As an undergraduate accounting student at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln, Anna McLain worked full-time at a public accounting firm through the School of Accountancy’s split semester internship program. This summer, she graduates prepared to start her career as an audit associate at Forvis after helping the firm during the hectic tax season and through a summer of audits.
“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 skill set 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.
Nebraska accounting students spend half a semester taking accelerated accounting courses and the other half interning full-time in either tax or audit at an accounting firm. The program provides a hands-on experience for students while allowing them to keep their full-time student status and not delay their graduation.
“Interning full-time was wonderful as a student because I immersed myself fully. I got to experience what an actual tax season was like so I knew what a tax career would be like after graduation,” McLain said.
During her tax internship, McLain never felt like there was a project she couldn’t handle. Nebraska is part of the 2% of institutions with Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business accreditation at both the College of Business and the School of Accountancy, so the students build a solid foundation of technical skills.
“You walk in on that first day of the split semester internship program, and it is so daunting. Then you remember that your professors did a wonderful job of preparing you in your classes,” she said.
She also completed an audit internship at Forvis over a summer and an accounting and data analytics internship at HDR, a global architectural and engineering firm headquartered in Omaha. Through these experiences, McLain completed business tax returns, conducted internal and external audit testing, held client meetings for individual tax returns, worked on budget analyses and expense allocations, and many other projects.
“Across these internships, I worked on diverse projects that enabled me to apply what I was learning in the classroom. Not only was I benefiting, but I also helped the company as well,” she said.
The interns help the firms during the busiest times of the year and the program serves as a cost-effective recruitment effort. The firms get connected to a broader pool of talent and often hire the students when the internships are completed.
“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,” Downes said. “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, vice presidents 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 accounting courses. Learning by doing the work of an accountant helps students excel in professional and academic environments.
“I came 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. 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.
McLain feels confident in her abilities to thrive professionally in her career at Forvis after graduation.
“It’s all about learning how to be resilient, ask the right questions 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 have necessarily had that mindset had I not had these internships,” she said. “I think I would have been surprised as a full-time associate if I hadn’t already experienced it on a smaller scale during my undergraduate degree. I am definitely better prepared to start my career.”