There are many options to choose from when looking to improve your financial analysis skills or resume. Across the United States (and even overseas), there are colleges, universities and private organizations that offer a wide variety of programs to enhance your skills. And while most of the offerings are quite valuable, it typically wouldn't make sense to complete more than two of these programs.

The three sources of gaining financial analyst training and designations are: universities, designation and certification programs and training programs. If you do decide to go the college or university route, you will likely pay a hefty premium in costs over a period of two to three years. The good news is that you will get hands-on instruction, advice, group projects and feedback. The bad news is that the process can take a few years to complete, and unless you can get into a well-known school, few employers will recognize the educational provider's name on your resume.

Let's shift the focus of this article on the types of designations rather than post-secondary programs, as most people who pursue a designation will usually have a university or college background as well.

Financial Analyst Specialist (FAS)

One financial analysis designation that offers a self-paced solution is the Financial Analyst Specialist (FAS) designation program. This program is entirely internet-based, and can be completed from anywhere in the world in as little as 5 months. This program consists of watching video instruction, a strategic project, required book reading, a study guide, practice examinations and online testing. It covers everything from basic financial concepts, such as net present value, to more complex methods of ratio analysis.

Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA)

Another financial analysis designation which has been around for many decades is the Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) program. This is a great program for those entering the investment industry who want to gain exposure to a broad financial base.

Candidates are required to pass three levels of exams covering areas such as accounting, economics, ethics, money management, and security analysis. Earning the CFA designation is a grueling process, so try to consider how it will benefit you and your career against the negatives of going through the process, and whether the pros outweigh the cons.

While this program is relatively expensive compared to others, it is also very popular and well-respected.

(Find out what is expected of CFAs after they become charter-holders in Does Study End After the CFA?)

Licensed International Financial Analyst (LIFA)

One additional financial analyst designation is the Licensed International Financial Analyst (LIFA) designation, which is also investment-focused and has a high emphasis on ethical issues within the global context. This program covers topics such as asset valuation, economics, portfolio management and quantitative analysis. It is flexible and relatively inexpensive, but is a new and less acknowledged designation compared to some other programs.

Specialty Programs

Before you decide that these types of designations may not be for you, consider this: Many jobs that pay the most for financial analysis skills are in niche areas, such as hedge fund portfolio management, private wealth management or financial modeling. Since general financial analysis training may be not be as valuable as industry- or job-specific training, you may want to consider completing a program that was custom-made for the industry in which you want to grow your career.

Examples of these types of programs include: the Chartered Alternative Investment Analyst (CAIA), Certified Hedge Fund Professional (CHP) or Certified Market Technician (CMT) programs.

When choosing a designation to pursue, it is important to first understand and have a solid grasp of the potential doors that the program will open. It is usually preferred that a prospective candidate have a couple years of work experience in order to determine which designation is preferred for one's career choice.

Self-Teaching

The final option is paying NO tuition, and training yourself. The advantage here is that you can save thousands in tuition costs. In terms of disadvantages, this requires more self-discipline than many people have, and your resume will look stronger if you join one of the above programs.

In order to have your resume stand out, some letters after your name can go a long way.

(Check out these simple study methods to help you Pass Your CFA Exams on the First Try.)

The Bottom Line

The most important thing to remember is that when you take a class at a college or university, the quality of that organization's brand reflects upon yourself. If you take a program from your local in-state university that few will recognize or respect, you might as well have taken a cheaper community college program for less money. If, on the other hand, you can attend a prestigious school or complete an industry-leading financial analyst designation program, you can really give your resume a boost all while learning more about the industry.

(Find out how to get yourself ready for these lengthy and often daunting exams. Prepare for Your CFA Exams.)