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 a healthy debt with the Student Loans Company.

But we're very pleased to tell you that this is not the case - there are much more flexible paths out there.

Academic degrees are a great achievement, but 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 flexible, often having no entry requirements and allowing you to study online, part-time, and at your own pace if you'd prefer to.

A quick online search for accountancy courses will bombard you with options - so, how do you choose the qualification that's right for you?




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 highly practical, teaching you the real-world skills you need to excel in finance.

They offer 3 accounting qualifications:

They also offer two shorter qualifications for aspiring bookkeepers.

You can study them in college or online; flexible online courses are particularly useful if you want to shaping studying around your schedule.



AAT Foundation Certificate in Accounting

The vast majority of students start at Foundation level. There are no formal entry requirements beyond being over 19.

Completing this qualification will give you a solid introduction to key areas such as bookkeeping, costing and using accounting software.

This will prepare you for entry-level accountancy jobs such as Accounts Administrator - your ideal first step into finance.



AAT Advanced 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.

This qualification delves deeper into more complex accounting practices. You'll master advanced bookkeeping, final accounts and learn about ethics for accountants.

Once you complete this qualification, you can take on a wide variety of mid-level accounting roles including Accounts Payable Clerk, Payroll Supervisor, and Assistant Accountant. 

You'll also be a fully qualified bookkeeper and can apply for AAT associate bookkeeping membership, which is a great recognition of your expertise and allows you to pop the letters AATQB after your name to prove it!



AAT Professional Diploma in Accounting

You've mastered the basics and aced the advanced - you're ready to take on the Professional Diploma.

If your dream career path involves a senior role or starting your own accountancy practice, then this qualification is the one that you want. 

During your studies you'll really get into the nitty gritty of drafting financial statements, managing budgets, and evaluating financial performance.

You can choose 2 optional topics to study too, so if you're looking to go into a specific area of accountancy now is your time to get stuck in. If tax is your passion, then you can pick business or personal tax. Looking to crunch some credit? Great, you'll love the Credit Management material! This is your chance to have a real think about what path you want your future career to take.

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

You'll be able to officially call yourself an AAT Accountant 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.

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

Now that 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.

There are limits on how much an AAT Accountant can sign off on, but since at the current threshold the company must have a turnover less than £6.5 million and a balance sheet total less than £3.26 million, this won't stand in your way of setting up your own firm.

Alternatively, you can apply for roles in accounting firms or companies who have 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!

Finally, 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.




Chartered Accountancy Qualifications

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

In the UK, there are a few options to choose from.



The Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA)

With more than 200,000 members and 486,000 students worldwide, ACCA is one of the most prestigious Chartered Accountancy bodies in the world.

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 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 one of the following.

  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, saving you £400. However, 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 are 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.



We hope we’ve helped you get your head round the various qualifications that are out there.

Still not sure which option to go for? The most important thing to consider is how studying will fit into your life. 

Are you working full-time? Caring for family? Have social commitments? Choose a course that has the flexibility to shape around these priorities and you're much more likely to stick with it.

After all, the best qualification is the one you actually complete!


Interested in studying AAT online? Find out more about how our highly flexible courses let you shape learning around your life.