What Is My Study Path For Becoming A Chartered Accountant?

Unlike many careers, there is no one path to go down when you want to become a certified public accountant.

With so many different areas you can specialise in, you may wish to find out more about the various certificates, exams and diplomas on offer before you think about going to college or university, and most certainly before you consider applying for any apprenticeships or training schemes leading to roles as a professional accountant.

It's really important to be ahead of the game, and more importantly better informed than your peers when seeking a career in the finance and business world. For instance, do you know what the AAT is, what ACCA qualifications provide and how you can take the CIMA exam? Furthermore, do you know which area of accounting you want to be in and what training and experience will be expected of you before you can enter into it?

Accountants of all levels generally need a minimum level of education, so let's discover what you need to study in order to become qualified in accounting and what your options are thereafter.

What is accounting?

How important is accounting in business?

Subjects You Will Need To Apply For Accounting Certificates Or An Accounting Degree

Although it is possible to find employment in entry-level accounting positions (such as working as a junior bookkeeper or clerk) without earning a diploma, most accounting professionals with any prospect of moving up the ladder in their career hold at least a four-year bachelor's degree.

Some accountant make it without even taking a university degree.
You don't necessarily need any education requirements before applying for accounting courses. Photo on Visual Hunt

You don’t need any specific education requirements, qualifications or experience to begin your journey studying accounting, just good numeracy skills and enthusiasm. Yet, some university programs may require a high grade in Maths, Business or Economics before you can be accepted on their course - it all depends on where you apply.

There are many qualifications covering the basics of accounting which do not require any previous school experience, but note that if you do first qualify with A-levels or a degree in accounting, then you may be exempt from certain exams because of your expertise, which means you can become qualified much faster than someone just starting out with no relevant education preparing to enter the sector.

A degree gives you useful knowledge about accounting theory, yes, but the qualifications offered by the many accounting institutes offer you the practical experience and practical skills needed for a successful career within this sector.

We will look at the different institutes that can help mould your career in accounting below, but first, let's see what degrees or diplomas you might like to think about before specialising and how long you will be tied to them.

  • Associate’s Degree: one to two years of study
  • Bachelor’s Degree: up to four years
  • Master’s in Accounting: up to two years

Aspiring accountants come from all walks of life, which is what makes this profession so fascinating and rewarding.

While some may have only just left school, others might be finishing up a degree or looking to train after having a family, meanwhile, some might already be partway through a successful career and in need of a change.

So, when sitting in an interview waiting room, don't ever compare yourself to the other candidates as everyone has their own unique traits, knowledge and experience to offer an accounting role.

Mandatory Qualifications For Accountants

While there is some flexibility surrounding accounting certification, one thing is constant - the AAT (Association of Accounting Technicians) is usually the minimum you’ll need for a career in accountancy or at least one that will offer you progression opportunities.

The AAT is made up of various optional certificates, with basic or foundation ones all the way to a level 4 qualification, the equivalent of studying at university for a year.

If you make it past a Level 4 AAT diploma, you can go on to become a professional member at an accounting firm or within an accounting department and use the letters ‘MAAT’ after your name. This title is highly recognised and rated among employers.

Check for free online accounting class here.

Complete the AAT and then update your business cards and email signature!
By completing all 4 units of the AAT, you can add the letters MAAT to your title. Photo on Visualhunt.com

Gaining Accreditation At A Renowned Accounting Institute

Below are just two examples of the accounting institutes or bodies that can offer you accreditation in your chosen area of study and work.


According to its website:

"CIMA is the world’s leading, and largest, professional body of management accountants. Our unique blend of management accounting, financial accounting and business-focused subjects produces competent and confident CGMAs who can lead their organisations to sustainable success.

The CIMA Professional Qualification is recognised worldwide as the most relevant global finance qualification for a career in business. If you have relevant education such as a university degree from an CIMA-accredited university, you could start here.


We are the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants. The world’s largest professional body of management accountants, with the most useful accounting qualification for a career in business.

Globally recognised

Together with the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA), we established the Chartered Global Management Accountant (CGMA) designation in 2012 to provide members with a new level of resources and recognition.

Our journey

The Chartered Institute of Management Accountants (CIMA) was founded in 1919 and is the world’s leading and largest professional body of management accountants."

The CIMA exam

The professionals behind CIMA want to make it as convenient as possible for you to take exams covered by their institute, this is why they have over 6,000 exam centres across the world for you to choose from.

Objective tests (for the Professional Qualification and Cert BA) are available to candidates all year round, and there are four windows throughout the year for Case Study exams to be taken which means you are never far off being able to schedule your accounting exam.

Cert BA exams are 120 minutes long. BA1, BA2 and BA3 each contain 60 objective test questions, while BA4 contains 85 objective test questions.

Objective Tests are available on demand and computer marked, so on completion of your Objective Test examination you will receive a provisional exam result of either ‘Pass’ or ‘Fail’ at most assessment centres.

You can schedule your exam by visiting their website.

If you need a little help to prepare you for your exams you can take accounting lessons with a private tutor.

You could find out on the day whether or not you have passed or failed.
Most exams can be taken on a computer, making marking much quicker. Photo on VisualHunt


Finally, ACCA presents itself on its website as:

"A powerful global presence within the profession, ACCA inspires its members and students towards greater success and prosperity.
With centres across the United Kingdom, members and students have round-the-clock access to a wealth of valuable resources and support.

We're the world's most forward-thinking professional accountancy body.

We believe that accountancy is vital for economies to grow and prosper, which is why we work all over the world to build the profession and make society fairer and more transparent.

We have more than 208,000 fully qualified members and 503,000 students worldwide. They're among the world’s best-qualified and most highly sought-after accountants - and they work in every sector you can imagine.

Organisations know and trust our designation. We're out there every day, connecting with businesses large and small, governments, educational establishments and opinion formers. We're on top of emerging trends, legislation and legal requirements, helping to shape them.

Because of all this, we’re able to create the innovative, strategic-thinking accountants our fast-changing world needs.

Our mission and values

We have a mission to be a global leader and a set of values, giving us our distinctive character and defining our approach to the global profession."

The ACCA exam

Details on ACCA exam dates and their start times can be found by using the timetable provided on the ACCA website. In addition, you can find out how much you will be expected to pay when entering for your specific exam using a handy drop-down menu, in preparation.

Depending on any existing qualifications you may hold, an exemption can be awarded across:

  • The Foundation level qualifications and
  • the nine Applied Knowledge and Applied Skills exams of the ACCA Qualification.

Many of ACCA's exams are now delivered through computer-based exams (CBEs) and it is important to note that ACCA has a time limit rule for students to complete their Strategic Professional exams, to give employers assurance that students have relevant and up-to-date knowledge to enhance their organisations.

For instance, a candidate may be asked to complete their exam within a seven-year deadline of having started the course, but you can find out more about the time limits that relate to your personal circumstances by consulting their website.

Finally, you can book exams online via the website too, making savings when you book two exam sessions at once.

See the Golden Rules of Accounting here.

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A student by trade, Daniel spends most of his time working on that essay that's due in a couple of days' time. When he's not working, he can be found working on his salsa steps, or in bed.