Joseph Sterling

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Joseph Sterling
Grand Valley State University (West Shore Community College)

 
Q: What other careers did you consider before deciding on accounting?

A: I went to community college straight out of high school, but only lasted one semester. I had no idea what I wanted to do, I just knew that I wanted to go to college. I wasn’t ready for it, so I quit school and worked in a beverage distribution plant for four years before making the decision to go back.

I started out planning to study criminal justice. The community college has a two-year licensing program to become a police officer. But I wanted to work for the state police—the best of the best—and when I wasn’t recruited, I knew I needed to find another career path. At the time, I was enrolled in financial accounting, and was doing well in the class, so it seemed like a natural fit to switch to accounting.

Q: What else made you realize accounting was the right fit for you?

A: Accounting is something you can get good at—not something that you have to be born with. In fact, I hated math in high school! I was terrible at math. I was a much better English student. I was surprised by how much I enjoyed my accounting classes. And I knew I wouldn’t be at a disadvantage entering the profession as a non-traditional aged student—I wasn’t going to have to spend two years just trying to remember things from classes I took in high school before getting on a career path.

The demand for CPAs is high; employers are now pursuing them for technology related roles such as IT audit and risk assurance, in addition to the compliance, audit and tax work that CPAs are traditionally known to do.

Q: Who influenced your career decisions?

A: My accounting teacher at West Shore Community College was very influential in my deciding to study accounting. Growing up, I didn’t really have anyone to bounce ideas off of in terms of what I wanted to do professionally. I’m a first-generation college student and my family all work in manual labor, so while they are supportive they weren’t able to provide much help when deciding on my future—both college plans and career.

I also have friend that went through the same accounting program a few years before me. He was a valuable asset every step of the way and provided me with great resources to ensure that I succeed. He was both a mentor and a friend. I would strongly recommend students try to cultivate a relationship with someone that is currently in the workforce that has a similar career path to the one they intend to take. That person can provide valuable insight and possible networking opportunities.

Q: What do you enjoy about accounting?

A: The subject is linear—it makes sense. There are good reasons for why you make certain decisions and international standards that you have to adhere to. For me, the subject matter has been easy to grasp and understand. Plus, you quickly realize how much influence CPAs have in the business world—those people are the kingpins.

Q: What advice would you offer to community college students wanting to transfer and earn a degree in accounting?

A: I would encourage students to look into how credits transfer early on so you can quickly get on the right path. Plan to leave with a degree—it doesn’t really matter what it is. If you get an associate’s degree stamped with a transfer agreement between your community college and the four-year university you’re planning to attend, the university is usually required to take a certain amount of your credits. Also, think about joining a departmental club. These usually don’t cost anything to join and are flexible so you can attend events that interest you, but that don’t require a huge time commitment so you can focus on getting good grades and keeping up with an outside job if you have one.

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