Posted by: Kaplan Schweser
Updated: January 31, 2017

When is the right time to take the CFA® Exam? The answer to that question depends greatly on your particular situation. To help you make your decision, we’ve broken down the pros and cons of two common paths: (1.) starting the exam while you’re still in college, and (2.) waiting until after you’ve earned your degree.

Pros and Cons of Studying for the CFA exam while in college or after college infographic

The Backpack Route

Preparing for the CFA® Level I exam while still enrolled in college has its pros. Most college graduates say they had more free time when they were in school versus working full-time. That free time could be spent studying for the CFA exam. One way to stand out from your peers when you graduate college is to already be on your way to the CFA charter. Your dedication to your career looks good on your resume as well as to professors and advisors. Their recommendations to employers in their network could help you land your first job out of school.

In addition, preparing for the CFA exam while you are still in college will save you money. Many CFA exam prep providers, like Kaplan Schweser, offer discounts for university students. Getting started on exam prep early will help you save some money in the long-run and get you closer to the CFA charter faster in your career.

The downside to preparing for the CFA exam while still in college is that you won’t be a typical college student anymore. Preparing for the CFA exam is a lot of work and doing it while in college means you will have to let go of a lot of your social and extracurricular activities.

You also will limit the time you have available for networking, internships, and trying to find a job. There are only so many hours in a day, and you’ll spend many of them studying for the CFA exam if you start in college. In addition, CFA Institute requires you to complete four years of relevant work experience before earning the charter. While those years of work experience can be completed post-exam, you will not receive your charter as soon as you finish if you do not have those years of work under your belt.

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

The Briefcase Route

Choosing to wait until you’ve finished college to begin preparing for the CFA Level I exam also has its perks. Without the burden of college study, you can dedicate 100% of your study efforts to preparing for the CFA exam. If you are enrolled in the CFA Program, some employers actually allow you to use some of your work day to study for the CFA exam.

Most CFA candidates choose to complete their degree and secure employment before sitting for the exam. You’ll get added motivation that comes from being among others also preparing for the CFA Level I exam in your office. Your job will also provide real-life context for what you are learning in the CFA Program. This will help you better retain the material you are studying.

If you have a job waiting for you when you graduate, it will be less stressful to start studying for the CFA exam. If you don’t have a job lined up when you are done with school; however, studying for the CFA exam will compete with your job hunting time. The rigorous studying required to pass the CFA exam could be a difficult distraction from your job search.

Life happens after graduation. When you put things off for a time when you have less on your plate, you may find that there is no ideal time to begin the CFA Program. Waiting to pursue the CFA charter could result in you missing opportunities for advancement earlier in your career.