How To Pick The Best CFP® Education Program

Today, I’m drifting away from normal personal finance content to offer some help to fellow finance professionals who are considering working toward their CFP® credential.

I was in your shoes just a couple of years ago, wondering which CFP® Education program was best for me. I needed a program that would allow me to complete the education requirement, but I was also looking for one that would prepare me well for the CFP® exam and give me the knowledge and skills I would need for my future career as a CFP® Pro.

After researching a number of programs, I ultimately committed to the self-paced online program at James Madison University and absolutely loved it. To help you find a program you love, here are seven major factors you should consider when choosing a CFP® education program:

#1 - Live VS. self-paced CFP® PROGRAM

This was one of the most important factors for me for two reasons:

  1. I was living overseas at the time and was on a completely different time zone than most live classes, so logistically those would have been a nightmare.

  2. I wanted to complete the education requirement as fast as possible.

Plus I’m kind of a lone wolf when it comes to studying and prefer to learn at my own pace. So I chose a self-paced over a live class for to complete my CFP® education requirement.

#2 - Online or in-person CFP® PROGRAM

If you’ve decided to take a live class, the next question you need to ask yourself is “Do I want to go to class in person or watch lectures online?”

Are there classes offered near you? If so, would going to a physical class each week hold you more accountable than one you simply login to from your laptop? Would you be able to focus more sitting in a desk in a lecture hall, or could you focus just as well in your pajamas at home?

#3 - Cost

This is a big one too, depending on who is picking up the tab for your CFP® education program. These education programs can cost as little as a couple thousand dollars to as much as $10,000. That’s a big difference!

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If your employer is sponsoring your CFP® education program, maybe it’s not as big of a factor in your decision. But price definitely played a role in the program I chose. Luckily, I qualified for the MyCAA scholarship program for military spouses. The MyCAA scholarship paid for the self-paced program at JMU, which cost roughly $3,500 when I enrolled.

#4 - Course materials and user experience

Is the program taught strictly from books, or are the lessons also offered online? Is the online experience text or video-based? Is it interactive? Are there quizzes along the way? Do you get one or multiple chances to pass the midterm and final exams for each module?

Depending on your learning style, one CFP® Education program format will likely be more suitable and enjoyable for you. For me, I liked that JMU’s program offered online lessons and quizzes, though I think more video content would have made it even better.

#5 - Communication with Instructors

How much, if any, communication will you have with program instructors? If you have questions about some of the material, who can you ask? How quickly might they get back to you with an answer?

When I was researching programs, I loved that the representatives at JMU always promptly replied to my questions, and they continued to do so once I was enrolled.

#6 - capstone structure

The capstone is the culmination of all of your studying and hard work, so it’s important to know what’s going to be expected of you in that part of the course!

How is the case material delivered? Is there an example to follow? How long do you have to complete the capstone? And - here’s an important question depending on when you’d like to take the exam - what’s the deadline for submitting your finished financial plan in order for it to be reviewed and reported complete to the CFP® Board?

For example, I was surprised to learn that I had to submit my capstone project two full months before I wanted to sit for the CFP® exam. For me, that meant submitting my final project by mid-January so I could take the exam in March.

Very important factor to consider when planning your CFP® certification timeline!

#7 - Exam Prep Materials

Are there any review materials included as part of the program, or will you need to purchase additional materials from another provider to prepare for the exam? This goes back to the third factor - cost. What is your all-in budget to complete the CFP® education requirement and pass the exam, and how does that break down between the program, exam prep, and the exam fee itself?

#8 - Reviews

We all know how much stock we place in authentic reviews. If you’re considering a certain program, email the administrators and ask for references you can talk to that have recently completed it.

JMU Self-Paced Online CFP® Program

If you’re looking for a self-paced online program, I cannot recommend JMU’s self-paced program more highly. If you’d like more information, message me and I can connect you with my contact there (and possibly get you a referral discount!).   


If you’ve already completed your CFP® education requirement, which program did you take? What did you like or dislike about it?

If you’re looking for a CFP® education program, which ones are you considering? Let me know in the comments!


Tara Falcone, CFA, CFP® | Instagram: @reisupllc | YouTube: reisupllc