By Eric Lee, Lecturer and Director of Academic Quality & Training, Golden Gate University
I posed this exact question to my mentor, a tax partner at KPMG, one of the Big Four public accounting firms, in the 1990s. At the time, I had completed one year as a tax staff. My mentor answered my question by simply stating, “Yes, assuming you want a career in taxation.”
Thus, it quickly became a matter of “when”, not “if”, I should get my master’s degree in tax. Why was timing so important? Taking graduate-level tax classes is challenging. I wanted to take classes when I did not have other substantial commitments outside of my full-time job as a tax staff. In fact, I planned to avoid Spring semester courses because that was during the busy season when tax preparers often work 55-hour weeks.
Education for the Real World
Shortly after that conversation with my mentor and having just passed the CPA exam, I decided the time was right to begin taking classes toward the Master of Science in Taxation degree at Golden Gate University. Fast forward 25 years, I have enjoyed a very successful and rewarding career in taxation as a member of senior management at a very large public accounting firm.
I started my education at GGU in the evenings, walking the short distance from KPMG’s office to campus. I quickly realized that the classroom experience was like none I had ever had. The courses were led by faculty with substantial academic and real-world experience, bringing in concrete real-world issues and challenges. My fellow students had diverse real-world experiences, including working in small and large public accounting firms, corporate tax departments, and governmental agencies. The diverse student backgrounds helped trigger engaging classroom discussions as we explored the technical material.
I started my education at GGU in the evenings, walking the short distance from KPMG’s office to campus. I quickly realized that the classroom experience was like none I had ever had.
The reality is that the Internal Revenue Code is both voluminous and complex. The two thick volumes of the Code are longer than the seven Harry Potter books, combined! Further, the Code is supported by six volumes of Regulations, IRS Revenue Ruling and Procedures, and endless amounts of tax case law. It is impossible for any one person to learn it all. The magic of a Master’s Degree in Taxation from GGU is that it teaches you how to research, read, and apply the myriad of tax law to a taxpayer’s set of facts. So, even if you have never seen a set of factual circumstances before, you will know how to identify the potential tax issues and find the solution.
Another major benefit of getting a Master of Science in Taxation at GGU is the material learned is very relevant in the real world. Many times, I applied what I learned during class the next day on the job in a client situation. After three years of experience in public accounting, you begin having client contact. Talking directly to clients who are paying a substantial sum of money for your tax guidance can initially be intimidating. However, the knowledge gained during classes gave me the confidence to ask appropriate questions to understand the client’s facts. Also, by understanding not only the tax law — but also the underlying theory and purpose of the tax law — gave me the ability to explain tax issues and tax law to the client in layman’s terms.
Getting a master’s in taxation degree, especially while working, is not easy. But, neither is the tax law. Despite missing a few Monday Night Football games over the years, I never regretted my decision to get my master’s in Taxation degree.
About Eric Lee, CPA
Eric Lee is an accomplished professor with 20 years of university classroom experience, a CPA, 20 years of public accounting experience, and author of 5 published books. He holds a master’s degree in taxation (’97) from Golden Gate University.