Can non-graduates get a job with the Big 4? And will an MA get me into charity work?

I want to go to the top

Q. I studied up to A-level after which I decided to not study further. I have now amassed a lot of work (and voluntary) experience. I want to make the next move but feel discriminated against. Most jobs seem to be for graduates, and having real life experience doesn't seem to count. Can you offer advice about applying for the Big 4 accountancy firms?

A. While the most common route here is the graduate one, you will be pleased to hear you don't have to go to university to end up with a top accountancy job. All of the Big 4 companies - PriceWaterhouse Coopers, Ernst and Young, Deloitte and KPMG, offer opportunities for non-graduates.

KPMG's scheme is called the School Leaver programme, though older career-changers can apply. Melanie Cassar, exam training manager at KPMG, says entry requirements are tight (see but those accepted at the minimum age of 18 can be exempted from first-level exams run by the Association of Accounting Technicians (AAT), and can go on to take exams for chartered status offered by the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales, again with exemptions. It's a long (four-year) route, but trainees gain valuable experience and could, at 22, be ahead of graduates about to start their three-year training contract. The AAT has released research showing such students will be approximately £55,000 ahead of their graduate counterparts by the time the latter have completed their degrees. You can also register on the AAT site ( to see other companies offering jobs and AAT training.

Experience isn't enough

Q. Should I do an MA? I trained as a graphic designer and have a BA in interactive arts. I worked as a communications officer and moved into the public sector. I would like to move into charity work (I do voluntary jobs) but don't feel I am being taken seriously. Would studying marketing or fundraising help?

A. Except in very small charities, marketing and fundraising are usually two different, if similar, jobs. Further study isn't always necessary to move on in the charity sector - experience, which you have, is very important indeed. Nonetheless, it is a sector which is rapidly professionalising and an MA should increase both your understanding of the nature of the work and increase your credibility when applying for jobs. Pick an MA which would cover fundraising, or allow you to do your own work in that area as a dissertation.

You can find MAs that cover charity and development work more widely, but these might not focus in sufficient depth (for you) on marketing or fundraising. Another option, especially if you feel a shorter course would be more financially viable, or easier to combine with your voluntary work, is a Chartered Institute of Marketing Diploma (see

Bear in mind it isn't always necessary to finish a course before applying for relevant jobs. The mere fact you are studying will improve your CV. Remember that you already have a lot of relevant skills - web design and development alone will be a strong selling point. You can find part-time and distance learning courses on

Careers advisers: Carl Gilleard, chief executive, the Association of Graduate Recruiters; Gill Sharp, E adviser with Graduate Prospects.

Send your queries to Caroline Haydon at 'The Independent', Education Desk, Independent House, 191 Marsh Wall, London E14 9RS; or fax 020-7005 2143; or e-mail to