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22 years old with zero qualifications

I need advice on whether to go to university or internship?

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Hi,
I'm 22 with ZERO qualifications. I know that I want to go into accounting and hopefully start off with one of the top 4, however, I have no A-levels or anything else for that matter - I am only now starting to retake my GCSEs this year. I have been reading a lot on the internet on whether I should just start off with ICAEW's CFAB or ACCA's Foundation level, or go to a university first? There are a lot of people saying that you can only go so far without a degree and others saying it doesn't matter. So I thought I would actually ask people who know what they are talking about. Should I go to University if I'm aiming to apply to the big 4, or do CFAB or the Foundation level and hope that I get an internship with one of the big 4, any advice is apprenticed!

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By DJKL
29th Jan 2018 01:28

As I do not recruit I am likely not very qualified re your question, but would mention that I am not sure A Level/Degree route is the way for you to go; have you considered AAT as an alternative pathway?

The catch for you is you are circa 5-6 years behind others,and whilst not certain I do suspect, in the absence of a consistent academic record, your chances of getting into the big 4 by this route must these days be very low; it seems pretty hard even for those who got their A levels at school and nailed a 2:1 from a strong university by the time they were 22, if I were you I would play the percentages if a less than traditional pathway needs to be your approach.

Taking A levels then degree is likely going to take 4-5 years, with ACA for another say three years afterwards, you are facing qualifying at about 30, a bit of a hard sell re the big 4 who from what I hear are pretty structured re how they recruit.

By chasing down say AAT first you could possibly shorten the route, (I think there is a fast track route), and whilst I would not give up the wish to train with the Big 4 (though for the life of me I do not know why you would wish that route) imho you do have to consider other options; in effect a Plan B.

Then again, as I said at the outset, what do I know.

See:

https://careers.icaew.com/en/find-your-route#logic-tree

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29th Jan 2018 03:04

Surely the question is moot. How do you expect to get in to a university with no qualifications? Any useful course at a decent university will require A-levels or BTEC equivalent, and joining ACCA or most of the other institutes as a student member also requires a decent minimum education. So get some GCSEs first and then some A-levels/BTECs etc, and after a couple of years you'll be in a better position to decide what the next step is.

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By JoshuaJ
to Tim Vane
29th Jan 2018 12:36

I did a few GCSE's last year, and have 2 more coming around this May/June. After that, I am planning on doing an Access course which shouldn't really take me any more than a year.

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29th Jan 2018 06:39

Why do you want to train at a Top 4?

My advice would be to do you GCSEs, then join a local firm as a AAT trainee, before progressing to ACCA etc.

At a (small) local firm, you’ll learn a lot more about accountancy, in a broader, quicker manner than a big firm.

15 years ago, whilst in my middle year at uni, I was applying for firms. I applied for all of the big ones and got rejected in the basis of my A-Level results. The only interview that I had will a national firm was Mazaars. The interviewer walked in, sat down and glanced through my application and said “oh, sorry, I don’t now how you got through the system with those A Levels”. (ABCCE) I don’t know, and things may have changed a little ... but (and I say this in the nicest possible way), I doubt you have any chance of getting a training contract at a Top 4.

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By JoshuaJ
to atleastisoundknowledgable...
29th Jan 2018 12:49

I will have hopefully finished doing the rest of my GCSE's by summer time. My reasoning for wanting to join one of the Big 4 was, from what I heard "it is easier to scale down to smaller companies than it is to work up to a big company" I'm not sure how true this is though?
Other than that I wanted to join one of the Big 4 for better career options (i.e. to travel, find out quicker what field I want to enter).

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By JoshuaJ
to atleastisoundknowledgable...
29th Jan 2018 12:49

I will have hopefully finished doing the rest of my GCSE's by summer time. My reasoning for wanting to join one of the Big 4 was, from what I heard "it is easier to scale down to smaller companies than it is to work up to a big company" I'm not sure how true this is though?
Other than that I wanted to join one of the Big 4 for better career options (i.e. to travel, find out quicker what field I want to enter).

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By ms998
to JoshuaJ
29th Jan 2018 14:03

I'll burst your bubble here. The Big 4 take a vast amount of graduates coming out of university who have done the standard GCSE/ A-Level/University path.

I would ask why they would want to take a risk training (its expensive) someone who doesn't have GCSEs/A-Levels at the age of 22? I know they are trying to diversify but it will be difficuly to get recruited

If you want to do accountancy i would suggest going the apprenticeship route, getting your AAT and experience and then moving onto ACCA/ATT/CTA

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to JoshuaJ
29th Jan 2018 14:11

IF you got into a Big 4, the chances are that you'd get very good at 1 thing. Undoubtedly this would be a particular type or element of audit.

By going to a small(er) firm, you'll be a general accounts trainee and do lots of different things. Don't get me wrong, you'll probably do some general admin, but you'd also start with bookkeeping, VAT, possibly payroll. After a year-or-so, you'll add in accounts prep, assisting on some audits, and potentially some tax work.

If you want to end up working in a small company, then being excellent at auditing pension schemes will have no relevance whatsoever. A bookkeeping/payroll/accounts background however ...

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29th Jan 2018 10:42

Let's just rewind a minute Joshua, because the answer to this question is important.

Why are you, at 22, with ZERO qualifications?

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By JoshuaJ
to andy.partridge
29th Jan 2018 12:55

After coming out of school at age 16, I still didn't know what I wanted to do, so I worked with the family business for around a year and a half. Suddenly I came into a lot of serious health problems - close to death several times. It's only in the past year or so that I even got a diagnosis and started getting better, which is why I only a few GCSE's done last year.

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29th Jan 2018 13:39

I have two lads around your age, Joshua. One has done A levels, gone to university and got the degree because that's pretty much the only way to get to where he wants to be (architect). The other left school at 16 because something vocational that he wanted to do came his way. The relevance of this, of course, is that vocational entry into the accountancy profession is now massive.

So, my experience via my lads is that both approaches can work. I'm pretty confident in saying, however, that either approach can fail. What has to be more important than trying to choose the "right" route (because I don't think there is one) is the right route for you, your personal circumstances and your personality.

If it were me, though, I think I would veer towards vocational entry as DJKL has suggested. You also need to be realistic about Big 4 ambitions: from what I gather, they are now exceedingly corporate and just having a degree isn't going to cut it anyway as you'll need a good degree (prob 2:1 minimum) from a good university. You'll also need to fit to their mould and perhaps (I'm only guessing here) an older graduate is less likely to do so than a snotty 21 y/o.

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29th Jan 2018 13:57

If I was 16 again, I'd probably do it all again - A levels, Degree, ACA.

But that's because I enjoyed my social life between 16 and 21.

Career wise - I'd have been better doing AAT at 16, qualifying at (say) 18 and then doing ACA/ACCA. I recall an accountancy article (many years ago) about a 20 year old fully qualified ACA. She'd left school at 16 and rather than drift around, did AAT in a year, then ACA in three. 20 years old, fully qualified and four years experience under her belt.

So I'd suggest (as others have):

Finish your GCSEs
Find a firm willing to support you with AAT
Qualify with that
Then consider ACCA or ACA

I wouldn't even consider the Big 4. I probably wouldn't even consider the top 20. You will get a more rounded experience at a small practice, and a lot less pressure, especially if your health is still a concern.

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29th Jan 2018 14:03

If I Was you I would also consider whether I could afford to go to university ... is is not cheap and do you want to be saddled with debt?

The AAT to ACA route is what I would do - i believe at least one of Big 4 offers this route.

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29th Jan 2018 17:20

As an ex KPMG person, I couldn't get out of there quick enough once I was qualified.

Auditing is quite interesting for about a year then I found it increasingly frustrating once I realised you are essentially being paid to say its OK, not paid to find problems, and your bosses don't like it when you do a "good" job and find stuff, they like it when you knock off early and find nothing.

When I was there virtually everyone was a "fresh out", the only older ones were PHD bods, and quite frankly you will be too old by the time you do uni to get on a training programme. They want people they can mold and control who have zero personal life. Chances of your getting in will be small unless you get a first from a top tier uni which counterbalances your late start.

As other say, from your position I would go straight in. I would also explain your illness upfront in your cover letter. Accounting is hard work and takes a lot of self motivated study and resilience.

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to ireallyshouldknowthisbut
29th Jan 2018 23:41

I find in a smaller practice its slightly different. They want you to find something, but just something to talk about. New premises, new product, R&D tax credit claim. Something minor. Maybe even a non-material error to have a chat about. Not using SoD on HP - Well, that's a point to talk about.

They DO NOT want you finding material errors. Ever.

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29th Jan 2018 18:58

As others have said, do the GCSEs you have planned, then apply to local firms and get on with AAT.

Once complete, look at ACCA / ACA / CTA. Once you have one of these, then consider Big 4 if that’s what you still want.

Again, like others, I did my 24 months at one of these firms and could not wait to leave (having started completely believing that my future lay in their world)

I went back to local firms 25 years ago and am perfectly content to remain with them.

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29th Jan 2018 21:32

I started studying at 22 after a career change.
I was quite lucky I did AAT as an apprenticeship and joined small firm of accountants and did day release.
I then moved to a bigger firm, with bigger companies and by the time I left was doing my own audits.
Now I’m a management accountant for a national company.
If your willing to put the work in it is easily achievable.
AAT I would definitely recommend

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29th Jan 2018 21:37

‘Start off with one of the top 4.’

It sounds like I am in a minority in thinking you need a reality check.

Sorry to hear of your poor health.

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By JoshuaJ
30th Jan 2018 00:48

Can someone explain why the emphasis is so large regarding starting off with AAT and then moving on to ACA, rather than just simply starting off with the ACA CFAB qualification, as I would be going on to complete the CFAB qualification anyway?

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to JoshuaJ
30th Jan 2018 07:33

It’s all to do with (and please don’t think that I’m being rude in anyway, just trying to help) the level of study that you’re used to and ability.

If you had been through A Level & a degree, then you would be used to the level of study & exams of the ACA/ACCA and the time pressure of doing that alongside work, and the advice may be to go straight to those qualifications. The last thing that anyone wants is for you to jump in too far ahead, struggle, fail & give up.

The AAT is a really good step to take - all of my juniors start that way.

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to JoshuaJ
30th Jan 2018 07:56

I have to agree AAT was a really good starting point for me!
Can I ask how you are planning on doing the training. Will it be self study or through a college?

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By JoshuaJ
to Confused78
30th Jan 2018 16:26

Hello,
As I live in Northern Ireland (not many options for college) I would plan on doing it through Kaplan - ACA Flexible Online.

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31st Jan 2018 11:20

First of all, congratulations for going back to school to do your GCSE's. That is to be applauded.
I would also encourage you to find a local firm to take you on as an AAT trainee and take it from there. I have a number of colleagues that took this route and most of them now run their own firm. You will get far more experience working for a small firm than for one of the Big 4. Best of luck to you!

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02nd Feb 2018 11:14

So you are in Northern Ireland? In that case, the relevant institute is the Irish Institute (Chartered Accountants Ireland) - assuming you intend to stay in Northern Ireland for your training. You should also consider their offshoot, Accounting Technicians Ireland. Both of these are 32 county bodies.

I share the concerns about the Big 4. I know a very bright student expecting a good degree in Maths this year and she did not even get an interview with any of them. You could do well in a smaller firm if you got the minimum entry qualifications and were able to demonstrate commitment etc.

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02nd Feb 2018 11:20

The time taking AAT is not wasted. It is an intermediate level qualification with a high standard of training required. After completing it, you will get exemptions from the early stage exams in one of the Chartered Institutes. I have had several competent staff with AAT qualifications. When two of them were attending day release together, I used to look at their work out of interest and I was impressed by the standard required. As for the big four, take the advice of many other posters on this forum. You should aim for gaining wide experience with a smaller firm.

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By Drew52
02nd Feb 2018 11:26

If you want to be treated like an oily rag and earn a pittance go into practice but if you want to be treated like an oily rag and earn a lot more money go into industry.

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By js.btp
02nd Feb 2018 11:37

Sorry to say - but at your age and qualifications you are already likely to be excluded from Big 4 forever - you'll just have to work in the normal world with the rest of us!!

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02nd Feb 2018 12:56

Joshua, I recruit people who have been in many different situations in life to work in my practice - I find life experience helps clients to relate.
My advice, given your age and education level would be the same as the others. The one thing that you cannot underestimate the value of is experience. Are you planning to get some whilst you are studying? I would say you are making a big mistake if not. Recruiters are, generally, looking for someone whose experience and qualifications are at a similar level. Personally, I wouldn't touch a graduate with zero experience as I've never had a good one.

Much as you don't want to hear that AAT is probably the most suitable route (or the NI equivalent), it really does give you an opportunity to get in there at a relatively low educational level. You've asked for advice and almost everyone, with the benefit of their own personal experience of studying or recruiting studiers is the same. There's nothing to stop you switching to ACCA (or the Institute) after level 3 if you are still determined to continue in accountancy. Look at either an apprenticeship or a training position within a smaller firm. That will ensure that you are getting experience relevant to your course.

The comments previously made about scaling down from a Big 4 are correct - the larger the firm, the more you specialise. If you get all round experience whilst you are training (and make sure that really is what you want to do) then you can look to persuade a larger firm that you wish to specialise, if that is still the case, once you have some experience and more relevant qualifications under your belt.

I understand working in accountancy practice with a chronic health condition, assuming that that is what you have, and it is extremely hard. I do it every day and I had to get out of practice at one point as it almost broke me. That taught me how difficult it is to get into (or back into) practice if your qualifications and experience don't marry up. Studying and working is tough. It is, however, possible but I think you need to be realistic about the level of study that you are able to sustain and the pace at which you are able to do it.

I wish you the best in however you decide to approach it and am impressed at your desire to better your situation after a rough start. Just be kind to yourself and do it in a realistic way. If you burn out in two or three years' time then you will have half a qualification and still not be able to get a job doing what you want to do.

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By JoshuaJ
02nd Feb 2018 14:32

Thank you ALL for sharing your knowledge and advice with me. Since starting this post I have learnt a lot. It's nice to talk to people who know what they are talking about for a change!

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