Public accounting attracts a lot of accounting students. Big 4, national, regional, and local firms almost always seek graduates to join their ranks. Two most popular tracks in public accounting are audit and tax.
Some students choose audit and others go to tax, but what drivers their decision in having a preference of one over another? Does the information that students use to make a decision reflect reality? The authors of the article “Audit and Tax Career Paths in Public Accounting: An Analysis of Student and Professional Perceptions,” The Accounting Review 2014, try to answer this question.
Derek W. Dalton, Steve Buchheit, and Jeffrey J. McMillan did research to understand what beliefs accounting students have when they make a decision about their career path as well as whether such beliefs reflects reality by asking experienced public accounting professionals to corroborate them. The results were interesting in the fact that most decision points used by students are in line with what experienced professionals think about public accounting; however, there were some points which did not agree to what accounting professionals think. Let’s take a look at these similarities and differences.
In the lists below, experienced accounting professionals agree with the student beliefs unless otherwise indicated.
- Students who choose the audit track believe that:
- They will have more client interaction.
- They will have better future job opportunities.
- They will have a better understanding of business processes.
- They will travel more.
- Their work and lifestyle will be more interesting.
- Tax coursework is more difficult as compared to audit coursework. (This belief was not supported by the experienced public accounting professionals.)
Students who choose the tax track believe that:
- They will have a more stable daily routine.
- They will develop more specialized skills.
- They will have less travel.
- They will be able to assist their clients more compared to their audit colleagues. (This belief was not supported by the experienced public accounting professionals.)
- Tax work is more black and white. (This belief was not supported by the experienced public accounting professionals.)
In addition to the beliefs mentioned above, which public accounting professions mostly agree with, such professionals cited the following reasons to choose the audit track:
- Audit has more opportunities for teamwork.
- Audit provides opportunities for helping clients (e.g., through internal control recommendations).
- Audit does not have prominent seasonality like tax does (e.g., busy-season workload).
In relation to tax, public accounting professionals listed the following reasons:
- The tax track provides better opportunities to own or buy a tax practice.
- There are more learning opportunities due to the frequent changes in tax laws.