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How to Choose the Best Accountancy Qualification for You

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You might think that the only way to build the accountancy career of your dreams is to slog it out at university, spending all your time studying and racking up student loan debt, but we're here to tell you that this isn't the only way - there are many more flexible, affordable routes to take!

While academic degrees are a great achievement, university isn't suited to everyone, particularly if you're working full-time, supporting a family, or don't have the required grades for entry.

Professional accounting qualifications are far more accessible, often having no entry requirements and allowing you to study online, part-time, and at your own pace. 

Since a quick online search for accountancy courses will bombard you with options, below we've outlined the best accountancy qualifications so you can start on the path towards your finance career today! 

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AAT Qualifications

If you’re a complete newbie to accountancy, qualifications from the Association of Accounting Technicians (AAT) are an ideal first step. They're globally-recognised, highly practical, and teach you the real-world skills you need to excel in finance. 

Based on your existing level of knowledge and experience, you'll have three accountancy qualifications to choose from, including: 

AAT also offer three qualifications for aspiring bookkeepers.

You can study these courses in-person (so long as there are no pandemic restrictions) or online - a particularly useful route if you want to shape your studying around your schedule. 


AAT Level 2 Certificate in Accounting

The vast majority of finance students start at the Foundation level. There are no formal entry requirements beyond being over 19, and it's the best accountancy qualification if you're looking to build on and formalise your skills if you're just starting out. 

Completing this qualification will give you a solid introduction to key areas such as bookkeeping, the elements of costing, and how to use accounting software.

Upon completion, this course will equip you with the education you need to qualify for entry-level accountancy jobs such as Accounts Administrator, Accounts Assistant, or Accounts Payable Clerk. 


AAT Level 3 Diploma in Accounting

Already got your foot in the door and looking to take your career to the next level?

If you have practical accounting experience and a firm grasp of double-entry bookkeeping, you could build on your knowledge and experience with the Advanced Diploma at Level 3.

This qualification delves deeper into more complex accounting practices, enabling you to master advanced bookkeeping, final accounts and learn more about ethics as it applies to accountants.

Once you complete this qualification, you can take on a wide variety of mid-level accounting roles including Credit Controller, Payroll Supervisor, or Assistant Accountant. 

You'll also be a fully qualified bookkeeper and can apply for AAT associate bookkeeping membership, an accolade that recognises your expertise and allows you to pop the letters AATQB after your name to give you that extra boost of credibility. 


AAT Level 4 Diploma in Professional Accounting

If you've already mastered the basics, aced the advanced material, and are now looking to immerse yourself into studying towards your dream career in a senior role, then this is the best accountancy qualification to get you there! 

During your studies, you'll get down to the nitty-gritty of drafting financial statements, managing budgets, and evaluating financial performance, working to become a master in the industry. 

Once you complete the Professional Diploma, you'll even be able to apply to become an AAT Full Member or Fellow Member once you have the necessary professional experience.

You'll also be able to officially call yourself an AAT Accounting Technician and you can add the letters (yes, even more letters!) MAAT or FMAAT after your name.


Once You're AAT Qualified 

There are a few different paths you can take after completing your Professional Diploma and becoming fully AAT-qualified, for example: 

  • You can set up your own practice and be your own boss.

When you're fully qualified, you can work as an accountant on a self-employed basis with the freedom to pick and choose your own clients.

  • You can apply for roles in accounting firms or in-house accounting departments.

Roles that AAT Accountants typically end up working in include Senior Finance Officer, Commercial Analyst, Indirect Tax Manager, Cost Accountant and VAT Accountant.

These are just a few examples of the many job opportunities that are open to you once you become an AAT Accountant, so don’t worry if none of them tickle your fancy. There are plenty of exciting career paths you can take!

  • You could join a fast-track programme to become a Chartered Accountant.

All the major UK Chartered bodies have a fast-track path for AAT graduates, so studying AAT can actually be a quicker route to becoming Chartered than going to university. 

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Chartered Accountancy Qualifications

People often think you need have a university degree to become a Chartered Accountant, but in truth, you only need high school qualifications to begin learning directly with most Chartered bodies.

Here are some of the best accountancy qualifications to choose from in the UK: 

 Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA)

With more than 227,000 members and 544,000 students worldwide, ACCA is one of the most prestigious Chartered Accountancy bodies in the world, and you can study their qualifications online or in classes, part-time or full-time.

If you're starting from scratch:

The entry requirements are two A Levels & 3 GCSEs (or equivalent) in five separate subjects including English and Maths.

If you're AAT qualified:

The qualification normally consists of 9 papers, but if you've completed up to and including the Professional Diploma, you can skip the first 3 free of charge. This gives you a nice head start and will cut down the time you need to spend studying.

Plus, any work experience you have gained whilst studying towards your AAT qualification can be counted towards the 3 years' experience you need to become an ACCA member.


The Chartered Institute of Management Accountants (CIMA)

CIMA qualifications have a narrower focus than the ACCA's, concentrating on management accounting. They're ideal if you want to work in managerial roles within big businesses and gain a good grounding in business practice as well as in finance. You can study in-person, online, or a mix of both.

If you're starting from scratch:

You can get started with the entry-level CIMA Certificate in Business Accounting. There are no formal entry requirements.

If you're AAT qualified:

If you've completed the AAT Professional Diploma, you're exempt from the CIMA Certificate and can start the CIMA Professional Qualification. If you've completed AAT Foundation or Advanced, you'll still need to begin with the CIMA Certificate.


The Institute of Public and Finance Accountancy (CIPFA)

CIPFA accountants specialise in public finance, managing funds for governments and other public sector bodies.

If you're starting from scratch:

You'll need to have at least one of the below items to qualify with CIPFA. 

  1. Three GCSEs (grades A–C) and two A-Levels (grades A–C) or equivalent, including Maths and English at either level
  2. The equivalent BTEC or SCOTVEC national certificates
  3. NVQ/GNVQ Level 3, or Scottish equivalent
  4. 3 years relevant work experience and your employer's support (21+ only)

If you're AAT qualified:

You'll be studying towards their Professional Accountancy Qualification and will be able to grab a lot of great benefits as an AAT member. You'll be entitled to free exemptions from three of their exam papers too, owever, as their examinations are more extensive than the ACCA, you'll still have 9 papers to sit.

You'll also be exempt from the Audit and Assurance paper providing that you completed External Audit as one of your optional topics during your AAT studies.

As an added bonus, you can also claim over 50% off your CIPFA membership for the duration of your studies.


Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW)

ICAEW is highly respected worldwide, with 150,000 chartered members and offices across Europe and Asia. Their qualification is known as the ACA (not to be confused with ACCA!)

If you're starting from scratch:

You can begin studying the ACA with 2 A level passes (grades A*-E) plus 3 GCSE passes (grades A-C/grades 9-4), or equivalent. (You can see the full list of accepted qualifications here.)

If you don't meet these requirements, you can begin studying with the ICAEW Certificate.

If you're AAT qualified:

They offer an AAT-ACA Fast Track which lets you use your AAT qualification to apply for exam credits towards certain modules.

Like CIPFA, you can apply for further exam credits if you completed specific optional modules during your AAT studies. If you were working throughout your studies, you can also apply for a reduction in the amount of practical work experience required to pass the ACA.


Institute of Chartered Accountants of Scotland (ICAS)

ICAS is the oldest professional body of chartered accountants in the world, receiving their Royal Charter in 1854.

If you're starting from scratch:

You can study through a 5-year placement at an ICAS authorised employer. There are no formal entry requirements, but they recommend you have strong A Level or Scottish Higher results.

If you're AAT qualified:

AAT members can apply to be exempt from the Business Management and Financial Accounting courses and exams, leaving you with just 4 units to complete. To apply for this exemption, you will need to fill in the relevant form and provide a full transcript which details all the AAT courses you've completed.

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We hope we’ve helped you get your head around the best accountancy qualifications out there, however, if you're still not sure which option to go for, remember that the most important thing to consider is how studying will fit into your life based on your individual career goals and aspirations. 

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