Your Guide to Understanding IT Certifications and Degrees

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In today’s fast-paced, ever-evolving technological world, the demand for information technology (IT) professionals continues to rise. Whether you’re considering a career change or are looking to advance within the field of IT, it’s important to understand the education and training needed to have success. With so many options to choose from, navigating the pathways can seem daunting.

This guide will help you understand just some of the IT certification and degree options available to you. You’ll be able to tell them apart and get to know the most popular choices and career opportunities.

Understanding IT Certifications

IT certifications serve as badges that validate the expertise an IT professional has in a specific area of technology. Not only do they enhance your resume, they also show your commitment to continuous learning and professional development. IT certifications are much more focused in their scope and can take up to 6 months to complete, often requiring a certification exam to reach that end.

Certifications come in several forms from vendor-specific programs to industry-standard credentials. Certifications can cover all sorts of IT areas including security, network systems administration, software and application development, DevOps, and business intelligence and analysis, among others.

CompTIA certifications such as A+, Network+, and Security+, are widely recognized and highly valued by employers across the IT sector. These certifications cover essential topics in hardware, networking, and cybersecurity, providing a solid foundation for entry-level IT roles. CompTIA certifications are integrated within the Computer Information Technology B.A. program at PLNU. 

In addition to vendor-specific certifications, there are also specialized credentials tailored for specific roles or technologies. For example, the Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH) certification is ideal for those interested in cybersecurity, while the AWS Certified Solutions Architect credential caters to professionals working with cloud computing platforms.

Exploring the Benefits of IT Degrees

While certifications provide training in specific areas, information technology degrees offer you a more comprehensive and holistic understanding of the field. A bachelor’s degree in Computer Science, Information Technology or a related discipline can give you a broad foundation in topics such as programming, algorithms, databases and systems architecture.

One advantage of earning a degree is the depth of the knowledge you gain over the course of the program. Unlike certifications, which focus on specific skills or technologies, a degree curriculum covers a wide range of topics and equips graduates with the versatility they need to adapt to different trends and technologies in the IT industry.


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Navigating the Future of IT Careers

The future for IT careers is exceptionally promising! As technology advances at a rapid pace, there is an increased demand for competent and talented IT professionals across various industries, including artificial intelligence.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, computer and information technology occupations are expected to grow twice as fast as the average occupation until 2032. The bureau also projects that nearly 378,000 IT jobs will be created annually within that time frame.

IT roles are also advantageous financially. The median annual wage in May of 2022 was with the median annual wage resting at $100,530, much higher than the median annual age of all other occupations at that time ($46,310).

Certification vs. Degree: Choosing the Right Path

Both certifications and degrees open doors to diverse career opportunities within the field, but the paths may vary depending on your individual goals.

IT Certifications

Certifications are particularly beneficial for individuals seeking a quick entry into the field. If you are brand new to the field and do not have any work experience, you can use certifications as a way to get your foot in the door.  Depending on the certification program you choose, you can obtain targeted training that is ideal for junior-level positions in the specific area you’re going for.

Certifications are also useful for seasoned professionals when it comes to updating your skillset. This can come in handy when it comes time for a promotion or negotiating a higher salary. According to a 2023-2024 Skillsoft IT Skills & Salary Report, 20 percent of IT professionals surveyed reported receiving raises after obtaining a certification. Although higher pay is not a guarantee, getting certifications may increase your chances of making more money.

For example, individuals aspiring to become network administrators or cybersecurity analysts may benefit from earning certifications like CompTIA Security+ or Cisco CCNA which bears witness to their proficiency in specific, targeted areas of IT infrastructure and security.

Certifications also take much less time and cost much less than a full-on degree would, making it beneficial for those seeking a less costly and time-consuming option.

Here are some IT certifications offered by PLNU within the Computer Information Technology B.A. program that help rising IT professionals fine-tune their skills in their area of interest:

Infographic that shows IT certifications that are offered by PLNU.

CompTIA IT Fundamentals

This test certifies basic IT knowledge and serves as a stepping stone to more advanced certifications, such as Security+ or Network+.

CompTIA A+

This certification validates knowledge of the hardware and software most commonly used in business and certifies the skills needed to support complex IT infrastructures.

CompTIA Network +

This certification validates the knowledge and skills needed to design, configure, manage, and troubleshoot wired and wireless devices.

CompTIA Security +

This certification covers the essential principles for network security and risk management — knowledge and skills needed to enter an IT security career.

CompTIA Cloud+

This certification validates the skills needed to deploy and automate secure cloud environments that support the high availability of business systems and data.

CompTIA Project +

This test certifies the knowledge and skills involved in professional project management. It validates the ability to initiate, manage, and support project and business initiatives.

There are some downsides, however, to solely relying on certifications to maintain a healthy IT career. Certifications often need to be updated every few years, which means IT professionals would have to pay to take the recertification exams required.

Another downside is that given their targeted focus, certifications may not be enough to give an IT professional a solid foundation in the field as well as more variety and versatility to adapt to various types of technology.

IT Degrees

On the other hand, a bachelor’s degree in Computer Science or Information Technology provides a broader foundation and opens doors to a wide range of career paths. Given that some type of bachelor degree is often preferred by employers, the degree option seems to be the safest bet for continuous job security and stability.

Degrees are also often required for senior positions and management roles. While certifications may require periodic renewal, a degree is a permanent asset that continues to add value throughout your career.

Graduates with degrees may pursue roles such as software developer, systems analyst, IT consultant, or project manager.

The downside to obtaining a degree is that it often takes up to four years and costs can be high. Many IT professionals obtain a degree and then go on to add certifications for specific platforms depending on their career focus and needs.

Take the Next Steps

The good news is that there are great degree programs that offer aspiring IT professionals the best of both worlds. One notable program is PLNU’s Bachelor of Arts in Computer Information Technology.

This program stands out for its accelerated timeline, students are able to complete the program in 15–18 months compared to the traditional 48 months it takes to complete a bachelor’s degree. The program is offered in a flexible hybrid format, combining online coursework with weekly in-person classes and is perfect for those with busy schedules. This format plus PLNU’s financial aid options offer students an incredible opportunity to jumpstart their IT career in the best conditions possible.

In addition to obtaining the foundation necessary for a versatile and diverse IT career, PLNU’s B.A. in Computer Information Technology program integrates all the aforementioned  industry-standard certifications.

Students will be able to complete at least three certification tests of their choice for the duration of the program, giving them a strong head start for a successful career in IT.

Take the next step with PLNU’s B.A. in Computer Information Technology.

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