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Further study in accountancy

The best and worst reasons to do further study in accountancy and financial management

Will a postgraduate degree increase your chances of getting a job in accountancy or financial management?
You will need to be prepared to convince an employer that your further study has really added value to you as a candidate.

In order to become a qualified accountant it is essential to complete further study, but this can usually be funded and supported by your employer, particularly if you are taken onto a graduate scheme. Professional qualifications are offered through one of the professional bodies for the accountancy profession:

  • ICAEW (Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales)
  • ICAS (Institute of Chartered Accountants of Scotland)
  • ACCA (Association of Chartered Certified Accountants)
  • CIMA (Chartered Institute of Management Accountants)
  • CIPFA (Chartered Institute of Public Finance Accountants)
  • CIOT (Chartered Institute of Taxation).

It is possible to fund your own training in professional qualifications but it’s definitely not the common route and in most cases isn’t necessary as your employer will support you through it.

Do graduate reccruiters want candidates with postgraduate qualifications?

Graduate recruiters don’t tend to look for a postgraduate qualification such as Masters degrees or PhDs so doing postgraduate study in accountancy and finance isn't necessary, and won’t necessarily put you at an advantage compared to those applying straight from undergraduate studies.  A recruiter at EY recently commented, 'We take on Masters students for our graduate programme but the application process and programmes will be the same as undergraduate so studying a postgraduate course or not is totally up to them.'

Some students who haven't studied accounting at undergraduate level feel that to study the subject at Masters level will give them more confidence when applying to employers. You will need to demonstrate the difference this has made when applying, however, to convince an employer that this added confidence is to their advantage too.

Good reasons to do further study include:

  • an interest in studying the subject to a deeper level
  • seeking to attain professional qualifications or exemptions from the exams that you would take to gain chartered status
  • to network and gain contacts in the sector

Bad reasons to do further study would be:

  • to try to improve on a poor undergraduate result - this is because you can't undo the result you have and employers will still be able to see this on your application and may still want to know why you didn't do so well
  • to delay making a decision about what you want to do (It would be better to spend time researching your options during your degree and making an application for a graduate role at that stage)
  • to guarantee career progression - unfortunately in accounting a Masters degree gives no definite advantage.

If you do decide that you want to study further you will need to be prepared to convince an employer that your further study has really added value to you as a candidate. This isn’t always easy when you are up against a strong pool of candidates who are able to present themselves as motivated to get started in the workplace and eager to undertake professional qualifications.

How postgraduate study could help your graduate job application in accountancy

It comes back to thinking about the skills that you have to offer an employer. Studying at Masters level will be more demanding academically and will also require you to do more self-directed study. This should enable you to demonstrate to an employer that you have developed skills as a reflective independent learner who is able to analyse complex issues and ideas critically

If marketed the correct way to a prospective employer, this could allow you to increase your employability above those who have stopped their study at undergraduate level. If you use your time during further study well you may also be able to develop your networking skills. Many universities have a full programme of employer presentations and graduate careers fairs, and staying at university for that extra year can allow you to take full advantage of this. All of these things can be used to your advantage during the recruitment process, but you shouldn’t rely on the postgraduate qualification alone to get you through.

How will I fund my further study?

Funding for a Masters degree or PhD is available in the form of a postgraduate student loan. Other options include self-funding or seeking a scholarship from the institution your are studying at.

Can I work while studying?

It would be beneficial to use any period of further study to seek to get some work experience at the same time as employers tend to value this as much as they do academic credentials. One option is to study part-time and to work whilst doing so. Many Masters courses are offered part-time over two years as an alternative. Some students choose to get a part-time job whilst studying but it’s important to think carefully about managing your time effectively if you are going to do this.

Written by Clare Dawson, University of Birmingham. December 2016

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