Home Education Options A Certificate or Degree in IT – Which Path is the Best?

A Certificate or Degree in IT – Which Path is the Best?


Students often wonder — which educational path best suits my specific career need? The answer depends on factors like the time to completion, cost, and job requirements. Fortunately, in the Information Technology (IT) world, learners have many options from which to choose including whether to earn a certificate or a degree.

While undergraduate degrees are generally more comprehensive and take three to five years to complete, a focused certificate program of 18 credit hours can often be completed within a few months. Also, a certificate program is typically built around a specific technology or methodology. For example, cloud computing is a relatively new and rapidly growing discipline. While there are degree programs that may include aspects of cloud computing, some universities are already offering focused certificates in cloud computing. This educational opportunity can be advantageous for a professional who identifies this as a gap in his or her existing IT skills.

[Learn more about an Undergraduate Certificate in Cloud Computing online.]

The speed in which a certificate can quickly address and prepare students to understand emerging trends give certificates a particular advantage over a degree. This is especially true in the IT workplace, where it’s common for professionals to add certificates throughout their career. This is because IT is a fast-changing field where sometimes the technology they mastered previously, becomes obsolete within six to twelve months. For example, the IT security discipline is even more fluid as new technology and skills are needed to quickly mitigate new vulnerabilities, threats, and attacks.

[Interested in systems security? Take a look at a bachelor’s in in information systems security online.]

A certificate may be a cost-effective alternative for some students whose employers reimburse based on greater return on investment. Moreover, students may qualify for professional development units for those who seek or hold advanced professional certifications. At the very least, certificates may enhance one’s existing degree without the need to embark into another degree program. In disciplines like cybersecurity or digital forensics, two very new fields, a degree path may not be available, leaving only the option to pursue a certificate program.

Both a degree and a certificate program are applicable in meeting certain job requirements. For example, an undergraduate four-year or a graduate two-year degree in IT security can provide a comprehensive foundation of the principles within the field. At the same time, a certificate program in IT security can quickly validate and enhance skills and competencies, as well as increase one’s credibility within the field. Regardless of which option you choose, both a certificate and a degree demonstrate a commitment to enhancing your skills and keeping pace with changes in the industry.

By Irena Kageorgis
Program Director, Information Systems Security & Information Technology Management, American Public University