…but don’t have an undergraduate degree in accounting…or a business discipline at all.
While I’ll admit that this isn’t the norm for our program, there are a number of tMPA students with a nontraditional background, myself included. The other variations of this program, iMPA and ECON-MPA, are designed for people with a business background, and the majority of tMPA students have similar degrees.
For us oddballs that want to be accountants but didn’t figure it out as an undergrad, there are not many options when it comes to a master’s program. Many programs are only designed for that university’s undergraduate accounting students or accounting graduates from another university (though none of them explicitly say this on their website.) I had a handful of options at best, and luckily the MPA program here is flexible enough to accommodate people with an unconventional background.
I narrowed my options down to four schools or so and started the basics of all their applications. The only one I went forward with in the end was my UT application. (Our Fall 2016 application is live! For helpful tips check out the MPA Admissions Blog.) That’s right-I only applied to one program. I was relying on my hard work at NYU, my improved GMAT score (I took it twice), and my unique skill set. I realize that this was a semi-risky move, but UT was the only place I really wanted to go. If I was going to uproot my life in California to move cross-country for the second time in two years, I wanted to be taught by the best, challenged by the best, and recruited by the best.
And so far, it has paid off. I’m very happy to have joined the MPA family (because you will see your classmates more than whoever or whatever is waiting for you at home) and can’t wait to see where this adventure will lead.
Over twelve months have passed since I decided to apply to the MPA program, and I’m finally here! I wanted to take a quick moment to discuss my admissions journey.
While looking for programs that would best set me up for future job advancements, I investigated a variety of different options, including MBA and JD programs. Ultimately, I found myself deciding between an MBA and an MPA degree. My personal thoughts were that an MBA would develop soft skills while a Master’s in Professional Accounting would concentrate more on hard skills. Clearly, I chose to hone my technical skills, but I wholeheartedly believe it is in an environment where soft skills are just as much a priority.
Like Olivia, I found the Live and Learn blog instrumental in understanding the program better. The Admissions blog is also very clear and very easy to understand, providing a lot of valuable information directly from the admissions team. In the end, both the Live and Learn blog and Admissions blog are excellent resources to leverage in order to gain first-hand knowledge of the program.
The most influential decision I made, though, was coming out to Austin and visiting campus during the fall. I met with the MPA program staff, toured the business school and campus, and fell even more in love with Austin, Texas. Not only did I find the program to truly be the best in the country, but I found Austin’s entrepreneurial spirit captivating and full of opportunity. (In case you haven’t heard, it’s not exactly a boring city either!)
At the end of the day, my decision came down to fit. Do I complement the personality of the program, and does the character of the program (and town) match up to my needs and wants? Through reading Live and Learn and visiting campus, I figured out what life was like at the MPA—difficult, fulfilling, and fun—and that it would be a good fit. After that, the Admissions blog gave me all the information I needed for completing a successful application. To my fellow classmates, congratulations on making it through each of your unique journeys, and to any prospective students, I encourage you to use the resources at your disposable to make the best decision for you!
If there was one requirement for admission to the MPA Program that I struggled with the most, it would be the statement of purpose. I can’t remember the actual number of days it took me to write it, but I do know that it felt like an eternity to fill two pages explaining my intentions for pursuing an MPA degree. The brevity and substance of the work posed a serious challenge, which not only required so much thought but also due time.
Looking back, I’m glad that it’s part of the admission requirements because it helped me really think about how an MPA would be helpful in my career and assess the main drivers of my decision to forego work and go back to school.
The statement of purpose asks basic and straightforward questions: Why an MPA? Why here and why now? It sounds simple yet daunting at the same time. I have found my answer to these questions to not only be helpful but also essential in guiding my decisions during recruiting and even within my own MPA experience.
From time to time, I read over my statement of purpose and reassess where I was to where I am today and whether the steps I have taken thus far are consistent with what I planned to do. In my response, I talked about my short term and long term goals and the overall trajectory I would like for my career to take. I discussed the values that I hold dear and that will never be up for compromise. I set lofty goals for myself and aimed high.
This exercise reminds me of time capsule activities I used to do back in college as part of retreats and workshops I attended. At first, I found them to be cheesy projects looking for a grand purpose to support. How naïve was I! Even though I haven’t been in the program for that long, I relish my statement of purpose because it reminds me of why I’m doing what I’m doing and the goals I have set for myself. So many things have happened from when I wrote it to the present time, which can make me forget about the big picture. In a way, it is like figuring out one’s true north.
Writing a statement of purpose is no easy task. It shouldn’t be. But I would assert that it is worth all the time and effort. Overall, I think the statement is designed to encourage us when we feel like we are at a loss and to remind us of our reasons and values in making such an important decision.
I never enjoy telling this story. I nearly used it as my commencement address several weeks ago, but I find it too embarrassing to say it aloud to that many people at once. It’s truly sad and out of the character that most people know me by today. It’s ironic that one of my greatest achievements is also one of my greatest failures and one of the few turning points in my life where my personality was changed permanently as a result.
People often ask me why I bring so much intensity when working on projects or on a team. They wonder why I feel it is necessary and not a burden to work on a valuation assignment until all hours of the night. It all stems from this experience.
It happened about a decade ago. When I was twelve, I muscled my way to the top three of the city bee. In the couple of weeks before the competition I realized the potential I had when I set my mind to actual studying. That June, I began studying again for the next bee in March. There would be no stopping me.
Sure enough, I busted my tail for months and qualified for the Scripps National Spelling Bee with the word photolysis. What followed was quite a spectacle. My name and face appeared on the front page of the newspaper, hundreds of people called my house to congratulate my parents and me (this was truly surreal—even the nurse who delivered me called my mom and dad), and I suddenly became a bit of a hero at school.
The fame was awesome. Overnight, people knew who I was, as if I had brought some legitimacy to nerd status. The cool kids definitely paid their respect. It was nice to walk up and down the hallways of Desert View Middle School with people saying hi and asking how I was doing. I relished this change, as I was now a true “spell-ebrity.”
In the meanwhile, I had three months and an expanded word list to learn. And I was ignoring it. Okay, I’ll say it: my preparation was atrocious, and I was about to pay.
In the experimental (at the time) written round, I missed the cut by a couple of words. I’ll never forget it either. The reporter from the El Paso Times interviewed me and asked me how I felt; I said, “Devastated.” My dad gave me a look, and he asked, “How can you feel ‘devastated’ when you didn’t even study?” I told him I’ll just come back next year.
I took a couple of weeks off and began to prepare for the next March. It would be my last year of eligibility, but I would be the first El Pasoan to compete in the national competition in consecutive years in quite a while. (El Paso actually has a pretty competitive bee, as it also incorporates southern New Mexico.) No big deal.
What happened next was nothing short of divine intervention.
That March I was in the position that I wanted to be in. I had cut out all the pretenders from the competition, and I was there, with experience, spelling words that were no longer in the Paideia, the distributed word list. In a position to win, I felt confident. Here I went; I stepped up to the podium to receive my word.
“Eiderdown.” Eiderdown? PERFECT! German origin, means the feathers in a pillow. And I proceeded to ask the usual questions…except in a cocky way to prove I knew the word. “German, right?” “Yes,” replied the pronouncer, Gary Warner.
Oh no! I didn’t say that! ….did I? I choked a bit. Surely I hadn’t just said that. The rules say I can’t take back letters, but I spell so slowly, there’s no way I actually said that.
“Let me start over.
Oh no! I did it again! It’s over. I couldn’t believe it. A mistake I never made because I spelled at the speed of dirt, I made twice, and now it was over. I spelled the word correctly on the third try, but it was too late. I exited the stage.
I finally knew what “devastated” felt like. I knew exactly how to spell that word, but 2003 was someone else’s turn. I had already had my shot and blown it.
That day, I learned that sometimes, you only have one opportunity to make your mark. When I was 13, I took my chance for granted. I swore that from then on, I would treat every opportunity as if it was the only one I would ever get, because I now knew that there were no guarantees at second chances.
Imagine: I missed a word that I knew how to spell. My trip to the national spelling bee was not only a feat but a failure. My preparation was poor, and I failed to reach my potential as a result. Don’t get me wrong—I’m not saying I would have won it all. But I could have at least advanced two more rounds with adequate preparation, and at that point, anything can happen.
And that is why I approach what I do in the manner that I do. I stay up at all hours of the night doing homework to make up for the hours that I neglected that new stack of words. I have one stint at UT, and there’s no going back in time.
I used to carry a binder with the saying “PREPARE like a Champion.” That’s because championships begin long before seasons start. They begin in the off-season, when there is no one else in the gym. Just you against yourself, shooting free throws and running laps.
I’ve always reminisced that life is a spelling bee: you compete against yourself. You get to see what you are made of. And that is why you see me in McCombs, two weeks after graduation, finishing up some work still. Because there is nothing like giving your whole heart to something, and incessantly pursuing it—whatever it is you do. When you have the opportunity to do something well or leave your mark, approach it with your whole heart and your whole being. I thought I would have a second chance, but it turned out that fate had other plans. Thus, do not ever take opportunity for granted because you may never have it again.
Although this is probably no new thing, I’ve just begun to notice how my generation treats creativity as a romanticized notion. In my organizational behavior and strategic IT management class, my fellow classmates are always praising the creativity fostered by companies like Apple, Google, and Southwest Airlines.
The interesting thing about this is the business world tends to actually deter creativity. According to psychologist and Wharton management professor Jennifer Mueller, research shows that even as people explicitly aspire to creativity and strongly endorse it as a fundamental driving force of positive change, they routinely reject creative ideas and show an implicit bias against them under conditions of uncertainty. Subjects in Mueller’s study also exhibited a failure to see or acknowledge creativity, even when directly presented with it.
If you think about it, this observation makes perfect sense. One of the reasons the accounting major is extremely popular is because of the job-stability it provides, the low-risk nature of the job, and the fact it can be very compliance based. In the accounting industry, there are very adverse perceptions towards risk and creativity.
Now accounting and creativity are two words no one wants to hear together. With so many widely-publicized scandals of “creative accounting” leading to multi-million dollar frauds, there is no wonder why this is the case. However, I have come to discover this year that accounting is a relatively creative organization, despite this negative association with “creative accounting”. The strict legal and ethical bounds of accounting contribute to making creativity in accounting more challenging and more rewarding.