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Three Online MAC Students Take an Unexpected Path

Despite their initial reluctance to pursue public accounting, recent MAC alums Jenny McClamroch, Catherine Buchanan and Sam Aljure have now accepted offers with public accounting firms – and all agree, they couldn’t be happier.

By Samantha Beavers

When Jenny McClamroch first started the Jenkins Online MAC program, she had already made up her mind – public accounting wasn’t for her. As a career changer from elementary education who had spent 11 years at home with her children, she didn’t know if she had what it takes to be a CPA. She’d heard a lot about public accounting, and she feared that it wasn’t the right fit for her family or career path.

“Going back to work is a huge shift for my family, and having been warned about public accounting’s busy season, I was horrified that I wouldn’t be able to juggle it all,” McClamroch says. 

She wasn’t alone. Sam Aljure and Catherine Buchanan, two other Jenkins Online MAC students, had similar thoughts.

“With my experience in governmental and not-for-profit accounting, I wanted to get my master’s of accounting to progress in the industry – because I found that I couldn’t make it to the top roles I wanted based on sheer work experience. But I really didn’t want to pursue public accounting,” Aljure says. “When I thought about public accounting, I thought about 80-hour work weeks and the chaotic busy season. I’m not in my twenties anymore and I have a family, so I don’t have that kind of time – and so I guess I assumed that ship had sailed and I was just too old for it.”

I wasn’t fresh out of undergrad anymore, so I felt that the public accounting route would mean backtracking my career and losing the progress I’d already made.

Buchanan was in a similar boat. Starting the Jenkins MAC program while working as a financial services manager for a credit union, she determined that the business and industry track was a better fit for her career path. “I wasn’t fresh out of undergrad anymore, so I felt that the public accounting route would mean backtracking my career and losing the progress I’d already made. I knew how many hours I’d have to put in for public accounting, so I didn’t want to have to start all over again, start at the bottom and work my way back up to a manager role,” she explains.

Changing course

Despite their initial hesitation about public accounting, all three students have now accepted offers with public accounting firms – McClamroch with BDO Raleigh, Aljure with Johnson Lambert and Buchanan with Grant Thornton – and all agree, they couldn’t be happier. 

The difference? Keeping an open mind and learning from faculty and career services staff, they say.

“Many of the people working with Jenkins MAC are former accountants – and this doesn’t just apply to the professors. Career services staff have a lot of experience in the profession and in various capacities. This was incredibly helpful to me and helped open my eyes to the different paths available with my accounting degree,” McClamroch says. 

Buchanan agrees. The ability to bounce ideas off of Scott Showalter, Jenkins MAC program director, and Bonnie Hancock, professor of practice and executive director of the Enterprise Risk Management Initiative, helped her think more strategically about her professional growth.

“Bonnie actually ended up being my mentor – so she took me out to lunch and helped me learn from her different experiences. She has experience on the industry side and background as a CPA, so she gave me a lot of perspective on these different routes I could take. I saw that public accounting would put me on a unique growth track, give me exposure to everything and make me well-rounded,” Buchanan says. 

According to Aljure, this is why forming relationships within the MAC program is so important.

Kelly Hardy and Jessica Moran have been so helpful and so supportive in my journey, and they each have their own stories and experiences to learn from,” Aljure explains. “So, I think nurturing relationships with career services staff and faculty is step one – because otherwise, you’re not going to feel comfortable enough to go to them and say, ‘Hey, can you help me think through this?’”

Shifting perspectives

In addition to sharing their experiences, Jenkins MAC faculty and staff also encouraged the students to keep an open mind and attend Meet the Firms, the program’s annual career event for public accounting.

For Aljure, however, this took several nudges. “When Kelly Hardy first asked me to attend Meet the Firms, I declined. I was happy with my job and adamant that I wasn’t going to go into public accounting. But the following semester, I was taking an audit course with Scott [Showalter] and he kept saying that I really needed to, at the very least, attend the spring event and understand what I was saying no to,” Aljure explains.

The more I learned, the less I could argue with myself that public accounting was a bad fit for my career path or my season of life.

“The rest is history – and I really have them to thank for my position with Johnson Lambert. The more I learned, the less I could argue with myself that public accounting was a bad fit for my career path or my season of life,” she continues.

Similarly, McClamroch learned that having a family and working in public accounting don’t have to be mutually exclusive.

“I was very intentional in my conversations at Meet the Firms and throughout the entire recruiting process, and I broke all the interview ‘rules.’ I shared that I was a mom that had been at home, that going back to work was a shift for my family and that I was concerned about the busy season hours. They appreciated my honesty and openness, and they gave me the same in response,” McClamroch explains. “Hearing from partners and associates about their own experiences, I realized that maybe this was doable as a working parent after all.”

Seizing opportunity

Meet the Firms was a pivotal moment for Buchanan as well. Like the others, she discovered that her fears about going into public accounting – namely, that she’d be backtracking her career – were unfounded.

“I decided to attend and talk to firms and explain that I was interested in a full-time position. Internships didn’t even cross my mind because I didn’t want to lose benefits or take a pay cut, but Grant Thornton reached out after I applied to a full-time position and said, ‘Have you thought about an internship?’ and explained that they offered benefits. When I got the offer letter, I realized it paid more per hour than my full-time job, so I decided to go for it,” Buchanan says.

It’s easy to let the stereotypes about public accounting scare you – but don’t.

“Grant Thornton also has this unique program where if you work two internships, you’ll enter as a second-year associate – which means I won’t have to start at the bottom like I thought I would. I’ll complete my second internship this semester and start a full-time position with second-year associate pay in September,” she continues.

According to Buchanan, her story is another example of why having an open mind is so important. 

“It’s easy to let the stereotypes about public accounting scare you – but don’t. Ask questions and have conversations with people in the field. Listen to their stories about how they got where they are now. That will give you a more holistic perspective,” she says.

Maximizing career growth

Looking back on their experiences in the Jenkins Online MAC program, McClamroch, Aljure and Buchanan are grateful for the relationships they’ve formed and opportunities they’ve gained along the way – and for how they have unraveled their misconceptions about public accounting.

“I now realize how much there is to gain in public accounting. Seeing hundreds of financial statements and general ledgers and how different industries and companies operate – that’s where the value really comes in. You gain a tremendous amount of knowledge that you wouldn’t acquire in industry as quickly,” Aljure explains. 

“I also think it’s important to remember that if you go into it and you don’t like it, that’s okay. It’s not for everybody. However, that experience is still valuable. And, if going into industry is what you want to do, public accounting allows you to learn best practices that you can take back with you. So for anyone seeking career advancement, it’s worth at least giving it a shot,” she continues.

As for joining the MAC program, the three say that’s worth giving a shot, too.

Aljure, who went through the program pregnant, assures prospective students that anyone can do it. And McClamroch, who was intimidated about starting her graduate studies after spending 11 years as a stay-at-home-mom, was pleased to learn she wasn’t the only “nontraditional” student in the program.

“I made some great friends, but I also learned so much and gained an incredible amount of confidence in myself that I had lost over the years at home,” she says. “I’m still nervous about what the future looks like for my family when I go back to work next summer, but I know I have an amazing support system to lean on as I move forward in my career.”