Essay by Rachel Knapp

Rachel Knapp of Tustin, CA, won the $600 Grosswirth-Salny Regional Scholarship

My Future as a CPA

I did not set out to pursue a career in accounting. As a teenager, my passion was for science. I took every AP class, and went on to receive a BA in Physics from Columbia University, intending a career in academia. I was very successful in my undergraduate academic pursuits, but ultimately decided not to continue graduate study. I realized that what I had loved about physics was problem-solving, and the world is full of problems to solve.

As I entered the job market and did some light bookkeeping, I found both that I was quite good at it, and that I truly enjoyed doing it. Before I knew much about the field, I had assumed that accounting was an entirely routine profession, without opportunities for personal growth or creativity–indeed, “creative accounting” is a euphemism for fraud! But the reality was very different. As I progressed in my career at my first employer (a nonprofit), I constantly challenged myself to automate more, to close the books faster, to increase accuracy by creating more checkpoints. I began to look forward to and relish our annual audit, to have a chance to demonstrate the accuracy of our books.

As I progressed in my career and gained expertise in nonprofit accounting, I took no formal courses, but rather taught myself. For example, I noticed that when I would ask our CPA firm how to handle a new situation, they would generally send me excerpts from the AICPA Audit Guide. I bought myself a copy, and thereafter I could answer my own questions, as well as others I hadn’t known enough to ask. The same on the tax front: I would ask our CPAs lots of questions, and if I was not satisfied with the answer, I would delve deep into the IRS guidance. As the years went on, I found the situation had reversed, and more than once I showed our auditors where to find the guidance I was relying on, or our tax preparers why certain schedules needed to be filled out differently.

As I’ve moved on to the next phase of my career, this time with an educational start-up company with ambitious expansion goals, I have come to realize that in order to help my company succeed, I will need to quickly expand my expertise into new areas. For example, I am now dealing with issues in tax and capital structures that simply don’t arise for a nonprofit, as well as international accounting rules I haven’t had to consider before. I decided the time is right for me to return to formal education, followed by CPA licensure. This will let me acquire the tools I need to become a thought leader at my company, as we continue to grow.

After thorough research into available programs that would allow me to study while continuing to work full time, I recently applied to and accepted admission into the iMSA program at the University of Illinois. I believe their curriculum and faculty are world class, and I can’t wait to get started!



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