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.”