Do I Need To Work During My Masters Degree?

Job applicant having an interview

From the mailbag:

Hello Andrew,

I first wanted to thank you for having such an informative and well put together page. It's a boon for me and many of my friends!

But to my question:

I am about to graduate with my Bachelor's next semester, and I already have a busy season internship with a Big 4 lined up. Assuming I get an offer after the completion of my internship, how should I approach applying for positions to work while I complete my Master's? Specifically, should questions be asked about where I see myself in 5 years or if I have an offer with a firm, how should I answer?

I am confident I will have the qualifications for entry level jobs, but I feel having an offer with a firm might deter a company from wanting to hire me for a position.

Thanks for any insight you can provide.



Great question Wyatt and there are a number of considerations when thinking whether or not you should even work during your masters!


Do you need the money to pay for school? I always try to have people go through school without incurring debt so your don’t have to pay off $55,000 of student loan debt in 14 months like I did.

CPA Exam.

More important than working during your masters is passing the CPA exam before you start working. While I think it’s VERY important to get office experience before starting your full-time job, you are getting that during your internship. Are you going to be able to work 30-40 hours, take 12+ hours of masters class + homework, and pass the CPA exam?

I did it, but it was tough.

Professional Experience.

Do you have experience working in an office? Do you understand office politics? Have you experienced getting up everyday and working 9-5 for months and months? If you haven’t, getting experience during your masters is key. If the first time you are every truly working a full-time office job is when you start in Big 4, it can be a very tough transition.

You Story.

This is where I think the biggest part of your questions comes in. It seems you know you want to work, but how can you get a company to commit to you when you know you aren’t going to commit to them?

Here are two options:

1) Get help from your firm

The Big 4 firm you are going to work for has hundreds of clients in town. Do they know anyone that is looking for an accounting intern? Someone to work part-time/full-time that they are willing to let go in a year or so? I know they do.

In fact, that’s exactly how I got my job working at a publicly traded company for the entire year of my masters degree. A senior manager I was close with basically got me the job. I don’t even think I interviewed!

2) Don’t lie. But keep an open mind.

If you are interviewing for positions that may hope you will continue for 2, 3, or 4 years, keep an open mind. Just because you have accepted your Big 4 offer doesn’t mean you have to take it. What if you LOVE this company? While it may seem unlikely, is it possible? Yes.

So I wouldn’t go crazy and tell them, “I can only work here for one year” unless they specifically ask about whether you will be going back to the firm. For now, I would tell them you are a full-time Masters student looking to get some experience before you graduate.

To answer the question, “Where do you see yourself in 5 years” say something like:

You see yourself at the senior/manager level being a "part of the team", not just an employee. You spent the first few years of your career really digging in and learning accounting and now you can spend more of your time coaching, growing the department, improving processes, and making the company better!

If they are very familiar with public accounting and the Big 4, they probably know you are going back full-time (95% of interns do), then be honest with them:

I will be going back to <insert firm> in January 20XX. However, if you chose me for this position I'll work just as hard as if I'd be hear for 20 years AND I'll help you find another replacement just like me from the University.