Pros and cons of doing a CFA versus an MBA

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Should I do a CFA vs MBA?

One of the most common debates among aspiring finance professionals is whether to get a CFA vs MBA. Both are highly sought after, and both have a long list of successful alumni. There are, however, some very important differences to consider, depending on what your career goals are.

CFA vs MBA? Both are highly regarded finance accreditations that require a lot of hard work and can produce excellent career mobility.  In order to easily summarize the trade-offs between the two designations, we have created a table that outline the most important points for each one.

CFA vs MBA decision

CFA vs MBA – What are the differences between the programs?

See the summary table below to compare the two options – CFA vs MBA – and see which fits better with you and your personal objectives.

Length of time:
3-4 years
1-2 years
$50,000 - $180,000
High (equal)
Low to Ultra-High (variable)
Academic focus:
Portfolio management
Business management
CFA societies
Broad student/alumni networks
# of designation holders:
Pass rate:
Career benefit:
Technical knowledge
Connections & recruitment
Career paths:
-Equity research
-Investment management
-Investment banking
-Corporate development
-Private Equity

CFA vs MBA – Which one is right for you?

In summary, it’s really up to you and what your personal goals are as far as determining the right answer for yourself in the CFA vs MBA debate.


The CFA program costs less than an MBA and is more finance-specific and technically focused. It’s most suitable for people who are interested in equity research, and portfolio management. The prestige of having the charter is completely homogeneous, as there is only one standard. The program focuses more on technical skills and has little to no networking involved.


On the other hand, MBA programs have a high degree of variability, and their prestige is measured in the school you obtained it from.  It’s not really fair to ask, “is a CFA credential better than an MBA?”, when really the question has to be, “Is a Harvard MBA or a University of Phoenix MBA better than a CFA credential?”.  Of course, the answer is still subjective. The school from which you received your MBA matters a lot. The top MBA schools include Harvard, Stanford, and the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania.

The MBA is better suited to people who are more interested in general management and executive leadership.  MBA career paths tend to be more popular with people in investment banking, private equity, and corporate development.

MBA programs typically include a lot of networking, which is one of their main benefits.

Compare more designations

Below is a helpful summary table of more designations, beyond just CFA vs MBA, for easy reference.

Number of Levels311222
Costs$2,550 to $3,450$1,000 to $3,000$497$3,000$2,000$1,500
Exam Pass Rate30-50%40-50%70%70%67%40-50%
Content FocusPortfolio Management, InvestmentsFinancial Reporting, AuditFinancial Modeling, ValuationReal Assets, Alternative InvestmentsFinancial PlanningFinancial Risk Management
Career ApplicationAll EncompassingAccounting and FinanceAll EncompassingAsset ManagementRetail and Wealth ManagementRisk Management
Study Time (hrs)300-350 per examVaries120-200 total200 per examVaries200-300 per exam
Completion Time3-5 years2.5 - 5 years<1 year1-2 years4 years<1 year
Work Experience4 years1 yearNone1 year3 years2 years

Additional resources

This has been CFI’s guide to compare the CFA vs MBA.  To compare more designations and degrees, explore our additional guides below:

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