IT Certification or College Degree: Which is Better?

IT Certification or College Degree: Which is Better?

Information technology forums all over the internet have at least one ongoing conversation concerning the debate over which is better, an IT certification or college degree. There seems to be a pretty even split of those who support a college education and those who believe it’s unnecessary. Those in favor of college see it as a stepping stone into advanced-level employment. Those in favor of IT certifications argue the merits of vendor-specific training and how it’s more relevant than a college education in today’s workforce. Both arguments certainly have valid points.

Whether you ultimately choose an IT certification or college degree, you can rest assured your skills will be in demand. According to a 2015 report by the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, “Economic projections point to a need for approximately 1 million more STEM professionals than the U.S. will produce at the current rate over the next decade…” Research also shows the number of STEM graduates will likely fail to keep pace with other fields of study, according to a 2016 report from ACT- the leader in college acceptance exams. While the interest level in STEM degrees increases among college-bound students, test scores indicate a likely high failure rate due to the rigors associated with STEM degrees. While this shortfall of STEM graduates has been a challenge for organizations with IT positions to fill, it has also spawned educational alternatives to traditional four-year colleges.

In reality, reasons to choose an IT certification or college degree are usually specific to the situation. While a graduating high school senior pursuing a data science degree is in an ideal position to attend college, some working adults aren’t. Rather, many adults transitioning into technology benefit from IT certifications that can be achieved in months and easily balanced with full-time employment. Ultimately, there’s a myriad of reasons that will determine the best course of action for each aspiring IT practitioner. Here’ a quick comparison to help you choose an IT certification or college degree.

The Cost Factor

Whether comparing the costs of a two-year community college or a four-year private institution, IT certification training is much more affordable than paying a college tuition. While most future IT practitioners can qualify for a student loan, those opting for IT training solutions are saving thousands and avoiding massive student debt.

Average Annual College Tuitions:

Public Two-Year College:                                $3,440
Public Four-Year College (in state):               $9,410
Public Four-Year College (out of state):     $23,890
Private Four-Year College:                           $32,410

While there are choices in post-secondary education, there are also choices in IT certification training. Popular formats include boot camps, virtual classrooms and on-demand training. Boot camps are intense, live-learning environments best suited for advanced IT practitioners. Virtual classrooms, on the other hand, offer a webinar-style classroom where students learn at a much easier pace. On-demand or online training is self-paced, instructor-led videos that are ideal for busy IT professionals. In comparison to a traditional college education, these learning formats are clearly more affordable.

Average Costs for IT Learning Formats:

Boot Camps:                    $6,500
Virtual Classrooms:         $3,000
On-Demand Training:     $2,000

The Time Factor

Another reason many IT practitioners choose certifications over college is the time factor. Entry-level IT certifications can provide a path to employment in a matter of months, which is a stark contrast from the time spent attending two-and four-year college institutions. Ultimately, students graduating with a computer science degree or equivalent typically qualify for similar entry-level jobs as those opting for the certification route. The only real difference at first is the time spent achieving the qualification. The time factor is certainly a compelling reason many IT practitioners choose certifications over college degrees.

The Argument for College

Achieving certifications and developing real-world experience on vendor-specific products is a great way to break into the world of IT and build an amazing career. Even those graduating with a computer science degree will spend the remainder of their careers certifying on the latest technology. However, not having a college degree in computer science or an equivalent is often a glass ceiling preventing an advanced career.

To begin, college graduates with a degree in computer science on average make more than those who don’t have one. According to PayScale, the average salary for an entry-level computer scientist is $68,165 per year. This is more than twice the salary of a support-level technician with a CompTIA A+ certification. Likewise, obtaining an advanced career in data science, cyber security and IT management all require a STEM degree. Certainly, a four-year college degree is still valued in the IT industry.

Those entering college and are passionate about technology should certainly pursue a bachelor’s degree in the computer sciences. These degrees are commanding some of the top salaries in the IT industry and are in high demand in every major sector of the economy. Students in the field of information technology and software development with a STEM degree certainly have an advantage over those who don’t.

Experienced IT practitioners motivated to achieve an advanced-level career should strongly consider the college option. Those without a four-year degree often find it difficult to qualify for leadership and advanced-level roles. However, those with a passion to achieve an advanced-level career will often balance a part-time college schedule with full-time employment. It’s a lot of work, but it can be done.

Summing It Up

Choosing an IT certification or college degree really comes down to time and money. Although there’s a limit to what certifications can provide, they still offer lucrative salaries and amazing employment for those who achieve them. Are you interested in career in IT? Contact a KnowledgeNet representative and learn more about IT certifications and training options.

Tom Hurst has been working in the information technology industry since 2008, and is currently writing engaging and informative articles about his experiences. Hurst also enjoys a life outside of IT that includes hunting, fishing and music composition.

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