Thomas Gatley, Tsinghua University School of Economics & Management MBA and CFA…a happy marriage?

In my room alone over 900 candidates sat hunched over tiny folding desks, intently filling in ovals on the answer paper corresponding to what they desperately hoped were the correct answers.I’m pretty sure that there were at least another couple of rooms similarly occupied in the gigantic China National Convention Centre, a stone’s throw from the Bird’s Nest in Beijing’s once much-lauded Olympic Green.

Of these thousands of candidates, according to the officially published pass rate on the CFA Institute website, fewer than 40 per cent (taking level 1, the rate increases for the second and third exams) will receive happy news in August; the lowest pass rate by far for any exam I have sat thus far. So fingers crossed…

Of my 120 MBA colleagues, I think around 20 are taking a CFA exam this summer along with me; most of whom are Chinese – the Tsinghua MBA is traditionally a springboard into finance so this high proportion is not surprising.

The real kicker here is the level of effort it took me (and I presume my Chinese colleagues) to get comfortably well prepared for this exam. As the low pass rate suggests, it is no pushover. The questions can be drawn from material contained in six, 600-page textbooks – a formidable amount to absorb.

For me, this curriculum meshed very nicely with the corporate finance, accounting and theory of investment course on the MBA, covering all the same basic concepts and filling in a lot of extra detail that the core courses were simply too time-constrained (and pitched at a common-denominator level) to delve into. But it took a lot of time and I would say that if you want to give both the time and effort they deserve, a dual MBA/CFA course of study will require a high level of commitment and a significant sacrifice of evenings and weekends.

I am sure that the same is true for any other high-quality qualification pursued alongside an MBA. If you’re still up for it though, good for you and best of luck!