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Planning Your Next Steps After AAT Level 3

Next Steps after you have completed your AAT Level 3 (Advanced) Diploma in Accounting

Recently I have had a number of students chatting about their “next steps”, having just completed their AAT Level 3 (AAT Advanced Diploma in Accounting) qualification – a number of them are finding it difficult to decide whether or not to progress onto AAT Level 4 (AAT Professional Diploma in Accounting). I therefore felt the need to write a blog as I am sure there are many students out there who also cannot decide.

I thought I would describe my own journey with progression as a way of explaining how I achieved MAAT status and how I find myself studying for CIMA.

The start of a journey

I never actually set out to work in Finance, I did well at GCSEs and achieved a B grade in Maths, however the world of mathematics and numbers was not within my comfort zone and I felt more at home in the world of textiles and illustration. I was one of those students who had to really work at studying – I couldn’t just cram and pass a test!
So , I headed to Loughborough and studied Woven Textiles – after four  amazing years I achieved a 2:1, made some great friends, then headed to London with some very big decisions to make.

Degree achieved… now what?

Heading into London I soon realised that working as an artist with no real world experience would have involved working for free until I gained enough experience to take on a possible illustration or textile designer role – roles of which were and still are very few and far between. I was not in a position to work for free so I joined an agency who placed me into a role as a purchase ledger clerk for a Foreign Exchange company.

So while this role was strange and new and possibly not my first choice, it did provide the luxury of breathing space (and a roof over my head!) while I reviewed my next steps, thinking about what I really wanted to do with my career and how best to achieve it.

I found I was enjoying the purchase ledger role – processing invoices in the day time and reconciling bank accounts, then cycling home through Holborn to east London to fulfill the need to illustrate or create – feeding the artist within. Hackney and East London was and still is a very creative space so I felt I was not losing touch with my creative side.  I felt I had achieved a good compromise – a few late night bagels and curry’s along Brick Lane in Shoreditch, musical evenings enjoying creative spaces within the depths of East London

From artist to accountant

Over time I realised I was enjoying my role so much that I decided that the life of the artist would become more of a hobby (and who knows maybe commission work in the future) so I started to wonder how could I fill the gap in my accounting knowledge? How could I be the best at what I was doing as my day job? How could I start learning more about the financial world and start looking at new opportunities?

Chatting to colleagues who were very (and what seemed scarily qualified – ACCA, ACA or CIMA!) I knew I couldn’t just leap into one of those courses (and did I want or need to??), so I found out about the AAT and was lucky enough to be able to continue working during the day and attend evening classes. I whizzed through AAT Level 2 and thoroughly enjoyed learning about this brand new world of debits, credits and T accounts within the BTRN and BKCL units. I felt this enhanced my knowledge greatly in that processing invoices and journals started making a lot more sense!

I then decided I wanted to do distance learning so that I could fit the studies around my personal commitments. I found the training provider I was signed up with very motivating, and actually from my perspective, better than attending classes as the feedback provided felt more personalised. AAT Level 3 was soon under my belt and while tax was not my speciality, I really enjoyed the management accounting units as well as advanced bookkeeping. It was while I was coming to the end of AAT Level 3 that I decided to think back to my colleagues’ qualifications and wondered whether I could ever achieve something like that. So I took the time to research where would I like to be in the future. I telephoned the relevant accounting bodies and attended a number of open evenings where I was able to chat to students and representatives of the relevant qualifications, and this helped me to understand which qualification could be the right one for me.

I found I was personally more attracted to management accounting, so it made sense that if I ever wanted to become the best in my field, I would need to study for CIMA. The best route to do this was to gain AAT Level 4 in order to achieve exemptions from the beginner level of CIMA.

Keeping my options open

I did not know at this time whether I would absolutely 100% study for CIMA, however I wanted to be sure that if I did choose to progress after AAT, I would have the correct grounding and foundation behind me prior to progressing onto a higher qualification.

AAT Level 4 covers Financial Statements, Management Accounting: Decision and Control, Management Accounting: Budgeting – all of which are also tested in the Synoptic exam.  The final mandatory unit is Accounting Systems and Controls, which is only tested in the Synoptic. In addition to this, there are two optional units to complete (from a choice of five units), as per the table below.

BLOG-AAT-L4-Accounting-Units
Units covered in the AAT Professional (Level 4) Diploma in Accounting

I chose External Auditing and Cash Management.

Looking at AAT Level 4, I believed that achieving the final AAT level would set me in good stead for my future employability as all of the units were very relevant to the role I was working in. I had by this time progressed to the position of Management Accountant within my role and therefore knew that this was my preferred area of study.

I decided that studying for AAT Level 4 would give me the breathing space to think about my future – did I really need to do CIMA? As I am studying for CIMA now, the answer was a big YES, and I’m so pleased I made that choice as it has given me a great grounding in the key subjects of CIMA.

AAT Level 4 is quite a step up and very different from AAT Levels 2 and 3, so it is a very good way of testing the waters in terms of determining whether you could survive the study hours and commitment which is required for CIMA

I personally found AAT Level 4 very key to my future in the world of accounting and the various roles I have worked within. I also strongly believe that this has made me a better CIMA student as there are key concepts repeated at the beginner stages of CIMA which were learnt during AAT – knowledge which CIMA takes as assumed knowledge.

As an AAT Distance Learning Training Provider, we have many tutors who have chosen a number of different pathways, so my story is just one of many. There are many routes you can take and we are always on hand to provide progression and careers advice at any stage of your AAT journey. We encourage you to ask us for progression information and have a variety of course options to suit your personal circumstances. We always try to provide impartial advice and are prepared to recommend a progression option, even if we don’t offer it ourselves.

My final parting bit of advice is to think about where you want to be and the aspirations you have for yourself. Do not say “I can’t do that!” and instead think “How can I do that?” and soon you’ll find thinking about progression and your career journey will feel very natural.