AICPA and CIMA logo

Bringing together

this way to CPA logo Start Here Go Places logo A.I.C.P.A. logo

Sarah Gustafson

When Sarah Gustafson left to teach English in Mongolia, she never imagined that she would return home to California on the path to CPA-hood… but that’s precisely what happened.

My Day My Bio
Sarah Gustafson


Graduate Student
University of Southern California
Los Angeles, CA

When Sarah Gustafson left to teach English in Mongolia, she never imagined that she would return home to California on the path to CPA-hood… but that’s precisely what happened. Sarah has always had passion for volunteering for a good cause and joining the Peace Corps was her top pick to get started. Saddled with a bag full of clothes and her favorite Russian novels, Sarah was off to make a difference.

As Sarah settled into life in a Mongolian village, she learned how hard to it was get everything she needed, and she wasn’t the only one. Resources were scarce - really scarce. Survival mode in high gear, Sarah quickly became good at maximizing what little she had and planning ahead. She started to help others do their planning and soon it became one of her favorite responsibilities. She loved seeing the impact that she had on others who previously struggled for necessities.

It’s no coincidence that Sarah found fulfillment in finding a way to get a lot out of a little. This wasn’t new territory for her. After graduating with her Political Science degree from Yale University, Sarah’s first job out of college was administering grants to nonprofit organizations through a foundation. She developed the analytical chops needed to determine the best use of the foundation’s resources to make the largest impact on the organizations requesting funding.

See a connection? Sarah did. This international asset organizer realized that her skills combined with her passion for giving back could lead to a successful career as a Certified Public Accountant. As a CPA, she would be responsible for analyzing organizations’ financial situations and providing good advice.

As soon as her choice was made, she tackled the profession head on. Sarah immersed herself in courses at a community college to get familiar with basic accounting principles – something she didn’t do a lot of in her former life in political science. She also got involved with her school’s Volunteer Income Tax Assistance Program where she could combine her passion for helping people with her new love for accounting (and got to use her Mongolian language skills while doing it).

Sarah knew that she couldn’t afford to go back to school without a little help and that it would be a challenge finding a graduate school scholarship for someone who did not receive an undergraduate degree in accounting. Luckily, she discovered the AICPA John L. Carey Scholarship which provides financial assistance to liberal arts degree holders (aka late-blooming accountants) pursuing graduate studies in accounting and the CPA designation. By being awarded this scholarship, Sarah was able to enroll in classes at the University of Southern California to pursue her graduate degree in accounting.

One year later, Sarah has graduated with a Master’s of Business Taxation and is on her way to becoming CPA certified. With plans to continue her work with nonprofit organizations, Sarah is anxious to get started using her new skills.

Learn more about Sarah’s dream in the world of accounting for a cause.

  • 7am: Wake up!

    Wake up and greet the morning

  • 8am: Breakfast

    Over breakfast, plan the day and read for classes

  • 9am: Prepare for Class

    Preview the lecture for this afternoon’s class; work through example problems; make list of questions to ask during today’s lecture

  • 10am: Study Group

    Meet with my class team and work together on our case study.

  • 1pm: Lunch Time

    Time to refuel with a good lunch!

  • 2pm: Class

    Professor’s lecture on accounting for deferred taxes. My professor works us hard, but he is a wonderful teacher with a treasure trove of quotes and stories. He likes to tease us, and always gets us laughing!

  • 4pm: VITA Volunteering

    Go to USC’s “Volunteer Income Tax Assistance” site, where I help members of my community prepare their taxes.

  • 6pm: Dinner

  • 7pm: Class

    Time for a class on “Social Enterprise.” We debate how organizations can use for-profit business models to fulfill social goals.

  • 9pm: Ballroom Dance Practice

    Class ends and it’s time for ballroom dance practice. My dance partner and I practice Waltz, Foxtrot, and Tango.

All Scholars