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There are many different ways to qualify as an accountant, and it depends on your own preferences and circumstances which course you decide to take. Some factors that you might want to take into account are listed below.
- Do you have the academic qualifications for a degree or similar course? If so, this is an option to consider very carefully, unless you have strong personal reasons for wanting to start work as soon as you leave school. Although some people still go straight into an accountancy practice from school, and work their way through the exams and practical training from there, the major accountancy bodies recommend full-time study as a preparation for accountancy training. It is much easier to pass exams if you are studying full time, and it is a pity to miss out on the freedom and opportunities of student life.
- If you decide on a degree-level course, should it be in accountancy, in some allied subject, or in any other subject that interests you? If you have any doubt about whether accountancy is the career for you, a non-relevant degree may be the best choice, as it will not limit your options later on. But this does mean that you would have to work harder for exams during your training contract. And an accountancy-based qualification will always be a passport to a good job even if you decide not to specialise.
- Sandwich courses offer a compromise between full-time study and taking a job, as they sandwich periods of study between periods of employment. It may often be easier to get a job after taking a sandwich course because employers appreciate the practical experience you have had, along-with the academic work. There are a few sandwich courses in accountancy subjects, usually on business studies courses.
- Many of the BTEC courses may be taken full time and offer an alternative for people who are unable to get into a degree course or who prefer a more practically oriented course of study.
- Accountancy employers have traditionally given a lot of help to students who want to qualify part time and indeed are obliged to do so under the terms of many training contracts. So check with your employers about the help they are prepared to give and what courses they recommend. Frequently, all this is organised for you by your employer as a matter of course.
- Whatever course you decide to take, check that it does satisfy the requirements of the accountancy body you wish to join.
When you have decided which kind of course to take, you need to compare the different courses in that category. The best way to do this is to look at the syllabus: you can get the full syllabus for the various accountancy qualifications from the institutes, and the college syllabus direct from the colleges. This may be particularly important if you are thinking of taking a business studies or combined degree, as the topics covered vary considerably. Just send a request, as shown in the example below, to the College Registrar, with a stamped, self-addressed label (not envelope). If you are writing to the universities of Cambridge, Oxford, London or Wales, write to the individual college you would like to enter, not to the university.
Choosing a College
If you are studying part time, you probably will not have much choice of college, as you may have to attend the one near your home or place of work, or the one that your employer recommends if they are funding you. But find out if there is any choice, and check the credentials of whichever college you decide on to make sure that it is acceptable to the professional institutions and to your employer.
People taking a full-time course usually have some choice about a college, and it is very important to look at the college environment as well as the academic content of the course. Are you going to enjoy spending long periods of time there? Would you prefer a college in the centre of town to one on its own campus outside town? Would a college with a strong residential and community tradition suit you better than one which is rather nine-to-five-ish? The official prospectus will give you some clues about this, but try to obtain the alternative (students’) prospectus, if there is one. You can probably buy it from the Students Union at the college. Talk to students at the college if you can; you may have the chance to do this if you are called for interview, but if at all possible you should visit the college before you make up your mind whether to apply there or not. Most colleges are glad to welcome visitors, either on special open days or for privately arranged visits. Just write to the college and ask how you can arrange this.
If you cannot afford to travel long distances to see the colleges that interest you, try at least to visit one near your home. This will give you some idea of what to expect, and you may have a chance to talk to people on an accountancy course which could give you new insights into what it may entail.
Colleges Offering Accountancy Courses
Almost all universities offer some kind of accountancy course or option, and most further education colleges provide accountancy training, so there would be too many colleges to list here. You should have no difficulty in finding a suitable course reasonably near your home if you want to study part time. All the professional institutions can provide you with a list of colleges offering suitable courses for their qualifications.