At the beginning of my career, I studied studio engineering and worked as a music producer while also waitressing to pay the bills. When I realized I wanted a steady paycheck more than I wanted to work in music, I looked into teaching. I pursued a master’s program specifically geared towards helping those from non-teaching backgrounds become educators in urban, high-need, Title I schools in Atlanta. After eight years as a teacher, I decided to leave the profession for many reasons ranging from low pay to ideological differences, as well as the lack of opportunities for advancement. After a short stint in a sales job, which I was terrible at, I went back to waitressing and bartending. I needed time to figure out my next career move, but I also needed a steady income to pay the bills!
I had just started two new service jobs when the COVID-19 pandemic hit. The week before, I had spoken with a friend about not knowing what my next career move should be. I told her I really enjoyed teaching math, and so she suggested I look into accounting.
Finding where I was meant to be
When I was laid off due to the pandemic, I had a lot of time on my hands to figure things out. My dad had worked in finance, and he put me in touch with two contacts he knew working in accounting. I liked what I heard, so I looked for a way to get the credentials I needed amid the pandemic lockdown. I sent three inquiries to regional universities, and Portland State University (PSU) was the only one to respond. Everyone I corresponded with from that first email to when I formally enrolled was welcoming and helpful. I took that as a sign that PSU was where I was meant to be.
I was steered towards the post-bacc accounting program given my two other degrees. I wanted to jump into courses right away, but I had to wait until Summer Term. I also needed to get back to work, so I decided to squish the post-bacc program, including prerequisite classes, into just four terms. My advisor was extremely helpful as I was trying to put together a schedule of classes.
During the fall recruiting season, I didn’t receive any offers. In the pandemic job market, I knew I was competing against candidates who had more industry work and internship experience on their resumes. To be competitive, I considered two of the PSU graduate business degrees. My favorite classes were data analytics and taxation. I was surprised by how much I loved taxation. So, after encouragement from faculty members Cass Hausserman and John Eckroth, I decided to join the Master of Taxation (MT) program.
The Master of Taxation
Overall, my experience in the program has been overwhelmingly positive. I’ve never felt so welcomed, appreciated and seen as I have by the professors, staff and fellow students.
Program faculty and curriculum
The faculty really want you to succeed, so they’re helpful and generous with their time. I believe the MT can give me a leg up with exposure to various topics and avenues in the field. I appreciate that there are electives because it allows me to tailor my learning towards my career goals. So far, I especially enjoy the classes in property tax and international tax.
Bill Ramirez, the instructor for international tax, told me that his goal is to give us the foundational knowledge we need to have an informed discussion with industry experts. I think that’s the perfect framing for the education I’m getting in the MT program — wherever I end up in my career, I’ll learn the relevant rules and details on the job, and building the foundational understanding on which to develop future knowledge is critical.
Program format and professional development
I like the online format because I can set my schedule for learning. The MT is also designed around the tax cycle to accommodate an internship, and the program has a 100% placement rate. I have an offer at Moss Adams for an internship starting in January 2022 that I’m really looking forward to!
In addition to keeping up with the MT curriculum and prepping for my internship, I’m a teaching assistant for a couple professors in The School of Business, and I’m working as tech support for the new global classrooms in The Karl Miller Center.
I’m also studying for the audit CPA exam with test prep materials available through a partnership between PSU and Becker, offering students five free months of study materials for two sections of the exam. Current students who want to know more about accessing the Becker study materials can contact Joleen Kremin.
It’s a busy time, but after more than a year and a half of staying home, I appreciate it.
Validation, recognition and a scholarship
I was floored when I received an email saying an MT faculty member had nominated me for the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board Scholars Program. It’s a huge scholarship and a selective program, and I couldn’t believe it when I got picked. I already have sizable student loans from my teaching degree, and while I was looking forward to the MT program, I wasn’t looking forward to the debt I’d rack up to complete it. But, I knew if anything is worth investing in, it’s my education. Receiving the scholarship relieved me of a quarter of the loans I was about to take on, and covered a third of the cost of the program itself. I also received a scholarship from the Tax Executive Institute. It was one of only two they give out each year, so I was quite honored and grateful they chose me as well!
Being selected for both scholarships was also a validation of the career choices I made, and that kind of compliment and praise is priceless. Moving forward, my short-term career goals are to accept a job offer, pass the CPA exams by December 2022 and get my CPA License. After that, we’ll see! I have interests in technology, international tax and estates and trust planning. I feel consulting would be a great fit for those interests.
Kelsey Halls is a graduate student in the Master of Taxation program. She also has a BS in studio engineering and an M.Ed. in early childhood education. She wants to work in public accounting and to obtain her CPA license. She is looking forward to graduating in June 2022 and starting her journey as an accountant.