CFA and Business School

I’ve been reading a few articles about how having the CFA charter doesn’t necessarily help you get into a top tier business school? Is this true? Why is this? Does it make you “over-qualified?”

I don’t think you get rejected by a top B-School because you are over-qualified. I believe that the admissions committee has a whole long list of criteria to judge you holistically (i.e. leadership, organizational skills etc) so grades and professional qualifications are only 1 part of the equation. I don’t profess to know a lot about this though, so perhaps the experts can give better advice. How Schools Evaluate Your Application There are all kinds of stories and myths about what the “trick” is to getting into business school. The reality is that there is no trick. Admissions professionals work to fill a limited number of spaces by making the best possible selections from among a large pool of applicants. It comes down to a pretty simple equation of supply (spaces in the class) and demand (applicants). It is therefore in your best interest to articulate your goals as they relate to a particular program’s strengths, limitations, content, and culture. Meeting a school’s minimum qualifications doesn’t guarantee that you’ll be admitted. Schools will use such factors as academic record, recommendations, and work experience to judge your potential for success in a program relative to the overall applicant pool: Schools will use your GMAT scores to predict how well you will do academically in their core curriculum. They will use to your work experience, extracurricular activity, and letters of recommendation to help them gauge your professional promise. Interviews and essays will help schools to determine why you want to earn a degree and how you will use it in the future. These parts of the application will also help schools learn about your communication skills. Reviews Are Subjective and Holistic Admissions officers are humans, not machines, which means they have the ability to take in all the information applicants supply and make critical judgments about what is most important. They can decide the relative importance of each part of an application, depending on each candidate’s total experience. For example, if you have limited work experience, your academic credentials may assume greater importance. Conversely, if you have been out of school for a long time, your undergraduate record may be less important than your current job responsibilities. So the worst thing you can do is write your application to some imagined formula that you think will guarantee you admission. You have to be your own unique self in your application. There is a program out there that is right for you, and the best way to achieve the right fit between you and a school is to represent yourself openly and honestly in your application.

The business schools select based on your potential to become a highly successful, rich, and preferrably well recognized figure in the business world … or as close to that as possible. They can then collect large donations from you and use the association with your name to boost their brand equity. Obv, given that this is easily their #1 criteria, there is no such thing as overqualified.

I’ve read somewhere that schools like to accept ppl who “don’t really need it” into their programs. Sounds funny but its a succinct way of putting it and in a weird way it makes sense. You want to show you are dedicated to the idea, but you should present yourself in a light that shows adcom that you are already well on your way to success.

akanska Wrote: ------------------------------------------------------- > I’ve read somewhere that schools like to accept > ppl who “don’t really need it” into their > programs. Sounds funny but its a succinct way of > putting it and in a weird way it makes sense. You > want to show you are dedicated to the idea, but > you should present yourself in a light that shows > adcom that you are already well on your way to > success. Agreed – definitely have heard this before. I guess these people do better their earnings potential with an MBA, but the point is that they would have been professionally successful without an MBA anyway…which is also exactly the reason why they are believed to be most qualified for those programs

akanska Wrote: ------------------------------------------------------- > I’ve read somewhere that schools like to accept > ppl who “don’t really need it” into their > programs. Sounds funny but its a succinct way of > putting it and in a weird way it makes sense. You > want to show you are dedicated to the idea, but > you should present yourself in a light that shows > adcom that you are already well on your way to > success. To some extend this might be true. I think it is kind of like - hey well you have a great car here, we can be your ‘supercharger’ and get you where you are going faster. Or in terms of a company, you have a great business plan / strategy and if you ‘acquire’ an MBA, it will ‘speed up your flywheel’. Just like thems said above, they base it on potential. They don’t have a lot of interest giving an Ivy MBA to someone with little potential.

I have a CFA and I’m at a top 10 b-school. I think all things equal, the CFA helps with admissions, but not significantly. Why? 1) The nature of the work needed to get the CFA doesn’t really carry over to MBA stuff. MBA adcoms value teamwork, leadership, and getting off your butt and making a difference. The CFA is none of these things–it will be very hard to include a story about getting your CFA in the application essay questions. 2) The type of employers that hire MBA’s don’t especially value a CFA. The companies coming on campus are mainly consulting, investment banking, CPG, tech, and various big corporations. They don’t care about the CFA. In finance, VC and PE don’t seem to care at all, and with HF, it’s hit or miss, depending on the strategy and the partners’ backgrounds (ie, if they have CFAs). Who loves it: mutual funds, and they do come to recruit, so not all hope is lost. 3) The underlying skills a CFA gives you aren’t especially unique. 100% of the kids here have good quant skills. You wouldn’t believe how many engineers (of all stripes) go to b-school. Also, you can take electives that cover a decent chunk of the CFA material. That said, I’m real glad I have a CFA. It’s made getting through the finance and accounting coursework a breeze, and it hasn’t been too difficult getting internships at smaller hedge funds and mutual funds, despite my mediocre background. It’s hard as hell to get a CFA, so I think we overvalue it–I’m just trying to put it in perspective.

I can certainly see the CFA charter helping your application. But if you’re applying to a “Top Tier” B-School, then you’ll have to have much more to offer I would think. Willy

having the charter is probably more valuable at second tier schools and below. you’d really be able to distinguish yourself from everyone else.

Thanks guys…I’m currently in my second year out of school with dual BS degrees in finance and psychology - with a 3.7 GPA. I work at a newly minted “bank holding company”, so I’m trying to build experience - however I’m in back office. I have some leadership experiences, especially working with youth, but nothing long term. If I build that up, get my CFA, and get really good GMAT scores, I’m hoping that this will translate well into a top business school, but I’m not really sure about my chances. I think I’ve been over-emphasizing the CFA and how it parlays into the real world. naturallight - do you think you could help me understand the process more via an e-mail?

Naturallight - Do you have any suggestions for someone who is a couple years out of applying to b-school? What kind of volunteer, stuff do do outside of work… i.e - What should I being doing to show that I am “getting off my butt and making a difference” Thanks

Dennis - I am in a very similar situation. Let me know if you hear from naturallight, Id also like to hear what he has to say. Maybe we could also syns up and share some pointers. Thanks

yes, will do. good luck with your endeavors.

to add to the discourse above I think the CFA will add value depending on one’s background. I think (this is my own inference from various sources) that if your background is already strong in CFA-covered topics (ie accounting/ quant undergrad with corp finance experience) the marginal value added will be less than someone who needs to prove abilities in those areas. For one who holds a poli-sci degree from a liberal arts college, the designation may prove a bit more helpful as it eases doubts about their capabilities in these areas.

yeah, in terms of what you can be doing now, it’s really different for everyone. In general, it’s better to focus your efforts and move into a position of leadership rather than trying to do 15 different things at once. The adcoms are smart too, they know that someone working a ton of hours isn’t going to have a lot of time to do other stuff. But they want interesting people, and if all you do with your life is work (and study for the CFA), you might need to show how you are an interesting person. I would recommend going to the MBA websites now and downloading the applications. Take a look at the essay questions, and if there’s a question that’s tough for you to answer, you can direct your efforts now to shoring up that weakness. you can email with more questions at

  • How to Get into the Top MBA Programs by Montauk - 65 Successful Harvard Business School Application Essays, Two good books to pick up. The first has a plan if you are a few years ahead of the game and are seeking ways to improve an application a few years down the road.

I guess the CFA probably helps if you don’t have something else quantitative in your application but that’s sort of an oxymoron since most charterholder’s profiles don’t scream “poet!” I was fortunate to be accepted into two top ten schools and, while my charter didn’t hurt, I don’t think it made that much of a difference. I think I spent maybe half a sentence on it in my application and even then in the context of another point. I would focus on specific and “auditable” ways in which you differentiated yourself throughout your work experience or extracurriculars and then ensure your recommenders confirm this.

Thank you guys for all the help! I don’t plan to go back to business school until I get my charter - Level III candidate, then even if I pass, I still need two more years of experience. So I guess I wouldn’t consider until I was 25 at the earliest. I just want to make sure I do everything possible to give myself a fighting chance. Again thanks for the advice. It is VERY useful.