Like many accounting graduates, Shelby Pake, BS’19, MSA’21, is preparing to take the Certified Public Accountant (CPA) exam. But she’s doing so while earning a Master of Science in Accounting (MSA) degree at the Indiana University Kelley School of Business on the IUPUI campus.
“When I started my undergraduate degree, I knew I wanted to go into accounting and take the CPA exam,” she says. “I wanted to earn the accounting graduate degree at Kelley — not only to prepare for the CPA, but also to build a stronger accounting base.”
Shelby has known she wanted to be an accountant since high school. The daughter of an accountant, Shelby had a role model and guidance from her mother, Sheila, who encouraged Shelby’s interest in graduate school. During her sophomore year at IUPUI, Shelby learned that Kelley offered a way to earn an advanced accounting degree by tacking on just one more year of school to the undergraduate degree.
“The MSA Program was a way to seamlessly continue my education by transferring in directly from my Kelley undergraduate degree without taking the GMAT or GRE,” says Shelby. “I was able to enroll right into the MSA in the spring, and it was like I never stopped my studies. Part of my motivation was to continue using my existing momentum in taking classes, studying and balancing college life.”
The MSA +1 degree path allows undergraduate Kelley accounting students to begin taking graduate-level courses to get a jump on the MSA. Rather than simply filling in the 150 credit hours needed to sit for the CPA, Shelby says the MSA provided her with important and relevant courses crucial to her future career.
“That head start on the graduate degree during my undergrad means that the classes I’m taking now provide a deeper understanding of accounting that will be useful when I get to that manager level in my career. I’ll have a better understanding about the field,” she says. “There are new tax laws created every year, and this program prepares us to digest and comprehend future tax code like we’ve been trained to do in class.”
Shelby says the degree also helps her stand out among the many entry-level applicants.
“There’s been this trend toward people earning the 150 hours during undergrad, so having the MSA provides me with an educational background that not many of my peers have,” she says.
The additional time spent earning her MSA degree afforded Shelby the opportunity to work as a teaching assistant for introductory and intermediate courses. Her work ranges from helping accounting students succeed in high-level courses to assisting students from other majors pass their required accounting courses.
“It is so rewarding to work with students regularly over the course of a semester and see them grasp a concept they’ve been working on for weeks,” says Shelby. “A lot of students come to my tutoring hours after their assignments were due in order to understand why they got something wrong. I find it so interesting when they want to understand a concept fully instead of just trying to get a good grade on an assignment.”
Shelby is the 2020-2021 Public Company Accounting Oversight Board (PCAOB) Scholar at IUPUI. This is program that recognizes outstanding students pursuing a career in accounting and auditing. When she graduates with her MSA in 2021, Shelby will begin a staff tax position at BKD. She interned at the firm in 2020 doing tax returns and experienced the company culture before BKD extended an offer. Shelby felt confident accepting the position because the MSA +1 program had afforded her enough time to take two internships in accounting.
“Being in the MSA Program gave me more opportunities to try a couple different internships in audit and tax,” she says. “Instead of completing just one internship and going to work for that company full time, the MSA +1 gave me more time to try different things and truly identify what I wanted to do in the field of accounting.”
Shelby says a highlight of the Kelley MSA Program is learning from faculty who are active in the professional world and able to put theory into practice.
“Many professors at Kelley had their own practice or are working outside of academia in fields that directly relate to the professional world. Some of the greatest takeaways from this program are the connections I’ve made with my professors and seeing what we learn in accounting be used outside of the classroom,” she says. “In some programs, you may never apply some theories that you learn, but Kelley sets us up to really thrive in the professional world.”
In some programs, you may never apply some theories that you learn, but Kelley sets us up to really thrive in the professional world.”
Shelby is gaining deeper exposure to those underlying theories and practices examined by Kelley faculty through her work as a research assistant. Prior to this role, Shelby says she hadn’t realized the accounting profession generated academic research like other fields. While she remains on her intended career path to study accounting, pass the CPA exam and work in public accounting, she says her time as a research assistant opened her eyes to the wider accounting profession.
“I didn’t realize so many of the professors I worked with over the years spent time researching and publishing papers,” she says. “I still don’t fully understand the analysis that happens after my work collecting the research data, but it is interesting to see my financial statement coursework being applied outside of the classroom.”
As she finishes her last couple semesters in the program, Shelby says the MSA +1 has provided her with training and education that truly matter – both to her career trajectory and her success on the CPA exam. These are goals shared by her professors, who shape the curriculum to help graduates pass the exam and stand out among their peers.
“As I was taking the practice CPA exam, I saw questions that informed which classes I should take the next semester to ensure that I’m prepared for that section,” she says.
As she wraps up her fifth and final year at the Kelley School, Shelby is grateful that she was able to pursue the degree she wanted from the start, at a school that provided a unique degree opportunity. The extra year also allowed her to use her fifth year of eligibility to continue running for the IUPUI women’s cross country and track team while living, studying and working in a thriving downtown community.
“I have loved being downtown for these past 4.5 years. One of my internship opportunities was with a company in downtown Indianapolis, and because I was already living downtown to attend Kelley, I was able to bike to work,” she says.
“This whole experience in the MSA is beneficial to any accounting major — to gain that deep knowledge base for the CPA exam and for the rest of your career.”