Webinar: Student Spotlight – Laura Pflucker, Online Master of Accountancy Student

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Laura Pflucker, online Master of Accountancy student, joins an enrollment team member to chat about her background and passion for the University of North Dakota’s online Master of Accountancy Program.

Transcript

Pasquale Esposito:

Hello everyone. Welcome. Thank you for tuning in. My name is Pasquale Esposito and I’m an enrollment advisor with the University of North Dakota. Today we’re shining the spotlight on a student in UND’s online Master of Accountancy program. Her name is Laura Pflucker and she is in the fundamentals track of our online Masters of Accountancy. Laura, welcome and thank you for sitting down to chat with us about your experience so far.

Laura Pflucker:

Hi Pasquale. Thank you for having me. I’m excited to be here.

Pasquale Esposito:

Great. Excellent. We’re here to hear more about how your experience has been. Let’s jump in. Tell us a bit more about your background and how you became interested in accounting.

Laura Pflucker:

Well, my professional life has usually been focused in working for a small businesses that needed my talent. I have to admit that after finishing college, I was not sure what my future goals were or where I wanted to live. I sort of went with the flow and ended up being hired by a car dealership whose owner liked my ability to speak multiple languages. He found that useful for his store’s rental car division. They trained me to do various tasks, including bookkeeping and other tasks, AR-AP. I’m mainly managing the accounting [formula 00:01:20], which was what I ended up doing mostly at the end.

I finished my undergraduate degree in business administration back in 2011. I remember seeing a lot of college friends doing a masters in accountancy that was going to allow them to sit for the CPA exam. That always intrigued me.

I did so well in my business majors accounting classes with little effort. While in college, I was always wondering if I should change my major to accounting, but I had a big issue about it, mainly my background. I was born in Peru where I lived the first 18 years of my life. I earned a Fulbright scholarship to attend Truman State University in Missouri, but the scholarship didn’t cover my living expenses. So my mother who was a very successful small business owner, was helping me with those costs and somehow had a say in what I needed to major in.

She was really disappointed that I switched from majoring in economics to business, so I saw that there was no way that she was going to support my switching to accounting, once again, switching a major once again.

This is when my background comes into play. In Peru before somewhere around 2015, it was not well seen or prestigious to be an accountant for some reason, unlike in the US where being an accountant or a CPA is great.

Another event that also shaped my decision to stick with my business administration major in college was that during my teenage summers, I used to work for my mother’s business by managing one of her uniform stores. I remember those invoices had to be filled out by hand one by one. If I had mistakes, then I have to start all over again. Someday I remember we had so many people coming to buy at the same time.

Also, I remember that once a month, the accountant, who for some reason, always looked so tired, would come to us each invoice one-by-one and an old calculator. I always wondered how she knew that she got it all right just like adding in one single shot, all those numbers. That [inaudible 00:03:56] much of that account, and it was always stuck in my head. Of course it is an image that is completely outdated, and even for those days, it was outdated.

I can not understand why they didn’t use an Excel system, for example, at least. But being an accountant was always in the back of my head because I enjoyed it so much and wind up doing it.

My first three jobs after college involved doing the accounting for small businesses, where I learned a lot about QuickBooks, for example. I realized that blockchain technology and advanced software had already revolutionized the accounting world.

It is very interesting how my life always pointed towards an accounting career. However, but even during those years that I already finished college and I was working for small businesses, I was mainly earning a paycheck. I did not have the means to start a masters or go back to school. It was mostly back then making it for life alone, paying my bills and still figuring out my future.

Pasquale Esposito:

I am always impressed by people who can speak those multiple languages, so that’s cool. It is interesting to hear the difference between cultures between Peru and America. That’s cool too. But I guess what really changed that was your major motivation to pursue this program?

Laura Pflucker:

Well, after I was working for a small business, well, [inaudible 00:05:44], I was working for the second business, during that time, I also wanted to create a clothing wholesale company, but just a small one as a side gig. That happened in 2014. I mean that little operation, I designed for the youth and imported clothes from Peru and sell them to stores in the US. It just started a hobby. It grew and it went great.

However, after having given birth to my first son, I realized more or less in 2018 that I could not continue so actively in the fashion wholesale world anymore, for many reasons that we’ll probably lose focus, but I decided then that either I should sell my brand or making it into a very small operation where I could enjoy doing it again as a hobby, which was the way it started.

Two things happened that made me take the latter. I lost a whole cargo shipment that made me lose 70% of my capital, and COVID-19 just recently. However, in 2018 though, while I was pregnant with my second son, I created a two year career plan, the planning career pursuing a masters in accountancy in order to become a CPA before the end of 2021 and University of North Dakota was the right place to do it since they offer a program for people who did major in accounting for their undergraduate degree, just like me. So definitely accounting has always been in the back of my head [inaudible 00:07:29].

Pasquale Esposito:

We’re happy to have you and it just shows that there’s no single path that can bring someone into accounting. Thank you for sharing all of that. Laura, let’s talk about the UND online experience. What initially got you interested in pursuing your masters of accounting with the University of North Dakota?

Laura Pflucker:

There are many factors that encouraged me to choose UND, convenience, because as a mother of a newborn, an online part-time program allows me to work and eat from my home and with the time I have. Also flexibility, because even though there are weekly deadlines, but at the same time these are flexible. You can decide when you want to do it during the week, and if you want, you can do them at 3:00 a.m. But I definitely don’t recommend that. But definitely there’s a lot of flexibility while at the same time, keeping you weekly on track on what you need to do.

Prestige, of course, as I learn more about University of North Dakota during my process of selecting a school, I learned about its prestige in the accounting world and in your region. Also, that your CPA rate is high. I cannot wait to add up to that.

Pasquale Esposito:

That’s great. I am glad that the University of North Dakota was a good fit for you. You said you did do a good amount of research. Why did you choose UND’s online masters of accountancy program versus another online program or, say, an in-person program?

Laura Pflucker:

Well, nowadays I would recommend an online program to anybody. We waste so much time getting ready and heading to school. I think so, but for an undergrad student, I think it would be … It’s the friends. I think that I would want my sons to get the full college experience, but we will see what happens then.

But as a masters student, where you can already be building a future, your resume, working, doing internships, or for some people going back to school while working, still providing for your family, or me, working and raising a baby, online program is definitely a must thing. No doubt about it.

I have been so amazed at all the top notch technology UND is using to make the masters in accounting program so spectacular, from tutoring to taking exams while being supervised via your own webcam. [inaudible 00:10:14].

What sealed the deal for me to decide to choose UND was the bridge program for the fundamentals track, because it fits perfectly into my two year plan while being a part-time program for busy people like me.

Pasquale Esposito:

That is really great to hear. Not everyone has that same path to the master of accountancy. We think offering the two tracks for the students with different backgrounds really helps set us apart. Tell us more about your experience with our online masters of accountancy program.

Laura Pflucker:

Of course. I see all that involvement of the accounting department and the program, and it makes me feel so special to be part of it. My voice is heard and my ability to learn is the school’s priority. I was not necessarily expecting this, to tell you the truth. I had taken a few online classes before while doing my undergrad degree. It was mainly the students who had to do everything and no exam supervision. It is not that I am outdated. I have a few friends that have also done master’s recently, and none of them have stories like mine.

Every time I tell someone about UND’s use of technology, including the webcam supervised tests, their jaw literally drop. I think that’s the kind of care and use of technology that UND have a [inaudible 00:11:46] level for your students cannot be easily found anywhere else.

I never hear anybody who is doing an online program to talk about it with excitement as I do.

Pasquale Esposito:

It’s always a great thing to hear, and I’m always happy to hear it. What has your experience been like with the program’s coursework and the faculty?

Laura Pflucker:

As I have mentioned, all faculty, every single one of them are so nice and have always made sure I am heard and have always helped me. I enjoy meeting my professors via their intro story emails at the beginning of each class, also during there are some office hours, of course. That’s such a great tool. Professors are also very flexible to meet even during the weekends. That alone shows the involvement to the program and where their heart is.

Although I am sure nobody wants to bother them during the weekends, but just knowing that it is there for extreme situations, give the students like me a sense of relief and you don’t even get that by studying on campus.

The coursework [inaudible 00:13:02]. It depends on the class I guess. I have already had three kinds of coursework. I think I would call them medium hard and super hard, but that is the same way it was when I did my undergrad degree, the level of difficulty and workload variety, depending on each class.

I love the program because it is designed to have the students take one class at a time. Each class is seven weeks long. And for such a busy person as I am, focusing one class at a time, is the best thing ever. I can’t get tired of saying that the accounting department from UND has thought of every single detail.

Pasquale Esposito:

Excellent. You mentioned how much you enjoyed the staff and the faculty. Tell us a little bit more about what kind of support other students and yourself could receive.

Laura Pflucker:

They are very supportive, extremely. We also get to have [inaudible 00:14:06] our professor at the end of each class, but they are all great. It’s all A’s for them so far. I love them. A lot have to do, I think with the culture of kindness in UND and in North Dakota and in the Midwest as a region. I’m so happy to be part of the UND family and can’t wait to meet the faculty in person at graduation. I’m [inaudible 00:14:33] them too.

Pasquale Esposito:

That’s amazing. All A’s for the professors. Hopefully you’re getting all A’s as well. We do have a solid program, but the faculty and staff really make it what it is. Do you have any advice for any potential students?

Laura Pflucker:

Yes. If you are not sure if you should follow an accounting major or not because of some buildup idea, like I had, know that accounting requires tons of judgment and that software technology has created a whole new accounting world. It has been proven now when COVID-19 happened, for example, all accountants had to literally work from home. No [inaudible 00:15:12].

For the ones who know they want accounting and are looking at UND, I would say do it. University of North Dakota has a lot to offer. As an online student, they have made me feel like I am part of your family and value me as if I am an on campus student, I would say. Really, I can’t imagine how it would be if I was an on campus student, when they are already so inclusive with their online students. Really, I feel the warmth all the way from North Dakota to Miami, Florida. It is amazing.

I am building that relationship with my professors and even my classmates. We have a weekly discussion and all classmates are so involved and you can hear their thoughts. It is fascinating. I hope I get to meet my classmates in person one day, maybe at graduation.

Pasquale Esposito:

That is so great to hear that you can feel the warmth. I’m happy about that. It sounds like you’re definitely on the path to a bright future, Laura. Now let’s talk about the resources and networking opportunities available to you in these online students.

Our accounting program is known for having great relationships with recruiters, providing a plethora of resources, hosting large networking events, and partnering with large accounting firms like Ernst and Young, PWC and BDO, to connect students with those organizations so that everything going on in the world, this has been a shift to an online virtual model beyond the classroom and into networking and career events. What type of career focused resources does UND offer and how have they adapted to continue to provide these kinds of resources for students?

Laura Pflucker:

You’re very interesting. UNB has been so inclusive that in January of this year, they asked their online students if they wanted to participate in a field trip in Minneapolis in April of this year. I was all in, already planning my trip from Florida, I know we were going to visit 10 firms, including the all the ones that you mentioned, [inaudible 00:17:33], CLA, et cetera. But closer to the date because of COVID-19, UND had to change your in-person visit to via talk Zoom meeting. They were calling it as a joke, the UND [inaudible 00:17:49].

Well, that ended up working better for me because I didn’t have to make it a trip. That is how I met, I was supposed to also video [inaudible 00:18:03]. After a few months, I interviewed with BDO. It was for their audit internship position in their Miami office, the city where I live, and I got the job. I accepted it because of many reasons, including BDO’s reputation of letting employees work more hands-on style. Also because of my business background and BDO client base.

After I learned more about BDO, I realized it is a great fit for me. BDO is a top medium sized firm in the world. It is a great honor to have been offered and accepted an internship with them. Also, they have liked my talent since the beginning, so that is greatly appreciated. They have welcomed me very warmly too, and it is all thanks to University of North Dakota.

Pasquale Esposito:

That’s great. I think COVID-19 really highlights how useful it is to have the flexibility of an online program and to do that through the University of North Dakota. But congratulations on securing such an impressive internship. Let’s talk about that. Can you tell us more about the process for securing the interview and internship?

Laura Pflucker:

Yes. BDO definitely has medium length hiring process, and I like that, long enough so that you can plan ahead, but not too long that it looks so remote. I applied in June, for example, for a job that it starts in January. Some firms make you apply one whole year before, and some other firms will ask for immediate hire as they go to meet the coordinates.

The actual interview process anywhere is different now because of COVID-19. I feel that a lot of things are kind of exploring right now the best way to do it. But with BDO, first I talked to a recruiter that I met during the Zoom meeting that UND hosted in April. She transferred me to a recruiter for my region who was based in Atlanta. I sent the recruiter a self-introductory emails with my resume, and then she encouraged me … Then we had a call. We had a call and she asked me a few questions, mostly to check if I was a right fit.

Then she encouraged me to fill out their online application, which had the option of a cover letter. I took advantage of this and I drafted a nice cover letter and submitted it too.

Then I interviewed with the partner with whom I probably will be working for, I’m not sure. But I loved that interview and I was allowed to be myself and I was ready for it. The partner, definitely I feel like he saw my determination and my talent and my desire for an opportunity in the accounting world. Even though I had some experience in accounting, I want to start from the bottom in order to be trained the way BDO wants. But I know that I will go higher faster due to my background and educational experience. The partner who interviewed me pointed that out to [inaudible 00:21:25].

Pasquale Esposito:

As far as your internship, what are you most looking forward to?

Laura Pflucker:

I am looking forward someday being a partner at BDO. Why not? I think that working specifically in auditing covers so much of the accounting world that I can do so much with it as years go by. I always like to be knowledgeable of as much as I can. I think that’s always been, and particularly this auditing internship will be giving me exposure to that.

Pasquale Esposito:

I love your attitude, shoot for the stars. Also, how has UND’s online masters accountancy program prepared you to succeed in that internship?

Laura Pflucker:

UND exposes your students to a lot of office hours, chats and different kinds of meetings with accounting firms, recruiters, partners, employees, could talk about life as an employee, opportunities, hiring process and other topics related to the firms they work for. Having that exposure lets the students be more comfortable by the time of the first interview.

UND does these, I believe, because they want their students to develop interview skills and it works great. UND also has partnered up with HUI job search strategies, which is a team that offers interactive workshops about various topics, such as building up our resume, attending career fairs, getting promoted, et cetera. That is a great tool.

Also during classes, UND is also talking about different scenarios of the accounting profession, that helps to imagine how work will be once the first day of work comes.

Pasquale Esposito:

Well, it sounds like you really made a strong impression on several recruiters and BDO. Do you have any tips for any other masters of accountancy students to stand out in virtual or in person events like these?

Laura Pflucker:

Yes, I would say send that thank note, also with a self-introductory email. I think that’s great. That makes you stand out. I would send those emails to all the recruiters that I meet or that these students would meet. I also included in my emails a short sentence about how we met and a couple of recent accomplishments, why not, and some of my background.

I think that that email should be sent specifically to the firms whose office is in the student’s city or town, or as well, if some students are willing to relocate, then don’t go, or depending if they have a city in mind, but they should look up the city’s that match the theme that they want to work for and the city that they want to live in and make the connections.

But I would definitely send that email to all the recruiters no matter what, because they all put so much time to be in that Zoom office hour or that meeting.

Also, I will say just to pay attention, ask any questions that you want, get a feel for the team’s enthusiasm, because that says a lot about the culture. Also, watch videos about they working for those firms created by them and also created by anybody who works or has worked there. Read the employee’s review if you want, but also know that those reviews are written by employees who have already left the firm.

I have also realized that during the recruitment process, it is your time to shine, so don’t shy away from that. Being quiet is a big mistake I used to have before, and I believe that recruiters and interviewers want to see energetic individuals.

Pasquale Esposito:

That’s all very good advice. Thanks, Laura. You’ve done a great job and provided so much information about the program. We’re going to pause on the questions for a moment and I’m going to give a quick overview about a couple other important pieces of the program, and then we’ll circle back to have you answer a few frequently asked questions that we get from potential students. Okay?

Laura Pflucker:

Okay.

Pasquale Esposito:

To recap some of what Laura mentioned and provide a little more detail, the University of North Dakota was a university before North Dakota was even a state, founded in 1883. We’re celebrating our 135th year helping to create the leaders and pioneers of the future. Our school of business and public administration is also fully AACSB accredited, and UND is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission. We are ranked in the top 25 most innovative schools, top 30 in best online schools, number 102 overall for public schools and the ninth in top four year colleges for adult learners.

The program and coursework are totally asynchronous so there are no set login times or realtime seminars. Students have 24 hour access to their classes and can do their work on the days and times that are most convenient for them.

The program is set up on a part-time basis. The students only take two courses, each 15 week semester, one every seven weeks. We offer two tracks. There’s a practitioner and a fundamentals track, and both are 30 credits. The fundamentals track is designed for applicants who are holding a bachelor’s degree in an area other than accounting, with no prerequisite or bridge courses required. The practitioner track is designed for applicants who have a bachelor’s degree in accounting or coursework that is comparable.

Students also have a dedicated success coach throughout their academic career. We provide all students with Office 365 and Proctoring Services through ProctorU at no charge. 96% of all UND graduates are either employed or continuing their education. The program provides the accounting courses required to sit for the CPA exam and our CPA exam pass rates for first time test takers is much higher than the national average.

To apply for our online masters if accountancy program, you must complete an online application, including a $35 non-refundable application fee, have a four year bachelor’s degree from a regionally accredited institution. For the fundamentals track, we accept a degree in any field from a recognized college or university. For the practitioners track, a degree in accounting or in an accounting equivalent coursework is required.

You have to provide official transcripts with a minimum cumulative undergraduate GPA of at least 2.75 or a 3.0 GPA in your final two years. You’ll need three references, a statement of goals and a minimum GMAT score of 500 out of 800. However, the GMAT requirement may be waved if students have earned either a bachelor’s degree in accounting from an AACSB accredited institution, or a graduate degree from an AACSB accredited school.

As for the program costs, the total investment for our 30 credit online master of accountancy program is approximately $25,000. UND accepts a variety of financing options, including federal student loans, there’s McNair scholarships, employer tuition reimbursement. We accept the GI bill post 911, military tuition assistance, private student loans, as well as private pay, of course.

Now let’s get back to the fun stuff, Laura. I’ve pulled together a list of questions I hear regularly from potential students. Let’s run through a few of them. On average, how much time do you spend on coursework?

Laura Pflucker:

16 to 20 hours per week, depending on the week and on the class. Those hours are also expecting as a part-time program. I am on a [inaudible 00:30:09], I would say. I’m putting in those times in order to drive.

Pasquale Esposito:

That’s great. Some students ask what are the career paths available after graduation?

Laura Pflucker:

Well, my personal goal is to definitely stick with BDO. BDO is a continuously expanding firm who wants to remain being the top medium firm [size 00:30:37] in the world. I am eager to help that goal happen every single year. BDO also has a lot of opportunities inside of your firm for me to grow.

Pasquale Esposito:

Excellent. Do you feel your experience paired with the education provided by UND’s online master of accountancy program has prepared you to make those sorts of career moves?

Laura Pflucker:

Yes. I have experience in many different industries and different types of jobs, and now I know this is what I want. Sometimes it is hard to know what you want when you’re just out of college and have not experienced any job. I am glad I’m not there. You take your time, I know, but for some students who know what they want is college, great for them, but sometimes one always wonders what is this? What is that? Because you have not experienced anything else.

Pasquale Esposito:

Everybody has their own path. Earlier we discussed the networking and career resources, but what other resources are available to students?

Laura Pflucker:

Some office hours with professors, [inaudible 00:31:50] interactive discussions with other classmates, [inaudible 00:31:54] hours, supervised examinations, flexibility, while still keeping the students weekly on track. That’s a very important one. Also, a success coach who is ready to answer all your questions, even [inaudible 00:32:11]. The list is very long, but I just don’t know it by heart because I don’t get to use them all. But they have plenty online resources and UND’s ready to make each experience the experience of each of students worth your time.

Pasquale Esposito:

Are there any final tips or tricks that you’d like to share with potential students for succeeding in this online format?

Laura Pflucker:

Getting a routine and don’t procrastinate. I usually do the most work at the beginning of the week so if the class is very hard or life is keeping me busy, I don’t do anything last minute. If the classwork is easier, then I get to have a few days off.

Pasquale Esposito:

That’s wonderful. Thank you, Laura. I really appreciate you taking the time to provide this wonderful and thoughtful information and sharing your experience with the University of North Dakota’s online master of accountancy program. Thank you all for tuning in. If you have any unanswered questions or want to learn more about the program, please reach out to our enrollment team. Our contact information is on the screen. We hope to hear from you soon. Have a great day.