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Is CFA Level 1 worth it when you're a student?

The CFA® program isn’t what it once was. But that doesn’t mean that people aren’t pursuing the CFA charter – and those people are getting younger and younger.

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But is the CFA program for you, young student? Maybe. Maybe not. To help you find out, we spoke to some students currently pursuing their Level I exam to see what they saw as the upsides and downsides of pursuing the charter whilst in school.

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Downsides to doing the CFA Level 1 exams as a student

The downside of doing Level I CFA exam is somewhat obvious: the time it occupies. “Sometimes it gets stressful,” one student said. “However, if you have some basic knowledge or have done some related internships, the exam will be easier for you.” Others agreed that practical, on-the-job knowledge was a significant assisting factor in understanding the CFA program’s concepts.

One student mentioned specifically that going through extensive tutoring as a student (outside of university and secondary school studies) was excellent preparation for the Level I CFA exam and helped to balance the workloads from both that exam and university studies.

For a variety of reasons – including discounts for students, scholarships, and perceived worthy investment - the literal, monetary cost of the CFA was not a concern to the students we asked.

Benefits of doing the CFA Level 1 exams as a student

The real benefits, however, might be more nebulous. “Old school finance types like seeing people that did it like them,” one student said, and another mentioned that having "CFA Level I Candidate" on your CV demonstrated “passion” as well as professional knowledge of finance. It also helped answer technical questions during a bank interview phase.

The most tangible benefit is standardization. One student from India now studying in the UK mentioned that Western financial institutions didn’t take his Indian qualifications as seriously as Western-issued ones, and the CFA program was an opportunity to level the playing field. 

Students can enroll in the last 23 months of their education, an expansion of the previous 11 months allowed. Now, per CFA Institute, around 1 in 5 CFA Level I candidates are undergraduates at the time of their registration.

The CFA charter has lost a lot of its luster in recent years. When pass rates cratered during the pandemic, some banks, such as German privately-owned bank Berenberg, made being a CFA charterholder optional for its staff. Changes introduced last year - including specialized pathways for charterholders, among others – also proved unpopular with candidates.

Have a confidential story, tip, or comment you’d like to share? Contact: +44 7537 182250 (SMS, Whatsapp or voicemail). Telegram: @SarahButcher. Click here to fill in our anonymous form, or email Signal also available.

Bear with us if you leave a comment at the bottom of this article: all our comments are moderated by human beings. Sometimes these humans might be asleep, or away from their desks, so it may take a while for your comment to appear. Eventually it will – unless it’s offensive or libelous (in which case it won’t.)

AUTHORZeno Toulon

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