Sam Smalley trained as a drummer at the prestigious Berklee College of Music. Touring as part of an indie rock band, he came to realize he didn't want to live the life of a struggling musician.

There had to be a better way.

All in just 15 months.

Interested in business, Smalley enrolled in Northeastern's MS Accounting/MBA program—a fast-track master's degree in accounting and business administration. As a liberal arts major, the program made it possible for Smalley to master the technical aspects of accounting, complete a three-month corporate residency, and land a full-time job in New York with the accounting giant PwC.  

“This program is perfect for career changers,” says Smalley. “It provides a seamless transition from the arts to accounting.”

Smalley emphasized accounting is more than just a way to put food on the table— it's a profession that challenges him. 

“The accounting industry is very fast paced, but it's predictable in a way that allows you to plan your time,” he said. “No matter how busy I am, I always find time for my music.” 

Photo by Adam Glanzman
for Northeastern University

“Technology has not replaced human skills…We're always looking for those skills in addition to auditing expertise. Blending the two is important.”

Shawn hanrahan, MSA/MBA'02

The skills of today

Never satisfied to rest on its laurels, the D'Amore-McKim School of Business is taking the program up a notch by including a four-course concentration in analytics. The move is responsive to a major shift in the accounting field that is fueled, in part, by dramatic advances in artificial intelligence and other technologies.

“Firms have been telling us that they need graduates who are more tech-savvy, particularly in the areas of data mining, analysis, and visualization,” says Julie Chasse, director of D'Amore-McKim's Graduate School of Professional Accounting. “Our graduates are using their digital knowledge and innovation skills to analyze massive amounts of information more efficiently.”

The growth in information technology is having an impact on the type of work accountants perform, according to Shawn Hanrahan, MSA/MBA'02 and Audit & Assurance Managing Director at Deloitte & Touche LLP.

“Automation can help with some of the routine tasks and allows us to develop our people to focus on higher-level analysis,” he says.

The result is that a profession that has always been stable, portable, and lucrative has become even more interesting, according to Chasse.

“Accountants have always been analysts and advisors, telling stories with numbers,” she says. “By incorporating more technological skills into the curriculum, Northeastern is positioning students to play an active role in remaking the profession.”

Yet Hanrahan emphasizes that automation will never take the place of human judgment and interaction.

“Technology has not replaced human skills,” he says. “Auditors need to interact with clients, which requires the softer skills like communication, judgment, and analysis. We're always looking for those skills in addition to auditing expertise. Blending the two is important.”

Both sides of the brain

This blend of technical and creative skills reflects the school's mission – equipping leaders and innovators with technological, data and human skills to meet the demands of a changing global economy. That's one of the reasons learners with a liberal arts background have historically been so successful in the MSA/MBA program.

For example, Sarah Roesch, MSA/MBA ‘19, says her undergraduate philosophy major complemented her technical accounting training at Northeastern, and now serves her well at her job at EY.

“Philosophy, like accounting, is very analytical,” she says. “In addition to the technical intricacies, I like to approach accounting from the big picture, understanding the logic behind it and how it all fits together.”

As a musician, Smalley played in ensembles ranging from three to 100 people, often switching between different musical styles. He said this training has contributed to his current success as an auditor.

“Shifting between ensembles builds a resilience to discomfort, necessitates rapid adaptation and improvisation, and fosters profound teamwork,” he says. “Music is most beautiful when the performance is greater than the sum of its parts, meaning pride and ego take a backseat. The work my team and I do at PwC reflects this. Though we individually perform and produce our own bits of work, our ultimate goal is always the same. Effective teams realize their work is the sum of all individual efforts.”

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