In order to earn a CFA charterholder one needs to complete the 4 years of qualified, professional work experience in addition to passing the 3 levels of CFA exam. However you can apply for the different levels of CFA and clear them without completing the 4 years of work experience. But you will get the CFA charterholder once you complete the two above mentioned criteria.
Now the question comes, what is the qualified work experience? Well as per the quidlines provided by the CFA institute acceptable work experience includes activities that consist to a significant extent of collecting, evaluating, or applying financial, economic, or statistical data (as appropriate) as part of the investment decision-making process; or supervising, directly or indirectly, persons who practice such activities; or the teaching of such activities. The investment decision-making process is the professional practice of financial analysis, investment management, securities analysis, or other similar activities.
In work experience internships don’t count. Nor does investing your own money.
I have seen many people who straight after their graduation pursue CFA along with regular job. So they can accrue the required work experience while clearing the different levels of CFA.
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To know about the CFA, read my earlier blogs: