Qualifications vs. Experience – Apprenticeships, degrees, practice experience


In accounting practices, as with businesses of all shapes and sizes, this subject has been a continuous battle over what people consider to be more important.

On the one hand, it does feel like, with more and more people coming out of university, the only way to get a job is by having a string of letters after your name. However, the ever-increasing cost of higher education does outweigh the benefit for some people, when you could spend the time it takes to get a degree gaining valuable on the job experience, as well as undertaking a part-time course that could be funded by your employer.

You could argue that the importance placed on qualifications and experience can also be determined by what stage of your career you’re at, the type of companies you’re applying to, and what your short and long-term goals are.

What can’t be argued against is that, even though qualifications can help fast-track your career progression, whenever you start a new job, it’s your experience that will determine how quickly you acclimatise to your new working environment and meet your new employer’s expectations.

At Ten Forward Finance, we recruit candidates from varying educational levels and backgrounds, and do not believe there is a right or a wrong way. The type of candidate we interview will depend on the role that needs filled, and what our immediate expectations are. We have also assisted employees in studying towards various qualifications, e.g. AAT, ACCA, ACA, CIMA, ATT, CTA, etc.

To help you take your next step, we have outlined the pros and cons of the all-important decision between choosing to do an apprenticeship or studying for a degree:



  • Valuable experience – Gain immediate on the job experience that will boost your CV and prospects, and enable you to stay ahead of university graduates.
  • Acquire and improve skills – Including technical, communication, teamwork, IT and practical. These are skills that can be taken with you wherever you decide to go.
  • Earn while you learn – Even though the starting wage is lower, you’re still earning while you’re learning (and paid holidays)! You’re not restricted in terms of pay as this will increase as you progress.
  • No debt – Especially when compared to the many students who finish higher education with tens of thousands of pounds of debt.
  • Qualify quicker – Work towards a professional qualification (immediately) that is linked specifically to your accounting job. Once completed, this could be equivalent to a master’s degree!
  • Boost your confidence – As you gain experience, learn new things, and ultimately become accustomed to your newfound knowledge and skills, you will gain confidence in your abilities.


  • Too specific – An apprenticeship will be specific to a certain career, and therefore does not cover a broad area like a degree
  • You won’t experience Uni life – Most will say that going to university is more than learning. You experience a different type of lifestyle; intellectual, social, sporting, personal, artistic, ethical, etc.
  • More responsibilities – You’ll have greater responsibilities that you have not experienced before at a young age. For example, time management, daily or monthly deadlines, or looking after your finances.
  • The daily grind – Starting your working life will come as a shock to your system as it’s completely different to school. The days are longer and the holidays shorter!
  • The salary is lower – The starting salaries for (unqualified) apprentices is much lower than those received by university graduates.
  • Funding requirements – Apprenticeships are funded by the government, meaning applicants need to meet specific criteria.



  • Still valued – Even today, prospective employers still apply a certain value to degrees. It allows them to quantify what the candidate has achieved from an educational level, as well as knowing the degree course has provided a greater depth of theoretical knowledge.
  • Access to specialist jobs – The degree can act as a passport to a broad range of specialist jobs within your field of study.
  • Develop transferable skills – The degree helps hone skills that will be required in the real world, including communication, teamwork, and the ability to learn and work independently.
  • Sandwich courses – Some degree courses allow you to take a year out during your course and obtain valuable work experience, which can give you a head start compared to other graduates.
  • Increased earnings – Graduates receive a better starting salary than non-graduates. On average, you are more likely to enjoy high-level careers and promotion prospects.
  • Exemptions – With most accounting degrees, you can expect to receive some exemptions towards the major professional qualifications
  • Government assistance – You can still receive help to complete a degree course by way of a grant and/or student loan. You would not be expected to start repaying the loan until you have started earning a certain level of income.


  • Competition from other candidates – The main disadvantage of spending 3-4 years in university is that you’ll be competing with candidates who have gained work experience, which may be more valuable to prospective employers.
  • It’s expensive – Not only do you have to pay for the tuition fees, but you must also consider living costs depending on your lifestyle and spending habits.
  • No guarantee – Just because you have a degree does not mean you’re guaranteed a job! This is because every year new graduates will be competing with thousands of others for the same jobs.
  • Is it necessary? – You need to consider whether it’s mandatory to have a degree in your chosen field. You could argue it’s not necessary to have a degree to be successful in accountancy, and instead choose the apprentice route, or find an employer who will fund a professional qualification course.
  • Debt – Unless you’re lucky, you’re on average very likely to graduate with debts of over £50,000.
  • Mistake? – You may decide in the middle or at the end of your course that you don’t want to carry on, or you may be unsure of what you want to do next. This could just end up being a very costly mistake…

Ultimately there is no right or wrong answer, and in an ideal world an employer would love a combination of good qualifications and practical experience. At the end of the day, it’s up to you how you go about achieving this – but hopefully this post has helped!

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