Head to Head #9 Accountancy vs Non-Accountancy degrees



This head to head blog sees Rhys, who studied accounting and finance at the University of Birmingham, up against Maddie, who studied law at Cardiff university, in a battle of whether it was better to have done accountancy, or an alternative course…

1)       So, after your degree, why did you choose your GT career?


Our degree was very focused on giving us the best possible chance to get a graduate job in the accounting profession, with a real focus on preparing you for interviews and allowing you to get an internship at the end of second year.

I got an internship at Grant Thornton in the audit department and then towards the end of second year did a tax module at university which I found interesting.  During the internship I really enjoyed working at the firm but felt that a career in tax might suit me better, so I asked if I could be considered for a graduate role in tax and here I am.


Unlike Rhys, my progression into accounting was not the most natural path – although that’s not to say it’s not well trodden. I enjoyed my legal studies a great deal, and learned many skills which could have been applicable to any career. We were also well prepared for life after uni, but with an obvious focus on a future in law. I started to have second thoughts about whether law was for me in my second year of uni, and by the time my peers were applying it became apparent that my heart was not in it.

I was keen to use the skills I had gained though, and the world of professional services appealed to me – the client focused, problem solving aspects of the job were both something I was after. I browsed around hundreds of different opportunities but decided accountancy was definitely ‘the one’!

2)       How do you feel your degree helped you when you first started?


My degree definitely helped at the beginning.  One of the main things was just knowing what the words people were using meant – a seemingly little thing, but when people in the office are talking and you don’t have a clue what they are on about I think that can make the first few weeks more daunting.

The basic training that everyone does in their first few weeks with the firm was also easier for us new starters from an accounting background and so in that respect it was perhaps less intense.


Rhys is definitely right. When you first arrive at work people are using accounting jargon and three letter acronyms all over the shop! Everyone is so lovely it’s not intimidating to ask, but it is a bit of a reality shock of what a new world you’ve entered in to. My first ever job was
doing some journals testing at a client in Plymouth – I genuinely thought journals were like diaries so needless to say was rather confused! The initial training courses are tough, but the learning is very well supported. Although accountancy was still pretty new to me at this point, I did feel that the courses had helped to level the playing field a little, and give me some knowledge to hold on to…

3)       And do you notice the difference now?


Absolutely not.  After a few months, everyone is on the same level and at times it can seem that the university course just covered the basics but I think it is more the case that university has a slight focus on the theory behind the job where as the ACA exams that you take have a much more practical focus that prepares you for the work you’ll be doing in the office.


Rhys is right (again). I wouldn’t be able to tell who did accounting at uni now and who didn’t, if it weren’t for people having the odd exemption from exams. The other skills people pick up from studying different degrees are a huge bonus too – it brings a wealth of strengths to a team that we wouldn’t have if everyone had studied accounting. Having said that, the skills people have gathered from their different life experiences are just as valuable in this sense.

4)       How are you studies affected by your choice of degree?


Potentially there are exemptions from your accounting degree that may apply but taking them can be a risky business.  It means you don’t study that module and often modules follow on to the next stage so you need to be confident that you still know what you learnt during your time at university.

With that in mind, I only took one of the exemptions I had (the stand alone Business and Finance e-assessment exam) and I’m very glad that I didn’t take any of the others.

It was a hassle studying for exams which I strictly didn’t have to take but when it came to the professional stage exams, that work had paid off as I knew loads more than I would have had I taken the exemptions and relied upon knowledge from university which by then was a couple of years old.


There is a law module in my course, in which I’m really looking forward to showing off my shining legal knowledge (that’s if I can remember any of it from uni).  Other than that, it hasn’t really. What we are learning is new to everyone, and our college work assumes no knowledge other than that which we have already studied in prior modules.

One thing I did find slightly more difficult to adjust to was the learning style of our college work. At university, the vast majority of our learning was done through lectures, with very little contact time in smaller groups. This style of learning suited me – a ‘blast you with knowledge for an hour and then go away and try and make sense of it later’ type affair. However, our college work is much more focussed on interactive learning, group work solving answers to problems, and going through things with our teachers. It has taken me some time to adjust my way of thinking, but I think I am finally coming round!

5)       Finally – would you rather… have done the other option?


No.  I liked the feeling at university of working towards something that I could use and carry on with after university.  I didn’t want to get to the end of my course and be thinking ‘what now?’.  The course was also brilliant at preparing us for interviews etc. and we even went on an outwards bounds trip to ensure that everyone had examples that they could draw upon in competency based interviews.


 Nope, me neither. I think working towards any degree at university gives you the feeling of working towards something you can use after uni that Rhys has mentioned. The ‘what now’ moment is terrifying – let’s call it ‘character building’ for now, but also exciting in that the world is your oyster! The transferrable skills learned in my degree have been invaluable, and the technical knowledge I learned has helped my teams on the odd occasion! It’s great to feel that I am bringing a slightly different skill set and perspective to teams that I work with.

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