This story originally appeared on the USC Online website. It is being republished with permission.
By Becca van Sambeck
For many people, pursuing a master’s degree allows them to further their career knowledge and skill sets, become experts in their chosen fields and take on leadership positions within their organizations.
That was certainly the case for Melissa Abel, who enrolled in the Master of Business Taxation program from the USC Marshall School of Business while working as a senior associate in accounting methods and credit services for U.S. tax firm KPMG.
At the time, Abel was ineligible to become a certified public accountant, as she did not have the necessary educational credits to sit for the Uniform CPA Exam. She knew that in order to move up in her career and eventually take on a management position, she needed to return to school to earn additional units.
“I was also lacking the technical skills and writing skills I needed, since I really had only taken one general tax class in my undergraduate studies and later made a career shift from audit to tax. I was a little bit behind, and that’s why I thought that the MBT program would really help to advance my career, help me get the CPA and move up to the next level,” she told USC Online.
Abel was working in Los Angeles, which meant many of her colleagues had attended USC in the past. In fact, one of the directors in her group was a professor for the program and spoke highly of it, assuring her it would propel her career and expand her professional network. Based off his recommendation and the general enthusiasm of her colleagues, she knew she wanted to attend the MBT program at USC Marshall.
“USC also has a great, world-renowned reputation, so it was really a no-brainer to apply. Actually, it was the only school that I applied to,” she laughed. “I put all my eggs in one basket and basically said, ‘USC is the best. It’s what I want.’”
While Abel initially attended the program in person at USC’s campus, an exciting management opportunity led to a relocation to KPMG’s Washington, D.C., office, and she decided to switch over to the MBT online track for working professionals.
Abel immediately fell into the rhythm of online classes. Being able to rewatch videotaped classes meant she could take more detailed notes and feel more prepared for exams, and the flexibility of online work was a massive benefit as she adjusted to a new role and a new city. It also meant she was able to connect with students from all across the country, which she relished.
The MBT program itself consists of 10 courses with five classes that focus on the fundamentals of general taxation and tax theory, writing and research, income tax of corporations, partnership and communication, with the other half reserved for electives.
“I love that the program was not just technical, but it also encompassed a lot of other aspects like soft skills, presentations, mentorship, collaboration and more. It was really great that we were able to learn additional skills that were needed to advance our career."—Melissa Abel
“You have the flexibility to choose which areas to focus on if you want to deepen your knowledge with an advanced course or even learn an entirely new area of taxation. I loved being able to pick and choose which elective classes I wanted to take and what made sense for me. Most of it was directly applicable to what I was working on, so it helped with both work and school, which was great,” she explained.
There was much to enjoy about USC itself, too, Abel said: the diverse array of classmates, the top-notch professors and, of course, the coveted Trojan network, which “opened a lot of doors” in her career.
The best part of the program, however, was that she was able to accomplish the goal she had set to achieve with a master’s degree: truly become an expert in the taxation field. She also deepened her understanding of tax research and enhanced her writing skills.
“I love that the program was not just technical, but it also encompassed a lot of other aspects like soft skills, presentations, mentorship, collaboration and more. It was really great that we were able to learn additional skills that were needed to advance our career,” she said.
And that was exactly what happened for Abel: After completing the MBT program, she was offered a senior manager position in the income tax and accounting division at KPMG.
When asked if she would encourage others to consider a master’s degree in the sector, Abel was firm in her response: Yes. She also has some unique proof that entering the world of taxation can lead to both successful professional and personal outcomes.
When Abel first moved to Washington, D.C., in 2017, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act was passed, marking the first major overhaul of the U.S. tax code since the 1960s. Many of her firm’s partners encouraged her to go in person to watch the House of Representatives vote on the tax bill.
“When I arrived, the line was super long, and I saw a cute guy in a suit … He took me up [to the front of the line] and sat with me throughout the whole vote. I asked for his number to take him out for a thank-you drink, and four years later, we’re married,” she recalled. “You think of taxes as being kind of boring, but look at how that happened: It directly led to my marriage.”
Learn more about the Master of Business Taxation for Working Professionals online program today.