Chartered Accountancy – The Academic Trainee Route

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As you embark further on your path to becoming a Chartered Accountant, you will get to a point where you choose to either head right on to an audit firm or bank after graduation, or to first work as an Academic Trainee (AT)/ Teaching Assistant (TA). Read what Philippa has to say about the AT route. 
The Academic Trainee (AT) route is the alternative that someone headed down the CA (SA) route can choose to do in their first year of articles. While most CTA students will head straight into an audit firm or bank for their articles, this option lets you spend another year at University to see how things operate from the ‘other side.’
What kind of person does this suit?
This option is most suited to people who love teaching as well as to those who want to develop their public speaking skills. It is also for someone who wants to expand their knowledge (in the academic sense) as you have the opportunity to complete your Masters in Accountancy, usually at the cost of the university (yes, for free!). Also, if you’re tired and feel like you need a break after your rough 4-5 years of studying, this is a great way to have a ‘gap-year’ while getting paid. If you are an outgoing, approachable, student-orientated person, then this is for you.
What are the benefits of choosing this route rather than going into an audit firm/bank?
The #1 benefit of this route is that it enables you to differentiate yourself; to develop your skill base differently than if you were to go straight into an audit firm. This option gives you a chance to teach, set tests and tutorials, to develop yourself personally in terms of public speaking and project management, as well as how to meet deadlines. Furthermore, and as discussed above, it gives you the opportunity to further your own studies by doing your masters. On that note, you can apply to be an AT at a different university to where you studied. Lastly, this option allows you to have a much easier and stress-free year than if you were at a firm. The hours are much shorter and you can plan your days so that you get maximal time to yourself.
What are the drawbacks?
As with anything, there are a few things you need to be made aware of before making your decision.

You have to choose which subject you want to ‘specialise’ in (FinAcc, Tax, ManAcc, Auditing). Since you are not the only one who will apply for this option, if you do get through all the rounds of interviews it doesn’t guarantee you will end up with the subject you want and therefore you may not enjoy the year as much as you would have liked.
If you do not decide to do Masters you will have a lot of free time, which could get very boring if you don’t have something else/a hobby to fill your time.
There is A LOT of marking you will have to do throughout the year, which takes time and gets pretty overwhelming when you have 500-700 scripts to mark (how would you feel if you were marking your own handwriting?).

How do I become an AT?
Your lecturers will announce the deadline for applications in your final year. The application process will require you to fill out an application form and attach your marks to date and a written motivation as to why you want to be an AT and why you should be chosen. Marks are definitely not the only thing they look at so don’t stress there.  From these motivations you will be shortlisted and will have to go through an interview process with the heads of departments. From this interview process 15-17 ATs will be chosen (3-4 per department).
Possible concerns you may have:
“I’m worried I will be left behind if I choose this option instead of going straight into an audit firm”
By becoming an AT you will be able to close a lot of gaps in your knowledge that you may have carried forward from final year or even Board. Audit firms also take it upon themselves to bridge the gap between moving from an academic environment to a more practical environment.
“Surely lecturers want the smartest students and therefore will only choose students with the highest marks? I stand no chance.”
As mentioned above, lecturers don’t just look at marks. A lot of very clever students can struggle to teach others, as the subject matter comes naturally to them and they find it difficult to explain concepts to other students. If you’re considering it, apply!
“I have no previous tutoring experience. Does this make a difference?”
While having previous tutoring experience can help win the lecturers over, again it is not the deciding factor when determining whether they want to keep you or not.
Tricks for the interview
To become an academic trainee you’re obviously entering the academic environment, so tell the interviewer that you plan on doing your Masters, even if you don’t – you can always drop it later!
Be calm and collected, and most importantly, be yourself. If you have a passion for teaching, this will come across in the interview. If you are interested in becoming an AT, try and get to know the lecturers before you apply as it will hold you in good stead for the interview if they know who you are and what kind of person you are.
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If the AT route sounds appealing to you (and we know that some of you find it appealing solely because you get to stay in the varsity nest a little longer, tsk tsk tsk…), then have a look at one of our articles on “Choosing the CA Stream” where you’ll find more information on everything you need to know about this stream.

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