One of the requirements of enrolling for the CFA exams is that candidates need to be at least in their final year of their bachelor’s degree when registering for Level 1.
As of 2019, a significant and fast growing portion of CFA candidates are full-time university students, nearly doubling to 23% in 2019 (12% in 2018).
Is this a wise move? I think it depends, as studying for the CFA exams does entail some personal sacrifices either way.
Here are 10 factors you should consider before deciding whether studying for the CFA exams during college/university would make sense for you.
#1. CFA exams are yet another thing to study for (and it isn’t a small add-on).
When working and studying for the CFA exams, the differing natures mean that you can mentally ‘take a break’ when you switch from one to the other. Candidates may also find that work knowledge and experience can help in their CFA studies. As a university student, you may find it exhausting to trawl through a seemingly endless barrage of study notes, whether it’s for your degree or CFA charter.
Oh, and I know you have heard this before, but CFA exams are a lot harder than you think, and not like college/university. And Level 2 and Level 3 are significantly harder.
#2. Your degree in finance doesn’t necessarily help.
I will reluctantly say you might be able to cut 50 hours off of the “300 hours” which is needed for the average passing candidate, if you’ve got a solid grounding in finance in your degree. However, the volume of material you’ll have to remember for the exam, Ethics, and the time pressure will make this a very challenging experience. If you do take this on, take it very seriously.
#3. You’ll still need 4 years of relevant work experience.
#4. You might end up missing out on ‘the university experience’.
Besides earning your degree, your university years are something that you won’t be able to experience again. Whether you’d like to dedicate a significant portion of that time to the CFA program is something only you can decide for yourself.
But I think that postponing your CFA ambitions because you want to truly experience university is a completely valid reason. So if you’re thinking along similar lines, remember that that is not a ‘soft’ reason, and is perfectly justifiable.
#5. ”Level 1 candidate” status means nothing. You’ll have to pass, and you should try and pass all 3 levels.
As research on 300 Hours shows, the salary benefits of the CFA qualification are there, but only kicks into gear mostly after you’ve passed CFA Level 2 and above.
#6. Your time as a college student may be better spent in job-hunting.
The next thing to know if you are using this is a tactic to help land a job, is honestly those 300 hours needed to pass this exam would probably yield better results if you spent them networking, calling alumni, cold emailing senior people at an employer you would like to work for or attending your local CFA society events.
To put it simply, your job as a college student is to secure a graduate job.
#7. You can get to it while you have the time (really).
Students, you may not believe it, but you’re most like to to have the most time to study for the CFA exams as a full-time student.
Although university life is far from a walk in the park, the average CFA candidate finds it easiest to allocate time for CFA study while in university.
Commitments tend to increase after university – whether it’s a full time job, a young and growing family or both. The CFA exams do require a lot of time commitment, so it might be advantageous to get to it while you have time, and/or have a graduate job lined up already.
#8. There are good support structures in universities.
Even if your university or course isn’t CFA-affiliated, the university infrastructure itself greatly supports a CFA candidate in their learning. Need more reference? A wealth of reference books in the university library await. Need discussion partners? Get your buddies who are acing those finance courses. Really need some guidance? Lecturers are readily available to help out. Need good places to study? Libraries, university campus grounds, cafes abound.
If you find that your course workloads aren’t too heavy, and that you’ve got a grad job lined up, it may be worthwhile to start your CFA studies whilst at university.
#9. Your brain peaks in the right places during your early 20s.
Research performed by psychologists Joshua Hartshorne and Laura Germine, who tested 21,926 people aged 10 to 71, has shown that although different functions of the human brain peak at different ages, brain functions key to CFA exams (such as logical and numerical thinking, working memory) peak in your early twenties. Brain-wise, the odds will be in your favour.
So, that indicates that the ‘best time’ to take the CFA exams can range from last year of college/university to first few years on the job. In fact, some charterholders feel that CFA exams are best started after 1-2 years of finance work experience to maximize career impact
#10. Taking the CFA exams is a serious undertaking. But worth it.
If you’re ready to work hard, the CFA charter is definitely worth it, and you won’t regret it (although you might a little, during the process!)
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