Just to give a slightly different perspective (second year Big 4 non-London):
It's 9-5 hours 80% of the time - the occasional late finish is 7pm (generally we get kicked out earlier than that by the client). Occasional weekends for 3rd/4th years if they need to catch up in busy season and the client is being particularly awkward. 1st/2nd years will do a stock count on a weekend at some point but managers generally try to let them leave early/arrive late in lieu.
Often have 1-1.5 hours travel either side but clear roads so mileage v time spent travelling is generally favourable if driving. Might be away in hotels for 4-5 weeks a year. 20 days in the office at the very most. No studying outside the 6-8 week class/exam blocks with just one exam left after first 12/15 months if pass the first 9 - now 10 I believe - exams first time (90% of people sitting them do so).
Definitely juggling multiple audits at a time - could be on two engagements in the same week, plus follow ups from previous engagements, and looking ahead to forthcoming engagements. Could be working on anything from a FTSE 100 group team to component auditor liaising with overseas member firms right down to local companies in-charged by a 3rd year (or even a 2nd year in some instances) in any non Financial Services industry you can think of. There's a lot more responsibility on 2nd/3rd years on the smaller engagements as there will usually only be the manager and partner above you compared to the larger audits where multiple assistant managers, managers and even multiple partners may be involved.
Rather limited opportunities to do the extra stuff Chapeau Rouge mentions - not least because most events, especially internal ones, will be in London. On the other hand, there is an expectation that everyone pulls their weight in a small department. After all it's a bit unfair if the social committee organise nights out and nobody else does anything. Could be the audit sampling expert or coaching the new first years/school leavers etc.
Salary and bonus even paltrier than London but far lower living costs and no commute on the underground so a relatively decent lifestyle on the other hand. Lots of secondment opportunities.
Like everything else in life, your mileage will vary - even within the same department/engagement, people can have a very different experience.
Just adding another side to the coin here:
I work for a much smaller firm in central London (approx 20 staff at my office).
I've passed all my exams, I rarely work longer than 9-5 which is standard in my firm. The latest I've ever worked is about 8pm, once.
The downside? I'll probably have to make a bridging jump if I want to move to industry and sit out a year at a bigger firm. Salary is slightly less (39k qualified) but per hour I'll probably be coming out ahead.
If all you're after is the qualification, a small firm is a good option. You also get a lot of face to face time with client staff.
Lol have a think about this guys...
Your salary is about £24k when you start (London), right? After tax, NI, and student loan repayments that's £18.6k. Divide that by 12 months of the year and you're getting £1550 a month. Let's say you work 9-7pm on average, so a 10 hour day. 220 hours average a month (22 working days).
£1550/220 hours = £7.04 an hour.
For comparison a minimum wage worker on 6.50 an hour working 40 hours a week (40*52 = 2080 a year) will earn 5.80 an hour after tax/NI.
Your hourly is £1.24 above a burger flipper. You really went to uni for that??