Which Accountancy Qualification Is Best For Me?
  • Accountancy & Finance

Which Accountancy Qualification Is Best For Me?

5 min read


There are a few different prestigious accountancy qualifications that will give your career prospects a boost. But, you might be wondering which accountancy qualification is best.

With an increase in demand for accounting professionals, undertaking an accounting qualification is a great route for how to become an accountant. Whether it is ACCA, CIMA, or AAT, each has different strengths, and one might suit your ambitions better than the other.

What are the different accounting qualifications?

The three key professional qualifications providing routes into the world of accounting: AAT, ACCA, and CIMA. Each are globally recognised accounting qualifications, and take between three and five years to complete. Let’s discover the key differences between each qualification:

AAT (Association of Accounting Technicians)

AAT accountancy qualifications are the ideal first step in an accountancy career. Its foundational syllabus can give you a platform to get into the industry without prior experience or accreditations.

Subjects and entry requirements

  • Foundation Certificate: All you need to begin this course is a good standard of Maths and English. It covers a solid introduction and covers key topics like bookkeeping and Sage accounting software.
  • Advanced Diploma: You should have a competent knowledge of terminology and manual double entry bookkeeping. Here, you’ll build on the skills you’ve already learned and begin more advanced ones like utilising spreadsheets and preparing accounts.
  • Professional Diploma: To start, you need to have completed Level 3, or have good knowledge of the key topics. You might be accepted if you have real-world experience, but it’s essential that you have a good understanding to build on. In this level, you will develop your expertise across management accounting, systems, auditing, and more.

Alternatively, you could opt to go into bookkeeping via AAT qualifications, and could opt to study for two standalone certificates including the AAT Level 2 bookkeeping course, or the AAT Level 3 bookkeeping course.

Career options and salaries

You could become either a full AAT member, and go on to get an average salary of £28,000, or become a fellow member with an average salary of £37,000. You’ll also be able to include the recognised letters after your name.

If you have completed the bookkeeping certificates, you can apply for bookkeeping membership.

There are a wide variety of different accounting careers available to you when you have finished your qualifications.

Length of study

The time it takes to complete this qualification is dependent on how many hours you can commit. There’s no time cap, so you’re only restricted to the number of exam sittings available per year.

ACCA (Association of Chartered Certified Accountants)

ACCA qualifications are another popular option, with the full qualification equivalent to a degree. But, if you don’t have any relevant existing qualifications, you can study the Foundation Diploma and work your way up. It’s a great choice if you want to become chartered certified, broaden your prospects and earn a higher salary.

Which degree is best with ACCA?

Any undergraduate degree that has been accredited by ACCA will offer exemptions from the earlier courses. However, if you do not have an undergraduate degree, you can still begin at the Foundation Diploma, as it will offer the opportunity to obtain the BSc (Hons) degree in Applied Accounting.

Subjects and entry requirements

  • Foundation Diploma in Accounting and Business: There are no requirements for this level. This is the equivalent of the first year of a degree programme or HND standard, so anyone can work their way up from here. You’ll cover the basics of business and technology, financial accounting, and management accounting.
  • Applied Knowledge: If you have an accredited undergraduate degree, you might also be able to skip this level. This will also teach you the basics in business and technology, management, and financial accounting, but will move you up to the next level once you have completed these three exams.
  • Applied Skills: Once you’ve finished the Applied Knowledge exams (or have been exempted from them), you can begin this level where you will learn about corporate and business law, taxation, financial reporting and so on.
  • Strategic Professional: You need to have completed the previous two stages (or be exempt), and will cover leadership areas and advance the skills you’ve already learned.

If you aren’t sure where you’re supposed to begin, check out ACCA’s exemption checker to find out more. 

Career options and salaries

When you have completed this, you’ll be a Chartered Certified Accountant and can put the recognised letters after your name. There will be a broad range of career options available, with potential roles including auditor, business analyst, financial strategist or commercial accountant. Those with between 3 and 5 years’ experience can earn between £55,000-£90,000. It will also open the door to many more opportunities.

Length of study

There aren’t any time limits to complete the exams, but you will have four years to complete your four Strategic Professional level subjects once you have passed your first. You can determine how quickly you do the exams.

Which ACCA exam is the hardest?

Many students generally consider the Audit Assurance paper to be the toughest.

Which ACCA professional paper to take first

Completing the Strategic Business Reporting (SBR) paper first should give you the best chances of success.

Which ACCA exam to take first

Subjects can be sat in any order, but it’s recommended to sit Audit Assurance with or after Financial Reporting.

CIMA (Chartered Institute of Management Accountants)

Whilst CIMA is a more advanced qualification, you can still begin studying without experience. CIMA is more focussed around management and leadership skills, spanning across finance and business, with an emphasis on adding value to organisations.

If you have your eye on becoming a senior expert in business or financial fields, CIMA is likely your best choice.

Subjects and entry requirements

  • Certificate in Business Accounting: This is an entry-level qualification so you only need good Maths and English skills, ideally GCSE grade C/4 or above. You’ll learn the basics of business economics, management accounting, and more.
  • Professional Operational: You should have completed the Certificate, an AAT Level 4, or have a relevant degree. You will learn how to manage costs and carry out analysis.
  • Professional Management: To begin this level, you need to have finished the Professional Operational level, or have relevant exemptions. You will learn more about performance management and advanced financial reporting. You will also learn about the management of different business functions, such as HR.
  • Professional Strategic: You must have finished the Professional Management level or have relevant exemptions. You will learn about strategic and risk management, as well understanding the financial strategy of organisations.

It’s also important to remember that to become fully qualified, you need to have professional real-world experience.  

Career options and salaries

When you are CIMA qualified, you can use recognised letters after your name, and gain access to CIMA’s career hub, CV resources and CPD opportunities. Those with CGMA status usually have a starting salary of £34,000 and can rise to £63,000 and beyond. Roles can include management accountant, financial manager, chief financial officer or business analyst.

Length of study

It’s likely that the Certificate will take 12 months to complete, and the Professional qualification can take around 3 years.

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