If you’re interested in becoming a certified financial planner, you’ll first need to pass the CFP exam. There’s a certain amount of planning and preparation that goes into it, including completing necessary coursework through a CFP Board Registered Program. There are more than 300 options to choose from but finding an online CFP program that is a good fit will depend on your needs, budget and timing for taking the exam.
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CFP Education Requirements
Along with other requirements, you’ll need to be able to check off two boxes concerning education to become a CFP. Specifically, you’ll need to:
- Hold a bachelor’s degree or higher from an accredited college or university
- Complete college or university-level coursework through a CFP Board Registered Program
The coursework program you choose must allow you to become well-versed in specific areas of financial planning, including:
- Professional conduct and regulation
- General principles of financial planning
- Risk management and insurance planning
- Investment planning
- Tax planning
- Retirement savings and income planning
- Estate planning
- Psychology of financial planning
- Financial plan development
These education requirements are designed to ensure that you have all of the knowledge necessary to serve clients in a financial planning capacity. All required coursework must be completed before you can sit for the CFP exam. You have up to five years from the date you pass the exam to obtain your bachelor’s degree. Assuming you already hold a bachelor’s degree, it typically takes 18 to 24 months to complete the certification process.
5 Online CFP Program Options
The CFP Board works with more than 300 programs to allow CFP candidates to complete the coursework they need to meet the education requirements. They range from certificate-level programs to doctorate programs, with many options available in an online format.
If you’re specifically interested in finding a CFP program online, here are five options that come highly recommended.
What makes it a top pick: The American College of Financial Services offers a virtual CFP coursework program that takes approximately 12 months to complete. Students who complete the program pass at rates approximately 10% above the national average, which is encouraging if you’re hoping to pass on the first try.
Pricing is available on a per-course basis or at packaged rates, depending on your personal needs and preferences. CFP scholarships are available for active-duty military personnel, veterans and spouses, African-American financial professionals, women and members of other qualifying groups.
According to the ACFS website, 91% of course takers say that it was a worthwhile investment for their career advancement. Sixty-six percent of the program’s first-time test takers who attempted the CFP exam in November 2022 passed, beating out the national benchmark.
What makes it a top pick: Boston University’s financial planning certificate program is suited to CFP candidates who are looking for a self-paced, fully online program. The coursework is designed to be completed within one year and boasts exceptional pass rates among those who go on to take the CFP exam.
There are two pricing options: Premium and Core. The Premium Package includes seven courses and all required textbooks, as well as free exam review and a $500 reimbursement toward your exam fee. The Core Package includes coursework and textbooks but does not come with a free exam review or a fee credit.
Rolling enrollment allows you to begin coursework at any time and study according to your schedule. You’ll receive expert guidance from Boston University instructors, and you’ll have access to a facilitator via email who can answer questions and offer support.
What makes it a top pick: The College for Financial Planning is the creator of the CFP mark, which is used to identify certified financial planning professionals. If you’re interested in obtaining a graduate-level certification toward your CFP coursework, this might be the program for you.
The program spans seven courses, consisting of eight modules each. There are three packages to choose from, ranging from completely self-paced to live online classes. The Premium Package includes CFP exam review prep.
Successful completion of the program gives you 15 credits toward a master’s degree in personal financial planning. CFP candidates who complete the program pass the CFP exam at three to six percentage points higher than the national average.
What makes it a top pick: Kansas State University offers three options for completing CFP coursework online. Candidates can choose from a certificate, master’s or doctorate-level program, depending on their educational and career aspirations.
Kansas State University consistently ranks among the top programs for financial planning in the country, among both online and offline options. All coursework is completed through the K-State Online Canvas course management system and programs are self-paced.
The doctoral program is one of only three of its kind to be CFP Board Registered. It’s conducted largely online, though students can also participate in an on-campus summer intensive. The PhD program is designed to be completed in five years or less.
What makes it a top pick: Northwestern University offers both on-campus and online coursework for those entering the financial services industry for the first time, as well as career changers and professionals already working in the field.
Online courses meet twice weekly, and coursework is self-paced. The program takes approximately nine months to complete and spans all of the core financial planning areas required to take and pass the CFP exam.
Northwestern uses The Dalton Review as the exclusive review for its CFP certification education programs. The Dalton Review is designed to ensure that students are ready to pass the CFP exam the first time they take it.
How to Choose an Online CFP Program
We’ve supplied a few options for completing CFP coursework online but there are hundreds of other programs to choose from. Finding the right one for you ultimately depends on understanding:
- What type of course format works for you
- How much time you realistically have to complete the required coursework
- What you can afford to spend on a CFP education program
In terms of the course content, that should be largely the same from program to program as the CFP Board requires you to master specific concepts before taking the CFP exam. The differences between programs lie largely in how content is delivered, how long the program is meant to last and what you’ll pay for it.
Getting recommendations from other financial professionals who have completed CFP coursework could help point you in the right direction.
Unless you already hold certain professional credentials degrees, such as a PhD in financial planning or a Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) designation, you won’t be able to bypass the CFP coursework requirements. Fortunately, you’ve got multiple programs to choose from if completing courses online is preferable to attending them in person.
Tips for Growing Your Advisory Business
- Once you’re ready to begin serving clients, you’ll need a plan for attracting them. Building a professional website and developing a social media following are good places to start. But if you’d like to fast-track your growth strategy, you might consider using an online lead generation tool to help with prospecting. SmartAdvisor, for instance, helps you connect with leads so that you have more time to spend serving your existing clients and scaling your business.
- While many CFP coursework programs include exam review as part of the package cost, not all of them do. If you’re interested in exploring CFP exam prep options online, it’s possible to find free and low-cost resources to help. Similar to choosing a coursework program, finding the right exam prep or review option can depend on how much time and money you have to invest in completing it.
Photo credit: ©iStock/Dragos Condrea, ©iStock/The American College of Financial Services, ©iStock/Boston University Financial Planning Certificate Program, ©iStock/College for Financial Planning – A Kaplan Company, ©iStock/Kansas State University, ©iStock/Northwestern University, ©iStock/fizkes