Does the CFA help you get into Business School?

Does having all 3 levels of the CFA exam make someone more attractive for an MBA program? I've passed the first 2 exams and thinking about applying to MBA's if I pass the 3rd next year and earn the charter.

Some background on myself:

  • Passed Level 1 and Level 2 on first try, taking Level 3 next summer.
  • 3.3 finance undergrad GPA at non-target
  • Work experience: - Back office Tech/Ops (2yrs at a major pension fund), Semi-Pro soccer, (Australian 2nd division, Sydney, <1yr) Prop Trading (<1yr), Jr. Sales Trader (~1yr), Market Risk at JP Morgan now (1.5yr)
    -If I go around 640-680 on the GMAT could I expect to have a shot at the 10-20 range of US News MBA ranked schools? (UCLA, Darden, UNC Chapel Hill, Cornell, Georgetown, UT Austin, UND Mendoza?

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Comments (79)

Aug 22, 2017

bump, interested as well for top 10.

Aug 22, 2017

Interested as well. I'm wondering in particular if clearing all 3 levels of the CFA can be the last push needed for splitters (low GPA, high GMAT) to get into M7 schools.

Aug 22, 2017

Interested as well

Aug 22, 2017

In short, no.

Aug 22, 2017

Care to elaborate?

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Aug 22, 2017

The MBA is a generalist degree that is meant to draw people from all kinds of professional backgrounds. It's not a finance degree nor is it intended to steer people toward or away from finance careers post-MBA (it's just one of many kinds of industries).

Secondly, the programs are designed to be highly collaborative, and they're hoping to train people to be future managers regardless of industry (i.e. bosses, people who manage other people such as execs, partners, etc). As such, they're looking for people with good to strong communication skills, ability to work in teams, and leadership potential -- essentially how well you are able to impact other human beings. The CFA has nothing to do with this.

Finally, when it comes to analytical and academic ability, they look at your GMAT and GPA. The CFA isn't really a substitute because GMAT and GPA averages are factored into the published rankings (FT, US News, etc) whereas the CFA is not, and the GMAT in particular is important for this. Whether the CFA is harder to do compared to the GMAT is not really the point.

Your CFA may be relevant for investment management positions, but not for MBA admissions.

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Aug 23, 2017

TL;DR

No.

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Aug 22, 2017

Passing 3 tough finance exams displays:

-Initiative/Drive
-Intellectual Capability
-Cool under pressure

I would think these count towards "leadership potential" at least a little bit.

The criteria you mention MBA's are looking for are impossible to verify given just GMAT, GPA and jobs held.

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Best Response
Aug 24, 2017

I don't think this captures the full picture.

When admissions committees are looking at candidates, they not only want the academic ability box checked (which can be done via GPA and GMAT, but would also be reinforced by the CFA), they're also looking for people with realistic post-MBA career goals.

It is in the latter regard that the the CFA is most valuable, but ONLY in the case that it ties into an MBA candidate's employment goals. For example if OP is looking to break into investment management post-MBA, then it's well understood that the CFA is required in that field. This would make OP a very attractive candidate to his target firms, and ultimately a good statistic for his school in MBA rankings.

The big criticism in OP's profile is applying with a GMAT in the 640-680 range. It's a ho-hum score that doesn't add any differentiation to an overly saturated pool of pre-MBA finance applicants. Unless OP is a diversity candidate, he'll need a 700+ GMAT to be competitive, especially without top-tier work experience. The Morgan Stanley name is good, but it's a MO/BO position so not the same as FO.

Finally, providing that all of the above is addressed, OP still needs to figure out the "why MBA" question and crush the essays with a story. This is an easily-overlooked component of the applications. OP needs to start figuring out what the post-MBA goal is, how target MBA programs will help him get there, and also do some introspection in terms of what they'll bring to each school.

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Aug 24, 2017

You're presumably Australian and therefore speak English as a first language, and you've got enough of a quant-y background that you should have a decent handle on math, so you should be aiming for >700 on the GMAT. Hit that, and you should have a good shot at the top 20.

Aug 24, 2017

@sadsoul90
Why do you want an MBA?
If you go down that path, fix your gmat score and get an admissions consultant. 700+ is minimum. Soccer is a terribly boring, hyper feminine, low skill, communist friendly sport :) However, being a pro athlete is respectable and will help your app. Like everyone has said, CFA doesn't help with grad school but it will on the Street. Also make Top 5 or don't go. You're going to network with smart people and get a prestigious credential . Don't expect to learn anything meaningful.

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Aug 22, 2017

"Top 5 or don't go" never understood this. Depending on the candidate it might certainly be worthwhile going to the best school they get in even if its 10-20.

Aug 24, 2017

Not when you have a CFA and want to do AM / HF / ER.

Aug 25, 2017

The way I see it is, the CFA will make you a somewhat more attractive candidate but it won't sway the decision regarding your admission. The reason being as others mentioned, the requirements that are common to all candidates are the GMAT and GPA. Those will be the focus of determining your academic profile. The CFA is only relevant of a designation for AM/ ER type roles (for the most part). As such, when evaluating you in the pool of finance candidates, the CFA charter might give you an edge against candidates with a very similar profile to you. The CFA or CPA etc are great to have as they do emphasize hardwork and commitment and adcoms will take notice but that will likely be the extent of it's value.

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Aug 22, 2017

truth, thanks for your input.

Aug 25, 2017

It certainly won't hurt. You still need to be a well rounded candidate with the requisite GMAT/GPA/WE profile.

Not sure how much it's weighed or whether there's a substantive correlation, but you'll find a fair number of CFAs in any program, and it's certainly a plus for Asset Management recruitment at these schools. So TCR would be: depends on how attractive you are everywhere else.

Aug 22, 2017

nice response, thanks for your input.

Aug 26, 2017

As far as I've heard CFA can compensate for poor GPA (shows that you are able to succeed in class) and in general shows that you are comitted to financial industry (may help career changers). But I doubt it has any extra value apart from that, I don't consider it to be something really outstanding, I mean I have a 3rd lvl cfa dude in my msc now (the dude is not really sucessfull lol).

Aug 28, 2017

Cost-benefit analysis. Obviously having the CFA would be better than not having it but your time would be much better spent improving that GMAT to the 700+ range and/or adding some EC's to round out your profile.

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Sep 1, 2017

I dont understand- if you already have CFA 1&2, already at JPM, why do you want to go to MBA? Where did you go for undergrad?

Aug 22, 2017

@baconhater93 First of all who on earth hates bacon? haha

Secondly, to answer your question, I went to a small engineering school (Stevens Institute of Technology) with almost no reputation or alum network in finance. I want the MBA to gain an awesome network in the industry and improve my chances of moving into a FO role at JPM, either in IM, WM, or S&T.

Sep 4, 2017

It may interest you that the CFA is well recognized at some schools and if you are a Charterholder, you may actually be exempt from some of their finance and accounting classes and even be exempt from the GMAT. More information can be found on the CFA Institute website.

I'm in the same boat as you are. I am going to take Level 3 in June and I'm thinking about taking my GMAT this coming December. If I get into University of Chicago's MBA program, I'll take out the loans. But if I don't get into a top tier school, I don't see the point of taking the risk of becoming in debt and the risk of not ending up making a ton of money. Good luck with everything.

Aug 22, 2017

Thanks Rick, I never knew that about being exempt from coursework in an MBA program I'll have to look into that. Best of luck to you as well.

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Sep 8, 2017

Business schools have been diversifying away from "finance bros" for a decade. Having a CFA signals a career in research not leadership/management. If you aren't Forest Gump a fraction of CFA study time can lead to a very high gmat score.

-Have a charter, took the GMAT (750+), decided not to do bschool.

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Sep 14, 2017

No one is going to be able to tell you exactly how much it helps or doesn't. My opinion is it's akin to other extra curriculars. So it can be a plus, but it's not necessarily worth the time and effort unless you want to do it for your career after business school. I have heard people say that they think it helps differentiate themselves in recruiting from a lot of the other people recruiting for finance jobs with little to no finance background, though. So from a career sense it can be a plus and obviously if you want to do HF/AM/ER post b school it would be very helpful.

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Sep 14, 2017
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No one is going to be able to tell you exactly how much it helps or doesn't. My opinion is it's akin to other extra curriculars. So it can be a plus, but it's not necessarily worth the time and effort unless you want to do it for your career after business school. I have heard people say that they think it helps differentiate themselves in recruiting from a lot of the other people recruiting for finance jobs with little to no finance background, though. So from a career sense it can be a plus and obviously if you want to do HF/AM/ER post b school it would be very helpful.

I agree. How it helps your app is more specific to you. If you're leveraging from IB or PWM to IM than it may be a resume boost for recruiting; and you'd better believe that the M7 schools are looking at your employability post MBA. If you're going to consulting, then it probably means next to nothing. I'm a CFA charterholder at an M7. For me, I had some quant holes in my background and a shaky undergrad record so I thought it would help me overcome that (and I'm sure it played a role). So there are different occasions where I would guess it is a boost.

For recruiting, it is a hit or miss. I'm targeting corporate and consulting roles. I'd say 30% of the people I talk to ask why I finished the CFA and think it's going to pigeonhole me down the line. 70% have commented on how it is impressive and that they don't see a lot of charterholders (since most are targeting IM or even IB); many of this second bucket believe it is more of a boost than a negative. Finally, for me, if I decide to transition from consulting back into finance it isn't going to hurt me when the time comes.

As a fun aside, a lot of your future classmates will be CFA washouts so you'll get a lot of rep. You'll also have a lot of CFA classmates whom you can relate with. It was also a nice boost on the coursework; I'm skimming through a lot of the more basic MBA areas (stats, accounting, econ, etc).

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Sep 14, 2017

From what I've seen if you have level one it won't matter a bit because too many people have it. Maybe if you have level III + its relevant to your work it can have some influence. It's still less important than your GMAT, GPA or work experience though.

Sep 14, 2017

For my experience MBA programs could give two shits about your CFA. Don't know if it's the argument that an MBA is more rounded and integrated, or they see people choosing to get a $3,000 CFA vs an $80,000 MBA as an insult/hit to bottom line.

Sep 14, 2017

Rod Garcia himself told me that while they do understand the rigor it takes to get a CA/CFA designation, the impact is inmaterial compared to other parts of the application.

Sep 14, 2017

Fair point. If you're asking an MBA admissions person which they think is better, I'm sure you'd receive a barrage of reasons why an MBA is the way to go.

But I'm not presenting a case for the CFA. By applying to b-school, I'm showing that I think it's important enough for the $100k+ in opportunity costs, and I will be able to speak to the merits of B-school in my application. Aside from the general merits of the CFA, in my particular case it shows that I can perform well at a 50-60 hour per week job while effectively preparing for a test that requires ~15-20 hours/week of studying for 4 or 5 months for each level. If you don't do banking, how else can you convey performance in an 80 hour work week?

Sep 14, 2017

That said, the time off, if you've stashed away your bonuses so that you have cash on hand, makes doing an MBA a hell of a lot of fun, maybe it's worth the opportunity costs.

Sep 14, 2017

From what I have seen and heard, you would reap better returns focusing that time and effort on your essays and work, which will improve your recs

Sep 14, 2017

You have 4 months until R1 applications and 7 months until R2 applications are due. Forget Level 3 of the CFA for B school-this is an important tangible skill for specific jobs, but not for B school. As an MBA is what you want, spend these months on essay topics, extracurriculars that have an impact and working with your recommenders so that they have enough details on your work product to do right by you in their LOR's. Good news is you are being proactive and thinking about all this stuff now!

Carol Grayson

Sep 14, 2017

CFA might be useful if you fared poorly on GMAT quant or if you didn't have a quant/finance background or if you had a weaker than average GPA.

Sep 14, 2017

Someone else said it... You can't leverage a CFA at all. Spend the time making your essays the best thing they've ever heard. Your GMAT is quite good and if you do we'll in the interviews too, you can get into great schools.

It is incredibly difficult to get into H/S/W regardless of who you are. The big thing missing is your essays and how you spin your leadership experience. There is no candidate that's a lock. So, if you really want to go there, do you best work Nd cross your fingers... This isn't a question if if it's worth it. It's like everything else in this world worth achieving... If you want it go for it and believe you deserve it instead of wondering is your time worth it.

Sep 14, 2017

My guess is that the higher the b-school ranking, they less they care about the CFA. I think mine helped offset concerns about my low quant score, but it certainly wasn't a deciding factor.

Sep 14, 2017

just curious, what was your quant score? and how much did admissions ask about CFA?

Sep 14, 2017

CFA's are in abundance at top programs. That being said, I had a really shitty undergrad GPA and I absolutely believe that completing the program, coupled with a high GMAT, made the GPA a non-factor. I also found it useful in recruiting for consulting, as most of the CFA's were seeking banking or AM roles. I don't think I would have been a solid contender for M7 without both the GMAT and CFA to overcome the grades issues. It really frames you differently from that background.

You have time to apply this year, but it will depend on how well you do with the GMAT. Might as well get an attempt in. Most people take it more than once, if you crush it you'll be in a good place to app, if you don't at least you have some direction.

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Sep 14, 2017

Taking it no, passing it yes

"I am not sure who this 'Anonymous' person is - one thing is for certain, they have been one hell of a prolific writer" - Anonymous

Sep 14, 2017

Taking and passing the CFA level 1 is better than nothing, but if your serious about buy side, then you should do the whole CFA, which is a major commitment for the next couple of years.

Sep 14, 2017

It can't hurt.

Sep 14, 2017

It's not really going to help you get into an MBA program.

Sep 14, 2017

It will help with buyside recruiting IF you're already at a top MBA program. Don't take it with hopes that it will help you transition without an MBA. The CFA is vastly overrated for career transitions.

Sep 14, 2017

Yes. Like I've said many times RE is getting more competitive. I really think it could be as competitive as IB within the next 10 years (for some firms it already is). Especially if you're interested in an investment or finance role.

Sep 14, 2017

http://www.wallstreetoasis.com/forums/cfa-and-appl...
Anyone else want me to use the search function for them?

Sep 14, 2017
duffmt6:

http://www.wallstreetoasis.com/forums/cfa-and-appl...
Anyone else want me to use the search function for them?

haha ill let you know, might need you to.

Sep 14, 2017

It helps, but it's definitely not on par with grades/gmat/work experience. If your gmat quant score is a bit lower, having the cfa could help resolve concerns that you cannot handle an MBA curriculum.

If you want to get into investment management post-MBA, having a CFA can definitely help your case since it shows a high level of dedication. So in that sense, a cfa could make somewhat of a difference in admissions.

Sep 14, 2017

Hi scielle,

Although admissions teams understand how difficult a CFA can be to attain, it is important to understand that business schools are aiming to cultivate future leaders. For this reason, a CFA certification will be weighed with less emphasis than your work experience. It will also be weighed less than your extra-curriculars and GPA. A CFA will be of help if you are addressing a low quant score, however you should not expect the impact to be significant.

Hope this was of help.

Cheers,

Conrad and the Stacy Blackman Team

Sep 14, 2017

What about an average GPA? wouldn't the CFA show the adcomm that the candidate can handle the workload (considering most people who do the program work 50+ hours while studying)

Aug 24, 2017

Well, it'll probably help you do a little bit of "catching up" if you weren't a business/finance/accounting major in college, and aren't doing something in this field as a full-time job.

Sep 14, 2017

Well, no on both counts. I work in equities, have a finance undergrad. my concern is that my undergrad GPA might not be up to par, so i'm wondering if tackling a hectic work schedule+CFA would help me in someway to see if i'm 'fit enough' for a decent MBA program.

Aug 22, 2017

It's not going to hurt you, but it's not going to do much from a b-school admissions standpoint (especially if you're already in banking).

Alex Chu

Sep 14, 2017

Hi Mr. Green,

Well, I'm glad you're not getting the CFA just to boost your MBA admissions chances, because, yes, it's a fairly common designation and our guess is that most b-school applicants misuse this in their applications.

So, instead of "Admit me because I have a CFA," you will do much better simply mentioning how it fits into your post-MBA career plans and how it will help you gain even more out of your b-school studies.

Sincerly,

David Petersam
President
AdmissionsConsultants, Inc.
[email protected]

www.admissionsconsultants.com/mba/blog.aspx

AdmissionsConsultants

Sep 14, 2017

To the OP: I am afraid you do not quite understand the difference between having a CFA charter and having passed level 1. Having passed level 1 means nothing, having obtained the charter means you have become an investment professional, and alternative costs of an MBA might be too high by that time.

Sep 14, 2017

I understand the difference between having passed level 1 and having the charter (that is why i said in my post that it is based on if I pass all 3 levels). As a recent undergrad, I plan on applying to B-school in 4 or 5 years, well after obtaining the charter. But for those out there that did not understand the difference, you made a good point.

May 8, 2018

For about 2 months before my boy Mark took the CFA (Chartered Financial Analyst) Level 3 exam, he didn't go out at all. He'd go to work, come home, hit up the gym, and then study. That was it. Done.

"Going out is fucking lame, anyway," he'd bark from the couch when I rolled up to his place on a Friday with two Lauren Conrad lookalikes. Sitting there in sweaty mesh shorts and a T-shirt, he'd wave a #2 HB pencil in the air dismissively. "Staying in is the new going out." Then Lauren #1 would strut over to his fridge, showing off her perfect physique in the process. She'd take an ice cube and press it seductively against her collarbone as she closed her eyes and sighed in relief from the dense heat of New York City summer. I could see the Monte Carlo simulation running in Mark's brain; Crystal Ball says--"you will get laid." Then, right after his eyes entered back into his skull, he would look back down begrudgingly at his practice exam and mutter to himself, unconvincingly: "Whatever. That bitch is a 6, anyway..."

He'd break down right as we were leaving, his face falling into his hands. We'd hear his sobs all the way from the street, and I'd feel the girls' hands tighten around my arms as he started clawing away the window screen and shaking the wrought iron bars he had installed during the Level 2, specifically to save him in such situations.

You see, Mark really loved to go out. I mean loved. Obviously, we all like drinking and slaying chicks, but more so than anything, Mark just straight up loved "being out there." "Gotta get up in the mix," he'd coach himself if he hadn't been out in more than two or three nights. He had to scratch that itch. The heat, it gave him clarity. He was the kind of guy who'd buy 4 bottles, not to drink them, but just for that one moment when everyone was surrounding him, cheering him on and taking pictures as he snarled and held all 4 bottles held up to his mouth in triumph. And the only time he was happier was when he was on his computer posting that ridiculous photo up on Facebook as his profile picture, his status set as "absolutely killing it."

I don't know very much about the "Chartered Financial Analyst" program. Generally, I'm the one chartering shit, so the concept doesn't even really make sense. From what I gather, though, it's a set of exams that you take to get certified to be a money manager out in Ohio and for some reason, Mark, as one of the few non-prop traders I know, also has to take it. They ask you trivial finance questions and tease your brain with provocative ethical scenarios like: "Should you steal your clients' money? Answer yes or no."

I do remember, a few months after graduating from college, hearing the news that a girl we knew, Jen, had somehow managed to fail the CFA Level 1 exam. There was such widespread disbelief in the community, on the same order of magnitude as when we heard someone we knew was "making a documentary." Something like 40% of people pass the exam, and frankly, we just couldn't wrap our heads around the concept of the 59th percentile. "I'm disgusted," said a friend who had hooked up with Jen once, quickly making his way into the bathroom to shower and rinse his mouth out with Scope. Jen took the failure as a sign--an opportunity to "follow her dreams" and become an actress. She is now the subject of our other ex-friend's documentary, the title: Banker Chick Gets Creative: A Riches to Rags Story.

To be fair, though, there is one redeeming aspect of the CFAs--one characteristic that is actually legit, the calculator. One of the two calculators permitted to be used on the CFAs is the HP 12C, and apart from the fact that its name sounds like some highly involved consulting framework, it is the epitome of Banker technology. The 12C embodies everything about us--elegant, bold, somehow clinging on to life in a world that no longer needs it. One look at its brushed plastic exterior and you think: "Damn, this thing is pro."

Excel Mobile, it speaks a pure, unambiguous language: Reverse Polish, a postfix notation that eliminates non-commutative issues. So instead of having to enter 7 + (5 * 2) - 5, you'd enter: 7 5 2 * + 5 -. Direct and to the point, crisp even--exactly how Bankers think and speak. I met a model from Krakow once, and although we hit it off physically, her English struggled, blocking us from that real "same plane" level I like to reach. So as a gesture of cultural sensitivity, I decided I'd speak to her in something closer to her native tongue. Over Lil's Wayne's Lollipop, I pointed between us aggressively and instructed: "You, friends, 2, TIMES PLUS... panties MINUS" Boom. "Same plane," said her eyes.

But overall, it's all very misguided, the concept of having to be sanctioned to practice finance by some governing body. To me, being a financier is god given, a birthright. There are no "Chartered Investment Bankers." You cannot charter someone to be a prolific value adder. It is an art, not a trade. As far as I'm concerned, I've been chartered to do whatever the hell kind of finance I want since I was 10, screaming at Production (Celia, my Hispanic maid) to not fuck up comb-binding my book reports. "You numbered the Table of Contents?!" I'd scream at her, winging the thing across the kitchen. And then I'd provide the brand of constructive feedback you might hear from a pissed off MD at Goldman:

"This kind of shit might fly at Banco Popular, but not in my house."

$$$
It's been almost three weeks now since Mark took the CFA exam, with three, perfectly actionable weekends in between. Most other guys partied their faces off after the exams, but for some reason, Mark still hasn't really gone out. He just sits on the sofa in those unwashed mesh shorts, staring off into space. He's a shell, a shadow of who he once was. It's as if something inside of him has died.

"What the fuck, man?" I'll ask with a practiced, artificial tone I like to call "emotion."

Mark takes a moment to respond, but finally lets out: "It's gone..."

After I ask what he means, he beats his fist against his chest and explains what has escaped him: "The fire."

Somehow, I thought that fire might come back, that Mark might remember how great everyday life in finance is, but he hasn't. Last weekend, I dragged him out to The Hamptons, and at Pink Ellie, he just stood in the corner alone, nursing his first bourbon. He seemed perplexed, tilting his head and looking at the world from a new, ethically conscious perspective. His 12C was still with him, cradled affectionately in his hands like a BlackBerry.

This got the attention of one genius girl, a Long Island native, who came up and asked, genuinely: "Omg, is that the new iPhone?!" Bouncing, she grabbed the boxy device from his hands. She looked at it awestruck for a moment, caressing its sharp edges. Then, hoping to zoom in, she started to pinch the 1/2 inch wide, very touch-insensitive screen.

Mark would have normally responded with something like "iPhone for me, girl? I'm the BlackBerry Thunder," but instead, he just gazed at her longingly. No flame was left in him, no embers even. Timid and almost monotone, he proposed: "You, foreign film, pinot noir, PLUS, PLUS, subtitles, MINUS?"

I'd say the 4G iPhone crashing to the ground was symbolic, but those things are built so fucking strong you could run over them with an H3 and they wouldn't shatter. Mark, however, took it as a sign.

I looked over and saw him leaving the club, a shadow cast over his glass of bourbon and the calculator with his business card taped to the back. Over at our table, another guy was doing Mark's patented pose, but the snarl was too creepy, not genuinely elated enough, and there were only 3 bottles, not 4--it just really wasn't the same.

In that moment, I had to remind myself that some birds aren't meant to be caged--their feathers are just too bright. And when they fly away, the part of you that knows it was a sin to lock them up does rejoice. Still, the place you live in is that much more drab and empty that they're gone.

The 10 next to me was angling herself to most prominently display her lack of tan lines, and I let out, a little less practiced, and a little less artificial:

"I guess I just miss my friend."