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Before you can sit for the CFP certification exam, you must complete college or university-level coursework through a program that has registered with the CFP board. The courses focus on a range of financial planning topics and must be completed in addition to the separate education requirement that you hold a bachelor’s degree or higher from an accredited university or college. The degree requirement can be completed after passing the CFP exam, however.

In general, the course work in a certificate-level program can be completed in 18 to 24 months.

The CFP® Certification Examination registration must be accompanied with documentation verifying your qualification. You can view the acceptable qualifying documentation here.

Outline of CFP Courses & Capstone

The courses required by the CFP board cover major personal financial planning topics, including:

General principles of financial planning
Insurance planning
Investment planning
Income tax planning
Retirement planning
Estate planning
Interpersonal communication
Professional conduct and fiduciary responsibility

In addition, there is a required financial plan development course, or a capstone course, that must be completed at the end of this program of study. This course is designed to enhance the knowledge, skills, and abilities of CFP candidates and requires them to demonstrate their ability to deliver professional and competent financial planning services.

All of the personal financial planning topics (also know as “The Principal Topics”) in the CFP certification coursework are the result of the CFP Board’s most recent Job Analysis Study, completed in 2015.

Completing Your CFP Coursework

There are several methods for meeting the education coursework requirement for CFP® certification:

Complete a CFP Board-Registered Program, many of which are available online. You can search registered CFP programs by state and degree type on the CFP Board website. You can complete your courses through a single program or multiple ones.
Hold a specific academic degree or professional accounting credential accepted by CFP Board and then complete a capstone course registered with CFP Board. This is know as achieving “Challenge Status” (see below).
Classes taken previously may qualify for part of the education coursework requirement. The CFP Board will review a candidate’s transcripts to determine whether certain courses can be waived.

CFP Board has reviewed the courses and programs at each registered institution to ensure they provide the core knowledge needed to practice personal financial planning. The curriculum must be the equivalent of at least 18 semester credit hours. However, the courses may be presented under a variety of titles.

Some programs include specialized courses or a review course to prepare candidates for the CFP exam. Each program also has the individual authority to waive students out of courses in accordance with its policy. Find a registered program on the CFP board website.

CFP “Challenge Status”

The CFP Board accepts specific academic degrees and professional credentials in place of the education coursework requirement for CFP certification. These include:

Ph.D. in business or economics from accredited U.S. program
Doctor of Business Administration from accredited U.S. program
Licensed attorney (not required to be active)
Licensed Certified Public Accountant (CPA)
Chartered Financial Consultant (ChFC)
Chartered Life Underwriter (CLU)
Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA®)
CFP certification from a Financial Planning Standards Board Ltd. (FPSB) Affiliate outside the U.S.

Candidates that hold one of these degrees or designations can apply for the CFP exam after completing a capstone course with a CFP Board-registered program.