UCAS deadline day looms – what advice did AAT members give school leavers hoping to be future accountants?

This Wednesday (15 January) is the deadline for sixth formers throughout the country to submit their UCAS applications – which will help determine their route to the workplace once they have finished their formal schooling.

While the UCAS website offers a helpful section on apprenticeships, internships and gap years, there’s no doubt that the default option promoted is university. A record 34% of 18-year-olds, almost 250,000 of them, opted for higher education in 2019. This in spite of graduates facing record debts and many employers increasingly stressing the need to recruit from a wide range of backgrounds, not just those with a degree.

But is it essential to have a degree to enter the accounting industry?

According to our latest survey, many of the 2,000 British adults we spoke to seem to think so. Accountancy ranks behind only solicitor and teacher in the jobs that would be ‘challenging’ to enter without having first gone to university.

Fortunately, AAT members and students know differently. Just 1% of respondents to AAT’s Green Room portal believed accountancy was only open to those with a university degree, and only 2% that it is only accessible by those from a higher class background.

In contrast, over half (54%) of AAT members and three in five (62%) students believe accountancy is open to all, regardless of their background. However, a significant number of members and students (43% and 36% respectively) did warn that they felt some accountancy firms remain ‘elitist’ when it comes to people who are trying to enter the profession.

See Mark Farrar comment on the survey findings in this short video.

University is still a popular route

“Going to university after completing school education remains a popular route – and there is no doubt that for many, putting down various university options remains their best route to take,” said Mark Farrar, AAT’s Chief Executive.

“But there’s other ways of accessing the accountancy profession, as many of our members and students will be well aware, such as through vocational route like an apprenticeship. This won’t saddle you with debt, nor would it cost several thousand pounds of your own money.

“And AAT qualifications are open to all – meaning you can become a professional accountant irrespective of your background, class or ethnicity. Despite common misconceptions, accountancy isn’t a profession dominated by men from higher-income backgrounds – two-thirds of AAT members and student members are female, while many thousands of our students are from lower income backgrounds and taking their first steps in an exciting career in finance.”

Advice for future accountants – your views

Here’s a selection of the thoughts and views we received:

  • “Accountancy is a good career with lots of prospect. Study hard, and take advice from everyone you can.”
  • “Understand double entry – it’s worth spending the time on it.”
  • “Get experience as soon as you can. You’ll struggle to get an accountancy job with qualifications alone.”
  • “Ask clients more questions if you don’t understand their explanations. Lack of understanding could be due to inexperience, but it could be that the explanation just doesn’t make sense.”
  • “Accountancy is like a puzzle. Sometimes when you study it cannot make sense until you can see the whole picture.”
  • “Think logically, and not mechanically.”

AAT has published a white paper outlining the survey findings, including details of which factors are considered barriers to progression in accountancy and other sectors, which is available in full here.

Further reading:

Adam Harwood is AAT's Media Relations Manager.

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