As millions of Americans file taxes, University of Nebraska–Lincoln students like Anna McLain, a senior accounting major from Lincoln, Nebraska, help accounting firms manage the hectic time of year. As part of the split semester internship program in the College of Business School of Accountancy, accounting majors engross themselves in what it is like to work full-time at a firm during tax season.
“My internship was working full-time, which was wonderful as a student because I immersed myself fully. I saw what an actual tax season is like and what this career would be like after graduation,” said McLain, whose tax internship was with Forvis, formerly known as BKD, during a spring semester.
Students split a semester between an accelerated curriculum of accounting courses and a full-time internship in either tax or audit at a firm they choose. The program provides a hands-on experience for students while allowing them to keep their full-time student status and not delay their graduation.
“The split semester internship program gives accounting students exposure to the true busy seasons of public accounting firms, along with the opportunity to expand their network and understand the firm’s culture. It also broadens a student’s skillset through the opportunity to roll up their sleeves and do the work,” said Jimmy Downes, director of the School of Accountancy and associate professor of accountancy.
During her tax internship, McLain never felt like there was a project she couldn’t handle. As one of 2% of institutions with Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB) accreditation for both business and accounting, the school readies its students by building a solid foundation of accounting technical skills.
“You walk in on that first day of the split semester internship program, and it is so daunting because you feel like a full-time employee. You almost feel unprepared before you remember you're not because the classes do a wonderful job readying you,” she said.
McLain also completed an audit internship at Forvis during the summer and an accounting and data analytics internship at HDR, a global architectural and engineering firm headquartered in Omaha, Nebraska, throughout the winter. Through these experiences, McLain completed business tax returns, did internal and external audit testing, held client meetings through individual tax returns and conducted budget analyses and expense allocation, among other engaging undertakings.
“Across these internships, I did very diverse projects that enabled me to learn a lot and apply what I was learning in the classroom. Not only was I benefiting by getting to learn, but I also felt helpful for the company as well,” she said.
Firms benefit as part of the split semester internship program. As Downes explained, the program connects companies to a broader pool of talent and serves as a cost-effective recruitment effort, with students often getting hired after completing internships. The program also serves as an effective way for firms to stay on top of their busiest season of the year.
“Split semester internships are a win-win for everyone. They can help companies increase productivity by providing additional resources for specific projects or tasks. Interns can take on responsibilities that free up the time of full-time employees, which can help to increase efficiency and productivity,” said Downes. “Companies gain exposure to different skill sets and perspectives by participating in the program. Interns may bring skills and experiences from their academic programs that can benefit the company and contribute to its growth.”
Working frequently with partners, managers and vice presidents across the firms, McLain expanded her professional network and learned from top executives.
“The opportunity to work so closely with high-level partners, VPs and CEOs and see how they handle situations and conversations is very hard to translate into the classroom. I found it very useful to see how they conduct themselves in a professional environment and interact with clients,” she said.
Her internship experiences directly supplemented her learning in accounting courses. Learning by doing the work of an accountant helps students excel in professional and academic environments.
“I come back to my classes with a lot more motivation to not only excel in the classroom but also apply what I’m learning and fully understand the concepts to what I’d be doing in the real world. It was a perspective that I probably wouldn't have as strong of a conviction for had I not been able to work in the real world and have those internship opportunities,” McLain said.
With an accepted offer to join Forvis as an audit associate after graduation, McLain feels confident in her abilities to thrive professionally due to her internship experiences.
“It’s all about learning how to be resilient, ask the right question and develop new skill sets to succeed. It’s something I’ll be applying in my career going forward, and I don't know if I would necessarily have that mindset had I not had these internships,” she said. “I think I would have been surprised starting as a full-time associate if I wasn't able to see that on a smaller scale during my undergrad degree, so I can be better prepared when I start my career.”
Published: March 21, 2023