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Thread: Some Insights into the Accounting PhD Process

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    Some Insights into the Accounting PhD Process

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    Throughout the past few years, I've used this forum a lot for advice on what I needed to do to get into a top accounting PhD program. As the application season is coming to a close, I thought I would share some of my insights going through this process. A lot of the information on this forum is very useful and informative, but a lot of the content (as far as I saw) may not reflect what the process is like today, as the forum was more active before.

    If you want detailed statistics from my profile, you can probably find them on one of my older posts. I am from a school in Canada (for the sake of anonymity, I won't say which one, but it's one that is considered one of the better schools in Canada). I was accepted into 2 schools that are typically considered to be in the T-10, 3 additional ones that fall within T-20 and 2 safety schools.

    Overall, I felt that I did quite well this application season, all things considered. Here are some takeaways that I had from the application process, and things that I might have changed:


    • I ended up getting reference letters from people who knew me really well, and who I had worked with. If I had known earlier just how important references were, I would have tried to get to know senior faculty at my school better. I knew that references were important, but I didn't know that these would be so important. Some of the interviews that I landed were largely because some references knew people in the faculty at those schools.



    • I would have worked at an accounting firm for a few years before I applied. I know that a lot of schools tell you this doesn't matter, but throughout my experience this cycle and talking with other applicants, it seems that there does seem to be some preference for prior work experience. It may not matter as much as other things like research experience, grades, references, etc., but I was asked very often about why I chose not to work before going into a PhD program.



    • I would not have worried as much about math courses or rigorous econ training. A lot of programs don't have this as a requirement. To an extent, it seemed like they cared more that I was passionate about the field than they did about the specifics of my training. I was really worried that my quant preparation would be too weak, and I spent a lot of time trying to correct this issue. I think some of that time may have been better spent gaining work experience or getting to know faculty a bit better.


    My biggest piece of advice for people who are in undergrad/master's programs that are looking to do an accounting phd is to go out and meet faculty. Not only because they can write you references, but also because they're usually the best sources of information for the application process. I can't understate how important and useful faculty members have been in helping me with the whole process.

    If you have any more specific questions, I'm happy to answer them through inbox!

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    Re: Some Insights into the Accounting PhD Process

    I'm in a different field and also applied this year, but I want to say that I couldn't agree with you more on the importance of reference letters.

    I was also accepted in the T-10 range and believe that this is due to having strong references from 3 professors (I have been out of school for a while and spent two years building these relationships before applying, so this is possible to do even if you've been working for years). The profile evaluations on here seem to be of limited value because it seems that many qualified candidates apply and then being selected for an interview will ultimately come down to your references.

    To add to your great post, I will say that things I would change (after applying and knowing what I know now):
    - Completely agree to focus more on references and less on other aspects (like GMAT score)
    - Prepare for interviews well in advance (i.e. when putting together applications). All of my interviews were completely different and most were not based on the traditional format that is posted on here. As well, I had about 1 day to prepare for each interview and my first interview came mid-December (two days after the application deadline). I expected to have more time to prepare and I also expected the interviews to be a casual conversation. As a result, I did not perform very well on some of the ones that asked specific questions. All of the questions I could have answered if I had more time to prepare, so I wish I knew that I would get essentially zero time to prepare so I could have done it well in advance of getting the interview request.

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    Re: Some Insights into the Accounting PhD Process

    Agreed. Reference letters are wildly important. The field is super small, so rightly or wrongly, being associated with high status folks goes a lot farther than you may think.

    When I was in my STR/OB PhD, the faculty would sometimes create summaries for the top applicant profiles and send them to the department. In all cases, over the span of many years, the summaries always mentioned letter writers by name. On average, the more well-known the letter writers were, the higher the letter writers' names were listed in the summary.

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    Re: Some Insights into the Accounting PhD Process

    Thank you for posting this - it's very helpful! And congratulations on getting into a number of programs!

    How important is research experience when applying to Accounting PhD programs? I'm a CPA and MAcc graduate (course-based) with 5 years of work experience and zero research experience (I only recently considered a career in academia). Do you think this could hurt my chances? Do you have any recommendations on gaining research experience if it's important?

    Thanks!

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    Re: Some Insights into the Accounting PhD Process

    That's a good question. I think there is a lot of heterogeneity between schools. Some schools are more lenient on prior research experience while others aren't. My perceptions are that programs like Michigan and even Wharton would accept candidates that have limited research experience but have good industry experience. Other programs on the other hand (and I'd say this is the case for most of the schools in the Top 20) would want at least a summer research position under your belt. I know for a fact that there were applicants this cycle that had already published several articles, albeit in lower-ranked journals.

    All of this to say that while it is possible that you could get into a program without research experience, I think that it really help to have previous research experience. This helps on multiple fronts. First, I found that I actually learnt a lot and it gave me some exposure to academic research, which is entirely different from "regular" accounting. Secondly, it serves as a signal to adcoms. And lastly, I think that having a good letter from someone you've done research with can really help your chances, especially if they're well-known in the field. If you want to speak in more depth, feel free to PM me!

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    Re: Some Insights into the Accounting PhD Process

    Quote Originally Posted by lucky123 View Post
    That's a good question. I think there is a lot of heterogeneity between schools. Some schools are more lenient on prior research experience while others aren't. My perceptions are that programs like Michigan and even Wharton would accept candidates that have limited research experience but have good industry experience. Other programs on the other hand (and I'd say this is the case for most of the schools in the Top 20) would want at least a summer research position under your belt. I know for a fact that there were applicants this cycle that had already published several articles, albeit in lower-ranked journals.

    All of this to say that while it is possible that you could get into a program without research experience, I think that it really help to have previous research experience. This helps on multiple fronts. First, I found that I actually learnt a lot and it gave me some exposure to academic research, which is entirely different from "regular" accounting. Secondly, it serves as a signal to adcoms. And lastly, I think that having a good letter from someone you've done research with can really help your chances, especially if they're well-known in the field. If you want to speak in more depth, feel free to PM me!
    Thanks for this! Just sent you a PM.

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