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Should you take the CFA® Program exam while working? Only if you’re one of these two types of people

In the interest of fairness, this week we’re exploring the times when it might actually be better to take the exams as a working adult.

In general, two types of people tend to fare better at the exam if they take the exam as a working adult, not a student.

If you find that fall under these categories, then taking the papers as an adult might give you better odds of getting that pass.


#1. Enjoying uni life is of utmost priority - and you’ll have major regrets if you don’t.

Some people claim university is the best time of a person’s life: you’re young, carefree, and just about to enter the peak of your life.

For some people, the main priority of attending university (apart from getting a degree, of course) is to experience all that university life has to offer, in terms of extracurricular activities, exchange programmes, hostel life, and socialising.

Since the exam requires at least 300 hours of study, pouring this time into revising means you’ll have to give up many of these activities, as well as other important activities like networking and job hunting. Many final-year students also prioritise getting a job before getting their CFA® charter (although having an exam pass does, conversely, increase you chances of getting hired and a higher salary.)

You have to be honest with yourself here: would you end up feeling major regret for the rest of your life if you didn’t get to do many of these things at uni?

Since being an undergraduate only happens once in a lifetime, it’s perfectly understandable to prioritise enjoying this period to the fullest, especially when faced with the prospect of decades of work after graduation.

An article from 300hours even encourages people not to think of this as a 'soft' reason to delay taking the exams - it’s perfectly ok to do so, as long as you’re comfortable with getting the charter later than someone who started earlier than you.


#2: You don't desperately need a promotion in your early career/aren't planning to start a family soon.

Some people find studying for the exams much easier when they’re working, since they don't have a bunch of other subjects they need to study for as well. This means they can focus on revising the curriculum.

In addition, those working in finance-related roles may find that their work experience helps with studying for the exam, as it is easier to relate what they’re studying to what they see in real life.

Plus, it’s common for employees of finance companies to be taking the CFA Program exam at the early stages, meaning you won’t be alone in preparing for the exams, and can derive motivation or support from your colleagues in the same situation.

However, at the end of the day, studying will still take time - specifically, at least 300 hours - meaning you’ll have very little time for other commitments, especially big tasks like starting a family, getting married, or buying and moving into a new house.

In addition, your self-study hours may also limit the time you have available for special projects or other opportunities at work, meaning you might end up missing chances for promotion.

Still, if you find that these sacrifices are worth it for not having to study additional material while in university, you should find it much more comfortable time-wise to begin your CFA® Program exam journey during working life.

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