With accounting courses available at all levels, these qualifications can give your career a boost and help you on your way to becoming a professional accountant

While accounting is a focused profession with its own set of processes and principles, it's still a diverse area with opportunities to train in banking, business or practice. The professional accountancy qualifications you'll need can be gained at different stages throughout your career.

If you've just graduated, you can explore what to do with an accounting and finance degree. Alternatively, whether you're just finishing your A-levels or have amassed work experience in the industry and want to follow a dedicated accounting route, discover how to become an accountant.

AAT courses

Although many of those working in accounting positions hold a Bachelors and often a Masters degree (in addition to professional qualifications), another viable option is to secure an entry-level job and build your experience that way. You could also decide to apply for an accounting apprenticeship, such as the one to two-year schemes on offer from the Association of Accounting Technicians (AAT).

The AAT provides a range of technical and vocational qualifications for accountancy and finance roles. The highest (equivalent to a foundation degree) is the AAT Level 4 Professional Diploma in Accounting.

The UK student membership fee to take this AAT qualification is set at £155 for UK students, with approved training provider tuition fees set at between £600 and £2,000 (as the AAT doesn't deliver training directly). You'll also be expected to pay the standard qualification fee for the five assessments (at £49 per assessment, plus one synoptic assessment fee at £56) to your training provider, which adds up to £301 in total. By successfully completing the training within 12 to 18 months, you'll be awarded professional AAT Accountant (MAAT) status.

AAT courses are delivered through classroom learning or distance and online study, with both part and full-time options available. Blended learning combines classroom teaching with the flexibility of distance learning so you can achieve the AAT qualification in the way that best suits your preferred means of study.

ACA qualification

Many graduates decide to study for the ACA, from the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW), in order to achieve chartered status. While this involves working for at least three years, the average salary of an ICAEW Chartered Accountant in business is £134,000, according to a survey response from members in 2018.

You can take the first six modules of the ACA by completing the ICAEW's Certificate in Finance, Accounting and Business (ICAEW CFAB), which is achievable within 12 months. The exam fee for this award is £72 plus the cost of learning materials (£33).

The ACA study package with an authorised training provider includes the fees payable to the ICAEW as well as your tuition provider. If you're in a training agreement with your employer, the annual ACA registration fee is £180 (plus VAT where applicable) as long as you register between 1 January and 30 June. Other membership options are available at other times of the year. Students are expected to apply for exams themselves, with professional-level fees set at £103 per exam.

The ICAEW Business and Finance Professional (BFP) is another designation in its own right, with the BFP giving you professional status. You can start this either while you're studying for the ICAEW CFAB or once you've completed it.

Chartered accountant (CA) status

As an internationally-respected professional body, members of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Scotland (ICAS) will have studied and trained for a number of years to attain chartered accountant (CA) status at Masters level. The exact length of time depends on the route taken and what stage you're at in your career.

For instance, there's a direct-entry school leaver pathway to the chartered accountant qualification, which involves five years of training, while graduates from most degree backgrounds will engage in three years of training with an ICAS-approved employer and earn a salary.

Experienced finance professionals can embark on three to five years of training, with flexible learning options available.

Finally, government-funded Level 7 apprenticeships for those living in either Scotland or England result in the ICAS CA qualification and involve one to three years' training.

CIMA qualification

Partnered with the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA), the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants (CIMA) offers its own widely recognised business finance qualification to achieve the CGMA (Chartered Global Management Accountant) designation.

It takes three to six years to complete the 12 exams required to obtain the CIMA Professional Qualification and be admitted to membership of the organisation. On the way to this strategic level award, you'll complete the CIMA CERT BA (certificate level), CIMA Dip MA (operational level) and Adv Dip MA (management level).

In addition to subscription and registration fees, individual Tier 1 (includes Western Europe) regional exam fees for the CIMA Professional Qualification are priced at between £115 and £289 for exams sat from 2 January 2021. See CIMA - Student fees.

ACCA qualification

The Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA) is a global body that offers the Masters standard Level 7 ACCA qualification, the graduate entry route into the industry. Once completed (within three to four years), you'll be able to become an ACCA member.

To be eligible to start the ACCA course - which involves taking up to 13 exams including an ethics and professional skills module plus three years' relevant work experience - you'll need two A-levels and three GCSEs in five subjects including English and maths.

If you're ready to complete the final step of the process and already have a relevant degree and the practical experience required, you can move straight to the ACCA Strategic Professional exams (of which there are four).

It costs £89 to register, with an annual subscription fee of £116 (2022). You'll also pay fees for entry into your professional exams (which vary according to the time of entry). For more information, see the UK fees.

Exemptions are made for those who've studied at an ACCA-accredited university - for example, the ACCA courses from Oxford Brookes University and the University of London.

AIA professional accountancy qualification

As a leading global professional body for accountants and finance professionals, The Association of International Accountants (AIA) offers accountancy qualifications at three levels:

  • Foundation - includes components on financial accounting, management accounting, corporate governance and audit, and business management. You'll be assessed through a multiple-choice three-hour exam. Depending on prior learning, you can achieve the AIA Certificate in Accountancy within six to 12 months.
  • Professional 1 - covers units in financial accounting and reporting, principles of governance and audit, management accounting, business law for accountants, and taxation. Each of these subjects is tested by a three-hour exam. The AIA Diploma in Accountancy is typically completed within 12 months.
  • Professional 2 - for the highest award you'll study the second financial accounting and reporting module, plus developments in assurance and accountability, business and financial management, ethics and professional practice, as well as carrying out a multidisciplinary case study. Again, each subject requires a three-hour exam. The AIA Advanced Diploma in Accountancy can be completed within 12 to 18 months.

A combination of study, exams and work experience or initial professional development (IPD) is required to qualify as an accountant. Before you can become an associate member of the AIA and become qualified, you'll need to have gained three years' relevant and supervised work experience. This can be undertaken before, during or after study for the exams.

Online accounting courses

Learning providers work with professional bodies, such as the AAT, to provide a range of 100% online accounting courses - so you can achieve awards from Level 2 to Level 4 to work as an accounting technician. You can also train to be a bookkeeper through distance learning.

Study an accounting and finance degree

An accounting degree isn't essential, but for those looking to study the subject at university, four of the main accounting professional and awarding bodies - ACCA, ICAS, ICAEW and CIMA - offer accredited Bachelors degrees, such as the BSc Accounting and Finance degrees from the University of Birmingham, University of Bristol and Manchester Metropolitan University.

Masters courses in accounting

Postgraduate study is necessary for those pursuing a career as a management accountant. Before taking the professional CIMA qualification, you'll first need the Certificate in Business Accounting, which provides a good foundation for further study.

A Masters can also provide a shortcut to some of the most renowned professional accounting qualifications.

For instance, the 12-month MSc Accounting and Finance at the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan) offers exam exemptions with professional bodies including the ICAEW, CIMA and ACCA.

The MSc Accounting and Finance with CIMA at Queen Margaret University enables you to achieve the CIMA Advanced Diploma in Management Accounting while providing the maximum (11) exemptions from CIMA certificate, operational and management level exams.

Finally, the MSc in Professional Accountancy from the University of London is a specialist programme that recognises ACCA exams as credit towards the Masters course.

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