An unexpected second career takes shape for UAB Online student Ethan Epstein

Epstein knew his short window as a professional dancer was coming to an end. What he did not know was that one inspiring professor and an online class would introduce him to the promising corporate path he now finds himself obsessed with.
Written by: Anna Franks
Media contact: Alicia Rohan

inside online students ethan 114Ethan Epstein
Photography: Steve Wood
Ethan Epstein had lived a lot of life by the time he reached his mid-20s. He attended high school online while he worked unimaginable hours — 60 per week, to be specific — in ballet school. He squeezed in his self-paced education and graduated from high school early. Epstein finished ballet school and accepted his first professional job offer at age 17. He moved from his hometown of Boston to Oklahoma City for a one-year contract, then on to Birmingham to dance the remainder of his ballet career with the Alabama Ballet.

Epstein knew his short window as a professional dancer was coming to an end. He reasoned that a business management degree would be useful for running a dance studio. But his heart was not in it, yet.

“I’m a Type A person and a major people-pleaser. At first, I went back to school just to make my mom happy,” said Epstein, who graduates from the University of Alabama at Birmingham in December.

Epstein had already schooled online before, but his choice to get his college degree online was not without reservation.

“One of my biggest fears was that it would be a subpar education,” Epstein said. “And then as I got into the upper-level classes, I realized, ‘This is hard. Am I stupid to think that online school is hard?’ I came to realize more and more that online school and in-person school were exactly the same, and ‘online’ isn’t on the degree that you end up getting.”

Epstein was a business management major in the UAB Collat School of Business when he took a tax class and stumbled upon an unexpected passion.

“I took a class with accounting professor Marena Messina,” Epstein said. “She made me fall in love with the entirety of accounting, not just the math. I didn’t know accounting was my future; but looking back on my childhood, it all made sense. My sister and I would make fake businesses, and I would always be organizing it. I wanted to be a lawyer, and now that I’m going into tax accounting, there’s a lot of overlap.”

He changed his major to accounting and never looked back. Even his dreams of running a dance studio began to fade as his new interest took hold. One day, Epstein reached out to Messina to ask her about jobs in accounting, “and thank God I did because this was on Wednesday, and she said, ‘You know that the Big Four deadlines are on Friday, right?’”

The “Big Four,” as they are commonly called, are the largest accounting firms in the world. Hopeful students spend weeks — even months — preparing their applications for internships. Messina helped Epstein as he worked tirelessly to get his applications ready within just a few days.

“I didn’t know if they would care at all about ballet,” Epstein said. “Marena helped me phrase things to show how my experience was applicable to the business world.” It worked; Epstein landed his interviews and ultimately received job offers from all of the Big Four.

“In a whirlwind of three and a half years, I went from begrudgingly going to school to now — I’m six months away from working at Deloitte, a big accounting firm,” Epstein said, still surprised at his new reality. “As an online student, I was self-conscious going in. I thought it would be this big thing where UAB would send in my transcript, and it would have ‘online’ stamped on it. But I was the one telling everyone I interviewed with, and I was able to show that it was a positive. I was able to say that I’m self-motivated, and I think a lot of what they’re looking for is someone who doesn’t need to be babysat.”

What about your next career?

What if a second career and an unexpected passion are just a few online classes away? The legitimacy of an online degree means you have the opportunity to pursue a new path with flexibility as never before. You can keep your current job while learning and growing into the new one. Share your contact info with us so today so we can reach out and help you determine whether UAB Online is the right fit for you.

Epstein acknowledged that Messina’s help was crucial in his success. Real classes with real instructors with whom Epstein developed real relationships put him on the right path. How did he develop those relationships? He says that many of his professors would offer times throughout the week when students could join them in a Zoom room for help.

“I would always try to show up to those, and then you get to know the professors better,” Epstein said. “It’s such an intimate environment compared to a large class. From there, if you need one-on-one help, it’s not intimidating to reach out to them at all.”

Epstein will finish his Bachelor of Science degree in accounting in fall 2022 and move back to Boston, but this time as a Deloitte intern. Since he chose to do the fast-track master’s option, he will continue his online classes with UAB and complete his Master of Accounting degree in summer 2023.

In the ballet world, Epstein at age 26 is considered old. But in his life, he has already lived one full career. He is on the precipice of his second career and new professional passion, and has this wisdom to share:

“There’s no shame with changing careers at any point,” Epstein said. “The idea of staying with one company for life is an outdated one. So many of my classmates who were significantly older than I was already had careers and just wanted to change. If you want a change, go for it.”