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CFA Requirements in 2021: 3 Simple Steps to Designation

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To become a CFA charterholder, you need to meet the CFA requirements, which are:

  • fulfill the CFA requirements for education or work experience
  • take and pass the CFA exam
  • complete the CFA work requirements

CFA requirements

CFA Exam Requirements for 2021-2022

Who can take the CFA Exam? There are four tracks for you to gain eligibility for the CFA exam. This can be based on education or experience:

1. As a bachelor’s degree holder

CFA candidates should have a bachelor’s degree from an accredited educational institution. There is no restriction on major. However, since the exam itself is pretty tough, it is much better if you have majored in related subjects such as finance, business, and accounting. Candidates from other majors can certainly pass this exam, but please expect extra prep time to go through the basics.

The CFAI also specifies that “a bachelor’s program or equivalent program” meets the CFA prerequisites. If you believe your higher education program was or is equivalent to a bachelor’s degree, consult your college or university to be sure.

2. As a final-year student of your bachelor program

For current university students, you can choose to take Part 1 in your final year of study. Your chosen exam window must be no more than 11 months before your graduation date. However, you need to prove you’ve completed your bachelor’s degree to sit for the Level 2 exam.

3. As a professional without a bachelor’s degree

Candidates can substitute the CFA education requirements with 4,000 hours of professional working experience obtained over at least three sequential years. This experience is not limited to any industry, but note that:

  • Experience must be accumulated BEFORE your Level 1 registration date
  • Part-time and remote work count toward the total
  • Unpaid internships and positions do NOT count toward the requirement

4. A combination of the above

You may combine the above education and working experience, with one year of education counting as 1,000 hours.

Post-Exam CFA Requirements for Work Experience

After becoming qualified for the CFA exam, you can register for the CFA exam, but please take special note of the CFA dates and scheduling deadlines. Once you pass the CFA exam, you’ll reach the final step: completing the CFA work experience requirements.

There are specific rules about what experience is considered relevant, and we’ll discuss them in the next post (see link at the bottom of this page).

In summary, you will need 4,000 hours of relevant, investment-related work experience.

  • This experience can be gained before, during, or after the CFA exam.
  • It must occur over a minimum of three years.
  • It must be “directly related to the investment decision-making process or producing a work product that informs or adds value to that process.”
  • If you qualify for the exam using the work experience route (#3 and #4 in the CFA exam requirements above), you can’t double-count the same experience for this step.
  • Full-time, part-time, and remote work are acceptable.

Potential CFA Eligibility Issues

What if I’m from another country?

The CFA Institute does not “provide services” to residents of the following countries, which are subject to certain international sanctions. Applications of candidates from these countries will be canceled and will not be refunded.

  • Syria
  • Cuba
  • North Korea
  • Crimea region of Ukraine

There are also some countries with certain restrictions:

  • Iran
  • Sudan

Residents of Iran and Sudan may enroll in the CFA Institute’s programs under OFAC General License G (Iran) and OFAC General License No. 1A (Sudan).

Finally, the CFAI Institute cannot do business with certain people or employees of those people, regardless of where they live. This is called the Specially Designated Nationals (SDN) list. If you work outside the United States, you may wish to look your employer up on this list.

For details, please read the Compliance Policy from the Office of Foreign Asset Control.

What if I don’t have a CFA bachelor’s degree?

Fortunately, there’s really no such thing as the “right” bachelor’s degree regarding CFA requirements. Any bachelor’s degree qualifies you to take the exam. However, the advantage of having a degree in a related field is that you will already have gained some background knowledge by studying for your courses. There is no reason that someone with a BA in fine arts can’t take the exam. However, they may have to begin studying from scratch.

What if I’m not finished with my bachelor’s degree?

Remember that CFA Level 1 requirements allow you to be in your final year of pursuing a bachelor’s degree. However, CFA Level 2 requirements state you must have finished your degree.

What if I don’t have any work experience in finance?

To simply sit for the CFA exam, this isn’t a problem. The CFAI only requires you to have “professional work experience,” which includes “the application of higher-level judgment and business skills.”

After you pass all exam levels, you’ll need to meet your CFA certification requirements with work experience in a relevant field. Of course, you can’t actually call yourself a CFA until you’ve met all CFA charterholder requirements. However, to start along the path to becoming a CFA, any paid, full-time work experience counts.

Frequently Asked Questions

Have any of the CFA exam Level 1 requirements changed for 2021-2022?

Scheduling for the CFA exam has changed significantly over the past few years. Likewise, how to qualify for the CFA exam has been updated as of March of 2021. Before this date, part-time work didn’t count toward the experience requirement. Additionally, you needed four years of work rather than 4,000 hours completed over at least three years.

Post-exam requirements received similar updates. The work experience for CFA designation requirements must still be relevant and investment-related, but it can now include part-time and remote work and must total 4,000 hours over three years. The CFAI made this change in recognition of shifting work patterns in the financial industry. This allows non-traditional workers greater access to the CFA program.

Are there any other qualifications for the CFA program?

If you’ve read this far, chances are you meet these Chartered Financial Analyst requirements. You must

  • Be prepared to take the test in English
  • Have a valid passport
  • Comply with and sign the CFAI’s Professional Conduct Statement
  • Pay the associated exam and membership fees

Can anyone take the CFA exam?

The bar for entry for taking the CFA exam, especially Level 1, is fairly low. Anyone with a bachelor’s or equivalent four-year degree can take it. Similarly, anyone who has acquired 4,000 hours of professional work experience over at least 36 months may sit for the exam. Of course, just because you have met the prerequisites doesn’t mean you’re prepared for the exam’s content.

How much does it cost to take the CFA exam?

One requirement that we haven’t discussed so far is the price of the test. Unfortunately, taking the CFA exam isn’t cheap. There’s a $450 enrollment fee to begin the process, plus a $700-$1,450 registration fee for each part of the exam, depending on how early you register. Overall, the least you can pay for just the exam is $2,550. However, this doesn’t take into account the cost for any CFA exam prep courses.

Conclusion

The requirements for CFA exam takers are pretty flexible because the entry barrier is very low. As long as you study at a university or work for four years, you are qualified.

Having said that, the barrier gets much higher as we move on to the CFA license requirements. This shows that while the CFA Institute welcomes practically anyone to start the CFA program, to “graduate” with the charter, you must work hard and gain serious and relevant experience to call yourself a CFA.

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