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Which qualification should I study for my career goals?

Woman thinking with AAT CIMA ACCA and ACA acronyms around her head

Hoping to land a career in accountancy but you’re not sure where to begin your studies? At Kaplan, we have a variety of options and routes for you to take, with AAT, ACCA, CIMA, and ACA qualifications available to kickstart your journey.

We have addressed some of our frequently asked questions to help you decide.

Starting your accounting journey

If you have relevant experience or previous qualifications, you may be entitled to exemptions from specific levels with AAT, ACCA, CIMA, or ACA. However, we advise you to contact the institute directly regarding any exemptions, as they will confirm this, and there may be an additional fee.

Studying with AAT

In most instances, starting your studies with AAT will be the best option to take.

From recent school leavers to those searching for a career change, anyone can study with AAT, as the awarding body requires no previous experience. Most people will begin with the AAT Level 2 Certificate in Accounting.

You will find that your AAT studies will provide the technical skills needed to pursue a career in accounting.

Some examples of careers that you can go into with the AAT qualification include:

  • Bookkeeper
  • Credit controller
  • Payroll manager
  • Finance analyst

Starting with ACCA or CIMA

If you’re hoping to become a chartered accountant, you may choose to study either CIMA or ACCA. Both will help you with your journey to becoming a chartered accountant, but the teachings will differ.

ACCA will teach you the principles of accounting while targeting similar teachings from the AAT at a more advanced level. It is required for you to partake in relevant work experience while studying ACCA. If you have no previous accounting knowledge, the best place to start will be at the ACCA Foundation level. However, the awarding body, ACCA, may also consider your GCSE and A-Level results if you wish to begin from the Applied Knowledge level.

The knowledge from studying ACCA will help you find careers in roles including:

  • Financial accountant
  • Financial controller
  • Finance manager
  • Corporate treasurer
  • Auditor
  • Tax specialist
  • Chief financial officer (CFO)

CIMA is considered one of the most relevant finance qualifications for business, ideal for those searching for wider opportunities in business leadership or management accounting roles. With no prior business or accounting education, you will need to begin your studies at the CIMA Certificate in Business Accounting level. This will provide you with the knowledge to progress with your career.

The CIMA qualification can help you get into these careers:

  • Management accountant
  • Finance manager
  • Business analyst
  • Management consultant
  • Financial analyst
  • Commercial analyst
  • Chief financial officer (CFO)
  • Financial director

I have already studied AAT, where do I go next?

After completing your studies with AAT, you will need to assess your career options to decide what next steps to take. If you require further education to achieve your career goals, there are options available with ACCA, CIMA, or ACA.

From AAT to ACCA

If you have completed the AAT Level 4 Diploma in Accounting, you may be eligible for exemptions from specific ACCA papers, allowing you to begin at the ACCA Applied Skills level. If you have completed AAT levels 2 or 3, you may need to begin your ACCA studies from the ACCA Applied Knowledge Level.

We advise you to contact ACCA directly to assess your options.

From AAT to CIMA

For CIMA, if you wish to begin from the CIMA Professional Operational level, you will need to complete AAT level 4. However, the completion of the AAT levels 2 and 3 only will require you to begin from the CIMA Certificate level.

Again, you can visit CIMA Global directly to discuss any exemptions.

I’m interested in studying ACA; where do I start?

ACA is considered to be one of the most advanced accounting qualifications; therefore there may be stricter entry requirements. To study with ACA, you may be required to hold a recognised degree awarded by a UK or Irish university, or a relevant professional accountancy qualification.

Again, it is always best to speak with the institute directly to gather more information regarding your experience. However, you may be able to inquire about possible exemptions from specific units if you have the necessary experience or knowledge.

To ACA from AAT

The awarding body, ICAEW, may be able to offer the AAT-ACA Fast Track route if you have completed the AAT level 4 and, occasionally, AAT level 3. The route may allow you to skip a few steps to become an ICAEW Chartered Accountant, opening up many opportunities for you in your career.

If you’re still unsure which career path to take after completing your AAT, studying for your ACA might be the best choice for you. ICAEW Chartered Accountants are respected globally as trusted business advisers and are in high demand within every sector.

Studying for your ACA will help to build your technical knowledge while advancing your skills needed for the industry, thus allowing you to become more adaptable to all working environments.

To ACA from CIMA or ACCA

If you previously studied CIMA or ACCA, and have decided to change your career goals, you may be eligible for a few exemptions from ACA depending on your previous level of study. Remember to contact the institute directly regarding these possible exemptions.

How do I get started?

Kaplan is a trusted learning provider if you’re looking to kickstart your career in accountancy. We encourage you to speak with our Student Services Team who are happy to answer any questions that you may have. We also recommend that you speak with the awarding bodies regarding exam paper exemptions for any qualification in which you’re interested.

Need a little more guidance? Take a look at our accountancy courses.

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