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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.
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How to Become a CFA Charterholder

  1. Pass CFA Exams
    CFA 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 Experience
    Complete 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 Letters
    In 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 Charterholder
    Apply 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.

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.

Undergraduate Student

Your selected exam window must be 23 months or fewer before your graduation month for your bachelor’s degree or equivalent program. Understand that you must complete your degree program prior to the date of sitting your Level II exam.

Professional Work Experience

Have a combination of 4,000 hours of work experience and/or higher education that was acquired over a minimum of three sequential years and achieved by the date of registering for the Level I exam. The dates of education and professional work experience cannot be overlapping. If you have a combination of work experience and higher education to achieve the minimum hours and years, assume that higher education takes 1,000 hours per year.

Professional work experience does not need to be investment related.  Internships/articleships are accepted if they are paid. Work experience with your own business or your family business will qualify only if it is 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.  

CFA Institute requires that every CFA Program candidate have a valid international travel passport. Those without a passport will not be able to register or sit for exams. 

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

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

There are some countries with which CFA Institute cannot work. Review the OFAC Policy to check if there are any sanctions on your country.

Stay Ahead of the Curve

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Use these resources to learn more about what to expect from CFA Program. Sharpen your skills by downloading the economics prerequisite material to brush up on your foundational knowledge.

CFA Program Factsheet (PDF)

Economics Prerequisite (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 Program MBA Program
Career Path Investment Analysis and Portfolio Management Business Management
Course Requirement 900+ 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 Cost USD 3,050–3,950 depending on fee deadline USD80,000–125,000 depending on program
Industry Recognition Benchmarking 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 Focus Deep knowledge of investment analysis, management, and ethics Broad knowledge of core business concepts with some opportunity to specialize
Program Difficulty Low barrier for entry, high attrition rate High barrier for entry, low attrition rate
Award for Completion Charter: professional designation Degree certificate
Networking Opportunities 167,000+ CFA Institute members Depends on specific MBA program

Get Familiar with CFA Program

CFA Program

Curriculum Overview

Get a snapshot of the topics covered by CFA Program and discover other important curriculum material.

CFA Program

Three Levels of Exams

Learn about the structure, timing, and cost of CFA exams.

CFA Program

CFA Program Scholarships

We offer scholarships to help qualified candidates pay for exam fees. 

Become a Member of CFA Institute

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You don’t have to be a CFA charterholder—or even a candidate in the CFA Program—to become a member of CFA Institute. We offer two types of membership—regular and affiliate—to reflect the range of experiences investment professionals have. Membership to CFA Institute and a local society gives you access to career resources, networking opportunities, continuing education, and other benefits that support you beyond the curriculum and exams.

Explore Membership

Are You Ready to Start CFA Program?

Enroll and register for the CFA exam.

Don't delay; complete your registration to access study materials and candidate resources to begin the CFA Program today.

Enroll and Register

Learn from our Experts

Access the Investment Professional of the Future report to discover how changing roles, new skills, and evolving organizational cultures are shaping career paths in the investment industry.