William & Mary’s Master of Accounting (MAcc) graduate business program offers prospective students the option to apply for a fall or spring semester start. For Sarah Graessle, MAcc ’20, who considers herself an unconventional student, the flexibility to begin her graduate business education in the spring aligned with her professional goals and ultimately drove her decision to attend the Raymond A. Mason School of Business.
“I decided relatively late to apply to a master’s program,” she explained. “William & Mary was attractive because of its reputation and the quality of education it provides students.”
While in high school, Graessle worked as a server for a local restaurant in her hometown of Virginia Beach, Virginia. She learned a lot about the cyclical nature of the tourism and hospitality industry through her on-the-job-training in addition to basic communication and management skills. She was promoted to Assistant Manager all the while she was studying business at Old Dominion University.
“I knew I wanted to pursue accounting and get my CPA, but I didn’t see myself on the same path as a lot of other people who go into accounting,” she said. “Eventually, I would like to run a business or own my own business so what appealed to me about William & Mary’s MAcc program was it put you on an executive track and exposed you to lots of different opportunities within accounting.”
Springing into the MAcc Program
Following her time at ODU, Graessle left her job with the restaurant and accepted a position at the Newport News Shipyard where she applied her undergraduate degree to a rotational business management coop. She gained insight into the world of private accounting and performed reconciliations, saw the accounting closing process, and worked in the financial accounting and asset depreciation departments.
“It was a valuable year-long experience for several reasons. I got to experience private accounting and I met a lot of people who were going back to get their master’s degrees at William & Mary,” she said.
Graessle was inspired by her coworkers and applied to the MAcc program. She was accepted into the Spring 2020 cohort. She immediately enrolled into the Winter Field Experience and secured an internship opportunity with Jones CPA Group in Norfolk, Virginia.
“During my first couple of months as a William & Mary student, I wasn’t on campus,” she explained. “But I worked closely with my audit professor who also ran the Winter Field Experience program, and I did research on the company I was interning for to understand its structure, business model, and processes from start to finish.”
Graessle says the firm has a tight-knit, family-feel and her work was primarily focused on tax which is the area she is most interested in pursuing after graduation. Her experience was so positive, she remained on with the company after her formal internship ended through William & Mary and she’s accepted an offer to work with them full-time once she’s completed her degree.
Leveraging the Tribe Network
Despite starting her MAcc experience off-campus and then transitioning to a remote learning environment due to COVID-19, Graessle has found ways to assimilate into the William & Mary Tribe. She’s met many classmates through collaborative class assignments and virtual events, and she’s networked with members of other graduate business programs as a Graduate Assistant.
“I’ve been working throughout the fall semester as a financial accounting assistant and my role has been to help the MBA and Part-Time Evening MBA students with their basic accounting courses,” she said. “I’ve enjoyed meeting these students because many of them have achieved higher management positions in their careers and are coming back to learn more about business in general. I’ve learned so much from them and from the tutoring experience.”
As the fall semester – and Graessle’s time in the MAcc program – comes to a close, she plans to transition to her new position at Jones CPA Group following the holidays and begin studying for the CPA exam.
“I’d like to pass within one year of graduating,” she said. “And I’m excited about the opportunity with Jones. I like the people I’m working with and that it’s a smaller business where I can see a lot of the operations. I’ve been pulled onto projects related to business evaluation and growth development, which is outside of our traditional basic accounting services.”
Graessle hopes to be a transformative force on these projects moving forward and to pursue more consultative roles. She believes that the MAcc program at the Mason School has prepared her well to succeed in these types of positions and she will look to her fellow Tribe members in the future as she explores other avenues within the accounting industry.
“I’ve made a lot of connections at William & Mary, from people in the field to the Executive Partners, and I’ve learned about many different companies and types of opportunities that could work for me,” she said. “The nice thing about William & Mary is that you meet so many people who have similar dreams and aspirations. I know I still need a few years of experience in the fundamentals, but eventually I’d like to work for myself or become more entrepreneurial. I know when I’m ready, I’ll reach out to some of the people I’ve met through this experience and maybe we will go into business together.”