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CFA or MBA? 11 Facts to Help You Decide

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CFA or MBA? 11 Facts to Help You Decide

After years of financial work, most financial practitioners would schedule a self-improvement plan, especially those who would like to start their own businesses. The common question is that whether one should take a CFA test or get an MBA degree for career development. Indeed this is a big decision.

The MBA, short for Master of Business Administration, covers various areas of business such as accounting, finance, marketing, human resources, and operations in a manner most relevant to management analysis and strategy. On the other hand, CFA, short for Chartered Financial Analyst, covers special, specified skills and concepts in asset management, private wealth management, equity research, and ratings advisories in financial institutions.

An MBA could enlarge your social network and widen career choices, but a CFA gives you accuracy and rigor in financial areas. You may need to spend years of full-time study and finish the graduation thesis for an MBA, but you may spend even more years of hard studying to pass three exams before you could get the CFA charter certificate.

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Below are 11 factors that might help you decide which one you should get.

1. Cost

It should be noted that an MBA degree from any top university is a high-cost and expensive self-enhancement project. The total all-in cost (tuition fees, modest living expenses, forgone salaries, etc.) of a 2-year top MBA program is around $275k to $325k. The cost of a CFA is much lower, at about $1,000 to 1,500 per level, less than $8,500 (on average) for all three level tests if you take part in additional prep classes.

2. Time

If you want to get a MBA certificate, you need to spend two years of full-time study. That means if you’re not brave enough to quit your job and focus on the MBA degree, it would be a dilemma indeed. However, the CFA would cost at least 250 hours of self-guided study before you can sit the six-hour exam. You could make the CFA program study as part-time task.

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3. Content

The purpose of these two certifications is obviously different, therefore the content is of course different. Getting an MBA certificate means you’re going to get comprehensive and all-inclusive training and knowledge in management analysis and strategy. MBA covers various courses like accounting, finance, marketing, and human resources, while CFA program will deliver you special, specified skills, and concepts on asset finance exclusively.

4. Application procedure

To apply for an MBA program, you need to prepare a lot of things, including an online application, recommendation letters, resume, admission essays, university transcripts, GMAT or GRE score reports, English language proficiency, etc. For the CFA, you need an international travel passport. Also, you need to meet one of these 3 requirements for CFA application: four years of professional work experience (does not have to be investment related), a bachelor’s (or equivalent) degree, or be in the final year of your bachelor’s degree program.

5. Teamwork

Task requirements differ from each other. Unlike the MBA requires group tasks, the CFA has no teamwork requirement. It’s totally upon your own schedule. If you can, you could study and finish all CFA programs individually.

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6. Pass rate

Only 37% of CFA test takers passed December 2012’s CFA Level I exam. In June 2012, 38% passed Level I, 42% passed Level II and 52% passed Level III. On an average, 60% would fail in CFA test, with even low pass rate across total 3 levels. On the other hand, 95% of Harvard MBA test takers could pass the MBA test.

7. Job Prospects

With MBA degree, you get broader job prospects and wide career choices. But with a CFA certificate, since it delivers specific, specialized knowledge in finance industry, your career choices are greatly narrowed but financial career could be greatly sharpened and improved to another level. “An MBA can take you into all sorts of industries,” said Skiddy von Stade, CEO of financial recruiting firm OneWire. “A CFA is for a stock picker that really wants to be an analyst. The CFA carries a lot of weight with asset managers. It’s an analytically driven test.” Outside of finance, the CFA is of little use, while the MBA is more widely recognized.

8. Benefit/Compensation

It’s important to know the return of CFA and MBA. According to the calculation from PayScale, a compensation research firm, the compensation differs a lot. Median pays of 0-5 years of experience are $72,000, $87,000, $57,000 and $63,000 respectively for people that hold a CFA and no MBA, CFA and MBA, MBA and no CFA, and an MBA in finance and no CFA. These differences stay constant for CFA and MBA holders of 5-10 years of experience.

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9. Learning

Some CFA certificate holders said that MBA programs teach things they could learn from college class, while CFA programs deliver knowledge that couldn’t be learned from college.

10. Partnering relationships

CFA Institute has started partnering relationships with multiple business schools into their class offerings. Some exam materials are even delivered in these courses. This would surely result in reduction of CFA test difficulty. More students are now expected to take Level I of the CFA exam directly after graduation.

11. Achievement

The founder of the CFA Institute is Benjamin Graham, one of the most legendary and valuable investors. With the profound knowledge gained from CFA tests… who knows? You could become the next Benjamin Graham. In contrast the broad coverage of MBA makes it becomes hard to become a great master.

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Featured photo credit: FGV via flickr.com

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