MSF vs CFAFollowing the financial crisis of 2008, prominent employers down to small investment houses have placed a greater emphasis on advanced education to meet the needs of their organization.  Companies routinely sort through their applicant pool looking for individuals who have demonstrated a commitment to the industry by elevating their academic credentials beyond a four year bachelor’s degree.

As hiring organizations place a greater emphasis on how quickly an individual can make a meaningful contribution in their new position, the expectations are that employees come through the doors on day one armed with the knowledge and skills necessary to perform.

The days of on-the-job-training have passed as the employment marketplace for finance positions has become more competitive and employer expectations have increased.

For an individual who is looking to accelerate their career within the finance industry the question that is now often debated is, “Should I get a CFA or a MSF?”

Which One is Best for You?

The CFA vs. MSF debate is one that requires a finance professional to take an honest assessment of their current employment situation, along with an understanding of their career objectives. The CFA and MSF can be terrific options for those that desire greater responsibilities within the workplace, but they often lead to different types of career opportunities.  The CFA and MSF do share some similarities, however, it is their significant differences that should dictate which is a better fit for a particular individual.

Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA)

The Chartered Financial Analyst credential is a highly regarded investment management designation that is recognized globally for its real-world applications. The CFA Institute boasts that there are 31,000 firms worldwide that recognize the CFA when making hiring and promotion decisions.1  The greatest concentration of career opportunities for CFA charter holders is in Portfolio Management and Research Analysis.1  Other potential careers include consulting, financial advising and risk management.

To better understand if the CFA is right for you let’s take a look at the top reasons to get a CFA.

  1. The CFA is Self-Paced– Individuals work through the material at their convenience in preparation of taking the CFA exam at designated times during the year (June or December depending on the Level). There are no classes to attend or course work to turn in so you are free to work through the material at your convenience in order to prepare for your exam.
  2. No Admissions Standards – CFA candidates are not scrutinized by an admissions committee when enrolling in the CFA program. If your undergraduate record lacks the grades necessary to be accepted into a highly regarded graduate program the CFA may be your best option to separate yourself from some of your peers. Candidates simply need to meet a minimum standard of holding a bachelor’s degree or a combination of work experience and university education that adds up to four years in order to sit for the CFA exam.
  3. The CFA is Inexpensive– Compared to a full Master’s degree like a MSF the CFA is comparatively inexpensive. Including the program enrollment fee, test fees and CFA test prep material the CFA designation can cost less than $10,000.
  4. Specific Curriculum– The curriculum for the CFA is designed to produce ethical and effective financial decision makers. The focus of the test helps prepare those for a career in investment management.
  5. Employer Recognition– Worldwide some of the most influential employers actively seek out CFA charter holders to fill positions that require advanced financial skills.

Master of Science in Finance (MSF)

Obtaining a MSF degree demonstrates to employers that you have made a significant commitment to the field of finance.  Employers continue to place more-and-more emphasis on locating and promoting employees who have advanced specialized skills.  A MSF degree will give you the skills needed to be effective in a wide range of positions from Financial Analyst to Chief Financial Officer.

To better understand if a MSF is right for you let’s take a look at the top reasons to get a MSF.

  1. Networking Opportunities– Earning a MSF degree is a great opportunity to expand your professional network. Studying alongside other students who are working at different companies, at different stages of their career, but still sharing your same passion for finance can be a tremendous benefit as you look at advancing your career in the future. Most highly regarded universities have a passionate alumni base that is active in assisting other alumni. The quality of your network can have a significant impact on your ability to attain your career goals.
  2. Expand beyond Investments– A MSF allows students to study advanced financial skills that are outside of just investment management that the CFA mainly focuses on. MSF students are given the opportunity to acquire advanced skills related to investment banking, commercial banking, corporate finance and risk management.  These advanced skillsets allows for a wider range of career opportunities in the future.
  3. Leadership Roles-An advanced degree is often a requirement for leadership positions at many companies. Those holding a graduate degree in finance are well positioned to achieve top leadership positions. Their advanced skills have both the depth and width that employers look for when filling leadership positions.
  4. Career Services– Earning a MSF degree will position individuals to take advantage of the university’s career services office. Many universities have close relationships with employers both locally and nationally. As a graduate of their MSF program you may have the opportunity to leverage those relationships to find your dream job.
  5. The Gold Standard-For the field of finance there is no better option to show your commitment to the field and your willingness to become a versatile subject matter expert than by earning your MSF degree from a highly regarded university.

Obtaining the CFA designation or a MSF degree can be a tremendous way to accelerate your career in the field of finance.  The CFA offers lower barriers of entry with its lack of admissions requirements and lower costs, while providing a specific curriculum best suited for those that are looking at preparing for meaningful careers in investment management.

While the barrier to entry is low, earning your CFA designation is no small feat. Roughly 1 in 5 candidates that sign up for the Level 1 exam actually end up earning their CFA designation. Conversely, a MSF degree will require students to subject themselves to a graduate admissions review committee and make a significant financial investment in their education.

The upside of earning a MSF degree may be greater, especially from a top tier school, as the skills acquired in a MSF program translate across various aspects of finance and are the ones most sought after when filling larger leadership positions.

The Top 7 Reasons to Start your MSF Degree

If you are debating between obtaining the CFA vs MSF degree, take an inventory of where your career is right now, where you hope to be in a few years and decide which vehicle is most appropriate for you to achieve your career objectives. You may even find that you fall into a growing segment of the finance industry that plans on getting both their CFA designation and their MSF degree.

Interesting in an Online MSF program? Click here for more information about attaining an Online MSF degree.

How to pay for your online MSF degree? Click here.

Check out these other CFA related articles:

What you need to know about the three changes if CFA 2017 Exam

3 Jobs You’ll Need the CFA For


CFA Exam Strikes Again

Crunch Time for CFA Candidates



The CFA vs MSF Debate
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The CFA vs MSF Debate
The CFA vs MSF debate is one that requires a finance professional to take an honest assessment of their current employment situation.
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