This page is dedicated to finance professionals who aspire to become a CFA charter holders.
On this website, we will share with you the steps on how to become a CFA, as well as the necessary steps to plan, study for and pass 3 levels of the CFA exam on your first attempt.
The first step is NOT to show you how to enter the CFA program. It is on WHY you want to be one and whether it’s worth it.
The CFA Institute grants the CFA designation. To enter the CFA program, you need to become a member and pay annual fees.
Here are more reasons for your consideration:
To see if CFA is the one to go for, you have to spend the time researching other relevant qualifications.
There isn’t one that matches exactly with CFA, but a few are close enough in terms of the industry coverage and level of recognition.
If you are a finance professional with lots of exposure in accounting (or vice versa), CPA is a good choice, and we recommend taking a closer look at that. If you are more into risk management, FRM could be an equally good qualification.
You can also learn about finance, investment and management from an MBA as well.
The CFA exam is notorious for its difficulty. Level 1 has a very wide coverage, Level 2 goes deeper in similarly wide coverage, and Level 3 is a beast.
Unlike most US professional exams, the CFA program is a marathon, as it takes several years to complete the whole program.
A typical candidate spends 300 hours for each level, meaning 900 hours for the entire exam (and this doesn’t count possible retakes).
Are you ready for this challenge? Back to the first point, have you identified one solid benefit to make the CFA investment worth it?
Ultimately, most of us get licenses and qualifications for a better future regarding career prospects and salary.
The CFA program is expensive at $3,000 at the bare minimum. This does not count the intangibles such as the time, sweat and tears involved. It is a good idea to perform a SWOT analysis and make sure this investment makes sense.
Looking at the longer term, does the CFA title help your personal and professional growth?
The entry barrier of the CFA exam is surprisingly low. You are qualified as long as you have a bachelor’s degree in any discipline. Even if you don’t have a university degree, you can still take the exam as long as you have 4 years of experience in any field.
Specifically, to take the first (Level 1) exam, you need to have:
Bachelor Degree OR Work Experience
Good Command of English
You will need to sign the Professional Conduct Statement and Candidate Responsibility Statement and have a valid passport.
If you spend the time thinking through steps 1 to 5 and still decide to continue, welcome!
The following steps show you how to register, plan, study for and pass this exam.
The CFA designation is granted to individuals who complete the CFA Program. A typical aspiring CFA takes 4 years to become a CFA, although, in theory, the program can be completed within 18 months.
Beware of Deadlines
The exam is offered twice a year for level I and once a year for Levels II and III. This is a sequential exam, meaning you must take Level 1 first.
You must plan ahead in order not to miss deadlines or to run out of time to study.
The early-bird registration starts as early as 9 months before the exam date.
How to Register
Go to the CFAInstitute.org website. In the horizontal menu, go to “program” and then to “register”.
After logging in, there is specific instruction on submitting the proof of your exam requirements, as discussed in Point 2 above.
If the application is approved, you will receive an official acceptance by email together with the admission ticket within 2-3 days. If you don’t hear from them after 3 days, contact CFA Institute by email.
More details on the process and timeline are here:
For good and proper planning, you need to go over the format and curriculum.
Level 1 Format
Level 1 Curriculum
The CFA program is graduate-level coursework that includes self-studying of 1o topics relevant to the investment field.
1. Ethical and Professional Standard
2. Quantitative Methods
4. Financial Reporting and Analysis
5. Corporate Finance
6. Equity Investments
7. Fixed Income
9. Alternative Investments
10. Portfolio Management and Wealth Planning.
These topics are organized into study sessions, each with assigned readings, learning outcome statements, and problem sets. There are three levels of exams to test the knowledge gained from these study sessions.
The CFA Institute provides comprehensive reading materials, known as the CFAI textbook, as part of the package.
In theory, you don’t need third-party guides to take the exam; but in practice, 70-80% of all candidates get supplements to speed up the studying or to work on their weaker areas.
Schweser and Wiley (formerly known as Elan Guides) are the two most popular CFA review courses.
Once you pass Level III, you need to accumulate 4 years of relevant experience before obtaining the charter. You can do this before, during, or after the exams.
Relevant experiences are defined quite broadly. Examples include:
Click here for details on CFA work experience requirements.
Upon completing the third (Level III) exam and 4 years of relevant experience, you will be invited to become a CFA charter holder. Continuing professional education (CPE) is required to maintain the charter holder status.
It depends on your commitment and whether you can pass the 3 exams on your first try.
The fastest you can accomplish this is 18 months — Level I in December, Level II in June, and Level III in June the year after. Here is a video on how you can achieve that:
We know the process sounds complicated, but once you take the first step on how to become a CFA, it’s very doable. We are more than happy to help you along the way!
If you find this article helpful, you may check out this frequently asked questions page. Best of luck with your CFA exam journey!