To become a certified accountant, you'll be expected to study qualifications accredited by a professional body - discover the full range of accounting courses in the UK that can help you reach the required standard

Many of the professional accountancy qualifications required to work in this field can be achieved at different stages throughout your career. The accounting course that's right for you will depend on several factors, including the specific job you're planning to do and what you've learned already.

If you've just graduated and are unsure which route to take, you can explore what to do with an accounting and finance degree.

Alternatively, whether you've just finished your A-levels, or have amassed some finance work experience and now want to follow a dedicated accounting route, you can discover how to become an accountant.

AAT courses

Many of those working in accounting positions hold a Bachelors - and often a Masters degree - in addition to their professional qualifications. However, another viable option is to secure an entry-level job and build your experience that way.

The Association of Accounting Technicians (AAT) provides a range of technical and vocational qualifications for accountancy and finance roles.

The highest qualification (equivalent to a foundation degree) they offer is the AAT Level 4 Diploma in Professional Accounting, which can also be achieved through one of its approved apprenticeship schemes. Read more about accounting apprenticeships.

The UK registration fee to take this Level 4 AAT qualification in 2023 is set at £244. Approved training provider tuition fees range from £1,000 to £3,000, as the AAT doesn't deliver training directly.

You'll also be expected to pay the standard qualification fee to your training provider, which totals £564. This is broken down as £64 for each of the five assessments plus the AAT registration fee.

By successfully completing the training within 12 to 18 months, you'll be awarded professional AAT Accountant (MAAT) status.

AAT courses for accountants 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 earn the AAT qualification in the way that best suits your learning style.

ACA qualification

Many graduates decide to study for the ACA from the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW) to achieve chartered status.

This involves working for at least three years, with the average salary of an ICAEW Chartered Accountant in business standing at £134,000, according to a survey response from members.

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 costs for this award include the registration fee (£180), exam fees (£75 per attempt), 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, you'll be expected to pay the annual ACA registration fee above. If you start the qualification outside of the registration period - between 1 January and 30 June - other membership options are available.

Students are expected to apply for exams themselves, with professional-level fees set at £112 per exam (from 1 July 2023).

The ICAEW Business and Finance Professional (BFP) is another title, 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 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' training, while graduates from most degree backgrounds will engage in three years' 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

The Chartered Institute of Management Accountants (CIMA) is partnered with the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA), and 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 award, you'll progress through the following levels:

  • CIMA CERT BA (certificate)
  • CIMA Dip MA (operational)
  • Adv Dip MA (management)
  • ACMA CGMA (professional qualification).

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 £110 and £330 (from 1 January 2023). See CIMA - Exam fees.

ACCA course

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 also 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 to become an ACCA accountant 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 £122 (2023). 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 from some exams are made for those who've studied at an ACCA-accredited university - for example, the degree-level 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 get 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

As well as studying through a college or university, you can also choose to earn your accounting qualifications online.

Learning providers such as ICS Learn and Kaplan 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 this distance learning method.

If you're looking to explore these subjects before deciding whether to commit to a longer course, The Open University provides a free Introduction to Bookkeeping and Accounting.

The ACCA also offers a selection of MOOCs (massive open online courses), which are available free of charge through edX. These include courses in bookkeeping, business and technology, financial accounting, and management accounting.

Read more about studying these types of microcredentials and get the lowdown on online learning.

Study an accounting and finance degree

A specific accounting degree isn't essential for entry into this field, but for those looking to study the subject at university, four of the main professional and awarding bodies in accounting offer accredited Bachelors degrees.

This means you can achieve professional awards from ACCA, ICAS, ICAEW and CIMA by studying BSc Accounting and Finance degrees from a range of institutions, including:

Masters in accounting and finance

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 postgraduate diploma (PGDip) or Masters degree can also provide a shortcut to some of the most renowned professional accounting qualifications.

For instance, by studying the 12-month full-time MSc Accounting and Finance from The University of Manchester's Alliance Manchester Business School (AMBS), you'll stand to benefit from exam exemptions with CIMA and the CFA Institute.

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

Search all Masters degrees in accounting and finance.

Find out more

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