The CFA Institute requires candidates to be in at least in their final year of their bachelor’s degree when registering for CFA Level I. However, a fair portion of CFA candidates are full-time university students – about 15%, in fact.
I started my CFA journey in my first year out of university, while juggling my first job. However, the path wasn’t all smooth-sailing. I’ve had to make some career and personal sacrifices to accommodate my CFA studies: a missed promotion and a strained relationship, which does make me wonder if it was worth it. Sometimes. But I also wonder if it would have been easier if I started the CFA program earlier, like when I was still a university student.
To make things easier for future candidates, now that I’ve been through the experience (and have interviewed the 300 Hours charterholders about their experiences), here are the pros and cons of starting the CFA program while in university. I hope that this will help you carve your own successful path!
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.
Your brain peaks in the right places during your early twenties.
Biologically, you’re likely to be best placed to take on the CFA exams as a young adult.
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.
There is a good support structure.
The support structure for learning is never better than when you’re in university. Many universities are now aware of the CFA program: CFA-partnered universities now include the MBA courses in Cambridge University, Oxford University, INSEAD and London Business School. Many other finance courses are also CFA-partnered – you can find the full list here.
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.
Starting early on the CFA exams doesn’t award you the CFA charter straightaway. You’ll still need to qualify 4 years’ worth of relevant work experience – something you’re unlikely to have as a fresh graduate. So do keep in mind that although you’ll pass your CFA exams earlier, you’re likely to still have to wait for a few more years to get that sweet CFA charter.
Yet another thing to study for (and it isn’t a small add-on).
Although balancing work and CFA studies can be really time-constraining, candidates can find it mentally easier than juggling their university and CFA studies.
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.
You might end up missing out on ‘the university experience’.
Ah, the wistful memories university brings up.
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.