Certification - Frequently Asked Questions
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CDFA Certification Process:
Frequently Asked Questions

The information below is intended to clarify common concerns. The information contained herein is subject to revision.

Time to Recertify?

The Facts:

  • Certification wasn’t "easy” – don’t let it expire.
  • Recertification is required each year in order to maintain your designation.
  • It’s now even easier—renew online with your dues renewal.

The Rewards:

  • Recertification demonstrates your commitment to the design profession and continued mastery of administration in the A/E/C field.
  • CDFA certification is desired by many firms in making hiring decisions.
  • And, as one SDA member stated, "…each time I recertify, I have that same sense of personal achievement and satisfaction that I received when I first became certified.”

Frequently Asked Questions

  1. What is a Certified Design Firm Administrator (CDFA)?
  2. Why CDFA certification?
  3. Who can become certified?
  4. How does one become certified?
  5. What must I do to become CDFA certified?
  6. How much does it cost to become CDFA certified?
  7. What is required to accomplish my CDFA?
  8. What if I am interested in taking the examination?
  9. Why do I have to have a certain number of years of experience? If I can pass the test, what difference does the amount of experience make?
  10. How long does my CDFA designation last?
  11. What happens if I don’t pass the examination?
  12. Once I become certified, if I leave my company or industry, may I use the CDFA designation?
  13. How does becoming certified benefit me?
  14. How does becoming certified benefit my employer/firm?
  15. How often do I have to renew?
  16. Could you give me details on how re-certification works?
  17. Do you have to meet a minimum number of learning units for each PEG?
  18. What types of programs meet the continuing education requirements?

What is a Certified Design Firm Administrator (CDFA)?

As the design services industry becomes more diverse and competitive, the need for accomplished administrators has never been greater. Whether you have worked your way up through the ranks of design firm administration or crossed over from another industry, you know that every administrator in the A/E/C industry must demonstrate a high level of expertise. For most, the quest to be proficient in their jobs, while building credentials for the future, is a lifelong journey.

For more than 40 years, the Society for Design Administration (SDA) has provided a variety of avenues to assist administrators and managers with their professional growth. In addition, SDA offers the opportunity for individuals to add to their credentials by becoming a Certified Design Firm Administrator (CDFA). The CDFA certification program allows a qualified design firm administrator to demonstrate, through an examination process, a mastery of core areas of knowledge identified as essential to the effective performance of design firm administration. These areas are Office Administration/IT, Finance, Human Resources, Marketing, and Project Management. Regardless of what stage you are in with your career, becoming certified adds a valuable dimension to your professional development. This achievement can instill greater confidence in your own abilities and identifies you as an experienced design firm administrator, or manager, who understands the unique issues inherent in a design firm.

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Why CDFA certification?

SDA’s voluntary Certified Design Firm Administrator (CDFA) program was developed to provide design firm administrators with an opportunity to demonstrate a command of the core areas of knowledge identified as essential to the effective performance of a design firm administrator. CDFAs are recognized as administrators and managers who have met a work experience requirements, displayed a commitment to continuing education in the Professional Emphasis Group (PEG) areas of Office Administration/IT, Human Resources, Finance, Marketing and Project Management, and passed a comprehensive examination based on these areas of study.

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Who can become certified?

The CDFA program is open to anyone who desires to take the test. The cost of the test also includes a one-year membership in SDA at the member-at-large rate.

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How does one become certified?

Upon making the decision to pursue certification, an individual will submit an Application for Certification to SDA Headquarters along with the appropriate fees. Upon acceptance, the applicant can purchase the exam study guide to prepare for the closed book, five-section exam. The exam is composed of 100 multiple-choice questions, primarily based on the materials in the Study Guide.

The test will be given at a designated time and place during each SDA EDSymposium and at regional conferences. A minimum of 75 percent must be achieved in order to pass. If you do not pass, you will be allowed ONE (1) retesting for the initial fee. Currently, the process for retesting allows for the test to be taken in the applicant’s city with a designated proctor in attendance.

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What must I do to become CDFA certified?

Applicants must meet the eligibility requirements and pass the certification examination given by the Society for Design Administration to become CDFA certified. Design firm administrators in Canada and other countries are eligible to become certified, but must realize that major portions of the examination are based on U.S. federal law.

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How much does it cost to become CDFA certified?

The application fee for SDA members is $75 and $150 for nonmembers. The examination fee for SDA members is $250 and $420 for non-members. The examination fee includes an electronic version of the CDFA Study Guide. The application and exam fee totals are $325 for members and $570 for non-members.

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What is required to accomplish my CDFA?

There are four (4) elements to the CDFA certification: 1) years of experience, 2) educational prerequisites, 3) passing a 100 - question exam, and 4) accepting the SDA Code of Ethics.

The education and experience components are as follows:

  • High School Diploma or equivalent plus 3 years of experience in the design industry
  • Associate Degree plus 2 years of experience in the design industry
  • Bachelor’s/Master’s Degree plus one year experience in the design industry

The certification process is designed to be a fair and rigorous assessment. This program strategy is the most suitable to ensure that successful candidates have the requisite knowledge and skills.

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What if I am interested in taking the examination?

Contact SDA Headquarters at 800-711-8199
or download the Application here.

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Why do I have to have a certain number of years of experience? If I can pass the test, what difference does the amount of experience make?

The certification program validates mastery of a set of competencies. An administrator has to have the depth and breadth of knowledge and skills to be conversant in a broad body of knowledge. Some of these skills are achieved only through work experience in the design industry.

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How long does my CDFA designation last?

You will be designated a CDFA upon meeting all the required criteria as explained in the application. After that time, you will recertify each year by completing and documenting 18 hours of continuing education.

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What happens if I don’t pass the examination?

You will be allowed to retake the examination one time within six months from the date of the initial exam in your city, with a designated proctor, without incurring any additional fees. If you do not pass the examination a second time, and you enroll to retake the exam within a 3 month period of your first retest date, you may retest at the Retest Administration rate of $25. If you do not enroll and pay the Retest Administration fee within three months of your initial retest date, any additional retests will cost $200.

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Once I become certified, if I leave my company or industry, may I use the CDFA designation?

Yes. You will have to follow the same renewal procedure however, your fee may be different if you are no longer in the A/E industry.

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How does becoming certified benefit me?

Certification acknowledges outstanding achievement and offers a reward of personal satisfaction. The awarding of the CDFA title serves as a tangible measure of competence and as a testimony to others of a commitment to this profession.

Certification ensures recognition of your expertise and assists in your career development by identifying a knowledge base and establishing professional standards for excellence and on-going self-improvement. In addition, certification helps junior-level professionals gain top-level management approval, while enabling senior practitioners to remain current in the field and improve their performance and proficiency.

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How does becoming certified benefit my employer/firm?

Certification serves as an aid to recruitment, provides a way to encourage and improve job performance for its employees, and acknowledges the training and development of those who are certified.

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How often do I have to renew?

Certified members will renew with their membership renewal. Upon retirement from the profession, you may keep your CDFA designation. Upon departure from the profession to work in another industry, you may keep the designation only if you continue to fulfill the continuing education requirement and pay the annual renewal fee.

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Could you give me details on how re-certification works?

Effective January 1, 2008, to maintain certification designation, a member must affirm completion of the required continuing education hours every year.

When you complete your SDA membership renewal application check the box on the form if you are currently a certified member. The annual recertification cost is $25, which can be submitted with your membership dues. By checking the box you affirm that you have met the continuing education requirements of 18 learning units for the previous calendar year.

Each year 15% of re-certifying individuals, selected at random, will be audited by the SDA Certification Committee. An audit consists of a request by the SDA Certification Committee of the member to submit a list of the courses taken, name of the provider, dates attended, and course hours including a photocopy of the certificate of attendance. This audit may be conducted up to two years after the year in question.

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Do you have to meet a minimum number of learning units for each PEG?

A PEG is a Professional Emphasis Group. There is no minimum requirement for each PEG, but a total of 18 learning units are required each year. One hour = one learning unit. To qualify for certification points, each program must be a minimum of one hour, or 50-minutes of teaching/presentation with 10 minutes of questions and answers.

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What types of programs meet the continuing education requirements?

Any educational program that is certified by one of the affiliate organizations of SDA (such as AIA, ACEC, AGC, SMPS, just to name a few) will be accepted, as well as educational seminars and programs offered by any learning institution like Careertrak, Fred Pryor, or universities. Other professional organizations specializing in one of the PEG areas, are also acceptable (e.g. accounting societies such as NASBA, AICPA, IMA, or business societies such as American Management Association [AMA]). Also, vendors who are AIA CES providers and provide AIA-approved programs are acceptable. You will need to keep back-up documentation supporting your attendance in the event your credentials are audited.

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