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Are you aspiring to enhance your career in finance or accounting but find yourself at a crossroads between the CFA and CPA certifications? In this era of specialized expertise, choosing the certification that best aligns with your career goals and interests is essential. To help you make an informed decision, The Princeton Review has conducted a comprehensive side-by-side comparison of the CFA and CPA certifications. Delve into the details of cost, duration, global recognition, work requirements, rigor, and more to understand the critical distinctions between these prestigious designations. Let's explore which path might be the right one for you!


Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA)

Certified Public Accountant (CPA)*


Most widely recognized designation for finance and investment.

Pinnacle designation for accounting.

Suitable Candidates:

Professionals aspiring to build a career in investment analysis, portfolio management, or research.

Professionals in public accounting, taxation, financial reporting, auditing, and advisory roles.

Education Requirement:

Bachelor’s degree (or equivalent)

Bachelor’s degree and 150 credit-hours of pre-licensure education (inclusive of bachelor’s degree)

Benchmarking & Accreditation:

Viewed as equivalent to a master's degree

Viewed as equivalent to undergraduate or master's degree .

Exam format:

3 exams, each 4.5 hours long: Level I (multiple choice), Level II (item-set multiple choice), Level III (essays and item-set multiple choice)

4 exams, each 4 hours long; (1) Auditing and Attestation (AUD), (2) Business Environment and Concepts (BEC), (3) Financial Accounting and Reporting (FAR), and (4) Regulation (REG)

Time commitment:

Three exams must be taken in order, with no time limit to completion.

All four parts must be completed within 18 months of passing the first exam.


Low barriers to entry - Undergraduate degree is the only requirement.

high barriers to entry - Undergraduate degree with minimum credit hours in accounting required.


About 190,000 globally , about 65% in USA.

About 700,000 globally , almost all in USA.


Estimated minimum 3,350 plus cost of study materials and prep services.

Estimated minimum $1,600 plus cost of study materials and prep services.

Global Recognition:

Recognized globally.

Recognized primarily in the US but gaining recognition around the world.

Work Requirement:

Minimum of 4,000 relevant professional experience over a minimum of three years.

2 years professional experience (in most states)

Continuing Education:

Optional participation in Continuing Professional Development (CPD) program to earn continuing education credits each year.

Required to fulfill Continuing Professional Education (CPE) requirements on an ongoing basis to keep an active license.

Median salary:

CFA charter holders in various roles earn salaries ranging from $77,000 for research analysts to $173,000 for C-level executives, according to PayScale data .

CPAs in various roles earn median salaries ranging from $69,000 for accountants and auditors to $151,000 for Chief Financial Officers (CFOs) , according to PayScale data .

*The information is for U.S. CPAs. CPAs in other countries are almost the same, but there's always some difference.

CFA vs CPA Result

The choice hinges on your career aspirations and the field in which you wish to excel. Suppose you aim to pursue a career in investment analysis, asset management, or research. In that case, the CFA designation offers unparalleled expertise in the world of finance. On the other hand, if your interests lie in accounting, taxation, auditing, or financial advisory services, becoming a CPA provides a solid foundation in accounting principles, ethics, and compliance.

Ultimately, the decision rests with you. Many end up doing both! Assess your strengths, interests, and long-term career objectives carefully to select the certification that will propel you toward success and fulfillment in your chosen profession. Whichever path you choose, know that the CFA and CPA certifications will open doors to exciting opportunities and advancement in the dynamic realms of finance and accounting.