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Can I Earn the CFA® Charter without a Finance Background?

By: Kaplan Schweser
November 1, 2022
CFA without Finance Background

Is it possible to earn the CFA® charter without a finance background? You can sit for the CFA exam without one, but to complete the process of becoming a charterholder, you will have to get experience by working in certain finance positions. In this article, we’ll break this all down for you, starting with the requirements for earning the charter, and show you how you can do it even if you haven’t studied or worked in finance.

Requirements for Earning the CFA® Charter

To become a CFA charterholder, you need to:

  1. Have a bachelor’s degree (or equivalent) or two years remaining in your undergraduate studies. If you have 4,000 hours of relevant work experience or a combination of professional work and university experience that totals 4,000 hours, you are also eligible to start the CFA Program.
  2. Take and pass Level I, Level II, and Level III of the CFA exam.
  3. Become a member of CFA Institute (which costs $275 USD and requires agreeing to abide by its code of ethics).
  4. Provide CFA Institute with proof that you’ve been working full-time for 4,000 hours in an investment decision-making role or with a product that contributes to that process. This can include any work experience you had before passing the exam, as well as after.

As you can see, the first three steps do not require a finance background. As a result, there are definitely CFA charterholders who have taken the CFA exam without finance experience. As one charterholder wrote in a Quora comment, “It is a great learning experience if you want to quickly understand what finance is generally about. It provides a good, general picture.”

Considering the CFA charter? Download this free Before You Decide to Sit for the CFA Exam eBook.

Recent CFA Program Eligibility Changes

Tips for Studying for the CFA Exam

If you haven’t studied or worked in finance before, here are some study tips that can help you prepare for the exam and increase your chances of passing it:

  • Learn the differences between the CFA exam levels. Read this article about the difference between Level I and Level II and then read this one about Level II and Level III. Knowing the differences will help you with your study plan for each one.
  • Develop your study plan 9 months before you sit for each level of the exam. CFA Institute recommends a minimum of 300 hours of study. However, you should plan to put in about 360 hours (or more) to allow for learning concepts that finance practitioners already know. Set aside the first 120 hours for reading and listening to lectures. Then, spend 150 hours or so working through practice questions. Your final 90 hours should be dedicated to simulating exam conditions with practice and mock CFA exams to assess how ready you are. Mock exams can also help you learn how to stay calm on exam day.
  • Make all CFA Institute Learning Outcome Statements part of your plan. The Learning Outcome Statements (LOS), CFA Program curriculum, and core concepts from CFA Institute help you determine what to study. Follow them in the order that they’re presented, and make sure you put extra time in on ethics.
  • Stick to your plan with the help of CFA exam prep courses. To stay on task, take a CFA exam prep course, and treat it like a university class. Read the relevant material beforehand, get rudimentary ideas of the topics to be covered, and compile any questions you want to ask.
  • Consider how to apply each concept in the real world. If you’re not sure, ask someone with experience for assistance. Joining a local CFA Society, visiting online forums on reddit, or attending financial education meetups can connect you with resources who can help with this.
  • Take a break if you start feeling overwhelmed. At some point, you might start wondering if all the work is worth it. Don’t give up. Instead, take a few days or a full week off. Don’t answer any more practice questions, and don’t open a book. You’ll be surprised at how a short break can motivate you to return to your studies.

How to Study for the CFA® Level I Exam in 6 Months

What about the Work Experience Requirement?

The general consensus of CFA charterholders who started without a finance background is that gaining work experience is the biggest hurdle. A good rule of thumb is to look for a position as soon as you pass Level I of the exam. The kind of jobs you can get after passing Level I are intern, accountant or assistant accounting manager, investment administrator, fund analyst, investment product analyst, and junior equity research analyst.

To find a job, apply the determination you used to pass the exam to your search. You should also network as much as possible. If there is a CFA society where you live, you should join it (if you haven’t already) as part of your job search. Besides offering opportunities for networking via events and volunteering, many CFA societies have professional development programs and specific career assistance. You should also use contacts from LinkedIn, attend career fairs, and participate in professional finance events.

If you do find work after passing Level I or Level II, here is a helpful article about how to study for the CFA while working full-time.

Ready to Take on the CFA Charter?

If you’re ready for the challenge, CFA study materials are an excellent option for professionals or students without a finance background who want to become charterholders.

Free eBook: Before You Decide to Sit for the CFA® Program Exam

Free eBook: CFA® Program Fundamentals, 2nd Edition

Ready to Pass the CFA® Exam?