There has been a lot written on the usefulness of the CFA qualification towards your career, but this post isn't another one of them. Instead, for the ones that are considering the CFA charter (and quite a few candidates that may not have read all the fine print), today we explain exactly what you will need to do in order to obtain and earn the right to use the CFA charter.
The biggest-pain-in-the-ass part of earning the CFA charter is obvious - passing all 3 exams, i.e. the CFA Program. All 3 exams are a one day, whole day affair, and consist of two 3-hour sessions (and PM).
- Level I. The first exam of the series, held in June and December every year, so you get 2 chances to take it per year. It consists of 240 questions split across the two sessions. This is generally regarded a relatively easy introduction to the CFA course. If you've taken Economics in college, a lot of this material may look familiar. However at 1.5 minutes a question, answering speed will be a key factor.
- Level II. The second exam is held only in June each year. This is generally regarded as the hardest among the 3 exams (and reaffirmed by readers in the Weekly Poll). Although Level II only has half the number of questions compared to Level I, the item-set format allows much more in-depth questions to be set. The breadth of the topics and amount of material to cover is also a massive challenge.
- Level III. Beware the essay question format in the AM session - if you are not familiar with how to answer or study for the essay format, this level will be a heck of a challenge. The PM session is identical to Level II format-wise - multiple choice item sets.
For much more detail on how to approach and effectively prepare for each CFA level, check out the Commandments.
OK, I Get the Exams Part. Now What?
Besides the exams, there are also several other requirements to earn the right to use the CFA charter, some much more easily achieved than others.
- The Ethics pledge. A straightforward but crucial part of being a CFA charterholder. The CFA Institute takes its members' understanding and upholding of the CFA Code of Ethics & Standards of Professional Conduct very seriously, as illustrated by the exams' emphasis on Ethics & Professional Standards. The pledge is thus a quick but important step in the registration process.
- Membership. You will need to obtain membership for 2 societies - the CFA Institute, and a local CFA society. You will need to renew your CFA Institute membership if you want to maintain your right to use the CFA designation, but the local society membership is optional to renew. However local societies can be useful for networking and your career - many candidates join even before passing all 3 exams. Find a local society near you through the CFA Institute directory.
- Relevant work experience. This is the other main barrier to CFA-dom after the exams themselves. The CFA Institute requires 4 years of 'relevant work experience' to be sent to them for approval to be eligible for the CFA designation, which can be a challenge depending on what your work experience has been. Read this all-you-need article to get more details on what counts as 'relevant work experience'.
- Sponsors. You will also need sponsors for your CFA membership application. As covered before, this can be 3 professional sponsors, or 2 professional sponsors if one is a current & regular member of the local CFA society you are applying to.
Note that although many candidates do these after passing the exams, there is no reason why you can't do these first, e.g. if you wished to be an affiliate member of the CFA Institute, or get your work experience pre-approved.
How Long Will It Take, and How Much Will It Cost Me?
As mentioned in the infographic, the time and monetary cost of your CFA qualification depends a lot on several factors:
- When you register for the exams
- How much you spend on 3rd party materials
- How many attempts you need to pass all 3 exams
With all these variations, you can expect your CFA qualification to cost you about $2,500 to $8,500 in total. The minimum amount time needed to finish all 3 exams is just under 2 years (from registering for Level I to receiving your Level III results) but candidates average about 4 years to complete the program.
If you're considering the CFA qualification, you should be fully clued up on all the requirements now! Has this influenced your consideration? Let us know in the comments below.