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Five Things the MPA Program Taught Me

Hi All,

I’m coming up on six months as a full-time audit associate at one of the Big Four firms in Boston.

Taking a moment to reflect, I’ve identified five things (among many) I learned as a traditional MPA student last year that prepared me to succeed in my current role.

1 – Debits and Credits: Whenever I’m doing audit work and come across something strange or complicated, it always helps to bring it back to basics. What’s being debited? What’s being credited? Does that make sense? How does that affect the income statement? The balance sheet? Is it material? What are the assumptions? These questions help me wrap my head around my work every day.

2 – Cycles and Assertions: It turns out that auditing really is done by focusing on cycles and assertions. You do controls testing (“404” or “SOX” testing) over the Inventory cycle separate from the Purchasing and Payables cycle. When you test Cash, you identify what assertions you are testing, such as accuracy, rights and obligations, etc. Not the most interesting stuff I’ve ever studied, but definitely useful, and certainly foundational.

3 – Teamwork: I’m always working on teams these days. Always. Team projects and research papers were great practice for this aspect of the job.

4 – Technical Accounting: It turns out that new associates, and even experienced associates, aren’t expected to know a lot about specific, technical accounting rules. Rather, we focus on fairly straightforward accounting during the first few years. But the MPA program taught a good amount of technical accounting rules and research skills, so I feel well prepared for my current role and also to step up to the plate when it is my responsibility to make some of the more technical calls.

5 – Career Planning: One of the most useful resources provided to MPA students, IMHO, is the Career Center. The counselors, seminars and advice were invaluable to me when planning my career path and interviewing with the Big Four and other firms. The advice to “manage your career” remains excellent advice even now that I’ve joined a Big Four firm. Some things are clearly planned and set out for me. But much of what I do to further my development, my education, my network, and my career in general, is largely up to me.

It makes a guy grateful to have attended such a great program. Let me know if you have any questions or comments. Feel free to e-mail me at mpablogger[at]gmail[dot]com.

Three Months In

I’ve been an associate auditor at a Big 4 firm for three months now, and am currently assigned to my third client, a nonprofit. My first two assignments involved public company interim testing, and this one is a 9/30/09 year-end audit.

Considering there will be a lot of year-end testing to do during busy season in January, February and March, I’m glad to be learning now how to do year-end audit work in what I think is probably a less stressful environment than the busy season will be. It’ll be nice to know to some extent what I’m doing when busy season starts.

There’s a lot to learn. I mean, from one perspective, most audit work sounds fairly simple. For Cash, you confirm account balances with the bank, tie and agree the comparative summary to the general ledger (or trial balance), examine the reconciliation, and look into any significant reconciling items such as deposits in transit or outstanding checks that haven’t yet hit the bank account. Sounds fairly simple. And it can be, especially if the client is organized and provides you with coherent, easy-to-follow reports and documentation.

But in large companies, there’s a lot going on and things can get more complicated, or at least seem so, by just the sheer volume of transactions and supporting documentation.

For example, let’s say you’re working on PP&E. You want to look at any fixed assets that were purchased or built during the year and added to the PP&E balance. So you get a detailed listing of fixed asset additions, make selections, and request supporting invoices, checks, requisition forms, etc. You want to see what the supporting documentation tells you about the additions. Were they approved? Were they added at the proper amounts and in the right period? These seem like fairly simple questions. Continue reading Three Months In

Finals, Graduation, More Exams

[Monday, May 18th, Late evening]

I just completed my last final of the semester. Actually, I finished two final exams within the last seven hours and I feel just about as stiff and sore from being hunched over my notes and exams as if I had been, well, hunched over all. day. long.

As I finished my tax exam and walked out of the building, I first began to beat myself up about each of the problems that I knew I missed. Then . . .

[Wednesday, May 27th, Again late evening]

After I composed the sentences above, Janssen, my wife, called to let me know she had arrived on campus to pick me up. Nine days later I’m back online to finish this post.

In the end, I was happy with how finals went last week and I’m grateful to my professors for teaching me so much this semester. I feel like I learned a huge amount of information in the last four months, and I’m really starting to feel like an accountant of sorts. I bet I’ll feel even more that way after I’ve started working in three months.


This past weekend was graduation for both the MPA program and Janssen’s MSIS program. My parents, Janssen’s parents and younger brother, and even Janssen’s grandparents came to visit and celebrate our graduation, and good times were had by all (even by Janssen’s younger brother, who fortunately had several books to keep him entertained during the graduation ceremonies).

Here we are with Steve Limberg, the Faculty Director of the MPA Program (and one of the coolest, most interesting guys I know):

MPA Ceremony:

Two graduates (Actually, I still have 9 credits to complete over the summer. But the MPA program doesn’t have a ceremony in August, and this worked out better for us anyway so we could walk together and have family visit just once):

CPA Exam

I took my first section of the CPA Exam today. I chose to take the Financial section first because it is rumored to be one of the most difficult sections and I wanted to both get it out of the way and take it while the information I’ve been learning in classes like Intermediate and Advanced Accounting is still relatively fresh in my mind.

I felt like it went pretty smoothly, and I’m extremely hopeful that I pass. Apparently I won’t be receiving my score for a month or so, so I’ll just move forward in preparing for the next section – Regulation – which I have scheduled for July 1.

The first half of summer semester begins next week. In the meantime, I’m going to enjoy a few days of stress-free studying intermixed with running, errands, and movie-watching.