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An IT Degree or Certifications: Which Do I Need to Succeed?

5/15/2013 3:00 pm

Online IT Student

The field of information technology is a diverse one, full of promising career options covering a broad range of specialties ripe with opportunities to succeed and excel for motivated, smart leaders.

It’s also a competitive field. For those looking to break into IT, and for those already working in technology but seeking ways to get ahead, how do you best demonstrate your leadership? How do you stand out among the competition?

IT professionals are having that very conversation on discussion forums and social networks across the Internet. And one question regularly comes up: Which is more important, IT certifications or an IT degree?

And over and over again, the people who know how to answer that question best—the employers hiring IT professionals, the job-seekers facing scrutiny of their own credentials, and the successful IT pros who have found their dream jobs—all say the same thing: It kind of depends.

On one such discussion board, at Spiceworks.com, the conversation is similar to what you see elsewhere. It goes something like this:

Original post: I have just started my IT career. Which is better: going to college and getting a degree or getting certifications?

First type of comment: If you want to be successful, you need both.

Second type of comment: I have a degree, but every company where I apply just wants me to have certs.

Third type of comment: I have every cert you can think of, but employers just keep asking me why I don’t have a degree.

In fact, when someone does express preference for one over the other – say, a degree is more important because certifications are always changing and are so industry-specific – they’re usually speaking specifically about their own situation. Maybe they’re looking to transition out of IT into a field where certifications mean less, or maybe the certifications they’ve earned are outdated or on topics that don’t apply to the kinds of jobs they’re now seeking.

The safest solution, it seems: Get both.

But this also sounds like a time-consuming—not to mention expensive—solution. It doesn’t have to be. There are programs—like the online IT degrees at WGU—that actually involve earning industry certifications while you earn your degree. Passing certain courses and earning certain certifications are done at the same time. After all, WGU is a competency-based university, and industry certifications are one of the key ways the IT field has created to identify competency.

And it’s affordable: A degree and certifications all wrapped into one low, flat-rate tuition of $2,890 per six-month term.

For example: October has been declared National Cyber Security Awareness Month by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Keeping online data secure is a critically important task, and having knowledgeable information security pros who have mastered the latest industry certifications is at the heart of the industry’s efforts to protect online security.

Graduates of WGU’s bachelor’s degree in IT–Security program walk into their job interviews not just with a degree but with 15 industry-recognized certifications, from Cisco, CIW, CompTIA, and Microsoft. Master of Science in Information Security and Assurance grads earn four certifications through their program.

WGU has seven IT bachelor’s degree programs that all include industry certifications, so deciding whether to earn your degree or go for those certs doesn’t have to be an either-or question anymore.

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