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In Pursuit of a CPA

One Monday in March, Johnny McLean, an online student in the Jenkins Master of Accounting (MAC) Program, had both a test and a case study due for different classes. But beforehand, he received an unexpected email from one of the professors, extending the case study deadline.

“The professors communicate with each other, so big assignments aren’t landing on the same day. It makes it manageable,” McLean says. “It’s kind of scary to commit to a master’s degree, and having professors who are in your corner makes me feel a lot more secure.”

Working full time as an auditor with the North Carolina Department of Revenue while he’s a part-time student, that flexibility was a key reason McLean chose the Jenkins MAC. 

As an accounting graduate of a small liberal arts college in rural Virginia, he also wanted the resources, networking opportunities and prestige of the much larger NC State.

When he finished his bachelor’s program, “Most of the professional connections I had made were in southwest Virginia. I wanted to move back to North Carolina and progress here as opposed to there,” says McLean, who grew up in Charlotte, where he lives now.

Looking at the Jenkins MAC Program’s website as he researched master’s programs, he liked the focus on alumni connections — among each other and to the program. On the website, job openings are posted for alumni along with information on how to stay connected. “It shows how the professional connections work…and how there’s continual support. I’m not afraid I’m going to graduate and be forgotten,” he says, “even though I’m not on campus but remote.” 

Unlike some Jenkins MAC students, McLean waited two years after he earned his bachelor’s degree to start graduate school. That let him gain experience, first as an associate accountant at Thermo Fisher Scientific in Durham and now in his current position. 

“I wasn’t sure I would like accounting. I didn’t want to jump into something and get stuck. I wanted to see what the industry was like before I made a commitment,” McLean says. 

He also needed more credit hours to be eligible to take the CPA exam. “Graduate school was the logical way to go about preparing for the exam,” he says. 

After McLean earns the CPA credential, he wants to pursue the field of finance with the goal of becoming a company CFO eventually. First, though, is earning his MAC. He expects to finish the program in December. 

Taking three classes while he works full time makes for a busy schedule, but McLean sees reciprocal benefits from his work and MAC courses. “I share my work experiences with my classmates on message boards,” he says. “And what I learn in class I’m able to apply in my work.” 

One example is McLean’s auditing class. “A lot of the professional standards, guidance and procedures we’re given are directly applicable for me right now. There are a lot of professional tips that will allow me to take my career to the next step,” he says.   

In his finance class, he learned about mergers and acquisitions, which will give him needed context in any future job interviews. “It’s helpful to know how decisions are made by company leaders,” McLean says. “I’m very excited to learn about that.”

In the MAC program, he has strengthened such necessary workplace skills as teamwork, giving presentations, writing effective emails and, maybe most important, time management.

The flexible online format itself both requires and enables McLean to manage his time efficiently. “Having the freedom to work at my own pace allows me to make time for everything in the way that I need to” by balancing work and school demands, he notes.  

Much of his coursework is done in groups, which provides regular interaction with classmates, some of whom meet informally online outside of classes and develop friendships. 

“Even though we’re remote, I don’t feel apart from anyone at all,” McLean says. “I feel very connected to NC State.”  

One of the most valuable aspects of the MAC program for McLean has been that it’s preparing him for pandemic-driven workplace trends.   

“Learning and working in a group remotely is going to be the future,” says Mclean, who has classmates in New York, Raleigh and other cities. “Despite the distance, we’re still able to collaborate and put together a product that professors give us feedback on. That will translate into the real world tremendously well, given the new work environment.”

This post was originally published in Poole College of Management News.