Public Accounting to M7 MBA - AMA

Hi WSO,

I wanted to give back to the community now that my MBA admissions journey is over. I've left some facts and thoughts below, would by more than happy to provide additional insights if it would be helpful.

Undergrad: Large state school

GMAT: 730

Work experience: Manager at a Big 4 firm

Admitted to: Columbia, Kellogg, Yale, NYU, Darden, and Duke

I'd start with saying, never sell yourself short. I'm happy with my results but I can't tell you how many times people thought the two M7s and Yale on the above list just weren't going to happen (and anything beyond that was near impossible). Be honest with yourself and realistic, but don't be afraid to throw some Hail Mary's. If you are a strong applicant that can present well, go for the best. I would have thrown apps to H/S/W if I could do it over again. Don't have any regrets.

I agonized over my quant score on the GMAT (<Q48), and was concerned I would be dinged on that basis. I'm proof that is simply not the case. Put great care into your application and don't worry too much about having a non 50/51 score, presuming you are at least around 45+.

Coming from Big 4 and a state school, its easy to think that if you don't come from a top undergrad with BB IB or MBB experience that you are going to lose out to those folks. Similar to the GMAT point above, that is simply not necessarily the case. A capable person is a capable person, regardless of work or undergrad pedigree. Let that shine through your essays, resume, and interview. Adcoms are people too, remember that and craft a compelling story. I was told on multiple admissions calls that my essays really pulled them in and made an impact, take your time on those.

From a timeline perspective, I wrapped up the GMAT this past October after about 2 months of studying, and then knocked out all applications between November and early January. The only way I was able to do this was by taking a ton of vacation. If you have a demanding job, I don't recommend you apply to as many schools as I did, at least not in the same round. Another thing that was tough for me was the interviews from a timing standpoint. In February I felt like I was getting on a flight (or multiple) every week to fly to a school to interview. Make sure you have the support at work, otherwise this can get difficult to manage. In short, split up your applications among rounds 1/2.

Please let me know if there is anything else I can share if it would be helpful to you. Best of luck!!

Comments (33)

Mar 31, 2018

Thanks for the AMA!

I'm actually in a similar boat and would love to hear you opinion:

Male. Non-URM
Manager at a Big 4, recently promoted, non-TAS practice, but good work exp with transaction and leadership exposure
730 GMAT. 3.7 GPA at a good school, but not Ivy league

I got dinged at Wharton, Chicago and Yale. I have an acceptance from a safety, but not sure if I want to go versus applying again, e.g. CBS early admit or J-term.

Quite honestly, I'm sure my essays were terrible (I didn't have anybody read them beforehand). How did you go about crafting an impactful story? In hindsight, I regret not taking vacation to do this, as I rushed all my apps.

And who did you ask for your recommendations? I didn't ask my designated coach/mentor, as I felt that to be too risky. Not sure if I should just buck up and ask the partner that I work with a lot.

Mar 31, 2018

i'd reapply and hire an MBA admissions consultant

Mar 31, 2018

Hi there - It sounds like we have nearly identical profiles.

As far as story is concerned, I agree with Frank. I used an admissions consultant (hourly charge) and he was fantastic at fine tuning my writing. Overall, you should focus on being incredibly specific when relaying stories. Everything should have an "impact" focus, and quantify achievements whenever possible. My first drafts in retrospect were incredibly vague, which to a 3rd party reader will come off as boring and less effective. As a Big 4 manager, I focused on my efforts on coaching and leading engagement teams whenever possible. Stories where you invested in a staff/senior and that investment led to positive results both for them and the firm I found to be a good route to go down. On another note, don't forget to have fun with a prompt when the school leaves the door open. Also, you definitely need to have two other people besides yourself read the essays. My strategy was to have my consultant look at all of them, and a trusted friend to take a final pass as well.

For recommendations, I asked my direct supervisor who I work with on nearly all my engagements, and I asked a former manager. They know me extremely well and I knew they would be strong advocates.

As an aside, I spent a TON of time on my resume. When I was just starting this process, I thought I had it in good shape. But after spending probably 12 hours on it, it really became a great looking document. My point is, it can really surprise you how far you can push something if you are willing to give it some love. As with the essays, everything needs to be "impact focused" (don't let it read like a job description). Quantify whenever possible (hard numbers, percentages etc).

Let me know if you need anything else. I think you could snag some of the places that dinged you this time around with a revised focus next cycle. Best of luck!

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Apr 1, 2018

Congrats. This is such a slap in face of those who say you can't get into M7 from public accounting.

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Apr 1, 2018

Thanks for doing this, hoping to be in your shoes in a few years time!

What type of extra-curricular did you have?

I'm hoping to make the jump to B school while being an S1-S2. Do you think there is any advantage holding out till I make manager?

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Mar 31, 2018

Hi Froggen,

I thought that extracurriculars were one of my weaker areas, but I definitely "checked the box." They basically consisted of some local volunteer level work around assisting less fortunate families in my area. I did not hold significant leadership roles in my ECs.

With that said, I did highlight my efforts on non client serving work at my firm throughout my applications. Things like instructing and recruiting are all areas where you can highlight your desire to give back and make an impact on other people.

My personal take is that S1-S2 is a little soon, as its much easier to position yourself as a leader of engagements and people at the manager level. However, if you want to make the jump at that level, just make sure that you are doing everything you can to branch out of doing pure audit/tax related technical work. For example, if you are an auditor, you will want to be able to speak to your impact on areas like business development, coaching of staff/seniors, and dealing with difficult client situations. You'll be able to begin speaking to these areas as a senior, but its easier IMO at the manager level. You'll find that the professional anecdotes that you'll be able to share will get much stronger with time, and will be very helpful to draw on for your essays and interviews.

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Apr 1, 2018

Thanks for the detailed reply.

I'm very involved in our buddy system and CPA mentoring but looking to get more involved outside the firm and within the community.

The reason I was targeting the S1-S2 range is then I'll have 4-5 years and that seems to be the sweet spot for admissions.

To get a head start of some of those experiences I've been angling to work on smaller still-public engagements to get more responsibility. Previously, I worked on an enormous engagement but was siloed and was not going to get to experience much just due to the size and need for things to run smoothly. Were you asked about the size/complexity of the clients that you worked on at all?

Apr 1, 2018

Hello, thanks for doing this. What's your plan post mba? Did you visit the schools you got into? Did you reach out to alumni?

Mar 31, 2018

Hi TZ,

Post MBA I plan on pursuing banking, but I'm keeping an open mind about consulting and corporate rotational programs.

I did not visit any school prior to being called up to interview. With that said, if you can visit, I would definitely advise you doing that. I had one interviewer who specifically asked about whether I had visited previously or not. Even if you don't get that kind of question, you will be able to talk much more personally about why a school makes sense for you in your essays if you visit beforehand.

I did talk to current students at each school I applied to in the application process. At the bare minimum, you should definitely be doing that. You will learn things not available on the websites, and you will be able to refer to these conversations in your essays and interviews, which I found to be a huge plus in terms of demonstrating interest. And quite honestly, you may find that you vibe with a school or not; they really are different culture wise.

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Apr 2, 2018

Congrats! Great Achievement. My college roommate (mid tier public school) spent 5 years at Big 4 and then to Wharton. Currently a CFO at a F250. It can be done!

Mar 31, 2018

Thank you - your friend had quite a trajectory, very cool!

Apr 2, 2018

Thanks for this write up. Even though I have not worked in Big 4 Accounting, the disrespect that Big 4 Accounting gets on WSO when it comes to B School was astoundingly negative.

Think about it this way - some Big 4 kid reading this forum might now consider actually applying to an M7 school whereas before this post, they probably "mentally" limited themselves to a T15 school.

Any advice on the the GMAT? 730 in 2 months sounds awesome.

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Mar 31, 2018

NJ,

Exactly, that is definitely the effect I want this to have.

Regarding the GMAT, I used the Manhattan math guides, and the Official Guide books / GMAT Prep software. I have always had a strong handle on the verbal portions of standardized tests, so I only really looked over some sentence correction techniques for the higher level questions. My key recommendation is that after you understand (or have brushed up on) the math fundamentals, ALWAYS time yourself when doing practice problems, and to the extent possible, practice using the same number of questions that will actually be in each section. Its so easy to do un-timed questions, or even timed questions but one at a time, and think you are doing great. Then comes a full 37 question or so timed section and you get blitzed. The GMAT is about time management and strategic sacrifices, and you'll never learn those skills without doing timed full length practice sections and exams.

Good luck!

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Apr 2, 2018

Congrats DilutedEPS! Amazing business school results!

Question for you: what do you think about applying to B-Schools after 3.5 years of work experience (4 full years upon matriculation)? You are generally a second year Senior in all Big 4s (except for PwC, where you are just a 1st year senior) in 4 years. Would you have applied earlier if you had a chance or do you think sticking around until you became a manager was detrimental in getting the results?

I am planning to apply to H, S, W, Booth, Columbia, and Sloan next year in rounds 1 and 2 with harder schools being in R1.

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Best Response
Mar 31, 2018

Hi CPA,

My personal opinion is that the big selling points to an MBA program coming from Big 4 are your technical skills, people leadership, engagement management, and business development experiences. At senior 2, you will have some of these, but they ramp up very quickly throughout Senior 3 / Manager 1 and beyond. I personally wanted to hit manager because I would be able to confidently pull from a deep pool of experiences in these areas. Heavy senior / Manager is when you take a turn from being a technical workhorse to becoming a client and engagement leader, which are aspects of the Big 4 experience that I think play well in an MBA admissions context.

With that said, if you have been getting these experiences early, then go for it! Just know that your top Big 4 competition coming to B school will have this experience in spades, so just make sure you are confident that you have the requisite experiences to speak to these areas. After getting through a ton of top B school interviews over the last few months, you will need to talk about more than audit workpaper or tax return prep to make a strong impression.

I'd add in a Duke/NYU/Darden level school to your list as well, just to mitigate risk.

Good luck!

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Apr 2, 2018

Thank you for responding, very helpful. Did you have any early promotions at Big 4? Also, did interviewers ask you about your year-end rankings that you received throughout your career?

Apr 2, 2018

contgrats man! Did you decide where you are going? Did you receive any scholarships from any schools? How do you plan to finance your MBA? How many years of experience did you have? What was your college GPA?

Lastly, any advice on how you can make a competitive application package for any scholarship considerations? (besides high GMAT)

Thanks!

Mar 31, 2018

Hi Rejected,

I haven't decided where I'm going yet - going to the admitted students weekends this month to help make a decision. I did receive a scholarship from Duke. GPA is greater than 3.7.

For scholarships, I would just focus on what I've noted above, there really isn't anything you can do besides that (and do your best on the GMAT). In short, craft the best application you can, and if your stats/rarity of traits align with what the school wants, a scholarship may be on the table.

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Apr 1, 2018

How did you prepare for GMAT? I mean what materials did you use?

Apr 1, 2018

Also, did you apply ED to Columbia?

Mar 31, 2018

I did not apply ED

Apr 2, 2018
consultinglady007:

How did you prepare for GMAT? I mean what materials did you use?

Sorry, but did you and @Rejected Monkey even read the whole thread?

@DilutedEPS answers your questions on differentiating yourself (taking the time to craft well though out essays) and GMAT prep material.

At least read this thread before asking for something that has already been answered.

Mar 31, 2018

Hi ConsultingLady - As Devil notes, please see above regarding GMAT materials.

Apr 3, 2018

Thanks for sharing your journey. It is very inspiring to hear as usually everyone emphasizes that accounting / auditing experience will mean basically no chance of breaking the top 10. Do you believe your post mba goals of banking helped in your chances of acceptance as CPA to banking is a common transition? Wondering if Adcoms are more receptive to banking as opposed to maybe consulting as a post mba goal for an accounting background (Yes I realize everyone has different goals but is there an advantage to signaling different interest). Thanks!

Mar 31, 2018

Hi Strictly,

You are very welcome! I do believe that making sure your post MBA plans are reasonable and achievable is hugely important. You need to be seen as an employable candidate. I did feel like the CPA to IB route was very natural, and it was easy for me to tell my "story" as to why this transition makes sense. In interviews and your essays, I would say one of the things you will be answering over and over is "why do you want to do XYZ" and "what have you learned in your current role that will help you be successful in XYZ." My experiences at my firm were very well suited to crafting a story around why IB made sense for me given my past experiences and my goals.

I think saying you want to do consulting (if that's what you want) is definitely okay coming from Big 4. At the end of the day, consulting is a professional service, and so is Big 4 work. Your project management, junior talent development, and client handling skills are all going to be highly relevant in consulting. I personally felt that making the CPA to IB connection was slightly easier (accounting underlies all of finance), but I would have definitely said I wanted to move to consulting if that is truly what I wanted to do.

In short, if you want consulting post MBA, tell the schools that. It will be much easier pulling from your passion in your essays and interviews than saying you want to do something you actually don't. Of course, I don't recommend you saying you want to leave audit/tax for a VP role at KKR ;) - any reasonable goal will be fine.

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Jun 20, 2018

Thank you for doing this. It's much needed on this site.

With regard to currency translation, under what circumstance will the current rate method yield a forex gain on OCI. Specifically, does the local currency have to appreciate or depreciate during the course of the year?

Thanks in advance!

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Jun 21, 2018

Tbf, OP should be able to answer this.

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Jun 24, 2018

What was your Hail Mary-type timeline? Applying to schools you thought were a stretch in round 1, and then realistic schools in round 2?

Mar 31, 2018

Yeah, I would apply to your top choice schools in Round 1 and then go down a rung in Round 2. Hopefully you snag a top choice and call it early and save yourself the time and money. All of this presumes that you have everything lined up to put your best foot forward early.

If you would be completely happy with a school with an ED program, would go ahead and do that early too, as long as you are okay with the risk/reward calculus.

I didn't get my GMAT score until it was too late for Round 1, so I only applied in Round 2. But if I could do it over, I would have gotten things in order earlier and applied to some schools in Round 1.

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Jun 24, 2018
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