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Is AAT better than a university degree?

A woman sitting on grass reading a Kaplan study text.

It’s a bold question! But as university tuition fees and value for money are increasingly topics of debate, it’s worth exploring alternative routes into a high-paying, stable profession.

If you’ve just completed your A-levels, are looking to change career, or simply want to progress in your accountancy career, AAT is an excellent alternative to higher education.

In this article we look at the career benefits that an AAT qualification can give you in comparison to a university degree.

Investing in your future

A university degree has traditionally been considered the golden ticket to job security and career progression.

However, students today can be forgiven for questioning whether it’s a sound financial investment. A recent study shows that a staggering two thirds of undergraduate students in the UK are unhappy with the perceived value for money of their course1.

Interesting facts:

  • The average UK student spends £18,305 per year for living and tuition costs
  • You can get started on AAT from £1,000 a year
  • Upon qualifying with AAT, your mean salary is £37,490

And no wonder - the UK now has one of the most expensive university experiences in the world. A 2017 study showed that on average, a UK undergraduate student will spend in the region of £18,3052 every year for combined living and tuition costs. That means that an average 3 year degree will cost just shy of £55,000!

Not surprisingly, a recent study concluded that three-quarters of today’s uni students are predicted to still be repaying loans well into their fifties3.

And with some reports estimating UK graduate starting salaries to be between £19,000 - £22,000 there’s a growing concern that increased tuition fees are not being reflected in salaries4.

In contrast, AAT offers a more immediate return on investment. The AAT qualification is divided into four separate levels, which are each recognised in their own right. Completing the Foundation Certificate alone will qualify you for typical entry level roles such as an Accounts Assistant or Purchase/Sales Ledger Clerk, where the national average salary is £18,7865.

According to the 2017 AAT Salary Survey, an impressive "77% of students agree that studying for an AAT Accounting Qualification has increased their earning potential". And average salaries of AAT members increase as they progress through the different stages of their membership journey - with fellow members (FMAAT) earning a mean salary of £37,4905.

With prices starting at £9566 for a level and completion achievable within 6 to 12 months, it’s easy to see how getting started with AAT is a highly competitive alternative to a university degree.

Winning with work

Another benefit of studying AAT is that you can complete the course in your spare time, whilst you gain valuable relevant work experience in a full-time role. Plus, your employer may even be able to fund your course!

Fionnuala McElroy, an accountant at PWC, joined the company straight after finishing A levels.

She explained to the BBC:

I did have offers for University, but when I looked into it, I decided that this was the better route for me. Earning a salary and no student debt was really appealing7

Similarly, Kaplan student Sally Fischer considered university, but ultimately decided to go down a different route, saying:

I initially applied for university, simply because I felt this was the “expected route” to go down, I was always concerned about having debt to pay, moving away, gaining little or no experience and not having a job at the end8

Instead, she decided to apply for an apprenticeship in AAT with Kaplan and is now working as an Accounts Assistant.

Getting the grades

Given the high number of applicants for the most popular university courses, you might miss out on your preferred course for all sorts of reasons.

And with high entry grades required, if your A Levels didn’t go to plan, some university courses may be closed off entirely. So does that mean you won’t get that dream job?

Not at all! The beauty of AAT is that you don’t need any prior experience or qualifications to get started and whilst studying you'll develop the skills to get your first role.

Having a plan

Finally, it is always worth thinking about where your qualification is going to take you. Many degree courses may sound interesting, but career options could be limited. The beauty of professional accounting qualifications such as AAT is that they are designed with input from employers, which means that the knowledge and skills you will acquire are not only academically sound but of practical use in the workplace.

When looking at future careers, you may instantly disregard accountancy because of a preconceived impression of what the job may involve.

Sometimes accountancy is seen as simply number crunching and a boring life behind a desk - when in reality it could be your ticket to travel the world and help launch innovative products.

Whether your dream job is in fashion, environmental consulting or fraud investigation there’s an accountancy role for you. Remember, all industries need accountants!

Your decision

Naturally, you’re the only person who can answer the question of whether or not AAT is better than a university degree. You need to choose the route that suits your personal situation.

There are still many excellent reasons to choose university, and a relevant degree may allow you to fast track your accountancy studies.

However, if university is not the right option for you, you should feel confident that an AAT qualification will offer you great future job prospects.

1 http://www.telegraph.co.uk/education/2017/01/06/does-degree-today-represent-value-money-not-going-number-contact/
2 http://www.telegraph.co.uk/education/2017/01/11/international-university-degrees-three-times-cheaper-uk-study/
3 https://www.spectator.co.uk/2016/03/is-a-degree-worth-the-debt/
4 https://www.graduate-jobs.com/gco/Booklet/graduate-salary-salaries.jsp
5 https://www.aat.org.uk/aatsalary
6 http://financial.kaplan.co.uk/TrainingandQuals/Accountancy/AAT/foundation-certificate-accounting/Pages/default.aspx
7 http://bam.files.bbci.co.uk/bam/live/content/zs29ycw/transcript
8 https://kaplan.co.uk/apprenticeships/talent-academy/apprentice-stories/detail/talent-academy/2016/07/12/sally-fisher---accounts-assistant