A guide to studying accountancy and finance at university, and the careers it can lead to

Accounting and finance degrees
Studying accountancy and finance at university will allow you to develop an expert understanding of the roles that accountancy and finance play in business.

Although it is not a prerequisite for a career in accountancy or financial management, a degree in accountancy and finance can be the first step towards a career where you can expect to do work that's at the heart of how businesses are run. Our guide to undergraduate courses in accountancy & finance can help you decide whether this is the right subject for you.

What are good reasons to study accountancy and finance at university?

You may have an academic interest in accountancy and wish to study the subject at a deeper level, to get to grips with how organisations and individuals use financial information, and the standards they must adhere to. You may know already that you want a career in accountancy, financial management or banking and want to guarantee exemption from a number of the professional accountancy exams you’ll need to take when you start your graduate career. If so, an accountancy and finance degree is likely to be a good fit.

A degree in these subjects is not a prerequisite for a job in the field, however. Only 20.9% of students studying for a professional qualification with the ICAEW, one of the leading professional accountancy bodies, have a degree in accounting and finance, with graduate recruiters in these areas keen to accept graduates with degrees in any subject. KPMG, for example, one of the largest accountancy and professional services firms, reassures its applicants holding non-finance degrees as follows: ‘In our experience graduates who join us with a “non-relevant” degree do equally as well in their professional exams.’ Plenty of graduates who have studied non-finance subjects go on to have successful careers in accountancy.

Will studying accountancy and finance allow me to become a professional accountant faster than other graduates?

A graduate career in accountancy will include working towards gaining your professional accountancy qualifications. Qualifying with a professional body usually takes about three years after graduation and comprises a number of exams and practical work experience. If you’ve studied accountancy and finance (or a similar degree) it can mean that you don’t have to sit some of the professional qualification exams, which will reduce your study load (different universities will offer different exemptions – it’s important to check the detailed information of the course you’re interested in). However, since work experience, which is usually completed as part of your graduate job, is an essential requirement of qualification, along with passing the exams, you are unlikely to become professionally qualified faster than a colleague who has studied another subject.

Advice on writing your accountancy and finance personal statements

When it comes to personal statements, Abbey, who studied accountancy and finance at De Montfort University and now works as an accountant at PKF Cooper Parry, advises A level students to write about ‘any A level projects which demonstrate accountancy skills, and any extracurricular activities involving organisation, timekeeping or money handling’. Sian, who studied accounting and finance at the University of Southampton and is now a project manager at Barclays, echoes this advice, and stresses that is important to show an enthusiasm for learning in general. ‘Show you can commit to a subject and not be easily distracted,’ she says. Describe a time, for example, when you successfully balanced finishing an important essay or project with other commitments (sporting, volunteer or part-time work).

Do I need a maths A level to study accountancy and finance at university?

This will depend upon the university you want to study at. If you want to study at the University of Reading, the University of Bath or the University of Warwick, for example, you will need a maths A level (at grade B) if you want to pursue a degree in accountancy and finance. The vast majority of top universities, however, ask for AAA in any subject at A level. There are exceptions to the triple A requirement: the University of Strathclyde, for example, will accept ABB and Lancaster University will accept AAB if certain conditions are met.

Most universities will expect you to have an A in GCSE maths (exceptions include the University of Warwick, which will accept a B) and a B in English language GCSE. It is essential to check individual course requirements before you apply.

What will I study on an accountancy and finance degree?

Your first and second years at university will include core modules designed to help you broadly understand the modern economy, the nature of business and the role that accountancy and finance play within it. If you have not studied maths at A level, some universities, such as the University of Leeds, will require you to take modules such as mathematics for economics and business. Core modules (that all students on the course will take) will develop your mathematical skills and give you a broad understanding of key topics in economics, financial and management accounting, corporate finance and financial analytics. Four-year degrees will include a year in industry, where you’ll get a chance to experience working life in the field.

Basic modules in your first year are likely to include introductory topics such as:

  • foundations of finance
  • mathematical economics
  • introduction to financial accounting
  • introduction to management accounting
  • economic theory
  • statistics for economics and business.

A typical second year could include a combination of:

  • corporate finance
  • business skills
  • intermediate financial accounting
  • intermediate management accounting
  • credit and financial analytics
  • company and commercial law
  • financial management
  • financial markets.

As you progress, you will be offered more options to suit your interests, so in your third year, alongside more advanced levels of previous modules, you could choose to study topics such as:

  • forensic accounting
  • corporate social responsibility
  • strategic management
  • behavioural finance
  • finance derivatives
  • audit
  • insurance
  • risk management
  • tax planning.

If you have an interest in a niche area of accountancy it would be sensible to check the optional modules on offer at the university you’re interested in, to see if that topic is included.

Sian comments, ‘I’d probably choose the same course again due to my interest in finance and the variety of modules on offer.’ She particularly enjoyed the large number of management modules offered at Southampton.

What teaching methods will be used on my accountancy and finance degree?

Teaching methods on accountancy and finance degree courses usually include lectures (listening to talks and taking notes) and tutorials or seminars – interactive group sessions, often including discussions and exercises. Assessment is usually through a combination of group presentations, coursework (essays and reports), final exams for each module and possibly a third-year dissertation, with students and most universities reporting approximately 12-15 hours’ contact time a week.

Careers with an accountancy and finance degree

After university, graduates hoping for accountancy careers usually aim to get a place on a graduate accountancy scheme and become professionally qualified. This takes about three years, with the support of your employer (many, in addition to training, will offer study time off and pay your exam fees for you). Graduate options in accountancy include working in:

  • assurance/audit – being responsible for the review of an organisation’s data and procedures, and providing expert advice to clients and shareholders
  • commercial finance – implementing economic measures to ensure a quality products is made at the lowest cost
  • corporate recovery – dealing with complex financial information to help failing businesses recover
  • corporate treasury – managing an organisation’s finances to safeguard against strife and potential hardship
  • financial accounting – keeping tabs on money flow in an organisation to scrutinise performance
  • forensic accounting – uncovering key financial information to quantify losses, investigate fraud and assess the potential need for payments to victims of crime
  • internal audit – improving business efficiency by advising management on the most profitable ways to operate
  • management accounting – knowing the various functions and budget of a company to provide business-specific economic guidance
  • risk assessment – identifying and evaluating risks, and helping clients reach their targets
  • tax – combining law, administration and accountancy to help businesses and individuals pay their taxes in the most efficient way possible.

Graduates working in accountancy and financial management usually train and work in one of three main settings: within an accountancy or professional services firm that provides services to external clients, within the finance department of a public sector organisation or within the finance department of a commercial organisation.

Other jobs you can do with an accountancy and finance degree

An accounting and finance degree could also be a good starting point for a career in another area of finance, such as banking and investment or financial services. Sian, for example, now works as a project manager in corporate finance at Barclays. Around half of graduate jobs are open to all students regardless of what subject they’ve studied. Many employers in the following areas, for example, will be happy to hear from you if you are an accountancy and finance graduate:

Skills you will gain on your accounting & finance degree that will help your graduate career

Studying accountancy and finance at university will allow you to develop skills that will be useful in many different types of jobs, not just those related to the finance profession. Expect to graduate with these skills:

  • enhanced numeracy and analytical skills  
  • excellent communication (oral and written) and interpersonal skills
  • time management and organisational skills
  • management skills and techniques
  • commercial awareness
  • initiative and motivation
  • teamworking skills.

Sian comments that her accountancy and finance degree also helped her to ‘learn to use different types of resources for studying and research, and to experience integrating with people from different backgrounds and cultures’.

Degrees similar to accountancy & finance

Once you start doing your research into universities and courses, you’ll find that there are many variations of accounting and finance degrees. Some of the most popular combinations are:

  • accounting and finance and economics degree
  • economics and accounting degree
  • accounting and law degree
  • accounting and mathematics degree
  • business management and accounting degree
  • accountancy and management degree.

Again, it is essential to investigate the modules offered on the course you’re considering, to see if they meet your interests and needs. You may prefer to study a subject with similarities to accountancy but without a specific accountancy focus, such as economics, finance or business management.

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