University of Southern California

Hali Booker
Mastering Complex Issues
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Undergrad Institution
Cornell University
Diamond Bar, California

Taxing and rewarding

Hali Booker loves a challenge, so it’s no surprise that her favorite class in the Master of Business Taxation program was also one of the most difficult in the whole curriculum. The course, Accounting for Income Taxes, prepares students to conduct a provision analysis—an essential aspect of corporate accounting that figures a company’s tax liability for the year.

“It entailed all the work we’d be doing for an actual firm—but on a larger scale,” Hali explains. “At this point in our careers, we’d only be working on a portion. In the classroom, we were responsible for completing the entire analysis.”

She calls the assignment “difficult but surprisingly fun.” After completing it, there was one less thing in their careers that would challenge Hali or her fellow MBT candidates, she says.

Rigorous training

An intensive one-year program offered through the Leventhal School of Accounting, the MBT constitutes a total immersion in business-related tax matters. “You’re thrown into things, and you don’t really know what you’re doing at first,” admits Hali. “But you’re given all the necessary tools, and are asked to figure it out.”

For students such as Hali, who come in without a business or accounting degree, these tools include a summer intensive before the academic year. This prologue provides the necessary accounting background to be fully prepared for the rigorous MBT curriculum. “You’re in class from 8 to 5,” she says, “where you’re expected to learn and understand a semester’s worth of material in five to seven days.”

Hali adds that the task of mastering complex issues in such a compressed timeframe—whether during the summer intensive or the MBT year—“may seem impossible, but it was not and was actually really helpful to our professional development. We learned early on how to perform under the pressures of time and personal stress.”

Supportive faculty

However demanding the program became, Hali always felt supported by the faculty. “We have really dedicated professors who are available whenever you need them,” she says. “One professor would wake up at, I think, four in the morning to answer emails before coming to campus. The professors were there to not only teach the immediate content but to also help you build a foundation for future success.”

Another Marshall professor, Shiing-Wu Wang, was always ready with supportive advice that went beyond coursework. “He would remind students that as accountants we have a tendency to be meticulous and worry about making everything perfect, but you don’t have to be perfect to do well,” recalls Hali.

Time for outside pursuits

Even amidst the challenging curriculum, Hali found time for pursuits outside of the classroom. She played on the USC Women’s Club Volleyball team, which practices year-round and competes nationally, held a job and also volunteered with the USC Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program (VITA)—an unaffiliated student-run organization providing free tax-return assistance to people with low incomes.

Worth the effort

Hali’s advice for those considering an MBT at USC: “Just come in with an open mind. Don’t be scared of all the opportunities to learn and grow that the program presents you with. Stay positive because you can really do well in this program if you just put the time and effort into it.”

As with anything worthwhile, the results are worth the effort, she says. “I have a lot of friends who came here and got great jobs coming out.” Hali has now joined their number, as a tax consultant for Deloitte.

Eventually, Hali would like to expand her VITA volunteer work and do tax consulting and financial planning for low-income families. For now she looks forward to joining Deloitte. “I’m not sure what the future holds, but I have a great firm behind me to help me shape the future I want.” She credits Marshall and the Leventhal School of Accounting for giving her the foundation she needs to pursue that future.