New Beginnings: William & Mary MAcc Program Aids Professionals in Career Switch

A 2019 Indeed study found that of the employees surveyed, nearly half have made a dramatic career switch at some point in their professional lives. Career changers cite many other reasons aside from salary and benefits for prompting their decision including a desire for more growth and development, the need for greater flexibility or job security, feeling undervalued or unhappiness towards their previous industry, or feeling called to do something different.

For Amy Lyon, MAcc ’21, the latter is what prompted her to enroll in William & Mary’s Master of Accounting (MAcc) program nearly seven years after finishing her undergraduate studies in history at the University of California – Los Angeles (UCLA).

Lyon is originally from the Central Coast of California and relocated to Los Angeles for college with the hopes of pursuing a career in public service after graduation. But after speaking with several recruiters, it became evident that in order to achieve long-term progression in the government, she would need to acquire a master’s degree.

“At the time, I wasn’t ready to go back to school so I decided to work for a few years, take my time studying for the GMAT, and really evaluate what kind of program I wanted to apply to,” she said.

Discovering a Passion for Accounting

During her sabbatical from higher education, Lyon worked in Los Angeles for a number of years in operations and finance. She accepted an offer to work for a private equity firm that needed an administrative role filled on a temporary basis, and ended up discovering she had an interest in accounting.

“In addition to the administrative functions I was doing, they also needed support with some accounting work and asked if I would be willing to help. I thought it would be good for me to learn,” she explained. “I was very lucky because I had a great mentor who taught me everything about the basics of accounting so I began researching what the field was like and the types of opportunities available.”

Lyon had not given up on her goal to work in public service, and the more she learned about the accounting profession, the more she saw it as a natural segue into the government.

“There are several agencies and government organizations I would like to work for someday and they are always in need of accountants. I never lost sight of my goal, it has just evolved as I’ve navigated a different path to achieve it,” she said.

Leveraging the Mason Experience

Though California ranks second on the list of states in the country with the highest number of colleges and universities, it did not have a robust list of graduate accounting programs that fit Lyon’s academic and professional needs. She knew she would likely go out-of-state and began crafting a list of schools. It changed periodically based on her research, but William & Mary’s Raymond A. Mason School of Business always remained a top contender.

“In a way, it felt like starting over and I was excited to have a new beginning. I knew I was a bit of a different candidate and that it was unusual for someone my age and at that point in their career to enter a one-year master’s program but one of the reasons I applied to the Mason School was to get the formal education I knew I needed in order to open up all of the doors in the accounting industry. I felt if I switched careers and became an accountant without the formal education, I would be limited in the opportunities available to me,” she said.

Following what she describes as a fairly seamless application process, Lyon enrolled in William & Mary’s MAcc program and elected to partake in the fully-remote study option offered to students during the 2020-2021 academic year due to the pandemic. She admits that being in California has presented some challenges, but she feels she’s been able to maximize her experience through the Mason School.

“The professors are so involved with the students and even though I can’t be there, it has a great community,” she explains. “I still feel like I’m getting a great learning experience. For example, I am a visual learner and it’s been amazing for me to go back and watch the recorded lectures that professors make available. I wouldn’t necessarily have had the ability to do that had I been in person.”

As a remote student, Lyon also had access to the Mason School’s robust networking and job-seeking resources as she looked for internship and full-time employment opportunities in her new career field.

“The school hosted a lot of networking events. During the fall semester, it felt like there was one almost every day, and they’ve continued to host events throughout the spring,” she said. “Not only did they offer to help students set up interviews, they hosted professionals from the Big Four and from mid-sized firms so we could get to know more about each organization’s culture. That exposure was helpful for me as I figured out where I wanted to go.”

Realizing Her Dream

Ultimately, Lyon decided to accept an offer to work for a Big Four firm in Boston, but she would eventually like to transition into the public sector and work as a forensic accountant.

“What attracted me to William & Mary was its proximity to Washington, DC and it’s vast network of alumni who are connected to the area. I feel like I’m able to pursue this opportunity I have working for a Big Four firm and keep the door open to available roles at those government agencies,” she said.

As Lyon looks to realize her career switch into fruition, she’s also looking forward to combining her past work experience with the knowledge and skills she’s gained through the Mason School’s MAcc program.

“In my previous roles, I spent a lot of time learning how to manage people through judgment scenarios and maneuvering through a corporate culture. Those are things that you have to learn on the job through trial and error. But through this experience at the Mason School, I’ve gained the foundation I needed in accounting so as I start over in a way, I have a lot more confidence in how to work and manage a team,” she concluded.