Qualifying as an accountant

How do qualify as an accountant?

Most accounting graduate schemes combine further study and-on-the job training leading to qualification as an accountant after three to five years. 

The three key accounting qualifications on offer are the ACA (Associate Chartered Accountant), ACCA (Association of Chartered Certified Accountants), and CIMA (Chartered Institute of Management Accountants). 

The ACA and ACCA qualifications will enable you to become a chartered accountant and work in most areas of accounting. The CIMA qualification is designed for those who would like to become management accountants, working within a business on the financial aspects of their operations.

There’s no "right" or "wrong" qualification to choose, but making a smart choice that suits you best from the options available to graduates can be key to long-term success.

Most accounting graduate employers will require all its graduate recruits to follow their preferred qualification route, though you may get some choice at larger organisations. 

Here's a summary of the features of the three main accounting qualifications:

Accounting qualifications

ACA

Accounting qualification obtained

Chartered accountant

Awarding body

The Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW)

Common career paths

  • Employment at accountancy firm including audit work
  • Employment in private or public sector organisation
  • Starting own business

Method of training

Normally through a training agreement with an authorised employer

Work experience requirement

450 days of relevant work experience

What’s special about this route?

Most ACA trainees enter into a training agreement with an employer who provides paid tuition, study leave and mentoring.

ACCA

Accounting qualification obtained

Chartered certified accountant

Awarding body

The Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA)

Common career paths

  • Employment at accountancy firm including audit work
  • Employment in private or public sector organisation
  • Starting own business

Method of training

Training agreement or independently

Work experience requirement

Three years of relevant work experience

What’s special about this route?

ACCA qualification isn’t tied into a training agreement, so you can move between employers while training.

CIMA

Accounting qualification obtained

Management accountants, who are employed within a business rather than at a specialised accountancy firm.

Awarding body

The Chartered Institute of Management Accountants (CIMA)

Common career paths

  • Employment in private or public sector organisation
  • Starting own business
  • Employment at accountancy firm but NOT including audit work

Method of training

Training agreement or independently

Work experience requirement

Three years of relevant work experience

What’s special about this route?

The CIMA qualification is targeted at students who are aiming to become management accountants.