Christina Nawrocki FCCA explains how it's possible for school leavers to build a successful career as an accountant and bypass University.
If you are approaching the end of your school education you could be forgiven for feeling that the only option is to go straight to University. This is because for as long as this author can remember, successive governments and school careers advisors (who are usually school teachers who went to University themselves) have banged the drum about why all students should go on to an undergraduate degree.
Their reasons are many and varied but usually include great career prospects, vocational learning, high level of remuneration long term and the opportunity to further study a subject you enjoy. All of this is perfectly valid and the table below (courtesy of the Higher Education Statistics Agency) demonstrates that many school leavers and their parents bought into this view during the naughties. The number of undergraduates has increased 25% from the 2000/01 academic year to 2011/12.
However, the case for going to University is not always as clear cut as these institutions would have you believe. The rising costs of an undergraduate degree has made this option increasingly expensive to the point of being unaffordable. Not going to University need not spell the end of your career before it has even begun. There are a variety of options available, one of which includes becoming an accountant and business advisor.
The alternative accounting qualifications you could obtain
At Wellers three of our supervisors share something in common. Not only did Bethany Whitmore, Sophie Robins and Jasmine Brook become fully qualified accountants at the same time, none of them went to University! Instead they all studied the AAT qualification at Wellers before progressing on to the ACCA qualification. Furthermore, Jasmine Brook became our youngest ever qualified accountant at the age of just 21. Her fascinating narrative provides insight into studying, qualifications and the career you can achieve by going straight into work from school.
You could argue that Jasmine's case is unique as she knew at the age of 16 that she wanted to be an accountant. However, there is more to it than that. Having obtained her GCSEs Jasmine first analysed her skill set, thought about what she enjoyed and the likely career options available to her. She had a keen interest in Mathematics, enjoyed numbers and having done her research on roles that relied upon these skills, came to the conclusion she would work towards a career in accounting.
"Basically I wanted to do something that was practical and would offer a good career. I looked at the subjects I had liked at school and what I was good at. Studying and working as an accountant looked the right move for me. Even back then I knew it meant I might not go to University like some of my friends. It was a difficult decision but one I'm glad I made. I have no regrets!"
Work and study, the AAT and ACCA
After looking at local college courses, Jasmine enrolled at Oxford & Cherwell College to study the AAT qualification. It was there that she heard about some of the accountancy firms in Oxfordshire that would allow her to continue studying the course on a day release arrangement while working the remaining 4 days in the office. Normally it is Wellers preference to employ trainees after they have finished A-Levels. However, having interviewed Jasmine we spotted so much potential that we had to make an exception to our usual recruitment policy.
"Once I completed the AAT I moved on to the ACCA qualification which was 3 years as I had excemptions from doing the AAT. It was 5 years in all and my advice is to stick to it and stay motivated. I just kept thinking of the end goal of qualification and the great benefits that would bring to my career.
"Working at Wellers on their clients gave me experience of many different types of businesses and was really useful as it helped me understand some of the technical matters that came up in training. I also received loads of support and advice from the partners and training manager. That definitely helped me pass my exams. I now have an internationally recognised qualification to back up the last 3 years of work and study."
The route that Jasmine pursued means she has achieved a professional qualification and has no personal debt. This is in stark contrast to today's Universtiy leavers and may explain the more recent drop in undergraduate numbers.
"A friend of mine went to University with a view to also becoming an accountant. We are the same age yet she is just starting out with her training and has loads of debt accumulated from her student loan, tuition fees, accommodation and other things.
"Compare that to me, I have no debts hanging round my neck. I am fully qualified and moving into the next stage of my career. I know which of the two positions I would rather be in. For me it's a no brainer!"
In 2011 (at the time of the increase in tuition fees) the University website push.co.uk conducted a finance survey that revealed student debts were expected to increase from the then average of £6,100 to £53,400 by the time the 2011/12 starters graduated. Tuition fees alone now average £8,385. It means many students have to take on a very significant amount of borrowing to go through higher education.
So whilst going to University has many well founded benefits and will help develop academic, communication and character skills, today's economic circumstances mean the costs make it financially unviable for some. Not going to University doesn't mean the end of your career, quite the opposite in fact as Jasmine's case clearly demonstrates.
Sure, Jasmine has had to work very hard for her achievements, and her client work has helped her develop many of those skills that graduates pick up during their degrees. She now looks forward to a fantastic future at Wellers, perhaps you could follow in her footsteps?
The content of this post is up to date and relevant as at 20/02/2014.
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