Though IT software engineers still dominate the Indian MBA applicant pool, chartered accountants (CA) seem to have developed a fancy for the international MBA degree. We’ve been getting an increasing number of admission assistance requests and general queries from chartered accountants.
With their quantitative background and client focussed roles (financial audit, tax advisory, due diligence, corporate finance exposure), many already have a good understanding of how businesses work. However, many of them are curious and concerned to know whether their 3-year CA articleship with be considered as pre-MBA experience by Admission Committee officers.
We look at why this is a relevant question with a non-intuitive answer.
In order to get our non-CA friends on the same wavelength and to sort out the modalities (which will form the foundation to understand how Adcoms will perceive it), let’s quickly cover what happens in a CA articleship.
Articleship is a 3-year practical training phase that allows students to work on real assignments for real employers (mostly Chartered Accountant firms). There are a few pre-requisites (exams, orientation programme, training) that a CA student should meet before starting the articleship.
During the articleship period, the ‘article’ receives a stipend. There are norms defined by the Institute of Chartered Accountants in India (ICAI) based on which the stipend ranges from Rs 750 to Rs 15,000 per month.
Why Chartered Accountant articleship is different from regular internships?
There are two things that make the articleship different from regular internships in other fields (such as engineering and management degrees) – Tenure and Responsibilities.
Unlike the 3-month summer internships that engineering and management students are used to, the 3-year mandatory period for articleship is far more tedious, intense and phaadu. Ask anyone who’s gone through the experience and set aside a few hours to hear the stories roll.
They take on more responsibilities than (short-term) interns in most other fields. They may pick up specialised insights and experience in complex topics (indirect tax is one such convoluted area) that may make them more knowledgeable than the Partner (owner of the CA firm) that they work for.
Chartered Accountants, specially those who complete their articleship with the smaller CA firms, tend to get paid peanuts and yet slog their butt off more than regular employees. Why? Because their future is at stake here, and the interning organisation knows this. Unless they get the nod from their interning organisation, they aren’t eligible to get the degree.
Add to it the fact that the passing percentage rate for the CA exam hovers at a ridiculous.
In the Chartered Accountants Intermediate (IPC) examination conducted this year, under 12% of the 63,871 candidates cleared the exam.
Among the pool of 1.24 lakh candidates who tackled the Group 1 test, 19.44% cleared it.
The pass rate in the Group 2 test (with 1.12 lakh candidates) was 14.83%.
Most CA students clear it in multiple attempts.
So all ye non-CA folks, when you hear a friend or colleague tell you that she has cleared the CA exams in the first attempt, give her a bow and a huge helping of respect.
Now, let’s move to the part of how MBA programs view this experience.
For most bschools, the pre-MBA experience that gets counted starts from the day you join a firm after getting your gradation degree till matriculation (i.e. start of the MBA program). So when you see the average work experience being mentioned (as 5 years), that’s how it needs to be interpreted. Of course, you’d be applying a year before joining, so you’d have around 4 years at the time of applying. But all of that would be after you’ve got your earlier degree.
Technically, an intern is still a student working towards a degree. So, apart from working full-time in the articleship there are also academic obligations and exams to take care of.
Some schools like ISB are pretty clear about the fact that articleship experience is not counted as work experience.
But in most cases, bschools don’t clearly mention about their stand on this, probably because it isn’t a global FAQ that deserves air-time (unless an Indian applicant brings this up during a chat session or MBA event).
In some forum responses, you’ll find (confusing?) responses saying the articleship experience may be considered if you apply as a BCom grad, but not if you apply as a CA.
So if you are a Chartered Accountant, the general assumption to go by is that articleship experience is not likely to be considered as pre-MBA experience. However, if you’ve gone beyond the call of duty and gained skills and accomplishments that put you in a different league, you may get brownie points for it to differentiate yourself from the mass of desi applicants.
Considering that most international bschools are tight-lipeed about it, if you are uncertain about how specific schools will evaluate your MBA application, send across a note to the admissions team and explain your specific situation (CA completed? BCom completed, CA in progress/given up etc). Understand what’s applicable to your specific case and then take a call rather than make a blanket assumption and lose out on the opportunity.
Irrespective of the articleship, if you are keen to go abroad for an MBA, you’d be better off finishing the CA degree, working with an organisation for 2-3 years and then applying. The profile would hopefully look significantly better. If you are worried about time running out, you could still target 1 year MBA programs where the overall age and experience standards are different.
Any CA’s out there who’ve done more specific groundwork on this topic and willing to share their gyan about specific schools? Please post your views in the comments section below.
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