Hear from a Student–Matthew D. Hitchcock, CPA

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In this webinar, Matthew discusses why he chose to pursue his Online Master of Science in Taxation and how he is enjoying the program so far. He also talks about balancing life and work while earning his degree from overseas.

Transcript

Angela LaGamba: Hi everyone. Welcome to Northeastern University’s Online Master of Science in Taxation webinar. My name is Angela and I will be your moderator for today. Before we begin, I’d like to go over some logistics for this presentation and also address some commonly ask questions that you might have. So for today, we encourage you to ask questions. If you have any of them, you can send them through the Q&A box located on the left-hand side of your screen. And we will also be taking those questions and addressing them throughout the dedicated Q&A session.

We also make sure to turn off your computer speakers. You are going to be listening through your computer. And this session will be recorded so you can listen to it again at a future time. I’d like to introduce you to our two panelists today. We have Matthew Hitchcock, Michelle Yan and myself Angela LaGamba. I’m your host and moderator. Matthew is a student in Northeastern University’s Online Master of Science in Taxation, and he’ll be sharing his student experience with you today and we’ll have a more of a detailed introduction for Matthew later on in the presentation.

We also have Michelle Yan. She’s an enrollment advisor on Northeastern University’s online Master of Science in Taxation. And her role is to help prospective students through the application and admissions process. All right, so you may be wondering what are we going to be talking about today in the webinar? We’re going to be covering a number of items, but we’re going to start by giving you an introduction at Northeastern University. You’re gonna learn a bit more about our online Master of Science in Taxation program. And then Matthew is gonna be talking about his experience as a student in our hear from a student section. And then Michelle will be chatting with us about the admissions requirements, the tuition and fees requires for the program. And then we will also have our dedicated Q&A session at the end. And again, feel free to send in those questions because we will be addressing that during the Q&A. Without further adieu, I’d like to hand it over to Michelle Yan, our enrollment advisor to tell us more about working for university. Go ahead Michelle.

Michelle Yan: Our Online Master of Science in Taxation is part of the D’Amore-McKim School of Business. It was established in 1922, has a rich history, a strong reputation for scholarly research and teaching excellence. Building on high academic achievement, wide ranging work and consulting experience, rich diversity and our extensive corporate ties, D’Amore-McKim School of Business faculty members are leaders in their field and regularly receive worldwide recognition and awards for their contributions to theory and the practice of management.

We do have a global network of over 200,000 Northeastern alumni, spanning more than 50 countries. Please like China, Canada, India, England, Germany and Australia to name a few. Almost 90% of our students pursuing graduate business degrees have work experience. So, our programs are very accommodating and flexible.

Now in this slide, we show a little bit of rankings and our accreditation. We are accredited by AACSB International, one of the highest business accreditations worldwide. Most recently, Northeastern University’s online graduate business programs was ranked no. 17 in the U.S. by U.S. News & World Report. This does also include our Online Master of Science in Taxation at Northeastern University.

Now a little bit about the program itself. The Online Master of Science in Taxation was designed with the working tax professional in mind. The coursework is 100% online with no residency requirements. The program can be completed as little as 16-18 months. There are 10 courses and typically taking only one course at a time. Now in this program, we do offer two specialty tracks, taxation and entities and taxation of individuals. The program is structured to increase your technical tax knowledge, sharpen your research skills, keep up to date with tax laws and analyze the complex regulations, related casings and rulings.

The good thing with our program is that the GMAT and the GRE is not a necessary requirement for our program. With our program we tend to really focus on the tax work experience. And so there are also a variety of different tax professionals coming into the program and we have students coming from all public accounting firms, private industry, there are individuals coming from the IRS and of course the big four firms as well. So, it is a fantastic opportunity to collaborate on cases, trade ideas, learn from each other and develop strong networking opportunities with fellow colleagues in the program as well.

Now at this point, I would like to introduce you to our student spotlight portion of the webinar, Matthew Hitchcock and Matthew Hitchock is a student at Northeastern University’s Online Master of Science in Taxation. He obtained a BBA in Accounting. His first position out of school was at the Internal Revenue Service as a field revenue agent where he conducted audits of high net worth individuals and the closely held businesses and became licensed as a CPA.

Next, Matthew took a position as a tax staff at Ernst & Young in Germany in their U.S. tax department in 2011. He is currently with KPMG in a senior tax staff role in their U.S. tax department. His primary practice area is international tax consulting and compliance with a strong focus on in bound investment by German companies. So Matthew, thank you so much for joining us today.

Matt Hitchcock: Yeah, no problem, thanks Michelle for having me.

Michelle Yan: Great. And in the next couple of slides, I will be posing sort of a set of questions Matthew to you that we feel that many prospective students want to learn more about. So Matt, feel free to explain or expand on your experience and your take on Northeastern’s Online MST. So the first question that we have in relation to your career and educational background, how has your career and educational background made you a good fit for the program?

Matt Hitchcock: That’s a good question. I think where we’re really trying to get with this is kind of what was my thought process? Why did I want to get a Master’s of Science in Taxation? As you mentioned out of school, I started with the Internal Revenue Service as a field revenue agent where I conducted audits. The question comes up how did you end up in Germany? My wife is German and wanted to study over here in Germany and get her master’s and I kind of jokingly told her that if I find a job over there, that I will go and join her. And it ended up working out. I took a position with Ernst & Young and then as an associate tax staff in a U.S. tax department in Frankfurt, Germany. And then subsequently got an offer at KPMG where I currently have been for about the last three years.

So my thought process of why I wanted to get an MST was as I progressed up the career ladder, I started getting more and more technically involved with cases that were maybe a little bit out of my experience range. And what I really wanted to do was focus on my tax technical knowledge, but also get a broad overview of the different types of tax that maybe I hadn’t been exposed to.

So my thought process was getting an MST was basically I wanna expound and expand my technical expertise in my particular practice area. But I also wanna be able to practice outside of other areas. In the internal tax areas, you guys can probably imagine there’s been a significant amount of growth with respect to recently issued legislation, whether it’s SATCA or the new withholding regulations that have really put a burden on the international taxation field. And my goal with getting an MST was to expand on my technical knowledge and be able to better serve our client.

Michelle Yan: Wonderful. So, with your background coming in, I guess, what made you feel that maybe you would think that you would be able to handle an MST program like this? Do you think that your background prepared you?

Matt Hitchcock: Yeah, I think my background prepared me great. And actually also give me the kind of push that I really wanted to pursue a Master’s program in the area. The experience that I gained going into the program has definitely helped me while in the program. But I’ve also noticed that the collaboration with people that maybe come from industry or I currently have someone that was a state tax auditor in one of my classes has really been a good fit to be able to bounce ideas off of each other.

Michelle Yan: The next question I have for you Matt deals with the program or the curriculum itself. So, what made this program, Northeastern’s online MS tax program stand out when choosing a school to pursue your degree?

Matt Hitchcock: Yeah, so what made Northeastern stand out to me was a couple things. The first thing is being over in Frankfurt, Germany, the option of having an on ground Master’s of Science in U.S. Taxation doesn’t really exist. So, that limited me to online programs. And I did a pretty significant amount of research before deciding to go with MST. What ultimately pushed me to choose Northeastern as opposed to some of the other Online MSTs that are offered with the curriculum. I felt like from what I had seen both working at the IRS and also in public accounting, the concept of the core curriculum and the fact that you had the choice to kind of go in one direction or another for me it was the entity direction was really key. This is something that Northeastern offered that I didn’t really feel was well offered at the other programs.

I also really liked the fact that there were two international tax classes that were offered that I would be able to take and since this is my primary area of practice, that’s kind of where I wanted to focus my studies on. And Northeastern’s program allowed me to do that.

Michelle Yan: Great, wonderful. The next question I have you deals with time commitment. As we all know tax professionals are very busy. I mean a lot of times they have to sort of juggle and balance school, work, family and of course many CPs are now coming to the tax season. So, I just wanted to get an idea from you Matt, what is it like to complete the program while working and also balancing, you know sort of different obligations in your life?

Matt Hitchcock: Yeah. This is a really good question. The one thing that I will have to say about doing this program online as opposed to perhaps being on an on campus course is the ability to manage your schedule around your classes, or your classes around your schedule, however it may be. With the ability to look and view lectures at a later point in time, a lot of the courses, I think actually every course that I’ve had so far has had live sessions that are all recorded that I can go back and look at – obviously the time difference for me is a big issue. Most of the time when these live sessions are offered, I’m hopefully in bed sleeping by then. But it’s nice to be able to basically progress at my own pace and really complete the work when I need to and when I have time to.

From an overall time commitment, I think it’s really varied by class. I had a little bit of initial shock with the first class. I think I probably spent I would say around 20-25 hours in that first federal principle class. For some reason, I got the impression when I was going through that that that was the weed out class of the program. But it was actually really good. It was really well put together and I would say on average – again it depends on what area you’re coming from. For instance, if you have experience in say international tax, that will perhaps make the time commitment a little bit less on this class than for me state and local taxation which I have almost no experience in.

But I think it’s pretty safe to say that I’ve averaged anywhere between 12-18 hours a week on all of the classes. And with juggling the whole work/life balance concept, life I can kind of scratch out of that equation. I think that’s just the nature of working in public accounting, having busy season and trying to complete a master’s degree in 15 months. But I think that’s also okay because the program is short. It’s come in, learn the stuff, get your degree, have a nice day. And that’s one thing that really attracted me to the program.

Michelle Yan: Great, great. And actually I have a quick follow up question to that. How do you find the rigor of the program, the content, the material, and as it relates to your job?

Matt Hitchcock: Yeah. I have found all of the classes to be very eye opening. I think it’s always really interesting to take a class and hear a professor who maybe has experience in an area that’s perhaps the same area as yours, but a different angle on it. It’s always fascinating to me the things that come up that you’re like huh, why haven’t I heard of that before? Yeah, I have found the rigor and the material, in general, to be very well put together. And I can say I’ve taken a lot out of the program.

Michelle Yan: Great, great. Okay, the next question I have for you deals with online learning. Now, I know a lot of students that are, perhaps, considering the program, it’s their first time coming into an online program in terms of the technology wise and they’re not sure what to expect. So, the first question I have for you is how does – well, first of all what is it like to learn online and the second question is how does the student faculty interaction occur in the online program?

Matt Hitchcock: Yeah, sure that’s also a valid question I ask myself when I started. Luckily in my undergraduate program I had used the software before. All of the classes are run through the blackboard platforms. So, I had a little bit of experience with how an online class progressed and worked prior to coming into the program. I had a little bit of an idea of what to expect. So, I think the learning curve jumping in for me really wasn’t that big of a deal. But again, I think in general, I’ve never at any point in time in the program felt like I didn’t know what I was supposed to be doing. Things have been very well laid out and pretty self-explanatory with what’s expected.

And one thing that is nice when I have had a question I get almost immediate responses from the professors and this has been really, really awesome for me because I remember I had an inbound taxation class and this is one of my primary practice areas. I think the professor probably hated me because I would email him three or four times a week asking just random questions that I personally thought interesting that may have related to the material but probably not to the degree that he was interested in. But he always got back to me very quickly, I would say within a day, answering my questions, explaining it further. To be honest, I think this is probably better interaction than I had even when I was in my undergrad in an on ground program.

Michelle Yan: Okay great, especially with yourself being in Germany, I can see that there will be opportunities in the class where you are doing group work. So, as a follow up question, tell us a little bit about in terms of how the group interaction – how does that work with you being in Germany and also completing assignments that were sort of a group oriented assignment?

Matt Hitchcock: Yeah, so I think really there was only one class where I had, what I would consider to be substantial group work where there was some coordination going on with the times that we would be able to get together. A lot of the group work is not such that you need to necessarily be together and deliver together. A lot of group work more revolves around discussion board posts. So, if I post something, it’s gonna stay there and usually there’s a deadline by when something is due. But the time difference doesn’t really create some kind of a big issue because the stuff just stays on blackboard.

So, I personally haven’t had any problems with the group work. I know in the first class we ended up having weekly skype sessions with our group members to kind of sit down and talk through who was gonna do what on projects and yeah in general I found the group work to be very great. I thought it was kind of fascinating. It was the first time that I’ve ever been in an educational setting where I actually felt like my group members were pulling their weight. I’ve had a positive experience so far with group work and I think if anyone would have problems with this, this would be me with my six hour time difference.

Michelle Yan: And then the question that I have for you sort of comes back to in terms of where you are right now in terms of your professional career. How has a program, first of all, helped your current role within your firm? What has it done in terms of with the professional career, how has it helped you so far?

Matt Hitchcock: Yeah, that’s a great question. I think hands down the biggest difference that I’ve seen since starting the program is the amount of responsibility that I’ve been given. Since starting the program, I’ve been able to work on projects that probably perhaps before the program I wouldn’t have been working on. And I’ve been given a lot of responsibility. And one of the things that I really like about the program and actually was one of the reasons why I decided to get an MST was to develop kind of a broad framework of each individual area, but also the taxation system as a whole. And what I’ve found is that this program through the core courses and then also the later elective courses, I’ve really been able to get to the point where I can recognize issues that I wouldn’t have recognized before that I may not know the answer to but I have a framework with which I can operate.

And the research class has also been very good in equipping me to be able to efficiently and effectively find answers with the various tax research software. So, I think probably the most noticeable thing has been – you know I’ve received increased responsibility in my role. And then I’ve also been able to develop a significant amount of business as a result of taking this program. Often times when you’re dealing with a client, either in a consulting or in a compliance aspect, things will naturally pop up when you recognize that an issue exists, and a lot of times this leads to other questions that need to kind of be fleshed out further. And for me, I’ve been able to identify consulting opportunities for some of our clients that have lead to increased business.

Michelle Yan: Great, that’s wonderful. So at this point, those are the questions we have for you today Matt and definitely continue staying on the line here, ‘cause what we’re gonna do is we’re gonna sort of go back into talking a little bit more regarding the admission requirements for the program itself and then towards the end of the presentation, we’ll open up the floor in terms of individuals that are joining us today to ask questions and there’s a chat box where they can actually type questions, so we’ll have a Q&A session towards the end.

Matt Hitchcock: Okay, excellent.

Michelle Yan: Great. Now, admission requirements for the online MS in tax program, first of all, we do require students coming in to have an undergraduate degree from an accredited institution. GPA requirement we’re looking for is about a 3.25 out of a 4.0. We are looking for an undergraduate or graduate course in tax with a grade of 3.0 or higher out of a 4.0 scale. Typically, we are looking for individuals coming in with the minimum of two years of professional tax experience, including a busy season or over the phone credentials such as a J.D., a CPA, CFP or enrolled agent.

When speaking regarding the application requirements, typically we are looking for an up-to-date resume, two professional recommendations. So, typically when we see professional recommendations, we’re looking from your employer, it could be a colleague and of course I know that many tax professionals they have their own firms. We can also take them from their clients as well.

There is an application essay that students need to put together. There is also a $100 application fee with an online application as well. We do need all official transcripts, either undergraduate or graduate work and those candidates that their undergraduate instruction was not conducted in English may need to submit a TOFL score as well.

Now the tuition for Northeastern’s online MS in tax program you can see some of the fees involved. As I mentioned before, there is an application fee of $100. The course tuition you’re looking at is $1,476 per credit hour. There are a total of 30 credits, and so overall tuition you’re looking at about 44,280. And again, there’s a total of 10 courses. So, these are the tuition and fees. Typically, any other associated costs along with it I would say would only be course material and textbooks and probably allocate average about $200, $250 per course, and of course that’s times 10 courses when it comes to course textbooks.

I would also like to talk a little bit about some other scholarship opportunity that we do have available at Northeastern and the first one is a yellow ribbon program. Now Northeastern University is committed to supporting our veterans and the online program has recently become part of the yellow ribbon program. If you do fall under this program, then it means that most, if not all of your tuition will be covered by the government and Northeastern University. For more information regarding the yellow ribbon program, please do visit the website listed on the slide.

The second scholarship that we do have available, as part of our commitment to our alums, beginning Fall, 2015, so last fall, the D’Amore-McKim School of Business will now offer something called the Double Husky Scholarship to all Northeastern alums who have completed a degree at one of our colleges. This offer does include a 25% discount on tuition. In addition, the $100 application fee is waived, and of course, again, for more information, please do visit the website that’s listed on this slide.

Last but not least, Northeastern does also offer something called the lifetime learning membership and it is available to families of currently enrolled full-time students. So, currently enrolled full-time students means they’re full-time undergraduate students currently studying at Northeastern and their family members of these students can take advantage of something called lifetime learning memberships. They are able to take advantage of a 25% discount on tuition. Again, for more information, the website is also listed below and you can take a look at that website. At this point, I would like to hand it over back to Angela.

Angela LaGamba: Great, thank you very much Michelle and Matt for walking us through the program and the student experience. What we’re gonna do now is open the floor up for questions. This is our dedicated Q&A session. I’ve seen that a couple of questions have come in through the Q&A chat box, but I encourage our audience to continue to send in those questions and Matt and Michelle are available live right now to give you some answers. So, why don’t we start off with our question from Melissa. Melissa had logged in and was asking how often do you have to log onto the computer for class and how long does it take to get the degree and what’s the cost? So, Michelle, why don’t we start with you and we’ll have Matt add to that. Michelle, go ahead.

Michelle Yan: So, I’ll discuss the last two questions Melissa. So, your question was how long does it take to get the degree? So, the program itself, you can complete the degree in a minimum of 16 months. In 16 months, there are 10 courses. Courses are taken one course at a time and each course is five weeks. So, it is considered a little bit more of an accelerated program because the timeframe to complete the courses is relatively short by the set of time. But as you’ve heard from Matt and a lot of the students that are attending the program, they feel that this is a really great way – you have an accelerated course where you’re only focusing on that one course. So I find that a lot of my students really enjoy the schedule.

So again it is a minimum of 16 months. Now, I know a lot of tax professionals, they work through two busy seasons and so forth so things are hectic. And I think what one of sort of the follow up answers to that is if students are able to take breaks between courses and certainly you are able to, we do allow for students to complete the program in a maximum of four years. So, maximum time to complete is four years, so during times throughout the year, things were hectic, you were running into busy season, you planned a family vacation and so forth, there is flexibility for students to take breaks in between classes.

And the cost of the program, we did address that in our tuition section and the tuition was 1,476 a credit hour. Thirty credit hours overall, so you’re looking at about $44,280. So essentially one class, three credits you’re looking to pay about $4,420 per course. In regards to the first question, maybe that question Matt you can address the question again how often do you have to log onto the computer for class?

Matt Hitchcock: Yeah, sure. Yeah, Melissa, it really depends on the class. A lot of the course material – really the only reason why you need to log on is to submit your homework assignments and then also to pull down the videos or the presentations that are given by the professors. I would say it depends on the class. For me, personally, I find it pretty easy to just keep up on the screen. I actually have a second monitor, I keep the blackboard application on the screen, just in cases where there are discussion board posts. A lot of times I find with the time difference it’s nice if someone happens to get online and put something just to quickly respond back because that may be the only time that I actually am able to get them live because of the time difference. But I guess, in general, I would say once a day would be more than sufficient. But again, I think that’s dependent upon the course you’re taking.

Michelle Yan: Yeah, and I’d like to add to that as well Matt. So, exactly what Matt said, I mean depending on – in terms of the week’s deliverables. So, every time when you do log in, you have access to your schedule for the week. For the course schedule or course syllabus, it’ll indicate to you okay, week one how many chapters you need to read, when you’re assignments are due, when your cases are due. So, a lot of times, there’s no sort of specific time that you have to be logged on sitting in front of your computer. Any time you log on, you will have access to all of your course, information, assignments, cases, exams and so forth. And so a lot of times, when you do log in is if you’re prepared to answer a post or you wanna review course notes that are on the slide deck in each of the weeks, that’s when you would log in.

So a lot of times most students – I find that depending on your schedule like Matt mentioned, I mean some students may work on their homework and their assignments on the evenings, after you get back from work, have dinner, do whatever errands you need to do and I find a lot of students, especially those students that have kids as well, they’ll sit at the computer at probably 9:00 in the evening. And every evening, you’ll go sort of study and read for about three hours a night. So it really depends on what you’re more comfortable. Some students say if I have a lunch hour I might log in and do some reading. But there’s no sort of required number of login times that you need to be in front of the computer.

Angela LaGamba: Thank you very much Matt and Michelle. The next question that we have is if I take one course each semester, how long will it take for me to complete the program? This question is from Adrian. Michelle, why don’t we start with you?

Michelle Yan: Regarding the courses, so I just wanted to clarify that the way we structure our courses, you can think of it as a trimester, so January to April is our Spring. April to August is our Summer. August to December is our Fall semester. But essentially what happens, because our courses are only five weeks at a time, so essentially if you’re seeing that I’m taking one course per semester, you’ll do five weeks and you’ll essentially offer two or three months after that. And so it does depend on your schedule.

A lot of times we do recommend that there is a certain structure that we would like students to take the courses. So for example, most students will need to complete all of their core courses before moving onto your electives. But depending on your schedule, depending on busy season or traveling and so forth, I always encourage my students to work with their student services advisor. So, once you’re in the program, you work very closely with your student advisor to create a customized schedule for yourself. And depending on when the courses are offered, they will let you know in terms of when the classes are held, which semester, which terms. So, essentially with each semester, students can take up to two or three courses.

Again, it’s one after the other because you’re only taking one course at a time and each course is five weeks. But like I said, minimum time to complete is 16 months. Maximum time is four years. So depending on when the courses are offered, we do always recommend you either work with your student or business advisors so you have a much clearer picture of that.

Angela LaGamba: Thank you Michelle. The next question is for you Matt. Matt, one of our audience members wanted to know what opportunities you may be looking to complete after you’ve completed your degree.

Matt Hitchcock: Yeah, great question. At this point, I have no plans. I plan on at least staying in public accounting. I think there’s, at least in my current role of pretty good opportunities to expand into perhaps a management role and who knows, depending upon how business develops, work the public accounting ladder. At this point, I have no plans of whether or not I will stay in Germany in my entire life and continue to practice U.S. tax here or perhaps move back to the States at some point and practice public accounting back in the States. But I’m really confident that no matter what I decide I would like to do, I think I’ll be in a pretty good position with my experience and then also with the knowledge that I’ve gained in the master’s to be able to pursue whatever opportunity comes up.

Angela LaGamba: Great, thank you very much Matt. We had a follow up question from our audience wanting to know what your classes are like and when you’re networking with your fellow peers, what are their backgrounds like? Other jobs, industries and what backgrounds they come from. Maybe you could share a little bit about that. Go ahead Matt.

Matt Hitchcock: Yeah, sure. It’s been pretty varied. I’ve had everything from State auditors. Interestingly enough, I actually met someone from my own company, KPMG, that’s in the New Jersey office in one of our classes. I’ve had a couple of state auditors in the class. It’s been a pretty broad range of people from public accounting, industry and then also the governmental agencies. So, I think kind of the main thing is basically everyone has a tax background at least that I’ve met within the program so far.

Angela LaGamba: Great, thank you Matt. That’s it for questions from our audience. If you have any additional questions please feel free to follow up with Michelle. We’ve put Michelle’s contact information up on the slide. And Michelle, before we log off, maybe you could talk a little bit about the upcoming application and start date.

Michelle Yan: Sure, Angela. So, our next start dates coming up for the online MS in tax program begins in Summer, so it’s May 2. So, we do actually take a break before sort of the mid-March and end of April timeframe, ‘cause I know many tax professionals are sort of busy with their tax season coming into it now. So, we do offer start dates in the summer that begins on May 2. Hopefully many of you have had a little bit of a break after completing your individual returns and so forth. So, May 2 is the next summer start, and the one after that is also June 13. And those are the application deadlines as well.

I always encourage my students to complete their application ahead of time if they can because the faster you can complete the recommendations, the admissions committee, they’ll take a look at it first. So, those are the application deadlines and again the start date is May 2 and June 13. And of course if there is any additional questions that you have, my contact information is listed on the slide as well, email, phone number, as well as an extension. So, feel free to reach out any time.

Angela LaGamba: Great, thank you very much Michelle and Matt for taking the time today to walk us through the Online Master of Science in Taxation and Matt for talking about your experience in the program as a student. If you have any other questions, like Michelle said, feel free to reach out. But if not, this concludes our session for today and have a great day everyone.