Considering a career in accounting? With so many different qualifications, which is the right one for you?
We’ll take you through the different qualifications in accounting, whether you need a degree, and how to get a foot in the industry.
Can you become an accountant if you studied a non-accountancy related degree?
The good news is that no, you don’t need a degree in accounting or finance to become an accountant. The good news is yes, you don’t need to have studied a degree in accounting or finance to become an accountant. Social science, technology or students from any subject discipline can make great accountants.
One of the key skills for being an accountant is the ability to research and analyse information; something which a degree in any subject will set you up for.
What if you did study finance of accountancy?
A degree based in either finance or accountancy can certainly streamline your route to a career in the industry. Depending on your degree, you may be automatically eligible for some professional qualifications, or at least part-way there.
If your degree is in a different subject then the skills and techniques you used on your path to graduation are still massively in demand. If you want to move into accounting, you might explore what finance graduate schemes are available or start with AAT, which we describe below. Some employers might take you on whilst you study, too!
AAT (Association of Accounting Technicians)
The AAT is the most common entry point to a career in accountancy. It’s considered equivalent to the first year of a degree (Level 4).
The AAT has three levels of qualifications which equip you with the essential knowledge and skills you need.
The levels include a Foundation Certificate, Advanced Diploma and the Professional Diploma which you can study at various colleges around the UK.
If you already have an accounting or finance degree, you may be able to skip levels or assessments if you’ve already covered the subjects.
Accountancy firms will often take on accounting trainees who have begun studying for the AAT. Some may even fund the exams or provide paid time off to take them.
These organisations only accept membership from accountants who complete a series of exams, and with a certain level of work experience.
This means that chartered accountants have more training and experience in specialised accounting practices.
As a result, chartered accountants typically earn more, and are in more demand from larger firms and businesses.
ACCA (Association of Chartered Certified Accountants)
The ACCA qualification is considered equivalent to a master’s degree and usually takes about three to four years to become fully qualified.
Once qualified, you become a member of the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants.
It is possible to study for the ACCA directly (without doing the AAT first) but you will need to complete the foundation level before you can progress.
ICAEW (Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales)
The ICAEW also has rigorous assessments, but you get to use the impressive title: ‘ICAEW Chartered Accountant’ once qualified.
According to the ICAEW, 83 of the FTSE 100 companies have an ICAEW Chartered Accountant on their team.
This makes it ideal if you’re looking to work with a big company or want a career in practice.
It also opens doors to career paths such as forensic accounting, public sector tax and corporate finance.
To get the ACA qualification, you will need to secure a training agreement with an ICAEW-authorised training employer.
CIMA (Chartered Institute of Management Accountants)
CIMA is a specialised qualification for those who want to go into management accountancy.
Anyone can study for the CIMA but those without experience usually need to complete a Certificate in Business Accounting first.
Which qualification is right for you?
The AAT is the ideal entry point for most people looking to get a foot into the industry. On the other hand, if you’re set on becoming a chartered accountant, a direct path to the ACCA might be preferable.
For those undecided, the AAT is a solid starting point which will give you a good foundation in accountancy. There’s always the option to progress with different qualifications if you wish to specialise further!