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The Top Finance Certification CFA – Overview

Enroll and Register for the CFA® Exam

Ready to register for the CFA exam? If you are registering for the Level I exam for the first time, you must enroll in CFA Program as part of exam registration. Residents of certain countries are not able to register for the CFA exam. Review the OFAC Policy to check if there are any sanctions on your country.

Exam Overview

Passing the three exams marks true mastery of the curriculum and is the most important task required to earn the CFA® charter. On average, candidates report investing over 300 hours of study in advance of successfully passing each level. View other highlights from the latest CFA Program candidate survey here.

Candidates originally registered for the June 2020 CFA exam are being sent details regarding the postponement options via email on 4 May. Invitations to re-register will be sent throughout early May based on level and test area.  For additional details, please visit our Frequently Asked Questions.

How to Become a CFA Charterholder

Becoming a charterholder is a defining moment for many investment professionals and exemplifies a strong understanding of advanced investment analysis and real-world portfolio management skills. We outline everything you need to know to prepare for CFA® Program, so you can feel confident when enrolling.

How to Become a CFA Charterholder

  1. Pass CFA ExamsCFA Program contains three levels of curriculum, each with its own exam. Passing the exam for all three levels is a requirement to obtain the CFA charter. 
  2. Achieve Qualified Work ExperienceComplete work experience requirements before, during, or after participation in CFA Program. Your experience must be directly involved with the investment decision-making process or producing a work product that informs or adds value to that process.
  3. Submit Reference LettersIn support of your membership application, you will need to provide 2-3 professional references. References will be asked to comment on your work experience and professional character. 
  4. Apply to Become a CharterholderApply to become a regular member of CFA Institute. Once your application is approved and you have joined CFA Institute, you will have earned the CFA charter. 

Each year, we survey CFA Program candidates before and after the June exam to measure and improve the CFA candidate experience. The surveys ask for feedback across several areas, including exam preparation, curriculum, exam value, and employment outlook. View the June 2019 CFA Program candidate survey results.

Enrollment Criteria and Requirements for CFA Program

To become a CFA candidate, you must enroll in CFA Program and register for the Level I exam. In order to enroll you must meet all of the qualifications listed below. We have provided helpful information below to guide you through the enrollment process and to keep you on track for registration. For further questions about CFA Program enrollment requirements, please refer to these FAQs.

Meet One of the Following Enrollment Requirements

Bachelor’s Degree

Complete a bachelor’s program or equivalent program and have received a degree from the college/university. If you are not sure if your program is comparable, consult your college or university.

Final-Year Student

Be a final-year student of a bachelor’s program or equivalent program on the date of enrolling for the Level I exam and becoming a candidate in CFA Program. Understand that you must complete your degree program prior to the date of registering for Level II.

Professional Work Experience

Have a combination of four years (or 48 months) of full-time work experience and/or college/university education on the date of registering for the Level I exam. The dates of education and professional work experience cannot be overlapping. Candidates are required to have a total of four years sequentially. Understand that part-time work does not qualify toward meeting the professional work experience requirement. Also understand that full-time work does not need to be investment related. Internships/articleships are accepted if they are paid and full-time. Work experience with your own business or your family business will qualify only if it is full-time, professional experience for which you are paid. 

What does professional work experience mean? Professional work experience requires specialized knowledge, education, or advanced skills. Professional work experience requires the application of higher-level judgement and business skills, including:  

• Leadership and teamwork 
• Business communications 
• Critical thinking and problem solving 
• Time management 
• Professional judgement 
• Analytical skills 
• Adaptability 

Candidates applying to register for CFA Program without completing a bachelor’s degree must honestly evaluate whether their professional work experience has equipped them for the significant volume and depth of study demanded by CFA Program. 

Please note that CFA Institute may request proof of education (copy of diploma, marksheet, any other relevant documents) and/or work experience (letter of employment, salary slips, any other relevant documents) to be submitted at any stage of your journey as a candidate or even after becoming a member in order to demonstrate entrance requirements were met. Failure to provide requested documentation relevant to entrance requirements may result in cancellation of a current exam registration, withholding of exam results, voiding of past exam results, and may lead to investigation and disciplinary action by the CFA Institute Professional Conduct Program.  

Be Prepared to Take Exam in English

CFA Program exams are only offered in English. Exams require English proficiency for reading comprehension and formulating answers to complex financial scenarios.

Meet the Professional Conduct Admission Criteria

All candidates in CFA Program must complete a Professional Conduct Statement form to attest that they are in compliance with this requirement.

Stay Ahead of the Curve

Become a Charterholder

To learn more about what to expect from CFA Program, check out our fact sheet and quick start guide. Sharpen your skills by downloading the economics prerequisite material to brush up on your foundational knowledge.

CFA Program Fact Sheet (PDF)

Economics Prerequisite (PDF)

Level I Quick Start Guide (PDF)

CFA Program vs. MBA

Both the CFA charter and an MBA program offer benefits that can advance your career. While there are some similarities between the two, there are a few key differences. Examine the chart below to consider which education is more aligned to your career goals.

CFA ProgramMBA Program
Career PathInvestment Analysis and Portfolio ManagementBusiness Management
Course Requirement900+ hours of self study

10 topic areas

4,000 hours of qualified work experience
2–4 years depending on program

Class attendance and participation

No practice requirements
Program CostUSD2,400–4,590 depending on fee deadlineUSD80,000–125,000 depending on program
Industry RecognitionBenchmarking by NARIC, as comparable to a Qualifications and Credit Framework (QCF) Master’s Level 7

Waivers from licensing exams in 27 countries
Accredited MBA programs are widely recognized by employers
Educational FocusDeep knowledge of investment analysis, management, and ethicsBroad knowledge of core business concepts with some opportunity to specialize
Program DifficultyLow barrier for entry, high attrition rateHigh barrier for entry, low attrition rate
Award for CompletionCharter: professional designationDegree certificate
Networking Opportunities167,000+ CFA Institute membersDepends on specific MBA program

Curriculum & Exam Topics

Gain the advantage of an education developed by the world’s leading financial institute. We enlist the industry’s brightest minds to continuously improve the program so it always remains relevant. Our rigorous curriculum prepares you to be an effective and ethical investment management professional in today’s modern market.Explore Curriculum

Expand Your Knowledge, Advance Your Career

Comprehensive Education97%OF CANDIDATEShave improved investment understanding.Relevant Curriculum88%OF CANDIDATESfeel curriculum covers important topics.High Employment Rate81%OF CANDIDATESreport employment in their field.Helpful Study Resources75%OF CANDIDATESused the curriculum as their primary resource.

Keeping the Curriculum Relevant and Rigorous

We continuously evolve CFA® Program by connecting with practicing investment management professionals to determine the critical knowledge, skills, and abilities that are needed in an investment role today. We call this method our Program Practice Analysis process and it plays a key role in establishing CFA Program as the global “gold standard” of investment credentials.

Industry Practitioner Input at Every Stage

CFA Program curriculum is developed through an Education Advisory Committee that involves industry wealth market practitioners, security market regulators, university faculty, and policymakers. Involving financial thought leaders ensures that we provide skills that are sought after within the industry and maintain a relevant curriculum.

Education that Evolves with the Market

CFA Institute researches and identifies trends that significantly impact the investment industry. This research and insight informs updates to our curriculum to reflect current practices and ensure charterholders are ready to enter a constantly changing market.

Exam Overview

Passing the three exams marks true mastery of the curriculum and is the most important task required to earn the CFA® charter. On average, candidates report investing over 300 hours of study in advance of successfully passing each level. View other highlights from the latest CFA Program candidate survey here.Prepare for Exams

Computer-based Testing Coming in 2021

woman holding phone looking at laptop

Registration for Computer-Based Level I Exam Opens 16 June 2020.

Learn More

Exams That Evolve in Complexity

Each level of the curriculum builds on the prior level and becomes increasingly complex. The chart below explains the differences between each exam so you can prepare accordingly. For details on computer-based Level I exams, visit our CBT information page.

Level ILevel IILevel III
Exam Structure240 multiple choice questions20–30 vignettes supporting 120 multiple choice questions20–30 vignettes supporting a variable number of constructed response and multiple choice questions
Exam LengthMorning session: 3 hours; 120 questions

Afternoon session: 3 hours; 120 questions
Morning session: 3 hours; 10–15 vignettes supporting 60 questions

Afternoon session: 3 hours; 10–15 vignettes supporting 60 questions
Morning session: 3 hours; 8–15 vignettes supporting constructed response questions

Afternoon session: 3 hours; 10–15 vignettes supporting 60 multiple choice questions
Question FormatMultiple choice questionsVignette-supported multiple choice questionsVignette-supported constructed response questions and vignette-supported multiple choice questions
Exam Results AvailabilityWithin 60 days of taking the examWithin 60 days of taking the examWithin 90 days of taking the exam
Level AdvancementMeet CFA Program enrollment requirementsPass Level I CFA examPass Level II CFA exam
Pass Rate43%45%56%
DetailsView Quick Start Guide for Level I 

View Level I Details
View Quick Start Guide for Level II

View Level II Details
View Quick Start Guide for Level IIIView Level III Details

Use the CFA Exam Calendar to Keep Track of Important Exam Dates

Level I December Exam Date5 December 2020December 2020Level I

  • Standard Registration Deadline19 August 2020Level I
  • Final Registration Deadline9 September 2020Level I
  • Exam Day5 December 2020Level I

Other Important Exam Registration Details

Enrollment Fees and Payment Information

In addition to the exam registration fees, there is an additional one-time enrollment fee of USD450 that is applied the first time you register. All fees must be paid in US dollars. For more information on enrollment fees and payment options, visit our policies page.

Alternate Dates and Disability Accommodations

If you have a religious obligation or belief that prevents you from taking the exam on the scheduled day, we offer alternate dates. We also accommodate for other special needs or health disabilities. For more information on alternate dates or disability accommodations, visit our policies page.

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