IT Certifications vs Degree — What Should You Do?

For individuals looking to pursue a career in the IT field, it is helpful to have the right qualifications to get hired and progress in the industry. Therefore, many wonder whether it would be more beneficial to earn an IT degree or an IT certification.

In determining the best course of action for verifying your IT skills and knowledge, there are many different factors to consider: the steps involved in earning a degree or certification, the pros and cons of each, and the effects they may have on your career progression.

Read more: 10 Best-Paying IT Jobs in 2021

IT Certifications vs Degree: Weighing Your Options

If you wish to pursue a career in IT, you should first consider the time and effort involved in earning IT certifications vs degrees.

Earning a Degree

Most Americans grew up hearing that a college degree could help them advance in life. The reality of the situation is that degrees may be helpful, but only in some regards. Degrees in IT can provide students with a good basic understanding of the subject. IT education is available in various paths, including cybersecurity, information security, computer science, computer engineering, and programming.

Degrees in IT can provide students with a good basic understanding of the subject.

However, gaining a degree has its drawbacks. For one, there is a lot of time and expense involved in the process of earning a degree. Degree programs usually last about four years. If you don’t have a career niche picked out, this can provide you with some time to explore different options.

While degrees can focus on different IT areas, the learning gained through this education is considerably more generalized than a certification. College provides a good foundation of IT knowledge, but is less specific to a particular IT field. Certificates also can provide more up-to-date information. Luckily, it is possible to begin your IT education by earning a degree, and then verifying your skills in specific IT areas later by earning certificates.

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Earning an IT Certification

Many factors could cause an individual to pursue certification, rather than a degree in IT. For example, IT certifications take less time to earn and cost considerably less money. In addition, certifications are great options for verifying up-to-date knowledge in a specific area of IT. If you already know what you want to do, they can help you secure your dream job more easily and quickly.

IT certifications take less time to earn and cost considerably less money.

Of course, there are downsides to earning IT certifications rather than a degree. Whether you know what you want to do in IT specifically or not, in order to achieve higher professional IT certifications, you usually need to start out earning essential certificates first.

Going the certification route usually means earning more than one, but this can allow you to keep your skills sharp by continuing to gain up-to-date knowledge with additional certificates as your career goes on. And, of course, certificates can be earned in addition to a college degree to gain more qualifications throughout your career.

Read more: 7 Best IT Certifications in 2021

Getting Hired

In deciding whether to earn a degree or certification, an important factor to consider is how far your choice will get you in the job market.

Do Job Listings Prefer Degrees or Certifications?

Exploring the trends of qualifications and requirements included within most IT job listings can reveal which path will provide you with more employment opportunities. When searching job listings for IT positions, you may notice that many require only high school education or GEDs. So which additional qualification would wow a hiring manager more, an IT certification of a degree?

Certifications can make up for a lack of experience when applying to jobs.

Certifications can make up for a lack of experience when applying to jobs. IT certifications demonstrate proficiency in specific skills and can help resume scanners determine whether you meet job requirements. Of course, IT certifications are only valuable if they are relevant to the job.

So what about degrees? Well, approximately 49% of the 2.3 million IT job postings surveyed in a recent CompTIA Employer Perception Study did not list a four-year degree as a minimum requirement for candidates.

Therefore, while degrees can be helpful, they are not expected. Job listings are created to attract candidates with the proper knowledge for the position. IT certifications can help get you there, especially if the certification is relevant to the role’s responsibilities.

Read more: ITIL Certification Guide: Overview & Cost

What Recruiters Look for

So, what exactly do hiring experts and recruiters look for when filling IT job positions? Generally, recruiters want to fill their positions with workers with the specialized skills and relevant knowledge to begin working immediately.

Candidates are considered based on whether they can add value to the company and be suitable investments for its future as long-term employees. A resume listing an IT-related degree can look good to recruiters looking for serious individuals to fill long-term roles. But with the industry’s ever-changing nature, the knowledge gained from a degree may not be enough.

What CIOs Look for

For filling IT job positions specifically, most CIOs favor candidates with the propensity to learn constantly, as IT is an ever-changing field. In addition, most IT positions naturally require candidates to have a solid fundamental understanding of the tech industry as a whole. And as with any work, applicants with problem-solving and business skills are more likely to be considered.

For filling IT job positions specifically, most CIOs favor candidates with the propensity to learn constantly.

So what does this mean in terms of verification? Well, it mostly comes down to the job. Degrees in IT can help applicants prove their basic understanding of the industry and demonstrate a candidate’s dedication to the field, based on the time and money they spent on their education.

For an IT profession that focuses on a constantly evolving tech area, it can be beneficial to earn certificates that verify the skills and knowledge necessary to stay proficient in the position’s required skills.

Read more: What Are CIOs Looking for in Current IT Grads?

Choosing a Career Path

The effects of earning a degree or certification do not end once you are hired. These career paths can have different results on the pay you receive and your professional development.

Does a Degree Mean a Higher Salary in IT?

Data shows that while certificate holders can earn more eventually, once they gain experience, degree holders are more likely to start out making more. According to PayScale, the average base salary for someone with a bachelor’s degree in IT is approximately $73,000 per year.

Of course, this amount can increase with additional education and work experience. According to GCEW, however, certificate holders earn more than 24% of individuals who have bachelor’s degrees. So at the end of the day, it depends on what qualifications are necessary to excel in your path.

Opportunities for Professional Development

As previously stated, IT is an ever-changing industry. With new technological advancements being made constantly, IT professionals are expected to keep up if they want to continue working and advancing in tech careers.

Thus, relevant knowledge is essential. After a while, the basic knowledge provided by an IT degree may not cut it. While it is possible to prove one’s skills as a degree holder with experience in up-to-date processes, certificates can verify your knowledge and expertise in relevant areas.

Of course, degree-earners can always earn certifications to excel in new areas.

Read more: Scrum Master Certification Guide: Requirements & Cost

Choosing IT Certification or a Degree

The decision to pursue an IT degree or certification mainly depends on where you are in your career and where you would like to go. Those with a firm grasp on their career goals and the field they want to pursue may be better off earning a certification in their subject of choice.

Certificates are also better for people who seek more up-to-date, relevant knowledge about an IT topic. Those who wish to verify their understanding of IT may also have less time and money available to put toward more formal education.

Choosing the degree path may be best for those wishing to verify their basic IT skills and gain experience in multiple areas.

Choosing the degree path may be best for those wishing to verify their basic IT skills and gain experience in multiple areas. Those who are just starting to consider an IT career may benefit from this as well, as it will help them learn about many different aspects of IT. But, of course, this is only possible if they have the money and time to allocate toward their education.

When choosing an IT verifier that will help you progress in the industry, you should consider whether the particular career you wish to pursue requires any specific knowledge. But overall, IT is a skill-based industry. Either path can bring you success, as long as you can verify your skills in the particular area you wish to advance in.

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Madeline Clarke
Madeline Clarke
Madeline is a freelance writer specializing in copywriting and content creation. After studying Art and earning her BFA in Creative Writing at Salisbury University she applied her knowledge of writing and design to develop creative and influential copy. She has since formed her business, Clarke Content, LLC, through which she produces entertaining, informational content and represents companies with professionalism and taste. You can reach Madeline via email at

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