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CFA® vs MBA

Pros and cons of doing a CFA versus an MBA

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.

 

 CFA®
MBA
Length of time:
3-4 years
1-2 years
Cost:
~$5,000
$50,000 - $180,000
Prestige:
High (equal)
Low to Ultra-High (variable)
Academic focus:
Portfolio management
Business management
Networking:
CFA societies
Broad student/alumni networks
# of designation holders:
120,000+
Millions+
Pass rate:
~50%
~85%
Career benefit:
Technical knowledge
Connections & recruitment
Career paths:
-Equity research
-Investment management
-FP&A
-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.

 

CFA vs MBA – CFA

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.

 

CFA vs MBA – MBA

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.

 

 CFA®CPA®CAIA®CFP®FRM®FMVA™
Number of Levels312221
Costs$4,000 to $5,000$1,000 to $3,000$3,000$2,000$1,500$497
Exam Pass Rate30-50%40-50%70%67%40-50%70%
Content FocusPortfolio Management, InvestmentsFinancial Reporting, AuditReal Assets, Alternative InvestmentsFinancial PlanningFinancial Risk ManagementFinancial Modeling, Valuation
Career ApplicationAll EncompassingAccounting and FinanceAsset ManagementRetail and Wealth ManagementRisk ManagementAll Encompassing
Study Time (hrs)300 - 350 per examVaries200 per examVaries200 - 300 per exam100 - 200 total
Completion Time3-5 years2.5 - 51-2 years4 years<1 year<1 year
Work Experience4 years1 year1 year3 years2 yearsn/a

 

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:

  • Financial modeling guide
  • Valuation methods
  • Is an MBA worth it?
  • Financial Modeling and Valuation Analyst (FMVA)

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