It’s not always easy being a college accounting student. Earning a degree is well worth it – as it will open the door to a satisfying career. But, as with many majors, there are challenges ranging from academic pressure to heavy course workloads.

What’s more, students may confront other setbacks outside school that may add stress. In December, for instance, some students at the University of Southern California missed their final exams due to the widespread fires in the region, noted Milli Penner, assistant dean of the undergraduate program at USC’s Leventhal School of Accounting in Los Angeles. “We have seen a much higher need to provide support services for students,” she said.

Lynne Zelenski, director of academic services for the Department of Accounting and Information Systems at Michigan State University in East Lansing, said she most often sees students in “academic distress — performing poorly in a class and not getting the grades they need to be admitted to our business college or Master of Science program.” And when problems arise and are not handled properly, students can fall further behind, develop bad reputations, miss out on internship or job opportunities, or even quit.

Despite these issues, accounting students can tackle adversity head-on if they take certain steps to mitigate it. Penner and Zelenski, along with Richard Morton, CPA (inactive), professor and chair of the Department of Accounting at Florida State University, in Tallahassee, offer the following tips:

Establish a support system. Before troubles surface, set up a trusted help network — such as your family, friends, an academic adviser, a professor, a mentor, or a resident assistant in your dorm. Then, “If something does come up, you’ve already got some resources and help available already in place,” Penner said. Also, be a friend to others, since you may need their help down the road.

Persevere and prioritize. When problems occur, it’s easy to get distracted. But, “It’s really important, particularly in accounting, to keep up and do the work each week and not procrastinate,” noted Penner. Also, your schooling may need to come before your job or other disruptions. “Remember that academics is the priority,” Morton advised.

Communicate and reach out for help. Let others know that you need time to study or deal with a personal issue. Discuss your heavy course load with your on-campus or off-campus employer. Let your adviser know you are stressed or dealing with complications. Universities and colleges have built-in support personnel, including career and health counselors, with open doors. “We have older students mentor younger students, so they have a peer that they can talk with as well as a professor and adviser,” Penner noted. “The biggest thing is COMMUNICATION in capital letters. We can’t help if we don’t know what’s going on.”

Consult with professors and yourself. College professors can often provide the best guidance, particularly if you are struggling in class. “With academic adversity, I’d talk with the instructor, and be honest and introspective,” Morton said. “Do some self-evaluation on why things are not clicking, and use that to change your behavior.”

Take care of yourself. It’s easy to sleep all day or eat poorly — or even stop eating — when things spiral out of control. Don’t allow fatigue and then failure to ensue. Exercise, take a nap if necessary, and eat healthy food. “Those are the things that make you feel better and focus,” Zelenski said.

Think long-term. If life gets in the way and you risk bad grades, consider retaking a course or courses once things have settled. “Having to repeat a class throws a monkey wrench into your plans, but may be better off in the long run,” Morton advised.

Realize you’re not alone. When your world seems to be falling apart, take heart. “The one thing to keep in mind is that everybody is going to face adversity at some point,” Zelenski said. “It’s inevitable. And if you have the attitude that ‘This, too, shall pass,’ it helps you be more resilient when you do face adversity.”


By Cheryl Meyer

Cheryl Meyer is a California-based freelance writer. To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact Chris Baysden, senior manager of newsletters at the Association of International Certified Professional Accountants.