to five paragraphs. Ask for an interview in the last paragraph. Before signing the letter, proofread it.

According to a Wall Street Journal article on October 17, 1983, many students send out over 100 resumes and cover letters. Unfortunately, some companies do not reply at all, even with a rejection letter. Don’t become discouraged. Don’t expect every letter you send out to result in a request for an interview.

Planning for an Initial interview

The placement office at many colleges provides opportunities for firms and Interview companies to interview students at the college. The traditional times for scheduled interviews are October and May. The employers give the placement office specific days when they will be on campus, and the students sign up for short interviews (usually a half-hour maximum). Many students sign up for an interview with more than one firm or company. The college requires the student to complete a placement file including a transcript, resume, and personnel sheet before he or she is allowed to participate in the interview process. Following are some of the questions asked frequently by interviewers:

  • What is your major strength?
  • What do you regard as your outstanding qualities?
  • What is your major weakness?
  • Tell me about yourself.
  • Why did you choose this college?
  • Why did you choose accounting as a major?
  • What did you like best about college? About your last job?
  • What did you like least in college? In your last job?
  • What contributions could you make to the company?
  • In what way does this job meet your career goals and objectives?
  • What are your long-range goals and objectives?
  • What kind of position would you like to hold in five years? In ten years?

An interviewer is not going to ask you every one of these questions, but these are some of the more common ones asked; therefore, it is important to take some time before the interview to formulate some answers to these questions and individualize them for your own needs. A person should present the best possible picture at the interview. Turn any negatively phrased question into something positive. For example, if you are asked, “What did you like least about college?” you might respond, ‘Time constraints that prevented me from taking extra courses frustrated me, and therefore, that was what I liked least about college.”

Planning for the Office

A student will usually learn the results of this initial interview within two Interview weeks. A positive response from a firm or company normally includes an invitation to visit the office for half- or full-day interview. This will include an opportunity to visit with three or more company employees, a tour of the office and lunch.

You will be asked questions and will be observed during the visit. A decision on whether to hire you will be made by the employees who meet you. You may accept an office visit from more than one firm and may receive offers of permanent employment from more than one firm. It is at this point that you must make a decision.


Your physical appearance plays an important part in molding your image. You can do a great deal to control your image. Be concerned with the type of impression you make when meeting someone for the first time. This is crucial during an interview. Observe others’ reactions to you. It is important for you to have a formal education, but it is equally important to be knowledgeable in the art of image building.

Well-dressed people inspire confidence and assure those with whom they are doing business that they are trustworthy, knowledgeable, and have the client’s interest at heart. As an accounting professional, you are representing your employer as well as yourself when you meet a client or any other member of the public. Professionals have many roles, and clothes can help them handle those roles better. Clothing is one of the variables almost completely within your control.

If you are still in college, you may find literature from various firms helpful. Information on different firms is available in the college library or placement office, or it may be obtained by writing to individual firms. The acceptable dress code is not usually listed in a firm’s brochure, but photographs of the employees are included, and much information can be obtained by observing what the employees are wearing. (For a list of Big Six firms, and the addresses of their national headquarters, see Chapter 1.)

At many colleges, students are invited and encouraged to attend some of the meetings sponsored by the state CPA societies, the National Association of Accountants, and the American Society for Women Accountants. If you attend these meetings, you can observe what practicing accountants are wearing. Naturally, clothing styles and colors may vary from city to city.

Some of the larger department stores have free fashion shows highlighting business clothes. By attending, you can get a general idea of the typical business clothes popular with local professionals. Take some time to browse in the local stores to become familiar with available clothing. This information will be helpful when the time comes for purchasing your wardrobe and when you are making additions to it.

If you know practicing accountants in industry, education, government, or public accounting, it is acceptable to ask them for guidance in the area of proper dress.

Clothes are an investment in the future, and they are important to a professional in his or her career. Your clothes should be an expression of the kind of person you are or of the person you hope to be. Career clothing is designed to deliver a certain message. Your message should say, “I’m here for my accounting future, and I expect to go far in my chosen profession.”

Your Complete Package

When looking for a job that will lead to a rewarding career, a student must present a complete package. A student’s academic performance, experience in related areas, and extracurricular activities, as well as the ability to dress and communicate in a professional manner, enter into the selection process.

Extracurricular activities can be rewarding and also help you achieve recognition. For example, regional meetings for the American Accounting Association (AAA) present opportunities for students to submit research papers on various topics in accounting. Awards are given for the best paper at the graduate and undergraduate level. The recipients are recognized at a luncheon or dinner meeting. Their papers are included in the material received by all registrants. Meetings are held periodically at different locations in many states. The chairman of the department of accounting has information available about these types of opportunities.

A worthwhile activity to consider while you are in college is tutoring other students in accounting. This will strengthen the tutor’s accounting knowledge. It helps portray the tutor as a contributing, interested student to the faculty and potential employers. At some universities this may be done on a volunteer basis; other universities may offer paid tutoring jobs.


There has been a dramatic expansion in the body of accounting knowledge over the last decade. Significant increases in official accounting and auditing pronouncements and the proliferation of new tax laws are two factors that have expanded the knowledge base that professional practice in accounting requires.

If the profession is to respond positively to the development of new technologies and to society’s demand for expanded information, it needs to have broadly educated individuals who are technically knowledgeable and who have the analytical abilities, communication and interpersonal skills, and the cultural awareness that will enable the profession to fill its broader role.

In response to these changes, the membership of the AICPA voted to make 150 semester hours of education a requirement for new members of the organization after the year 2000. The AICPA is recommending to the states proposed language for the laws and regulations to ensure uniformity among the states.

These are exciting times for accountants in all fields of work. There will continue to be changes as technology continues to be upgraded. It’s true that people generally succeed at things they enjoy doing. As you finish college, interview for, and accept your first job, you should be on your way to an enjoyable, rewarding future.



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