In today’s fast, market-driven economy, it can be difficult for a newcomer or career changer to decide between technical or IT training / certification(s) and traditional college degree paths. We take a look at these two alternatives so you can decide which one is right for you!

Key Differences Between IT Training and Degree Programs

There are a few fundamental differences between traditional college programs and technical training programs. A traditional college will generally mandate certain “area requirements,” or classes you must take outside of your major to graduate with a degree. It is important to realize that with any traditional college degree, a great deal of time commitment and financial investment is required. Your area requirements can take a year or more before you are even able to begin actual technology courses.

Turning to IT training and IT certification, there is a stark difference. 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. Course length varies widely depending on the course, program, certification, and school.

IT certifications are different than a degree a student would receive by attending a traditional college. A college degree in Information Technology usually has subjective courses, depending on the issuing college. A technical or IT certification is confirmation of knowledge at a national, or in some cases, international standard of a certain area of applied technology.

What Timing Fits Your Plan?

Time Money Outcomes - Do They Equal Out?As we mentioned earlier, timing is a big consideration when making the decision between technical training and college. Colleges generally operate on a semester basis, meaning that the average course lasts approximately 15 weeks and you get about and average of 3 hours per week of class time.

IT training and IT certification courses generally have a shorter course length than college. In general, you will be able to find IT training courses ranging from 5-30 days per course. Some certifications require multiple courses so, for example, you may need to take two 5-day courses to get one certification. Technical classes usually have more laboratory and classroom hours, because, while much of college is theoretical and independent work, IT training programs focus on hands-on applications of technology. The total amount of time it takes to complete training and achieve certification is variable and will greatly depend on your career goals, previous experience, the institution you are attending, and what certifications you’d like to earn. The timing will almost certainly be less than the four years it takes on average for a college student to receive any Bachelor’s degree.

Student services and career counselors are generally available at good technical schools and colleges alike to help you work through your career path and what courses you will need to achieve your goals. 

Employment and Career Opportunities

Now let’s take a look at which types of jobs value IT certifications over college IT degrees. According to Ramon Padilla, an experienced IT manager interviewed by Tech Republic, an online computing magazine, certifications are almost always preferred to degrees when the job is for something specific. This is because an individual can amass certifications, each of which has a very specific title, such as “Oracle Database Administrator,” and these coincide very well with job descriptions hiring managers are looking to fill. Having certifications is almost always better when the hiring is being done by another person who works in Information Technology versus a Human Resources employee or similar. Just saying you have an “IT degree” doesn’t answer too many questions, while having very specific and specialized certifications in areas where the company is lacking speaks volumes about how useful you will be if you are hired.

There are many jobs that require one of many available IT certifications. Just by looking at a career listing site, such as StackOverflow Careers (almost exclusively slated for technology jobs) and Indeed.com, you can see there is a massive collection of job openings just waiting for people with qualifying certifications to apply. For example, let’s look at a Computer User Support Specialist job. This position is a great entry level job for those who are looking to gain experience and pursue an IT career. There are no pre-requisites, prior experience, or college degrees required and with the right training and certifications, you can earn between $30,000 and $56,000 per year! For those who want to pursue additional training and certifications, it is easy to move up the ladder in a relatively short time.

Tech Careers 2016

One of the more profitable certifications to get is the Cisco Certified Network Associate or CCNA. This certification will give you all of the networking fundamentals, competencies, and qualifications needed to pursue an IT career in Network Administration. Network administration is a very well-paying job. Companies are constantly striving to keep up with increasing technology demands of clients and employees alike, and more and more careers are opening up every day. According to PayScale.com, just this certification yields salaries starting from a bit above $40,000 to well over $100,000! That isn’t too bad for a job that does not require a college degree. There are also several other IT certifications available from technology conglomerates around the world that can qualify you for several other well-paying jobs, including System Administrator, Network Administrator, Project Manager, and many more.

Cyber Security Specialties

A huge specialty in IT right now is Cyber Security. Companies have become much more concerned about the security of their computers and networks, especially after high profile hacks of large corporations like Sony have been leaked to the news. This has led to a large demand for cyber security professionals. Certifications like CEH or Certified Ethical Hacker and CISM or Certified Information Security Manager are in high demand right now.

Certified Ethical Hacker Payscale 2016

Another relevant certification available in Cyber Security is the Cisco Cybersecurity Specialist (CCS). According to Cisco’s Learning Network, all five of the IT security fields their certifications apply to have had large salary increases recently; this includes Data Security Analyst, Network Security Administrator, Systems Security Administrator, Network Security Engineer, and Information Systems Security Engineer. All of these jobs use some portion of the CCS certification, and their estimated 2015 average salaries range from $71,000 all the way to $156,000.

Note that in most cases, to achieve a good position in Cyber Security you will need several years of experience in addition to certifications but not necessarily a college degree. It is important to research a career path for Cyber Security to determine if four years of experience will benefit you more or less than four years of college.


In short, IT training and IT certification may be a viable alternative to traditional college. Especially if you are not ready or cannot afford to invest years and large amounts of money into “area requirements” and other general expenses. It also may be ideal if you need to progress along a career path quickly, are tired of your current job, or are currently unemployed. Finally, while only you can make the decision about which path is right for you, you should remember that IT certification is one of the few ways you can train so quickly and get paid a salary well above what some people who recently graduated from a Bachelor’s program may be able to get! Contact LeaderQuest today to learn more about our IT Career Training programs!