April 01, 2019

By Amanda O’Rourke

Ashley Ward ’20 thought she wanted to major in business administration when she first enrolled at Susquehanna University, but her experience in Global Business Perspectives—a rite-of-passage course for first-year business students— ignited her love of finance.

“When I was researching the company [we were studying], I would also research who in the company created the information I needed for my project,” Ward explains. “I started to look into the role of the CFO, and I realized that I would like to become one.

“I’m a numbers person,” she goes on, “and enjoy plugging numbers into equations and formulas and seeing if I come up with the right number.”

Ward, a junior from Teaneck, New Jersey, took the first step toward her future career aspirations when she became treasurer of the Student Government Association. She has attended Women’s Leadership Symposium events in New York City and Philadelphia and also became certified in using the Bloomberg Terminals in the Apfelbaum Hall trading room.

Beyond Ward’s affinity for numbers and critical thinking is a desire to use her academic gifts to help others. “I hope to become a financial planner,” she says. “Using my knowledge to help people who know little to nothing about their finances or how to plan for their future retirement would be rewarding.”

Ward is one of nearly 140 finance majors within a department that has seen remarkable growth over the past five years. The number of students majoring in finance has grown by 60 percent, from 84 in the 2014–15 academic year, to 139 this year.

CFA Certification Is The Gold Standard

For many students, the Sigmund Weis School of Business’ accreditation by the prestigious International Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB) is what draws them to Susquehanna.

“I always had an interest in investments,” says senior Ty Bricker, of Manheim, Pennsylvania. “But I came here for the AACSB accreditation.” The accreditation is one of several affiliations that give finance majors a competitive edge upon their entry into the workforce.

Bricker, who is also majoring in economics, and fellow senior Matthew Bershefsky, of Scranton, Pennsylvania, are also benefitting from Susquehanna’s two-year-old membership in the University Recognition Program of the Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) Institute.

Through the recognition program, the CFA Institute promotes ethics-based investment education in qualifying university degree programs aimed at developing serious investment professionals.

Bricker and Bershefsky were the first finance majors from Susquehanna to pass the CFA Level I exam while still students at Susquehanna. The Level I exam is the first step toward earning their CFA certification.

“If you want to work in finance, the CFA designation is a must,” Bricker says.

Susquehanna is one of only four private, undergraduate-only AACSB schools worldwide with CFA affiliation.

Peter Dadalt, assistant professor of finance and a CFA Charter holder, describes it as the “gold standard” for financial analysts.

“It’s an independent credential. Anyone in investment management understands the distinction of passing the CFA exams,” Dadalt says. “The industry is littered with smart people who’ve failed the CFA exams.”

Fees for the Level I exam can exceed $1,300. Because Susquehanna is a participant in the CFA program, students take the exam at a significantly reduced cost. Scholarship dollars are available to cover additional costs, such as books.

What doesn’t have a price tag are the hundreds of hours Bricker and Bershefsky spent preparing for the exam, which Dadalt quantified at about 16 pounds’ worth of textbook material.

Bricker estimated he and Bershefsky studied for approximately 300 hours between mid-May and the end of November, when they began taking practice exams.

“A lot of the classes we had in the business school exposed us to what was on the test,” Bershefsky says. What they didn’t know they learned, with the assistance of their “coach,” Dadalt, who made himself available to the students—whom he describes as “his kids”—whenever they needed him.

The CFA certification process involves three exams that must be taken sequentially. The Level I exam is an all-day affair involving two 3-hour exam sessions. Most test-takers tackle the exam only after several years of work experience.

“I felt like I was prepared, but after you take the exam you’re exhausted,” Bricker says. “We waited eight weeks for the results. The first week I was nervous because I didn’t want to come back to school and tell everyone I failed.”

He needn’t have worried. They both passed, which put them in the minority. The Level I pass rate for the December 2018 exam was only 45%.

“It was such a relief, knowing I wouldn’t have to do it again or at least have some time before I took the second level,” Bershefsky says.

Bricker chalked up their success to hard work and Dadalt’s coaching. “He gave us a path to follow. If we had any questions, we knew we could reach out to him.” Dadalt nearly swelled with pride: “I’m very proud of them.”

Bricker and Bershefsky have now transitioned into the coach role, assisting five of their classmates who are studying to take the Level I exam in June.