My Desire to Help Others Led to Accounting

How I pivoted from psychology to UC Davis, now heading to Big 4 firm

My journey from psychology to accounting has been driven by family influence and inspiration, my undergraduate studies, and deep reflection on my strengths and personal goals. 

I hope my path encourages others considering a career switch to accounting.  

I graduated from the University of California, Merced, in 2019 with a bachelor’s in psychology and a minor in economics. I loved my classes throughout my undergraduate studies but was unsure of what I wanted to do after graduating.  

With a strong interest in abnormal psychology, I started my career working for companies that serve communities that are challenged with developmental and degenerative disorders such as autism, Asperger’s, dementia, Alzheimer's and Parkinson's. I did this work for three years yet was unable to see a future in this career path.  

I began reflecting on my future and soon considered a career change. I spent weeks speaking with friends about their careers and reflected on my strengths and personal goals.  

My Inspiration: Helping Others 

My mother and her career led me to accounting. 

She works in the insurance industry. Over the years, I have seen how grateful her clients and friends have been as she guides them through common and sometimes stressful insurance-related matters. Insurance was not only a job for her, but how she helped the people around her.  

I began to think about how stressful tax season and accounting can be for thousands, if not millions, of people. I saw my opportunity.  

As my mom as one of my biggest sources of inspiration, I began to pursue an education in accounting. I knew a career in accounting would allow me to be that same form of guidance to others as the field applies to almost everyone. 

Kevin Lai MPAc 23
Lai presents during a Master of Professional Accountancy course.

Making the Change to Accounting 

This family inspiration led me to take a financial accounting course at a community college. The class allowed me to build the foundational knowledge of accounting, and it affirmed that I liked the subject and could use accounting to help others.  

I soon set my sights set on the UC Davis Master of Professional Accountancy (MPAc) program. It attracted me because in only nine months it could provide the knowledge I needed, as well as the academic credits and preparation to take the CPA Exam.  

What About My Limited Accounting Background? 

The moment I started the MPAc application, however, I was concerned. I was worried that my very limited academic or practical accounting background would put me at a disadvantage. I pondered this concern and kept asking myself if it would even be worth it to apply. I told myself it would not hurt to try, so I submitted my application and received an interview.  

My worries quickly disappeared after speaking with Executive Director Will Snyder during the admission interview. He mentioned that it is not uncommon for students in the MPAc program to have very different academic backgrounds.  

Snyder also shared stories about many alumni who were in my situation, thrived in the program and had job offers before they even graduated. Several successful alumni who spoke at our cohort orientation did not have accounting backgrounds. 

I was ecstatic when I was admitted to the program.  

Offers from Big 4 Firms Months Before Graduation

After being admitted, my initial concerns about my non-accounting background returned during the job application process. I realized I would have no accounting experiences to share with job res.  

However, every partner and manager I spoke with during the interviews and at the Meet the Firms event hosted by the MPAc program early in the year were very interested in my non-accounting experiences. The recruiters pointed out how some of my previous roles and skills are transferable to the accounting profession, which was very encouraging.  

One conversation that stood out to me happened during the event was with a partner from one of the largest accounting firms. I expressed my initial concerns to him, but he followed up with an encouragement telling me that a non-accounting background is attractive because it offers fresh perspectives to the accounting field. I was much more confident in sharing my previous experiences.  

I’m happy to share that even before I’ve finished the program, I already have received several offers from the largest accounting firms in the world! 

Ultimately, I accepted an offer to join a Big 4 firm. After graduation, I’m excited to start with EY in their San Mateo-Silicon Valley office's audit practice. Without job applications to worry about, I am enjoying the courses and activities hosted by School even more. I’m doing so along with many others like me who are successfully navigating a career change into accounting.