Degrees vs. Certifications: Which is Better for an IT Career?

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IT Certifications vs. Degrees: Which is Better for Starting Your Career?

When seeking to join the ever-growing field of information technology, two of the most common paths to competency are degrees and certifications. While both of these options can get you a job in IT, they are by no means created equal. In this blog, we’ll take a look at some of the important differences between these two routes (as well as a couple of ways that you may not have to choose at all).


Time Invested

COLLEGE OR DEGREE PROGRAM

In general, it takes about four years to earn a college degree. This is usually spread out over eight semesters, with four courses per semester. This enables students to get a huge amount of information in their time at college and really process each individual class before moving on to additional learning materials. Especially determined students may be able to finish their major in three years (or less) if they take more than four classes per semester, or take classes during the summer.

In terms of time spent during the week, most courses are three credit hours. With four courses, that means about 12 hours per week spent in class. Additional time will of course be needed for homework, writing papers, and exam prep.

CERTIFICATION COURSES AT ACI LEARNING

Certification training at ACI Learning is intensive and accelerated. We’ll take our Computer User Support Specialist program as an example, because it prepares students with enough certifications and knowledge to confidently enter the IT industry. This program includes training for four certifications: ITIL, CompTIA A+, CompTIA Security+, and CompTIA Network+. These courses take five days or 10 evenings each, except for A+ which is split into two courses. That gives us a total of 25 days of instruction, or 50 evenings.

For those taking the course during the day, instruction and labs comprise a 40-hour week. Each day is packed with instruction, hands-on labs, and time for questions and answers. Evening courses are spread out over twice as many days, with only four hours of instruction per evening. After instruction, students will need some time to review everything they’ve learned and take advantage of the additional materials offered by ACI Learning. Most students complete their certification exams within the following month.


Cost of Training

COLLEGE OR DEGREE PROGRAM

According to LendEDU, for the 2019-2020 year, the average cost of tuition for a semester at a public four-year in-state college or university was $5,220. For four years at that rate, one would expect to pay $41,760 for tuition. Of course, this doesn’t include other costs such as room and board, transportation, supplies, and so on.

A college degree offers value that is above and beyond what certifications offer, which makes it difficult to compare these two items accurately.

CERTIFICATION COURSES AT ACI LEARNING

Our certification courses cost around $3,000 each (varies by course), with the total cost of our Computer User Support Specialist program coming in at $13,875 for five courses. That’s close to the cost of a single year at an in-state college or university. Included in the overall cost of tuition are the industry-recognized certification exam attempts.

The certifications included in our Computer User Support Specialist program do not offer the breadth and depth of knowledge that a Bachelor’s degree does, but they do offer a more expedient path to employment in the information technology sector. As you’ll see in the next section, the tight focus of our training courses provides a huge benefit to their holders.


Focus of Training

COLLEGE OR DEGREE PROGRAM

Most degree programs require students to take electives or general education credits to help ensure a well-rounded education. Even within their major, college graduates study a huge variety of topics, not all of which will be useful in their career after school. General education requirements can take as much as one to two years to complete before students can really focus on technology skills.

CERTIFICATION COURSES AT ACI LEARNING

Certifications instead offer focused training designed to instill skills in very specific areas that employers have a high demand for. These programs do not require students to take courses in other subject areas. Students are able to jump right into technology courses, each of which has a clear application and certification to show third-party skills verification.

For those looking to start a career in IT as soon as possible, certifications offer a much more direct path to employment because of their increased focus.


Style of Training

COLLEGE OR DEGREE PROGRAM

Many college courses focus more on theory and the history of a subject than on its current practice. Textbooks written years ago may still be in use until a new edition is released. Courses will vary in how much focus they offer on hands-on training depending on the instructor and the availability of lab facilities.

CERTIFICATION COURSES AT ACI LEARNING

All of our courses include a mixture of lecture time and hands-on labs. Labs are different for each class. In A+, you’ll be taking apart and putting back together computer hardware. Network+ and Security+ are more software-focused, with students configuring network components and checking the security of connected virtual systems.

We want to make sure that our students get the experience they need, working with real computer systems and programs. We understand that it’s important for our students to get certified, but we also want to make sure that they have mastered the skills they’ll need to excel in the workplace.


Getting Hired after Training

COLLEGE OR DEGREE PROGRAM

The completion of a degree marks a huge milestone in one’s career and shows that they have the dedication and determination needed to complete their program. Degrees are respected all over the world as a sign of accomplishment and knowledge, but they don’t signify the same kind of skills verification that a certification does. This is because certifications focus on very specific bodies of knowledge, while two graduates with Computer Science Bachelor’s degrees may have very different skill sets.

CERTIFICATION COURSES AT ACI LEARNING

One thing that many colleges lack is follow-through with students who’ve graduated. Once you’re done, you’re pretty much on your own when it comes to finding a job. At ACI Learning, we make it our No. 1 priority to help you get hired in a job you’ll love. Each campus has a dedicated Career Services team that will work with you to optimize your resume, perfect your LinkedIn profile, and practice interviewing. When you’re ready, we’ll connect you with our network of employer partners that are looking to hire entry-level IT roles.

When applying to careers in the IT field, certifications can be a very persuasive credential. For example, if a company wants to hire a Network Engineer, knowing that a candidate has their Network+ and CCNA certifications may be valued over a degree that may or may not have covered the expertise they need. This is especially true of the IT careers in demand right now. If you look at a list of IT jobs, you’ll see certifications listed for almost every one of them. According to a survey conducted by CompTIA, 93% of hiring managers believe IT certifications are valuable in validating expertise. Not only that, but 80% of employers reward their staff for passing certification exams with an increase in salary or pay, public recognition, bonus, or promotion.


Certifications vs. Degrees: Who is the Final Winner?

And the final winner is… *drumroll*

Really, we can’t say that one of these routes is superior to the other.

If you want a strong foundation and an unparalleled breadth of knowledge, a degree is the best path.

If you’re interested in quickly gaining skills and certifications that will get you employed in IT, certification training is a great option.

But did you know that at ACI Learning you can do both?


With ACI Learning, You Don’t Have to Choose Just One!

In 2018, the American Council on Education’s College Credit Recommendation Service (ACE CREDIT®) officially recommended 14 ACI Learning courses for college credit. The American Council on Education (ACE) serves as the major coordinating body for the nation’s higher education institutions. Simply put, ACE CREDIT helps adults gain academic credit for courses and examinations taken outside traditional degree programs.

One can debate the merits of a degree or a particular certification endlessly, but there’s no doubt that having both a degree and the right certifications is a perfect recipe for career success. You can read more about which courses are approved and how many credits they’re recommended for on ACE’s website.

ACI Learning also has formed a comprehensive partnership with Colorado State University-Global Campus (CSU-Global) to create career-relevant, continued-education pathways for technology professionals. This partnership includes an agreement for credit articulation, as well as a 10% tuition discount at CSU-Global for ACI Learning students. CSU-Global is an online university, and students can attend from anywhere.


Are You Interested in Starting an IT Career?

If you’re ready to get started in IT, ACI Learning is a great choice. Our intensive training will quickly teach you everything you need to know to get hired in IT. Many students are employed in IT within three months of starting classes at ACI Learning. Our classes are taught by expert instructors who hold the certifications you’re training for. ACI Learning covers the cost of one certification attempt per class; plus, we have onsite testing centers to make sitting for the exam easy and stress-free. Once you’ve completed your certifications, our Career Services team will work with you to get your resume and LinkedIn profile polished, then connect you with local employers that are part of our Employer Partner network. That’s what makes us the experts when it comes to helping students start IT careers.

To find out more about how we can help you start an IT career, get in touch with us today.


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