Thursday, December 15, 2011

Accelerated Studies at Salem State University Bring Job Hopes in the Holidays

By Rachael Bailey
Gordon College News Service
November 21, 2011
(This story appeared in a GCNS package series December 15, 2011, in the print and online editions of the Boston Globe, North section.)

SALEM, Mass.—Many college seniors may consider the December holidays a month-long hiatus from studies. For December graduate Yasmeen Kouki, 25, of Reading, MA, however, the holidays are the end of school altogether and the beginning of a full-time job.

After completing her first financial accounting class at Salem State University (SSU), Kouki declared a concentration in the field at SSU’s Bertolon School of Business. Kouki, as one of 305 undergraduate students finishing in December, was able to transfer enough credits from the University of Connecticut in the spring of 2009 to earn her degree—just in time to be a semester ahead of May graduates applying for jobs.

When Kouki knew she would meet the 150-credit requirement she needed to take the Certified Public Accountant (CPA) exam, she distributed her résumé at a career fair in October hoping to score a job by January. Days later, Tonneson + CO of Boston called her for an interview and in less than a week, she was offered the position as a staff accountant. The Dean’s List graduate accepted and is slated to start in January.

An early finish can be a leg up for any graduate, but accounting students like Kouki, are at a special advantage because, according to SSU professor, Doug Larson, peak recruitment in the industry is from July to October. Kouki has been a student accounting lab tutor, peer mentor, and works part time at a C.P.A. firm in Lexington.

“In my field, most students have a job lined up,” said Larson. “But it’s like most things in life. If you work hard you do well.”

 For SSU December graduate, Ashley Trun, 21, of Beverly, Massachusetts, the search hasn’t come so easy, even with hard work.

“Right now I’m still in the process of looking for a job,” said Trun. An English major with a minor in philosophy, Trun plans to move to Riverview, Florida, with hopes of an internship or an entry-level position in writing or publishing.

Though she’s not secured a position yet, she nonetheless says that the extra time she’ll get after graduation has had some benefits. “By graduating early, you’re able to avoid the rush of graduates looking for jobs in May and avoiding another semester’s worth of tuition and fees,” she said.

William Cornwell, chair of SSU’s philosophy department, taught Trun in his propositional logic class and doesn’t doubt her ability to find work. “Even though Ashley has been carrying course overloads, she never missed class and always came prepared,” said Cornwell.  “Whatever she may choose to do in the future, she should meet with great success.”

Trun and Kouki both agree that extra classes and dedication to their work helped them graduate in the middle of the academic year. Kouki, however, doesn’t think graduating five months earlier is doable for every accounting student. “If you’re one who isn’t going to be able to concentrate so much and get it done right, then it’s not worth it,” she said.

Experts say that in a field that was failing at the height of the recession, there is now a high demand for number crunchers like Kouki.

“If you wait till the last minute other people may beat you to the punch,” said Mark Fogel, Chief Human Resources Officer at Marcum LLP, one of the largest independent public accounting and advisory services firms in the nation, and Marcum Group in Long Island. “The first person they see that they like, they’re going to give the job offer to.”

David Goodof, associate professor of business who has worked closely with Kouki since her first days at SSU, also sees the benefits for December accounting graduates. “It gives you more time for the application process and study time for (the) CPA exam,” said Goodof.  “I don’t see any real disadvantages.”

But early graduates at SSU have to plan ahead long before their senior year. “For students who work to take more than five classes a semester, it becomes very difficult,” said Goodof. “It means you have to take summer classes and it’s harder with the extra work load that comes in.”

With less concrete job prospects for English majors, Trun knew her transition to Florida would be easier if she finished early, but this also meant she had more on her plate. “I’ve been taking six classes every semester to make sure I could graduate in three-and-a-half years instead of four,” she said. 

Though fulfilling requirements are important for any new graduate, Fogel says that employers know there will be mistakes with new hires—which is why they look for more than expertise in entry-level workers.

“Skill set is a given,” said Fogel. “But then it’s about attitude and passion. And people pick up on that.”


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