A step ahead of the rest

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With graduate unemployment rates at a high and the average university student debt rising to £45,000, vocational education and apprenticeships are becoming more attractive options for school and college leavers. Lancashire accounting apprentice and AAT student, Lisa Whiteside, talks about why choosing an apprenticeship was the best decision she made

After finishing college, I was faced with the same challenging question that many school leavers encounter – ‘Do I go to university?’

One thing I was sure about was that I wanted to work and learn at the same time so I decided against university and enrolled in the AAT Accountancy Qualification. Little did I know, my decision would secure me a 2011 Kaplan Accountancy Scholarship and an apprenticeship with a local accountancy firm.

I studied my A Levels at Cardinal Newman College in Preston, Lancashire where I heard about AAT. I was always interested in a career in accountancy and set myself the goal of becoming a chartered accountant. The most appealing aspect about this career was the fantastic opportunities and experiences on offer, as well as the bonus of being able to study and work at the same time. I decided to apply for a Kaplan AAT scholarship. If successful, I would receive assistance with course fees and would be on my way to achieving my goal.

After attending a number of interviews, I was over the moon to hear that I was successful in receiving a scholarship and started studying through Kaplan Financial in September 2011. Shortly after, I got a job as a trainee accountant at Danbro Accounting Ltd providing accountancy and bookkeeping services.

My situation was ideal, I was going to earn money while still learning and progressing my knowledge and skills. Better yet, I could directly apply my learnings at work, immediately putting theory into practice.

I know the thought of studying and working full-time is daunting but it’s definitely not impossible. As a trainee, my main responsibilities at work include assisting qualified accountants in their duties. I take comfort in the fact that while my peers are at university, I am getting one step ahead of the rest by gaining valuable work experience. My employer is also extremely supportive of my apprenticeship and gives me time off work to attend exams.

With graduate unemployment rates at a high, the cost of tuition fees at £27,000 and more and more graduates working in non-professional roles, I knew that a university degree wouldn’t guarantee me a job.

In hindsight, not going to university and training through an apprenticeship was the best decision I’ve ever made. I am avoiding debt, gaining valuable experience and applying my learning in the workplace.

Young people, especially school leavers, need to consider all of their options and make the effort to learn about the different pathways that will lead them into a professional career.

More information on studying AAT and registering as an AAT student is available online. You can hear from more AAT students talking about their experiences of studying AAT on YouTube.

Lisa Whiteside is an accounting apprentice and AAT student.

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