Even just a few years ago, it was assumed that professionals in essentially every career field were going to be more successful and poised for long-term employment if they had at least a four-year degree. Add to that a master’s or higher-level degree and the assumption was they would be almost guaranteed a thriving career.
Now, the perspective on degrees, particularly in IT and general technology fields, is shifting somewhat. Many Americans are facing crippling debt as a result of obtaining their degree, and there are an increasing number of certification programs that seem to be just as valuable to launch an IT career.
So, the question becomes, which is more valuable for IT professionals? Degrees or certifications?
While there isn’t one “right” answer to this question, below are some tips and guidelines that can help you decide the best path for your career.
When you’re deciding whether to pursue a degree or stick with certifications, the most important thing to consider is relevance. If you’re going to go for a degree or certifications that ultimately won’t be relevant to the jobs you’re applying for, it won’t matter which one you have. Hiring managers are going to want relevance above all else.
Certifications can be somewhat advantageous here, because they are often on narrowly tailored subject matter areas and they offer specific and high-level technical proficiencies, whereas a four-year degree may be more general, such as computer science.
Consider the comparison between a general computer science degree and a data scientist certification for example. The data scientist certification may make you a lot more marketable to employers that are looking for a specifically-defined skill set.
For a lot of IT professionals trying to decide between a degree or certifications, looking at cost is essential. Think about how much you would be making if you land your goal job and whether or not that justifies the cost of a degree program.
Certifications are generally going to be a lot less expensive to obtain, and you can typically pay for them out-of-pocket, rather than incurring debt.
The biggest problem students across all disciplines are running into when they graduate from degree programs is that they’re not making enough money to cover the cost of their student loan debt. This then ultimately derails them from making other big purchases, such as homes and cars.
One of the reasons IT and technology professionals are becoming increasingly drawn to certifications is because they can be updated and can stay relevant over the long-term, whereas a degree can quickly become outdated, particularly in the technology industry.
By relying on certifications, employees can keep updating their skills and staying on the leading edge of innovations in the industry. With a degree program, they don’t have that ability and their knowledge and skills acquired in their education can quickly become obsolete, and that’s something employers think about.
Again, when an IT or technology professional is trying to decide between a degree or certifications, there is no right answer as every individual and every career path is unique, but there are some considerations that should be kept in mind, including relevance, cost, and the long-term outlook of the path you select.