Would-be accountants could be almost £60,000 better off by not going to university, it is claimed.
Trainee accountants are being urged to consider their options
The Association of Accounting Technicians (AAT) compared those doing a college course after school with those doing a three-year degree.
By working in accountancy as trainees, it said, college students could make almost £45,000 and still get higher qualifications as quickly as graduates.
The undergraduates, however, would run up about £15,000 of debt, it said.
The AAT's qualifications involve practical training to fulfil a variety of accounting functions.
For its comparison it analysed data from a variety of sources such as the Hays Salary Survey, its own statistics and reports from the Department for Education and Skills.
According to Hays, average total earnings during training in the public practice and commerce and industry sectors were £48,081.
Typical debts, the AAT said, were £3,450.
Association chief executive Jane Scott Paul said: "What a student earns is largely down to the individual, and rising stars will be rising stars whether they go to college or university.
"What we hope to show through this research is the benefits of a college education that are sometimes overlooked."
The association recognises that people go to university for reasons other than to get work-related qualifications.
But equally it thinks sometimes youngsters are steered into it without consideration of the other options.
Hays regional director Bob Hicklin said: "I am not surprised by the results of this research as the AAT course offers students the chance to earn money whilst they train and avoid the inevitable student debt that comes with going to university.
"Although I would never want to put down the benefits of university, I hope that this makes the water a little clearer for those seeking alternatives."
Those who want to progress beyond technician status could opt to pursue chartered, certified or management accountancy courses.
AAT membership provides exemption from parts of the ACCA, CIPFA, ICAEW and CIMA qualifications.