CFA Requirements in 2024: 4 Steps to Earning the CFA® Charter

Chartered Financial Analysts (CFA®) are among the most admired professionals in the investment management field. They have unsurpassed knowledge and experience that makes them highly desirable among employers. Furthermore, the CFA designation is globally recognized, bringing charterholders even more opportunities.

To say the least, the CFA designation is prestigious. But in full transparency, earning the title is not easy. The CFA requirements include passing the 3-part CFA exam, which is rigorous. Additionally, the CFA process overall is time-consuming. Typically, becoming a charterholder takes candidates about 4 years.

Yet, in no way is the CFA impossible to acquire. According to the CFA Institute, there are more than 150,000 CFAs around the world. So, becoming a CFA is difficult but doable and definitely worth it. Learn about the CFA requirements so you can start the charter process.

CFA Requirements

So, how can you become a CFA and change the trajectory of your career? Essentially, you’ll have to take these 4 steps:

  1. Apply for the CFA Program
  2. Take and pass the CFA exam
  3. Fulfill the experience requirement
  4. Become a CFA Institute member

1. Apply for the CFA Program

The first step to becoming a CFA is joining the CFA Program. The CFA Institute has outlined a few requirements related to this program. Largely, these requirements relate to education and/or experience. However, they aren’t difficult to meet. Surprisingly, while the CFA exam is notoriously difficult, the program itself has a low barrier of entry.

Education Option

The CFA education requirement is highly flexible. In other words, you can qualify for the program as long as you have a bachelor’s degree or equivalent from an accredited educational institution. Additionally, the degree can be in any field. The CFA Institute hasn’t set any restrictions on the types of majors they accept.

But remember, the CFA exam is tough. So, you’ll likely fare better if your degree is in a related subject such as finance, business, or accounting. If your degree isn’t in one of these fields, you can certainly pass the exam. But plan to spend additional study time on the basics.

The CFA Institute also allows college students in their final year of study to take the Level I exam. However, you must complete your degree before you can move on to the Level II exam.

Experience Option

If you don’t have a qualifying degree, you may still be eligible to sit for the CFA exam. Candidates can substitute experience in lieu of education. Specifically, you need 4 years of professional experience to join the CFA program. Similar to the education requirement, this experience can be in any field. But note that:

  • Experience must be accumulated before you register for the program
  • Part-time work does not qualify for the experience option

Education and Experience Option

Also, you can submit a combination of education and experience to qualify for the CFA program. Altogether, your education and experience must total 4 years or more.

Other Requirements

Beyond education and/or experience, you do have to fulfill a few more requirements to enter the CFA program. They include:

  • Providing a valid and current passport
  • Signing the Professional Conduct Statement and Candidate Agreement
  • Paying the one-time $350 program enrollment fee

Also, you should be prepared to take the CFA exam in English. The exam isn’t offered in any other language.

CFA Program Application Process

When ready, you can submit your application via the CFA Institute website. Initially, you need to create an account with the institute. However, once you complete that step, you can move forward with registering for the CFA program as well as the Level I exam.

Fortunately, the program application process is straightforward. You must submit your education and/or experience information as well as your passport information. Then, you need to review and sign the Professional Conduct Statement and Candidate Agreement.

As part of the application process, you’ll also be asked to enter your primary address so you can find the nearest testing center. Luckily, the CFA exam is offered at testing centers around the world. You’ll be asked to select a preferred test center at the time of application, but you can change the location at a later time.

Exam Fees

And of course, you’ll pay the program fee and the Level I exam fee. Previously, we mentioned that the program enrollment fee is $350. The Level I exam fee varies based on when you register.

For example, the early bird registration fee is $940 and the standard registration fee is $1,250. Not surprisingly, you’ll want to avoid the $250 re-scheduling fee if you need to switch to a later test date. Fees are payable by check, ACH, wire transfer, money order, postal order, or credit card.

Once you submit your application, you can expect a 2-3 day wait. If you don’t hear back from the CFA Institute after 3 days, be sure to contact them via email to get an update on your status. Obviously, you need to get the institute’s approval, but the acceptance email will also include your ticket to take the CFA exam.

Exam Registration Deadlines

As a side note, when registering for the CFA exam, be sure to pay attention to deadlines. You can only take the exams during specific time frames. The CFA Institute is offering the exams during the following windows in 2024:

  • Level 1: February 2024, May 2024, August 2024, November 2024
  • Level 2: February 2024, August 2024, November 2024
  • Level 3: May 2024 and August 2024

You want to avoid those late registration fees. Therefore, you should plan to register well ahead of time.

2. Take and Pass the CFA Exam

Clearly, you don’t have to wait until you have official approval from the CFA Institute to start your CFA exam prep. In fact, if you’re confident you’ll be accepted into the program, we recommend you begin your studies as soon as possible.

The CFA exam consists of 3 parts or levels. The exams become more difficult as you progress through them. Consequently, Level III is the toughest of them all.

CFA Exam Format and Curriculum

Each level of the CFA exam focuses on the same 10 topics. They are:

  1. Ethical and Professional Standards
  2. Quantitative Methods
  3. Economics
  4. Financial Reporting and Analysis
  5. Corporate Finance
  6. Equity Investments
  7. Fixed Income
  8. Derivatives
  9. Alternative Investments
  10. Portfolio Management and Wealth Planning

Then, each exam contains 17-18 study sessions. For each study session, you’ll be given assigned readings, learning outcome statements (LOS), and problem sets. The exam questions are then based on the curriculum for that level, with each exam question specifically based on 1 or more LOS.

Although the 3 levels are based on the same 10 topics, the format does differ somewhat between exams. To clarify, Level I consists of 240 multiple-choice questions (MCQs), while Level II includes 21 item set questions or “mini-cases”. Then, Level III is made up of MCQs, item set questions, and essay questions.

In all cases, the CFA exam is divided into a 3-hour morning session and a 3-hour afternoon session.

CFA Exam Grading

For both Level I and Level II, you’ll receive your exam results 60 days after you complete the exam. However, you’ll have to wait 90 days to receive your Level III results.

The minimum passing score can vary from exam to exam. But, the CFA Institute does give some insight into the average exam pass rates. For example, the latest pass rates averages from the last 10 years were:

  • 41% for Level I
  • 45% for Level II
  • 52% for Level III

CFA Exam Review Course

It bears repeating that the CFA exam is tough. These passing scores show us that much. As such, you can increase your chances of passing by acquiring every possible advantage. So, we strongly recommend investing in a CFA exam review course.

This type of review course can help you better prepare for the exam by providing guided lectures, practice exams, and more. You can learn more about the most popular CFA review courses in this assessment of the best CFA study materials. For example, AnalystPrep CFA Review is a top course with plenty of learning tools like video lectures, a question bank, mock exams, and access to experts via an ask-a-tutor service.

Then, once you find the best course for you, use these CFA course discounts to save on your preferred course.

3. Fulfill the Experience Requirement

At some point in your CFA journey, you’ll need to meet the CFA work experience requirement. This requirement translates into 4 years of relevant, full-time work experience. In this case, relevant experience means any of the following:

  • Evaluating or applying financial, economic, and/or statistical data as part of the investment decision-making process involving securities or similar investments
  • Supervising, directly or indirectly, persons who practice such activities
  • Teaching such activities

Note: if you initially used your work experience to qualify for the CPA program, you cannot use that experience to fulfill this requirement.

4. Become a CFA Institute Member

If you meet certain requirements, you can actually apply for a CFA Institute membership before or after you pass the Level III CFA exam. Therefore, you have flexibility when you decide to join the CFA Institute. But you do have to join before you can receive your charter.

If you choose to become a member during your studies, you can enjoy the perks of membership sooner rather than later. A few of these perks include:

  • Access to continuing education and professional development resources
  • Networking opportunities
  • Fast track to the Certificate in Investment Performance Measurement (CIPM) Program

Plus, when you apply for CFA Institute membership, you also gain entrance to your local CFA Society. Local membership gives you additional networking and development opportunities.

Member Application Process

The membership process for the CFA Institute is separate from the process for the CFA Program. In all, you must meet 4 requirements for membership:

  • Have a bachelor’s degree or equivalent education/work experience
  • Pass the Level I CFA exam, CIPM Program Level II exam, RBA Netherlands, or the self-administered Standards of Practice exam
  • Have 4 years of professional work experience in investment decision making
  • Provide 2-3 professional references

As you can see, many of the requirements for CFA Institute membership will naturally come during the course of the CFA program. For example, you need 4 years of relevant experience to earn the CFA designation.

However, the requirement for professional references is unique. What’s more, the CFA Institute uses the following criteria to determine if you need 2 or 3 references:

  • You need 2 references if one of those references is an active regular member of the CFA Society to which you’re applying
  • You need 3 references if none of your references is an active regular member of the CFA Society to which you’re applying

Of course, asking someone to act as a professional reference can be nerve-wracking. So, to help narrow down your choices, the CFA Institute prefers that you ask a work supervisor. However, you can ask others to provide this recommendation as well.

Importantly, your references must be able to accurately describe your investment decision-making experience. These individuals are asked to provide information about your work experience and professional character.

Potential CFA Eligibility Issues

The CFA Institute is not allowed to conduct business with residents from countries that are subject to certain sanctions. The institute will cancel applications received from candidates in these countries. Further, they will not refund the candidate’s program enrollment fee.

These countries include:

  • Crimea region of Ukraine
  • Cuba
  • North Korea

Candidates from Iran, Syria, and Sudan also face certain eligibility restrictions. Residents from these countries can enroll in a CFA Institute program pursuant to OFAC General License G (Iran),  OFAC License SY-2013-299619-1 (Syria), and OFAC General License No. 1A (Sudan).

For more details on eligibility, please read the rule from the Office of Foreign Asset Control.

More Help with Meeting the CFA Requirements

As mentioned, the CFA Institute maintains a low barrier to entry for the CFA program. Basically, you need to go to school for 4 years or work full-time for 4 years. After that, you’re qualified.

Having said that, the CFA program itself is clearly not easy. So, while the CFA Institute welcomes practically anyone to start the program, to finish with the charter, you have to work hard and gain serious relevant experience.

We’re here to help you navigate your way through the CFA program all the way to success. Our resources cover everything related to the CFA process, including tips to help you prepare for the Level I, Level II, and Level III exams. So, learn more about the process of becoming a CFA today.

CFA® and Chartered Financial Analyst are trademarks owned by CFA Institute.

About the Author Stephanie Ng

I am the author of How to Pass The CPA Exam (published by Wiley), and I also passed all 4 sections of the CPA Exam on my first try. Additionally, I have led webinars, such as for the Institute of Management Accountants, authored featured articles on websites like Going Concern and AccountingWeb, and I'm also the CFO for the charity New Sight. Finally, I have created other accounting certification websites to help mentor non-CPA candidates. I have already mentored thousands of CPA, CMA, CIA, EA, and CFA candidates, and I can help you too!

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