Michael Kelly

Class of 2018

Hometown: Harvard, IL
Undergraduate University: Lake Forest College
Class Year: 2017
Major/Minor: Finance with Concentrations in Mathematics and Accounting
Employer: BDO USA, LLP
Position: Audit Manager

What prompted you to return to school and earn a MAcc?

Like many undergraduate students, I struggle a bit when deciding what I wanted to do for a career. I changed my major several times and dropped numerous classes throughout the arduous process. For a long time, I thought pursuing a Ph.D. in math would be my journey and I would use it to teach. However, as I advanced, I quickly realized I didn't have a passion for math. Proofs did not get me out of bed in the morning. It wasn't until my junior year of undergrad that I took my first accounting class. I loved it. The discipline felt practical, and I was learning a skill that could be vastly applied. Math proofs provided valuable skills, but accounting gave me a clear path forward. One day a William & Mary MAcc professor came to my undergrad class to talk about the one-year program and its benefits for people like me. The program would prepare us for the CPA exam and a successful career in public accounting with just a few more credits.

Why did you choose the William & Mary MAcc program?

I chose the William & Mary MAcc program because of its stellar reputation. I talked to several family and friends in the early days of exploring graduate programs. To my surprise, William & Mary has a highly notable reputation even in Illinois. This, alongside the rigorous curriculum and consistently high rankings, influenced me to pursue this opportunity. The 100% job placement rate was also a persuasive seller as I could only justify going to grad school if it led to a solid job. With William & Mary's reputation and phenomenal career advising resources, I felt confident that my enrollment in the program would be justified and pay off. For the first time, I felt assured I had a solid plan for my life.

What were some highlights for you during the MAcc experience?

I had several highlights from my experience during the MAcc program, so it won't be easy to pick just a couple. However, the most memorable was when I landed my first job offer! It was the fall semester, and recruiting was particularly stressful in conjunction with being a full-time student. I still remember the day I received the call and my job offer. It fundamentally changed my life for the better. I would also highlight the exceptional relationships formed during the program. I met four of my closest friends that are still by my side today thanks to the MAcc program. At orientation, the business school dean made a special point to tell us that we would forge lifetime friends in this program, and he was correct. I consider these friends family; these relationships have given me such strong roots in Virginia, and I am grateful and better for making this life-changing decision.

How have you applied what you learned in the program to your work?

The MAcc program has a robust curriculum that prepares you with a solid foundation in accounting and business theory. I use all the accounting principles, but the program also did a great job simulating public accounting. It prepared me to digest a large volume of information, grapple with new dynamic data, prioritize and refine my time management, self-examine, effectively communicate, and handle pressure at a higher level. The rigor and expectations I encountered at William & Mary prepared me well for public accounting. I had struggled on occasion in the program, but that molded me into a professional that could handle almost anything. I am seldom overwhelmed in my work because of the confidence I acquired in the program, which taught me to undertake challenging issues, problem-solve on the spot, and meet client expectations. When I am on an engagement, I fully immerse myself in the work and know my client's business. I strive to achieve perfection—something the MAcc program instilled in me and has since carried over to my career. I take pride in my work and always hold myself to a higher standard. I'll even be so bold as to admit that the MAcc program was the most challenging experience in my life to date, but it is also what has empowered me to take on difficult and complex issues. The program does an excellent job teaching accounting, but what puts the MAcc program over the top are the skills you learn that extend well beyond the classroom.

What value had the MAcc degree had on your professional growth?

The MAcc degree's value on my professional growth is, quite simply, immeasurable. For one, I am first generation, so not only was pursuing a bachelor's degree unknown to me but obtaining the first master's in my family was tremendously special. It has allowed me to practice accounting. I look back on who I was before graduate school, and I feel like I was a completely different person. To obtain my MAcc degree, I moved to Virginia, where I knew no one, all the while taking on a very rigorous program. I felt like I was on my own for the first time and knew failure was not an option. There were moments during the program I wanted to quit and give up. Things in my personal life distracted me and made the experience so much harder. Ultimately I persisted, and this adversity fundamentally changed me as a person. Forming this tolerance for adversity shaped me into the professional I am today. The program taught me that life happens, but you still have to perform. A professor in the program taught me this very lesson, and I think it was the most valuable lesson I learned in the program. That lesson alone was worth the entire tuition. You cannot give up or quit when the going gets tough. People rely on you, and your reputation is staked on your performance. If I did not learn this lesson at William & Mary, I would not be the professional I am today. I don't think I would have passed my CPA, much less embarked upon a career I enjoy so very much. For that reason, the MAcc program degree has significant value to me. It set the tone for my professional career.



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