Until recently, the idea of studying as an adult wasn’t taken very seriously by most people. The general idea was that one had to settle on a career in their teens and accept being stuck with it, whether it proved to be satisfactory or not. It was only with the growth of correspondence courses and then the boom in online learning that this sentiment started to change. One profession, however, has always seen things differently. People have been moving into accounting later in life for centuries, and as a result, there are very good mechanisms in place for supporting them.
Unlike other career options, accounting doesn’t stand alone. It’s an adjunct to every form of business or public enterprise. This means that a lot of people discover they have an aptitude for it almost by accident when putting together budgets or helping out with payroll.
While a lot of people may be frightened of having to work with numbers, others find it deeply satisfying and quite relaxing. If you’re one of those people, you’ll be pleased to learn that it can actually be advantageous to approach studying accounting as an adult and that with a bit of hard work, you could turn it into a very successful career.
Take a mature approach
If you like working with systems with clear rules and objectives, accounting is almost like getting paid to solve puzzles all day. If you choose to specialize, your accounting career could focus on research or on working with clients to help them understand their options. None of these activities are things we tend to be best at when we’re in our teens. Most people don’t acquire the mindset needed to be good at accounting until later in life, and for that reason, accounting firms tend to be enthusiastic about hiring older people.
Most people have a lot going on in their lives when they leave high school. It’s not only a time for learning or developing a career, but it’s also a time for developing a social life, finding new hobbies, getting serious about sports or falling in love. There’s nothing wrong with any of this, but it makes it difficult to concentrate on a subject like accounting that requires calm, steady focus. Adulthood has its share of distractions, but as we get older, we generally get better at balancing our responsibilities and establishing priorities. If you’re able to dedicate a few hours in the evening or at the end of your shift on a regular basis, you could take an online accounting course and really give it what it needs.
Understand why it matters
Accounting isn’t just a career option. At the most basic level, it’s a life skill. What may seem abstract to you as a teenager will soon come into focus when you get used to managing your own money. Keeping track of bank accounts, paying bills on time, managing debt, taking out loans or managing a credit card all require basic accounting skills. Even managing your weekly earnings or running a household budget involves this approach. When you’ve done these things for a while, you’ll understand how vital it is to stay on top of them, keeping good records and doing everything on time. Professional accounting is essentially the same thing but in a business context.
When you study accounting, you’ll not only gain a professional advantage; you’ll also become much better at looking after your private finances and identifying when somebody is trying to scam you or rip you off. Pointing out that you’re an accountant can even help with getting loans because it demonstrates to lenders that you’re well organized and likely to have a good grasp of your financial situation.
Build on existing qualifications
Studying accounting is a very flexible process. Although there are specific certificates you’ll need in order to be allowed to do certain types of work, there are different routes through which you can obtain them. For example, if you already have a degree in math, business, finance or economics, you won’t usually need to start from scratch. Instead, you can take conversion courses designed to help you build on your existing knowledge. This means that even though you may be starting later than others, you can finish in good time.
If your qualifications are in a different field that does not have direct crossover potential, you may want to consider specializing. Some accountants focus on specific industries because it helps them with the research and analysis side of the job. Demonstrating that you have an in-depth understanding of the field they work in is always a good way to impress potential clients. You can also use pre-existing contacts to find them. Sector specialization has the additional advantage of making it easier to build new contacts because of the way others network. People like to know that they can feel secure with their chosen accountants, so good ones frequently get recommendations.
Build accounting into your established career
Not everybody who decides to study accounting later in life is looking for a new career. Sometimes, it’s simply a matter of employees wanting to acquire skills that will help them climb the ranks in their company. Other people do it because they’re running small businesses and their accounting software can’t do everything they need. Accounting studies will provide you with a practical set of skills that can be applied in any number of contexts, and it can also act as a gateway to senior finance positions. It can help you to analyze and profile competitors and enhance your ability to manage in-house projects.
Because of the advantages that accounting qualifications can bring to a company, it is not uncommon for employers to support loyal employees who choose to study in this area, either financially or with paid time off to do project work or prepare for exams. Skilling up an existing employee like this usually represents a better deal for an employer than bringing in an outsider who may not fully connect with the workplace culture and won’t have the same desire to see the company succeed.
Learning is flexible
If you’re already working or have the other responsibilities that we tend to acquire as we get older, traditional ways of learning can be difficult to fit around existing commitments. However, it’s now easier than ever to take an online MBA accounting course, which means you can choose the hours that suit you.
Furthermore, accounting is something that people tend to learn bit by bit, and there’s always work available for partially qualified accountants, who are in demand for specific tasks. This means that once you’ve completed a certain amount of study, you can get straight to work and start earning money with your new qualifications, even if it will be some time before you’ve completed the whole thing.
An alternative route into accounting is through bookkeeping. You can take a bookkeeping course over just a few months, and if you make the grade, you can start making money that way while you continue your studies. This flexibility not only helps financially but means that you’re able to learn by doing, getting to grips with the job while you still have instructors available who can give you advice as needed. If you start working in an accounting firm, you’ll also have the opportunity to see how other parts of the job are done.
Mentoring boosts success
Although it might seem rather impersonal to outsiders, accounting is one of the friendliest professions around. That’s because good accountants are always in high demand, so there’s a supportive rather than competitive culture, and one of the things that has emerged from this is the practice of mentoring. In accounting firms or large company finance departments, newcomers of any age can usually find somebody who will support them through the later stages of their training. This means getting help learning the ropes, having a source of advice, and benefiting from easy integration into the workplace culture.
The benefits of mentoring for young people are obvious, but the relationship is different when you’re older. You are more likely to form a real friendship with the person supporting you, helping to establish you within the business. Even if you don’t stay there after graduating, a connection like that can prove invaluable. Your mentor is also more likely to face similar issues to you when it comes to work/life balance, so they will be able to provide practical advice on how you can prepare for hectic periods like the end of the fiscal year when everybody is filing accounts at once.
It’s easy to find employment
Regardless of the state of the economy or which industries are doing well and which are struggling, people will always need accountants. In addition, the youth-focused hiring culture that affects many other professions simply doesn’t apply in this one. Serving as an accountant is a position of trust, so a lot of clients prefer older people as they perceive them as more reliable and more likely to know what they’re doing.
Because of this, some people choose to transition to accounting as a means of ensuring that they will be able to keep working as they get older. If you’re in a physically demanding profession that makes it difficult to delay retirement or a highly competitive one in which employers see no need to keep anybody on past the age of 50, qualifying as an accountant can be a smart move. You will then be able to keep working for as long as you want. It’s easy to transition to part-time work when you get older, or to work from home – accounting didn’t stop for the COVID pandemic.
There are many great reasons that studying accounting as an adult makes sense and that you might get better results when you do so than you would have by going to college right after leaving high school. It has never been easier to get into accounting, with online tuition making it accessible to practically everyone. Even at the stage where you’re ready to take on clients, it’s possible to fit that around matters such as health problems or childcare commitments. All you really need is a good head for figures and a willingness to work hard.
With the right attitude, you could turn your fortunes around and embark on a career that is much better suited to who you are as a person and offers you great prospects for the future.