MBA Admissions Myths Destroyed: The CFA Is a Liability

The Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) designation—a grueling, three-part financial program that hundreds of thousands of people pursue each year—covers many of the subjects included in a “typical” first-year MBA curriculum. A CFA aspirant must study basic economics, accounting, finance, and quantitative analysis, areas that echo aspects of many first-year MBA core curricula. So, could working toward the CFA designation negatively affect an MBA applicant’s candidacy by suggesting that he/she already has the tools an MBA education would provide and that additional studies would therefore be superfluous? Definitely not!

In fact, pursuing the CFA designation reflects positively on an applicant in that the effort emphasizes his/her ability to manage a rigorous MBA curriculum and establishes the candidate as a self-starter and a disciplined individual, given that CFA exam preparation is intense and requires several months of sustained and extensive study for each level. Furthermore, from an admissions perspective, admissions officers want to know that they are admitting individuals who are employable; the CFA charter holder has an advantage in the post-MBA recruiting world, because employers can point to the designation as a differentiator among otherwise comparable applicants.

The CFA exam/program can also be a useful marketing tool for candidates to help them during the admissions process. Because the CFA narrowly focuses on financial tools, it does not cover a myriad of other subjects the MBA does address and that are useful to financial professionals, including marketing, operations, international business, human resource management, and entrepreneurship. The CFA is an independent and largely quantitative program and thus cannot provide the elements a business school program offers through discussion, debate, and measuring qualitative information in decision making.

Together, the CFA designation and the MBA degree constitute a powerful one-two punch that can be advantageous in landing that coveted post-MBA position.

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