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Hillsdale College accounting majors work hard to succeed after grad­u­ation / Pexels

Just 19 Hillsdale College stu­dents are tackling the accounting major. The task is not for the faint of heart.

Demanding extra credit hours and a big exam, an accounting career takes a lot of work — but it’s  not all in vain.  Pro­fessor of Accounting Michael Sweeney con­tends that Hillsdale’s liberal arts edu­cation equips accounting grad­uates for success in the cor­porate world more than the average college accounting program.

“To just be able to crunch numbers, you’ll make a good employee, but you won’t move up the ladder,” Sweeney said, bringing up examples of Hillsdale accounting grad­uates who are suc­cessful in their fields.

To earn an accounting degree, stu­dents pursue a rig­orous course load of 55 credit hours, including seven classes of advanced accounting in addition to the core eco­nomics and business admin­is­tration classes.  

Stu­dents looking forward to their accounting licenses must also pass a four-part, 16-hour exam required by the Asso­ci­ation of Inter­na­tional Cer­tified Public Accoun­tants, or AICPA. The AICPA requires stu­dents to have at least 120 credits — in Michigan, 21 of them must be in accounting — before taking the CPA exam.  

Because Hillsdale stu­dents must have 124 credit hours to receive a diploma, accounting majors are well ahead of the 120 credit standard set by the AICPA.  But even though Hillsdale grad­uates  would qualify to take the CPA exam, they would be mul­tiple hours short of the minimum credit hour requirement to obtain a CPA license.

“It varies from state to state,” said Sweeney. “In Michigan, you need 150 hours for your license; you only need 120 hours to sit for the exam. But that is actually a moot point because most employers want you to have 150 hours by the time you start.”

Earning 150 credit hours at Hillsdale College is no small feat. The average Hillsdale student takes 15 to 17 credit hours per semester, earning about 120 – 136 total credits by grad­u­ation.

Accounting majors would have to take between 14 and 30 extra hours to qualify for licensing. While pro­fessors and stu­dents agree that it’s dif­ficult, obtaining those 150 credits isn’t impos­sible, and there’s more than one way to get it done.  

“Some of them go on to Masters’ degrees, some of them com­plete it here, some of them take a fifth year,” Sweeney said. “It’s popular with red shirt ath­letes that are accounting majors to com­plete the 150 hours while they’re here.”

Junior Huong Luong plans to com­plete all 150 credits while at Hillsdale.

“It is very chal­lenging, and I will say that time man­agement is key to being an accounting major specif­i­cally,” Luong said. “You always have to be on top of your game, you always have to stay orga­nized. To get the 150 credits, you can take more business classes. You can even take more classics classes just to make the best of it at a school like Hillsdale. I’ve seen a lot of upper­classmen take online classes, so that’s some­thing I’ll be looking into as well.”

Adding extra liberal arts classes to an accounting tran­script may seem coun­ter­in­tu­itive. Accounting Club Pres­ident senior Adam Stathakis, however, said a liberal arts edu­cation is fun­da­mental to being a good accountant.

“Your decision-making abil­ities are influ­enced by the things you’ve studied, the expe­ri­ences you’ve had, the con­ver­sa­tions you’ve had, and a liberal arts edu­cation just improves that decision-making capa­bility,” Stathakis said. “It’s very applicable to accounting, because it’s not just adding and sub­tracting — there’s a wide variety of judgement involved.”

Sweeney illus­trated Stathakis’ point with the story of a graduate from the early 2000s, who now works for the Division of Enforcement at the U.S. Secu­rities and Exchange Com­mission.  

“I can remember her telling me, when she was working for a big public accounting firm, that after she had moved up the ladder a bit to where she was reviewing other people’s work that she was very frus­trated with trying to get people to write well,” Sweeney said.

A group of alumni proved Sweeney’s point even further.

“A few years ago, we had some alum, two or three years out come, and talk to our accounting stu­dents,” Sweeney said. “One of them said, ‘You are part of a rare group of accoun­tants that can actually write and speak well.’ It is good to have those skills.”