Posted by: Kaplan Schweser
Updated: August 13, 2020
Should I take the CFA® exam? You might be asking yourself that question if you’re planning for a career in finance. Perhaps you’ve heard other people debating the merits of sitting for the exam and earning the charter. Or maybe you’re wondering whether you really gain anything from all the hard work and long hours. To help you decide, this article includes tips that we have sourced from forums, experts, and former Kaplan Schweser students who shared their opinions with us.
Analyst Forum, Quora, and reddit are excellent sources of honest answers to questions about the CFA exam. When a quantitative finance student asked on Quora if he should take the exam, this was one of the answers: “Doing the CFA Program will give you a new perspective and will be helpful in the long term. After some time, you may need to move away or above, and this will help you as you will be studying financial reporting and analysis, corporate finance, portfolio management, equity investments, fixed income, derivatives, alternative investments, etc., just to give you a range.”
An assets manager who holds the CFA charter recommends that the student take the exam. But, he also adds these important reminders: “As an undergrad, you are only eligible to sit for level 1 your final year. As a graduate student, I think it makes sense to start the exams at a time when you are already in study mode. It also looks good to potential employers as another level of commitment to your craft. However, you cannot receive the CFA charter until you also have four years of relevant work experience.”
You must meet certain requirements to sit for the CFA exam and to earn the charter. There are three levels of the CFA exam, and you must pass all of them to earn the charter. Each level requires, at minimum, 300 hours of structured study. For many CFA candidates, exam preparation classes and packages are part of the study plan.
You will also need a four-year degree by the time you take Level II of the exam; you are permitted to take Level I in your last year of college. And, as noted in Tip 1, you must have 4,000 hours of work experience before you can earn your charter. A passport is required to enter the testing center and take the exam, as well.
In Analyst Forum, when a commodities trader asked if he should earn the CFA, he got this advice from a CFA charterholder: “I would not recommend doing the CFA without speaking to people closer to the stock market/any other market you may be interested in.” This advice is sound for any area of finance, not just trading. If you are thinking about a career in financial analysis, risk management, financial planning, stocks and bonds, or portfolio management, do some research to find practitioners in this field, and ask them their opinions.
You should talk to at least one professional who does not hold the charter and one who does. A local or nearby CFA Society is a good place to find charterholders who are happy to share their experiences. Some of these societies allow CFA candidates and others who are exploring the charter to join and participate in some of their education sessions and workshops.
There are a number of designations you can earn if you want a career in finance. Smartasset reports that the CFA charter is in the top 10 of financial designations, which makes it a good bet for any professional who holds it. However, if you are interested in a career in financial or operational risk, the FRM certification might be a better designation for you. If alternative investments, particularly hedge funds, interest you, earning the CAIA® Charter is worth considering. Financial planners and securities traders have other options and license requirements as well.
So, it’s a good idea to compare the CFA charter with the FRM designation, the CAIA Charter, the CFP® mark, the Series 7 license, MBA, and CPA. You should also be aware that earning these charters, designations, and licenses does not preclude you from earning the CFA charter. Many successful finance professionals and executives hold a number of these credentials.
After doing your homework and learning as much as you can about the exam and the charter, it’s time to stop and take stock of what is happening in your life. You should ask yourself these questions:
Honest answers to these questions will help you determine whether you can fully commit to the exam and the charter. Here are what former Kaplan Schweser students who now hold the charter say about it: One says, “The CFA charter needs to be a full commitment. It is an absolute grind at times, but it is much better to endure longer hours, over-prepare, and pass.” Another has this suggestion: “Reflect on yourself and your goals before pursuing this designation. Know why you’re doing this and what cost you’re willing to pay to achieve success.”
If you think the CFA charter will help you in your career, and you are ready to get started, find answers to frequently asked questions about the Level I exam here, or explore our study package options.