How to Become a Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA)?
To become a CFA charterholder, you need to pass all 3 levels of the CFA exam. You can register for the level 1 exam if you meet the education and/or work experience requirements. The years of professional work also count when you pass the exams and want to use your CFA designation.
CFA Exam Requirements
Education Requirements for CFA Candidates
CFA candidates may choose the Bachelor’s Degree or Undergraduate Student requirement when enrolling in the CFA Program. The Undergraduate Student requirement was redefined for 2023 level 1 CFA exams to include more than just final-year students.
Starting in 2023, you can register for your level 1 CFA exam based on the education criterion if you:
- are a university student who's within 23 months (or less) of graduation OR
- have a bachelor’s (or equivalent) degree.
If you choose education as the basis for enrolling in your level 1 CFA exam, no work experience is required.
Work Experience Requirements for CFA Candidates
CFA candidates may choose the Work Experience requirement when enrolling in the CFA Program. To register for your level 1 CFA exam based on the work criterion, you must have:
- a combination of professional work experience (investment-related or not) and/or higher education totaling 4,000 hours and acquired over a minimum of 3 sequential years (education and work cannot overlap; assume that a year of higher education is 1,000 hours) OR
- 4,000 hours of professional work experience (investment-related or not) acquired over a minimum of 3 sequential years, which doesn’t happen often but is admissible, at least in theory ;)
What counts as professional work experience for the CFA exam?
- paid internships/articleships,
- work experience with your own or your family business but only if it is paid,
- any professional work experience that requires specialized knowledge, education, or advanced skills such as higher-level judgment or business skills, including leadership and teamwork, business communications, critical thinking and problem solving, time management, professional judgment, analytical skills, and adaptability.
Check Your Eligibility for CFA Exam!
Summing up, as far as eligibility for the CFA exam goes, the following 5 scenarios make you eligible to register for your level 1 CFA exam:
- You are an undergraduate student with no more than 23 months until graduation. You must be within 11 months of graduation to sit for your level 2 CFA exam and you must earn your bachelor's degree (or equivalent) in time for your level 3 CFA exam.
- You have your bachelor’s (or equivalent) degree (doesn’t matter whether you go to a graduate school now, later, or never).
- You are in an undergraduate school and have already gained some professional work experience and your education + work experience is 4,000 hours (work and education cannot overlap, a year of higher education equals 1,000 hours).
- You were in an undergraduate school but you left it for professional work and your education + work experience is 4,000 hours (work and education cannot overlap, a year of higher education equals 1,000 hours).
- You have no degree but you worked professionally for 4,000 hours in whatever field (hours accrued over a minimum of three sequential years), which is a possible scenario but most likely a theoretical one for CFA candidates.
The no-brainer criterion that makes you eligible for the CFA exam is having a bachelor's degree. When you have your degree, you can surely register for the exam and take it whenever it suits you. If you're not sure whether your degree is equivalent to a bachelor’s degree, contact CFA Institute for an opinion.
For the remaining 4 eligibility scenarios always pay attention to details such as months to graduation in the case of the education criterion or hours of work experience/education for the work experience criterion.
How to Take Level 1 CFA Exam?
To be able to enroll in the list of CFA exam candidates and take your first CFA exam, you must:
- meet one of the CFA exam requirements,
- be prepared to take the exam in English,
- have a valid international passport necessary for CFA exam registration,
- pay your enrollment and registration fees,
- complete a Professional Conduct Statement form.
Note that residents of Syria, Cuba, North Korea, and the Crimea region of the Ukraine, as well as Specially Designated Nationals, are prohibited from participating in the CFA Program in accordance with the OFAC Compliance Policy. Also, CFA exams were canceled until further notice in Russia.
We’ll remind you when your prep starts
The 3 Levels of CFA Exam
If you meet the entrance requirements for candidates and you register for your level 1 exam, you’re on the right track to becoming a CFA charterholder. Now, you need to take and pass all the 3 levels of the CFA exam:
This order is not random. You start with level 1 and continue with level 2 only if you pass level 1. The level 3 exam cannot be taken unless you pass the other two exams. That is why you can't register for your next exam before you know whether you passed or failed the one you’ve just taken. Which doesn’t mean you cannot study for your next exam before you register.
Six attempts per exam level are allowed if you don't succeed at the first attempt. You should plan to devote about 300 study hours while preparing for each level of your CFA exam. Also, factor in 10-15 hours of a Practical Skills Module (PSM) per level. PSMs are obligatory extra-curricular CFA exam learning modules aimed at developing your practical skills.
You'll need to devote some time and energy before you earn your CFA designation and will be able to use it. Since the journey to become a CFA charterholder is time-consuming, CFA Institute decided in 2023 to give digital badges for each passed CFA exam level. This is great news to CFA candidates because now they can prove their dedication and achievements to potential employers while still striving for the CFA charter.
How to Become a CFA Charterholder?
Work Experience Requirements for CFA Charterholders
To become a CFA charterholder & earn your CFA designation, you must:
- pass all 3 levels of the CFA exam AND
- have at least 4,000 hours of investment-related qualified work experience, completed in a minimum of 36 months (full-time and part-time jobs, as well as remote work arrangements – before, during, or after your participation in the CFA® Program – qualify) PLUS
- apply to become a regular member of CFA Institute (and your local society) and pay the annual membership fees,
- submit 3 reference letters (or 2 if one of them is given by an active regular member of the local society to which you are applying).
The Quickest Way to Become a CFA Charterholder
The quickest CFA exam path is now 12 months. It takes into consideration CFA Institute's official rule of 6 months minimum between exams. Moreover, it assumes that you’ll pass each level of your CFA exam at the first attempt. If you seek this path, know this – it’s a very strict and challenging scenario. There will be no time for procrastination – you’ll need to work like crazy! Our CFA Exam Study Planner can surely be of help to keep you on track!
Becoming a CFA Charterholderin 12 Months
To become a CFA charterholder in 12 months, i.e. by following the quickest path there is, you need to pass all 3 levels of your CFA exam at the first attempt (no retakes allowed).
Actually, now with the computer-based CFA exams held more frequently, you can pass all 3 CFA exams within 12 to 18 months:
GET CFA CHARTER IN 12 MONTHS
TO GET YOUR CFA CHARTER IN 12 MONTHS:
pass level 1 CFA exam in FEB pass level 2 CFA exam in AUG pass level 3 CFA exam in FEB of the next calendar year
TO GET YOUR CFA CHARTER IN 15 MONTHS:
pass level 1 CFA exam in MAY pass level 2 CFA exam in NOV pass level 3 CFA exam in AUG of the next calendar year
TO GET YOUR CFA CHARTER IN 18 MONTHS:
pass level 1 CFA exam in AUG pass level 2 CFA exam in MAY of the next calendar year pass level 3 CFA exam in FEB of yet another calendar year
TO GET YOUR CFA CHARTER IN 15 MONTHS:
pass level 1 CFA exam in NOV pass level 2 CFA exam in MAY of the next calendar year pass level 3 CFA exam in FEB of yet another calendar year
Of course, you need to factor in preparation before your level 1 exam, which has been excluded from the calculations above. Most of the candidates prepare for their level 1 exam approx. 5-4 months but we encourage you to make an informed decision. See here when & how to prepare for your CFA exam.
Also, the 12-18 months scenarios will work only if you meet the entrance requirements before you actually decide to register for your level 1 exam. Plus, you’ll already need to have the required 4,000 hours (gathered in at least 36 months) of investment-related work experience before you complete your level 3 exam if you want to become a CFA charterholder right after you pass the last level of your CFA exam. See below how to become a CFA Institute Member .
CFA Designation and Regular Membership
To be able to use your CFA designation, you must become a regular member of CFA Institute. Regular membership is mandatory to earn your CFA charter. The membership fee is USD 299 a year.
Additionally, it is required that you choose your local society when you apply to become a regular member. Society fees may vary.
To join CFA Institute as a regular member, you must:
- apply to be a CFA Institute member,
- be accepted by CFA Institute,
- activate your CFA Institute membership,
- pay the annual membership fee of USD 299/year + society fee,
- sign your Membership Agreement and submit your Professional Conduct Statement.
After you apply to be a regular member, CFA Institute has up to 10 business days and the local society to which you apply has up to 30 calendar days for reviewing your application. Once the application review is complete, you'll get an e-mail informing you if the application has been accepted. Importantly, when you apply to be a regular member, you are required to apply to a local society, as well.
When you are accepted as a regular CFA Institute member, you are asked to activate your membership by paying the annual fee of USD 299. The full membership period spans from 1 July to 30 June and for the first year, you pay less if you join later than July. You are also asked to sign your Membership Agreement and submit your Professional Conduct Statement.
You can apply to become a regular member of CFA Institute already when you pass your level 1 CFA exam. Society membership is open to CFA charterholders, but also to candidates and other individuals as long as they meet eligibility requirements.
CFA Program Requirements Summed Up
- Before you can register for the level 1 exam, you must first meet the CFA Program entrance requirements regarding education and/or work experience.
- The quickest possible way to pass the 3 levels of the CFA exam is now 12 months but it’s a very strict and challenging scenario.
- All 3 passed levels of the CFA exam do not make you a CFA charterholder yet.
- After you pass all the 3 exams, you must meet the CFA charterholder requirements particularly related to the qualified work experience before you can actually use your CFA designation.
- Still, every passed level is a milepost on your career path. Thus, every level is worth the effort!
Our CFA Exam Study Planner is available to candidates of all levels at groundbreaking Pay-What-You-Can prices. You decide how much you want to pay for our services. After you activate your account, you get unlimited access to our Study Planner 4.0 with study lessons inside, various level 1/level 2 study materials & tools, regular review sessions, and a holistic growth approach to your preparation. Join