Certification vs. Degree: What's Best for Your IT Career?

Certification vs. Degree: What's Best for Your IT Career?

The IT industry is particularly lucrative for those who travel down the right path. But excelling within this space isn't always a straightforward process. Many IT professionals wonder if they should pursue a certification or a degree to help progress their IT career. Fortunately, the answer isn't as complicated as you may expect.

Let's take a look at everything you need to know about getting an IT certification versus a degree. Answering these four questions can help point you in the direction that’s best for you and your IT career goals.

How Much Time Are You Able to Invest?

One of the most important factors to consider when choosing between a certification and a degree is how much time you're able to contribute toward either path.

In general, earning a college degree takes approximately four years. If you're particularly diligent, you may be able to complete one in less time. But many colleges only offer requisite courses during certain times of the year, meaning you may not be able to complete courses according to your own schedule. Additionally, you'll also need to allocate plenty of time toward completing projects, doing homework and studying.

On the other hand, certifications take far less time — typically ranging from a minimum of six months to one years, depending on the certification. In many cases, the only limitation is how much free time you have to put toward completing the required courses. However, since certification programs are designed to be accelerated forms of learning, they're also fairly intensive. This means that they'll require your full attention in order to stay on track.

How Much Money Are You Able to Spend?

Obtaining a college degree often costs a significant amount of money. This is particularly true for those who don't have access to financial aid or scholarships. Depending on a handful of factors, such as whether or not you qualify for in-state tuition, you'll likely spend thousands of dollars per semester in order to pursue this level of education. And if you need to relocate in order to attend your school of choice, you'll also have additional costs to manage, as well.

While an IT certification tends to cost far less, you may still pay hundreds of dollars for a single course or thousands of dollars to complete a full program of certification courses. The major benefit of certification programs is that you are paying purely for your education and not additional costs and fees that colleges and universities typically integrate into their tuition. Certifications also cost less overall since the duration of the courses/program is shorter than what you would complete at a college.

What Is the Focus of the Program?

Like most college majors, IT-related degrees require students to take a large variety of classes during their program. While these include many industry-related courses, students are also required to take a certain number of elective courses based on their personal interests. It’s great to broaden your level of knowledge in other areas, but it’s likely that you won’t use everything you learn in those elective courses throughout your IT career. Additionally, students newly enrolling in college will find that they don't begin to fully focus on technology-related courses until later on in their degree program.

Certifications are designed to offer the most specific and relevant education possible. Not only are students able to immediately immerse themselves in technology courses, but the skills and concepts they learn are directly applicable to the roles they may have in the future. As such, certifications are often beneficial for those who would like to break into the industry as soon as possible. Similarly, they can help someone who already has experience (or a degree) advance through the industry.

How Does It Look on a Resume?

Degrees offer a way to convey your ability to pursue a long-term goal and accomplish difficult tasks on your own. As a result, those who have obtained a college degree tend to stand out to many prospective employers. But having an IT-related degree isn't always enough to illustrate the specific skills you have or the concepts you understand.

While a college degree has the potential to get you a large number of jobs, some employers may prefer to hire workers who already have knowledge in specific areas of concentration. A single certification on its own may not outweigh the inherent value of a college degree, but a handful of relevant certifications could establish an applicant as the ideal employee for a particular company. And since an applicant who has obtained IT certifications has preemptively validated their expertise, there's less risk on the employer's part when it comes to hiring them.

The Verdict

Objectively, there isn't a decision that will be universally superior to the other. In fact, there are many different scenarios where having a degree could outweigh the certifications you may have (and vice versa). You have to consider the time and money you can dedicate, as well as the focus of the program, your current experience and your overall career goals.

In general, obtaining a degree from a university establishes a solid foundation of knowledge for you to build upon. However, pursuing relevant certifications can help you get your foot in the door as quickly as possible and pave the way for your journey forward in the industry. 

Deciding between an IT certification versus a degree may seem difficult. But it doesn't have to be. With everything you now know about getting a certification or a degree, you'll be well on your way toward making the decision that's best for you and your career.

Ready to continue or get started on your IT education path? Contact ExitCertified today to learn more about the flexible options available to you.

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