Deciding if you should write CFA level one as a UW Economics student

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My name is Alex.  I am in my fourth year of the Biotechnology & Economics program and current President of the UW Economics Society.  When we first launched this website, we envisioned it as a content hub for useful information for Economics students as well as Economics enthusiasts here at UW.  In the future, you can expect more great content from our amazing Academic team (team features coming soon) which will hopefully be interesting for you.  I just want to start things off by writing about a topic I think many students are curious about and that is writing the infamous CFA level one exam.

When I was deciding whether to enroll in the program, these were some of the things I considered…

  1. Is it worth it to write? Will it help me get a job in capital markets?

You’ve probably heard so many different opinions on how best to get into Capital Markets, whether it’s networking, getting insanely high marks, being the son/daughter of a managing director… etc… but I think for Econ students specifically, it really can’t hurt to write the exam.  When you’re in that capital markets interview, they’re really looking for how interested you are.  By spending approximately 3-5 months studying for one exam really shows you’re a dedicated person and willing to learn.  Even if you’re in the Finance specialization, the level of immersion into Finance is not going to be as deep as other Finance specific programs on campus.  Due to the broad scope of Economics, employers may question if you’re actually committed to this field.  So besides showing employers you have some kind of aptitude in finance, I think its really good for conveying that interest in Capital Markets.  It definitely doesn’t guarantee you a job but it will be a strong asset.

  1. I heard the pass rate is around 44%, do I have enough of a background to write this exam?

The CFA exams are open to anyone to write.  Econ only makes up 10% of the marks and you’ll see that the Econ covered on the exam is not exactly what you’ll cover in school so you definitely can’t rely only on that.  In terms of difficulty, the first level is not too difficult.  The level one exam covers about 5 courses worth of material and if put in adequate time, you’ll be fine.  Most people fail because they don’t take it seriously and don’t put in that study time (~300 hours).  There’s also people who just wanted to try it.  In summary, don’t get discouraged, if you’re smart enough to be in UW, you’re smart enough to write this exam.

  1. Will passing level one help with graduate school admissions?

I’ve gotten mixed answers on this.  For U of T’s Masters in Financial Economics and Laurier’s MBA Co-op program, it is an asset.  For schools like LSE, they don’t view it as a plus.  I think it boils down to if your program is more research focused or applied.  Also, some schools accept a CFA level one pass as a replacement for the GRE/GMAT requirement so make sure to ask if that is true for the program you’re interested in.

  1. Should I study during a school term?

I studied during a Co-op term and that’s probably the most optimal strategy.  If you can’t arrange it that way, I’d suggest taking one or two less course(s) so that you have enough time.  Also, try to schedule your Finance courses at about the same time, most notably ECON371, 372 and try to pick up an accounting course.

  1. Are the Accounting and Quantitative sections going to be too difficult?

The accounting I found to be fairly challenging just because it’s a very detail oriented section (being ambiguous to steer clear of any potential code of conduct violations) .  The quantitative section is actually pretty easy and similar to stuff you’d see in ECON221.

Those are all the questions I could think of now but if you have any more questions, feel free to email me at q27lin@uwaterloo.ca and I’ll try to help however I can.  If you’d like us to cover a specific topic in future posts, please reach out to us at econsoc@uwaterloo.ca.  Hope this was helpful!

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I am in my fourth year of the Biotechnology & Economics program looking to purse a career in financial economics. I've completed the CSC and passed the CFA level one exam. My co-op experiences range from business analysis to economic research. I love meeting new people so feel free to chat with me at any time!
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