“What do I need to do to qualify as a Chartered Accountant?”
I get this question ALL the time! Along with “How do I pass CTA?” I can help with both, but let’s focus on how to become a Chartered Accountant here.
Here’s the basics:
- SAICA-accredited degree in Accounting
- SAICA-accredited Postgraduate Diploma in Accounting (CTA / PGDA)
- SAICA’s Board 1 – ITC: Initial Test of Competence
- SAICA’s Board 2- APC: Assessment of Professional Competence
- SAICA Articles (Traineeship at SAICA-accredited training office)
How long will it take?
In ideal circumstances, (ie: if you pass everything first time) the CA(SA) qualification will take seven years.
- Three year degree
- One year for CTA (PGDA)
- Three years of Articles (practical work experience; traineeship)
Most candidates don’t have ideal circumstances, so it’s generally a lot longer. (It took me 11 years).
You can take a look at the qualification path here for more detail, but I’m going to summarise it quite a bit for the purposes of this article.
Different universities offer degrees that have different names, but whatever they’re called, they MUST allow the student entrance into CTA (PGDA).
Warning: When you’re researching your study options, go look for this. There are various Accounting degrees. You can get a degree in Management Accounting, Taxation, Accounting, but these don’t necessarily get you entrance into CTA.
At UNISA, for example, the degree is called the Bachelor of Accounting Science in Financial Accounting
- Notice the admission requirements. There are quite a few options.
- It’s a three year degree, with four majors:
- Financial Accounting
- Management Accounting (also called Financial Management)
Most accounting students that are studying part time are not able to complete this degree in three years (it took me five!).
The Postgraduate Qualification
This becomes more confusing! There are quite a few names, acronyms, and so many of them are similar, but just different enough to be annoying!
- CTA – Certificate in Theory of Accounting
- PGDA – Postgraduate Diploma in Accounting
They’re the same thing. PGDA is a newer ‘name’, so for those of us who qualified a while ago, we can’t help but refer to CTA! (Sorry!)
CTA / PGDA has to be passed in one year. You have to pass all the exams in one year. If you fail one, you have to re-write all of them.
But UNISA offers a two-year CTA programme? Ah, here comes the fun! Let’s clarify that.
- CTA Level 1 – Postgraduate Diploma in Accounting Sciences
- CTA Level 2 – Postgraduate Diploma in Applied Accounting Sciences
Here’s the deal: CTA Level 2 is ‘CTA’ / ‘PGDA’. It is the one-year CTA programme If you do the degree mentioned above, or another accredited degree, and meet the requirements, you’ll go straight from your degree to CTA Level 2
So, what is CTA Level 1?
- CTA Level 1 is designed for those who don’t quite make it into CTA (eg: Their degree is more than three years old; they didn’t finish all their third year modules in 18 months etc).
- The idea is that if you don’t quite make the CTA requirements, you should do a ‘pre-CTA’ to prepare for CTA.
- The syllabus is a little less than CTA Level 2, and the questions are less integrated.
NOTE: In CTA Level 2, you cover EVERYTHING from CTA Level 1, and then some more. CTA is NOT SPLIT UP OVER TWO YEARS
CTA / PGDA consists of the same four majors as the degree:
- Financial Accounting
- Management Accounting / Financial Management
This will get you access to the ITC. (SAICA’s first Board Exam)
Warning: Make sure you are studying through a SAICA-accredited institution
‘Bridging’ Qualification – If you don’t get into CTA
In some cases, students don’t meet the CTA entrance requirements, but they do have Accounting degrees, or another qualification that covers a lot of the subjects. (Note: This is not the same as CTA Level 1)
In some of these cases, students can do ‘bridging’ qualifications.
At UNISA, this is the Advanced Diploma in Accounting Sciences
It is a stand-alone qualification. But basically, it contains all the third year modules from the degree. (So, if you’re looking for tuition support etc, you can attend classes with the third years).
If you finish this in 18 months, you can go straight from this into CTA Level 2
ITC – Initial Test of Competence (SAICA’s Board 1)
SAICA’s first Board exam is called the ITC. This is written twice a year, in January and June.
The entrance requirements are that you have to have passed CTA / PGDA.
The exam integrates all the work you’ve done in CTA. Essentially, CTA is a glorified Board course.
CTA’s ONLY purpose is to prepare you for ITC.
APC – Assessment of Professional Competence (SAICA’s Board 2)
SAICA”s second Board exam is called the APC. This is written once a year, in November.
The entrance requirements
- Passed ITC
- Completed 20 months of your articles
- Completed a Board course
This exam is VERY different from all the others. The examination, marking and assessment process is very different and students struggle to make the adjustment. Hence, the pass rates are lower.
Articles / Traineeship
This is the ‘internship’ or ‘training contract’ that everyone has to complete as part of the practical, on-the-job application of their knowledge. These need to be completed with firms that are registered with SAICA as official training offices. Since it’s a trainee position, it generally doesn’t pay as well as a position in commerce, but this is a sort-term sacrifice.
You can start articles when you’re studying your degree.
- If you have completed your degree, your articles will be three years.
- If you’re still doing your degree, it will be five years. (If you get their degree while doing articles, this can be reduced to four years)
Training offices prefer to take candidates who already have CTA (some of the reasons for this are discussed here), so students who are still doing their degree or CTA often struggle to find positions.
You can do articles at an audit firm, or in commerce, as long as the firm is registered as a training office with SAICA. Your choice should depend on the SKILLS that will serve you best.
If you’re still sane, you’re now qualified as a Chartered Accountant!
Congratulations! You’ve made it!