Routes into the accountancy profession

Accountancy is one of those professions that many people fall into. Few people aspire to become an accountant as a child. I didn’t. I had my heart set on becoming an astronaut. I even applied to go to Space Camp USA in Huntsville, Alabama where they train young astronaut wannabes. My parents thought it was a great idea, until they saw how much it would cost them…obviously, I wasn’t allowed to go!

So, I ended up going through school as normal, finishing my A Levels in Maths, Physics and Geography and having no idea what career I might want to pursue afterwards. I did Mathematics and Statistics at University, for no other reason than I enjoyed the subjects and I thought it kept my options open after I graduated.

When I achieved my 2:1, I applied for all sorts of jobs: IT, banking and accountancy to name a few. I got my break when I decided to write to every other accountant in the Coventry Yellow Pages asking if they had any suitable graduate vacancies. Luckily for me it paid off and two interviews later I was a trainee chartered accountant!

That was 20 years ago. Back then university was pretty much a prerequisite to becoming an accountant. Things are much different now. University is now not the only route into the profession.

Nowadays more and more school leavers know accountancy is what they want to do from the careers advice given at school.  Many accountancy firms offer work experience to students which also helps this career decision.

So if you have decided accountancy is for you, are you better off going straight into the profession via an apprenticeship?  Would you be at a disadvantage compared to a graduate doing a relevant accounting degree going into the profession?  Not necessarily.

With an apprenticeship you would do a two or three year, fully funded, Accounts Technician (AAT) course which would teach you the basics of accountancy.  This would be via day release while you also get paid to work in a practice.  You would get paid to receive hands on experience of audit and accountancy as well as getting the fully paid theoretical training.  At the end of the course you would then have the option to study for one of the professional qualifications – ACA or ACCA.

A graduate would enter the profession at this stage after having 3 years of hard study at university.  This may or may not be in an accountancy related degree.  It doesn’t need be.  In fact sometimes it is an advantage to study a completely unrelated subject such as History or English.  Accountancy isn’t all about numbers and learning to think around broader issues and being able to debate a point are skills equally as valuable to an accountant as being numerate is. A non-relevant degree might give you these more rounded skills.  As well as the studying, the time away from home would have allowed the student to gain 3 years’ worth of valuable life experience, learning to fend for themselves and managing their own finances.  And obviously there is the fun side to student life which can start lifelong friendships and relationships.

However, a graduate could end up having up to £40k of debt in student loans at the end of their course.  They also would have no practical accountancy experience. A former AAT apprentice however would have no student loan (they would have actually been earning a salary for three years) and lots of practical experience of accountancy.

And there lies the difference.  If you know accountancy is the career path you want to take then apprenticeship is a no brainer.  Compared to a university graduate you would:

a) have been paid a salary for three years

b) have practical experience in accountancy

c) have no student debt

What you potentially wouldn’t have had is the experience of living away from home and all that entails, and also the chance to study something that broadens your knowledge and soft skills.

If however as a school leaver you don’t know that accountancy is the right choice for you, then university is very attractive: the opportunity to learn something new, student life, socialising and more importantly keeping your options open for when you do graduate.  That’s the option I took, albeit 20 years ago the government paid me to go to university!

If you would like to discuss routes into the accountancy profession then please contact us.