Am I stupid to go to graduate school now?
March 26, 2011 10:39 AM   Subscribe

Am I stupid to get my masters now?

I graduated from college last year with an undergrad degree in accounting. Right now, I’m with an organization that I’m alright with and pays a decent wage. However, the job has no benefits, and doesn’t hold any real future for me in the way of raises or promotions, and isn’t in line with where I want to go with my career.

I applied to several grad schools (masters programs in accounting) in the hopes of being eligible for CPA after I graduate and for the access to recruiters. (The school I have been accepted to has a robust recruiting program), and have been accepted by one so far, which I would be happy to attend. My big concern is if I will be able to find a job after I graduate, with the way the economy has been, and if I am being irresponsible by throwing away the job I have. Should I wait until the economy improves, or am I right to go now?
posted by Query to Work & Money (11 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Knowing nothing about the job market or accounting or what graduate school might do for your career, I say drop the job and go back to school. Especially since your current job doesn't have benefits (?!) and you don't seem too invested. I guess I always have faith that people will find jobs when they need 'em, but I might have too much faith in that respect. Good luck to you, whatever you decide to you!
posted by sucre at 10:50 AM on March 26, 2011

Based on what's happened in the US since I started college in 1997: if you wait till the economy improves to start graduate school, the economy will not stay improved for long by the time you're actually in the market.

Which isn't to say that for you, it's a good time to go. Just that timing the market is not the way to look at the question.
posted by SMPA at 10:50 AM on March 26, 2011

Can you do both? Keep working and go to school part-time? At my school (a community college, so not exactly the same situation) we've seen a lot of people taking classes while waiting for the job market to improve. I'd be worried you would finish school just in time to be out on the job market with everyone who waited out the bad job market by going back to school.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 10:57 AM on March 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: The problem with doing the part time is that where I work now is significantly out of the way
from any of the schools that offer the programs I'm interested in, enough that I'm not sure
that going back and forth between work and school would leave me much time for studying, coursework, etc, and reducing my hours isn't really an option.
posted by Query at 11:10 AM on March 26, 2011

I think you have to really think about your assumptions. In my opinion, anything that can be shipped overseas and done by foreign labor will be sent offshore. Accounting is one of those "professions" and a lot of the back office stuff for accounting firms IS already being done out of India. You might look into how much accounting work is already being performed in India and how much is left to do locally. The combination of better artificial intelligence (even rules-based programming) and sending work abroad does not auger well. So I would say, if you are going to go back to school, pick something where your physical presence is required. It is very hard to offshore plumbing or electrical work, or nursing. In the computer business, where fast, constant interaction with the "customer" is required, that aspect is difficult to handle other than by local people. I am not suggesting that you find something blue collar but I would certainly analyze future prospects. Diagnostic tests (MRI, CAT, ultrasound, etc.) are already being interpreted overseas and the results sent back via internet. It is not just call centers that have been sent overseas. If you check the web, you will find new lawyers having a tough time, since a lot of the work that they would do is either being programmed so that it can be offered via software or software service or done by qualified people in India (e.g. discovery).
posted by PickeringPete at 11:18 AM on March 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

I am not an expert on accounting jobs, and I didn't run this by any of my accountant friends, but going to grad school and then getting your CPA sounds like exactly the right thing to do. I didn't know you could even get a job with an undergrad accounting degree and no CPA. Getting a CPA will open new doors, and the worst-case scenario is that you get another job similar to the one you have now (but probably at least a little better since you'll have advanced coursework and a recognizable credential). And even if you leave strict accounting, a CPA is a credential that could help you out elsewhere if you left strict accounting (say, if you started working in financial IT).

So I'd say the possible benefit is worth the risk of leaving right now. If you had a great job, that would be a tough call, but it sounds like your job is decidedly ho-hum. Earning money is nice and all, but if you want to move up and you know that your current position isn't going to help you do that, then staying around just because you're earning a paycheck is a waste of time IMO. As for the timing issue: maybe the economy will be surging in 2 years, or maybe in 4 years. Or maybe in 4 years there will be a change that will make it hard to get hired, and everyone who got their CPA in 2013 will be the lucky ones. You can't time the market, so don't try - work on your education when it's right for you.

PickeringPete is overplaying the outsourcing issue. Simple, ho-hum jobs are more likely to be outsourced than ones that require credentials, so (depending on what your current job is) you are probably doing more to protect yourself from outsourcing if you get a Masters and your CPA. Those accounting firms that are outsourcing work still need CPAs to manage, handle face-to-face client interaction, and perform audits.

Probably, you'll improve your job situation at least a little. And worst-case, you can go back to your old job or a similar one, but then you'll have a credential which is your ticket out of there once more jobs open up. So the right time to go to school is when you're ready for it.
posted by Tehhund at 11:50 AM on March 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

A good way to hedge your bets is to do graduate school in a more general finance field, still qualify for the CPA, and reap the benefits of a wider pool of job options than a specialized M.S. in Accounting. Think: financial management, actuarial science.

(I'm sure an actuary will tell you that "waiting until the economy improves" is not a useful metric for determining whether going to grad school is a good idea for you or not.)
posted by juniperesque at 12:20 PM on March 26, 2011

Best answer: You need to ask a person who specifically knows more about the accounting industry what to do. Poll a bunch of accountants.
posted by anniecat at 12:21 PM on March 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

Computers/software and outsourcing should be taken quite seriously. If you don't have a reason for face-to-face and if the work is routine, you are at risk.

As I said in my earlier post, I would find out what is happening in the accounting field. Ask before you invest your time and money.
posted by PickeringPete at 12:36 PM on March 26, 2011

Can you do your master's part-time in the evenings? That's what I did- it's hard and it took me 4 years (only had time for one course per semester, sometimes two) but no debt and no loss of job time. Ok, just noticed this was already mentioned- I did hellish commutes each way and it left pretty much no time for 'quality of life' but I loved my program and was really into it. I think quitting your job is a huge risk, especially right now. But then I am risk averse, maybe you're different.
posted by bquarters at 2:01 PM on March 26, 2011

I work in a business school.

I do not currently work for the academic accounting department, though I did some years ago.

Most of the students I regularly encountered were eager to eventually get their CPA because it does open so many doors in terms of firms, private practice, and even other opportunities. Considering the ethics involved in accounting as a profession and that only something like 20 - 25% of people who take the CPA exam pass it, it's really worthwhile to work toward that if you want to stay in accounting. A CPA is a hard-earned credential that not everyone can, in fact, earn.

And while it's true that many accounting jobs have been transferred overseas, there will always be a need for CPAs in the US. I don't know what your particular chances are of finding jobs after graduating with your Masters and after passing the CPA, but I do know that overall, it'd be a smart career choice for anyone wanting to do accounting as a profession.
posted by zizzle at 8:14 AM on March 27, 2011

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