How to become an accountant in later life with AAT

Changing career direction mid-life may seem daunting, but it could be just what you need. Accountancy and bookkeeping are ideal for career-changers, and AAT is here to help.

You’re not alone

If the last time you took an exam was at school, then the thought of learning a new skill could be frightening. But if you’re thinking of a career change to accountancy, then you’re not alone; a Kaplan survey found that 55% of accountants started out in different careers.

Many AAT students are studying in mid-life: why not join them?

Richard Matthews MAAT

Richard was 37 years old and working for HMRC when he decided he wanted to move into an accountancy role. HMRC paid for his studies, and he was able to continue working full-time and study in his own time. Matthews got the promotion he wanted upon completing his AAT Professional Diploma (level 4).

“Before, I was always someone who just treated work as a day to day commitment: work was just something you did. Now I’ve been promoted I find my work really fulfilling and intellectually stimulating. All the hard work studying was so worth it,” says Matthews.

Why study accountancy?

Bookkeeping and accountancy aren’t just for those who love working with figures.

You could use your accountancy qualification to work in any sector, because they all need finance professionals. On this path, you could even use your accountancy qualifications to climb the standard career ladder; for example, chief executives often have accountancy backgrounds.

Or you could simply want the kind of career which allows you to work for yourself, letting you creating your perfect work-life balance.

The Kaplan survey mentioned earlier also found that the top three reasons given for swapping to an accountancy career were better career progression, better earning potential, and enjoying working with numbers.

You’re as young as you feel

Going back to learning can be a challenge, but an exciting one.

Catherine Littler, Head of Learning and Development – Accounting at Mindful Education says that a lot of her AAT students are career changers; “Some may not have done that well at school. They might have had other jobs or they might be parents who have had time out of the workplace.”

Speaking personally, she adds: “I took my AAT qualifications because I wanted to change direction. I was in the sports and leisure industry. I didn’t want to be a sports centre manager but wanted a career which allowed me to stay in touch with customers.”

Richard Matthews MAAT, recently completed his Professional Diploma (level 4) with AAT at the age of 42, and he reminisces: “I hadn’t been involved in education for nearly 20 years when I began my AAT journey, passing each level as I progressed was a great achievement.”

There will be plenty of important, valid reasons behind your decision to pursue, or not pursue, your career change, but don’t fall under the illusion that age matters. Learning new skills can be an invigorating and empowering thing; read more from other AAT career changers here.

Is it for you?

Studying for any worthwhile qualification demands dedication and hard work. Says Littler: “A successful student is one who has considered why they want to move into accountancy work. And there’s nothing wrong with needing the income as a motivating reason.” 

James Duggan MAAT had a fantastic career as a chef, cooking professionally around the world for the likes of the Royal Family, and more. It was everything he’d dreamt of, but something had to change when he realised how much he was missing out on his children’s lives. He got started with AAT to move into accountancy and build a more balanced life.

“The simple answer is my two daughters, Lillie and Olivia. I loved my old career, but it had downsides, the biggest of which was the lack of family life. I spent so much time away from home that sometimes I would go weeks, sometimes months without seeing my children, and anyone who knows me knows everything I do, I do for them. So when the little ones where approaching five and three years old, I essentially snapped. I had missed out on so much of their lives and I hated catering for that.”

He’s now a manager of a multi-million pound firm and spends more time with his children; “what more motivation could you want?”

Back to school

Perhaps the last time you studied or sat an exam, you were wearing a school uniform. And maybe you found schoolwork difficult and boring. But time changes everything.  

Littler adds: “What’s important is this: maybe you left school 10 years ago with no GCSEs. In that time, you might have brought up a family or had a job. You’ve changed in those 10 years and just because you didn’t like studying when you were at school doesn’t mean you won’t now. As long as you are determined, then you can learn and enjoy doing so.”

Hayley Lavens FMAAT started out as an administrator before completing her AAT qualifications, and she never expected to have a career in finance:
“I didn’t get on well with maths at school, although I ended up doing well in my GCSE’s I found it very hard work to get to grips with it so I thought, ‘well numbers aren’t for me.’ How wrong I was!” she says.

And of course, your experience of life will help you in your work: if, for example, you’ve worked in a shop then you’ve got customer-facing skills which will serve you well when looking for an accountancy or bookkeeping job.

How will it affect your life?

If you’re returning to studying in mid-life then it’s likely you’re going to have to juggle responsibilities.

You might have to combine studying with work, caring for children or elderly relatives or other commitments. But if you’re dedicated and determined, you can do it.

Richard Matthews successfully paired his studies with a full-time job: ” I did all my studying online, in the evenings and weekends. At the time, my daughter was just two years old and I’m a hands-on dad – but what helped me was going to my parents’ house when I needed quiet in order to study.”

So your life will definitely be affected, but you can take charge and find a way to make it work around your life.

With AAT qualifications, you can choose to study completely online, or you might prefer a combination of distance learning and part-time college attendance. Click here to search for an AAT course provider.

Family and friends

With a little help from those around you, studying for your AAT qualifications will be much easier and more enjoyable.

It can be a good idea to schedule set times during which you’ll be studying and times when you’re not, therefore, you know when you’re free to spend time with friends and family guilt-free.

And, adds Littler, be good to yourself: “Give yourself little rewards for studying: it’s an important motivational tool.”

Which course?

The AAT offers a range of courses, and you can search for which course would suit your career goals here.

For those looking to pursue a career in bookkeeping, or maybe even use it as a starting point for now, there are five dedicated bookkeeping qualifications in total. It starts off with the Access Award in Bookkeeping (Level 1), which is an entry-level qualification for those with no previous bookkeeping knowledge or experience. The next level is the Foundation Certificate in Bookkeeping (Level 2), which leads on to the Advanced Certificate in Bookkeeping (Level 3).

The Advanced Certificate is roughly equivalent in study terms to doing an A level. With this qualification, you could progress to professional AAT Bookkeeper status (AATQB). There are also Level 1 and Level 2 qualifications in accounting software.

The sky’s the limit

For mid-life students wanting a career in accountancy, there are separate courses which cover more topics than the bookkeeping equivalent, start with the Foundation Certificate in Accounting (Level 2).

Once completed, you could progress to the Advanced Diploma in Accounting (Level 3), and at this point you have the option of swapping over to the professional AAT Bookkeeper qualification if you prefer (AATQB).

The final course in the AAT accountancy qualification is the Professional Diploma in Accounting (Level 4), which can lead to professional AAT Accountant status (MAAT). In studying terms, this is a similar level to a foundation degree.

Once you’re AAT qualified and have the studying bug, you could progress onto a chartered accountancy qualification through awarding bodies like CIMA or ACCA.

In summary

It’s a big thing to consider changing career and studying for accountancy qualifications in mid-life. But it’s also an incredibly exciting opportunity.

Keep an open mind and shrug off your assumptions; even if you’ve never been a ‘school person’, accountancy could be something you really enjoy. Access your free online AAT course guide, which is chock full of information on our full range of courses and qualifications, and choose the course that’s right for you.

And our members have said it’s much easier when you have a support system around you, so make sure to involve your nearest and dearest in your decision: you’ll need their support when you study. Focus on the prize ahead and you will soon have AAT letters after your name and a new career ahead of you.

Read more about studying with AAT and hear from real AAT members;

  • Money – Earning potential can be a major motivator for studying: check out the AAT Salary Survey 2019 to hear what those in accountancy and bookkeeping are really earning
  • Inspirational stories – Have a look at real stories from our members talking about their career paths here 
  • Study help – AAT will support you in every step of your journey, with plenty of online resources, webinars, videos, articles, and our essential guides for your studies.
  • And if you want an idea of what kind of accountant you could be once you’ve got your qualifications, try this quiz

Charlotte Beugge spent more than 20 years as the deputy personal finance editor on The Daily Telegraph and then The Daily Mail. A freelancer since 2010, her work has appeared in national newspapers, magazines and websites.

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