What is the best university for me if I want a career in accounting?

Finance students at university
If you’d like a career in accounting, such as audit, assurance or tax, and you’ve decided you want to go to university, before you choose where to study you need to decide what to study.

The vast majority of graduate schemes in accountancy and financial management accept students from all degree backgrounds so it is not necessary to study an accountancy-related course if your academic passion lies elsewhere. Recently, for example, when we asked top firms if we could interview successful graduates on their graduate accountancy schemes we were offered an audit junior at UHY Hacker Young who had studied politics at the University of York, a trainee chartered accountant at Dixon Wilson who had studied classics at King’s College London and an assurance associate at PwC who had studied accounting and finance at Leeds – a wide range of universities and subjects.

It may be, however, that your heart is set on studying an accountancy or finance related subject because you’d like to gain an in-depth, academic knowledge of this area before you start your job. Although most top firms are keen to stress that studying an accountancy degree will not give you an automatic advantage over a candidate who has studied a non-finance degree, it is undeniable that a good accountancy degree will give you confidence when it comes to applying, and possibly earn you exemptions when it comes to taking your professional exams. Here’s what to consider when it comes to choosing a university, whatever subject you want to study.

The best universities for accountancy-related courses

If you know you want to study finance or accounting at university, it’s worth trying to get into a university that offers a highly regarded course in the financial subject you’re interested in – this will demonstrate to employers that you have been taught by well-respected experts in the field. League table are a good way to find out which are the highest ranked accountancy and finance courses. League tables’ results differ from each other because each calculates its results using different criteria and weightings, so they should be used with caution and in addition to other research. They generally consider areas such as entry standards, student satisfaction, research quality and graduate prospects, and come up with an overall score for each course. Our scan of several of these tables reveals the universities that consistently sit near the top of the list for accountancy and finance:

Find out if the university you’re interested in can tell you where graduates from the course you’re considering went on to work – are those the kinds of employers that interest you?

The best universities if you want to do a non-finance degree

Accountancy employers look for smart candidates with at least a 2.1 degree (the second highest grade – a first is the highest, a 2.2 the third highest). Although it’s not impossible, it is rare to get accepted onto an accountancy graduate scheme with a 2.2. This is because once you’re accepted onto a graduate scheme you will start the process of becoming professionally qualified, which will involve three more years of study while gaining practical experience, ie doing your job (don’t panic – most employers will allow you study leave). You will need to pass several fairly rigorous exams. One of the best ways to prove to recruiters that you’ve got the self-discipline and academic ability to do this is to achieve a 2.1 or higher in your degree subject from an institution with a good academic reputation.

It’s important, therefore, to study a subject you feel confident you will do well in (most likely the subject you’re most interested in), at a university that ranks highly for that subject. Again, course comparison websites such as Unistats and league tables (such as The Times ranking of all UK universities) are a good starting point to help you decide which universities are the highest ranked for each subject. If you want to study English, for example, St Andrews or Durham would be the universities to aspire to; for geology, Imperial College London. Bear in mind, however, that rankings are not everything – after weighing things up if you don’t think you’ll enjoy going to a particular university, it’s not worth going and being unhappy, even if it ranks highly.

While at university, get involved with extracurricular activities that will allow you to pick up relevant accountancy skills . Although you don’t need to be a mathematical whizz, employers will want to see that you’re comfortable with numbers, so being a treasurer of a university club, for example, or having a part-time job where you have to deal with money, would be a good way to demonstrate to recruiters that numbers don’t scare you.

The best locations to study in

Whether you’re studying an accountancy-related degree subject or not, consider where your university is located. Leading accountancy firms, although keen to stress that they take on graduates from a huge range of universities across the UK and internationally, have told us that in practice they tend to target students at universities located near their offices, as this makes it logistically easier for them to attend careers fairs on campus and run workshops (giving advice on applications, for example), and for students to attend open days and insight days (a chance to spend a day in an employer’s office and get a taste of what working life will be like) etc. It may be worth bearing this in mind when choosing where to study, especially if there is a specific accountancy employer that you would like to join.

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