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How the GDipPA ’20 class stayed upbeat and made it through a very challenging summer

December 10, 2020

These days, the Graduate Diploma in Professional Accounting (GDipPA) class of 2020 is feeling relieved, accomplished and somewhat invincible — and for very good reason.

Zainab Hamid (GDipPA ’20)

At U of T’s fall 2020 convocation last month, 146 graduating GDipPA students were officially awarded their diplomas, which did not come easily. For 12 weeks, these students attended classes, competed in two case competitions, submitted weekly assignments and wrote exams — all while tackling the challenges brought on by the global pandemic.

Though instruction had to move online this summer, the critical pieces of the GDipPA program were left intact. This past June, just as in years past, the Rotman School welcomed high-performing students from across Canada, graduates who had completed undergraduate degrees specializing in accounting. The program covers the first four modules of the CPA Professional Education Program and puts students on track to write their Common Final Evaluation (CFE) the following year.

“Rotman committed to giving us the maximum value of the program. Our instructors made sure we got just as much out of it as we would have if we had attended in person,” says new grad Zainab Hamid (GDipPA ’20).

“The GDipPA program isn’t easy, but it’s worth it. I left with valuable knowledge and new connections.”

“The GDipPA program isn’t easy, but it’s worth it. I left with valuable knowledge and new connections.”

—Zainab Hamid, GDipPA ’20

Learning from great teachers

What hasn’t changed in the era of COVID-19: GDipPA instructors are just as focused on delivering engaging classes.

“When you step into a class at Rotman, you know that your professor will be prepared,” says Ting He (GDipPA ’20), who is no stranger to Rotman, having graduated with a Bachelor of Commerce degree from Rotman Commerce last June.

Ting He (GDipPA ’20)

“The professors are qualified and have years of practical experience to draw upon when explaining concepts or answering questions.”

Many instructors in the GDipPA program also teach classes at Rotman Commerce and for CPA Ontario and CPA Canada. This, and the opportunity to collaborate on cases and receive regular feedback on her work, made all the difference for He.

“It really didn’t feel like we were doing assignments in isolation. I was often collaborating with classmates and getting direction on how to improve my approach.”

She was particularly grateful for the feedback she received from GDipPA alumni. Throughout the 12 weeks, students submit case-based assignments that they complete individually and that are evaluated by teaching assistants. Many of these teaching assistants are GDipPA alumni who have passed the CFE and have acquired years of experience since completing the program. Periodically, they check in with students one-on-one, to go over assignments, answer questions and offer general CFE prep advice.

“It was a nice complement to the class instruction,” explains He. “It was reassuring to talk to someone who has written the exam recently and has been through the program. I received a lot of helpful tips.”

One of her former teaching assistants is a manager at Deloitte, where He just started as a staff accountant.

“It was great to cross paths again,” she says. “I’ll be counting on him as I continue studying for the CFE.”

“When you step into a class at Rotman, you know that your professor will be prepared.”

—Ting He, GDipPA ’20

Forming meaningful connections

The strong network at Rotman also sets the GDipPA program apart. Students leave with meaningful connections and potential study partners.

“There is probably no better way to make friends than to compete in a case competition,” says Zainab Hamid (GDipPA ’20).

During the program, GDipPA students take part in two case competitions judged by experts from the industry. Typically, student groups spend the day working in study rooms, brainstorming their approach and preparing their presentation.

This year, to replicate the experience online, Hamid and her teammates kept their cameras on throughout competition days. In between collaborating on the project and eating lunch together (thanks to food vouchers provided by the program), they swapped stories and got to know each other better.

“Because the class was made up of students from all over Canada, there was a diversity of thought and a real opportunity to learn from peers,” explains Hamid, who appreciated that the program put effort into grouping students from different undergrad programs together.

As with previous years, the program organized social events following midterms and key deadlines, including online escape rooms and virtual mixers. This year, a few students stepped forward to create an informal social committee. They organized casual virtual events where students could chat, play games and socialize.

“I was a bit of skeptic, but I’m now a believer that strong communities can form online,” says Hamid.

Both Hamid, who just started as a staff accountant at EY in Toronto, and He have kept in touch with classmates since completing the program.

Right now, these grads are formulating study plans for the year ahead. A few definitely intend on returning to Rotman next summer to write a practice CFE (one of the benefits offered to GDipPA graduates).

“I’m still nervous about the CFE, but I’m a lot less nervous than I was before I started the program,” says Hamid. “Our class has had to adapt to a lot of changes recently: we finished our degrees, completed this program and started new jobs virtually. I’m sure we’ll adapt again and ace the CFE.”

Written by Rebecca Cheung | More Student Stories »

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