I’ve blogged on the Degree or Cert conundrum a bit before (see http://www.windowsitpro.com/Article/ArticleID/50081/Certification_or_Postgraduate_Degree.html) but the topic comes up enough in the Careers forum on the Windows IT Pro message board (see http://forums.windowsitpro.com/web/forum/categories.aspx?catid=53&entercat=y ) that it is probably worth another go around.

Those who have finished high school and might have a part time job in a superstore environment selling and repairing computers want to know – should they go to college and get an IT related degree or should they just pursue certification?

The first answer is “You Can Do Both!!!!”

If you are diligent and really committed, which let us be honest, most people around the age of 18-21 are not, you can fit your certification studies in around your degree studies. It just means a little less Xbox and partying and the reading of a few more Training Kits and taking of Practice Exams. This approach might be a bit optimistic for most people. One advantage is that you balance the academic nature of your degree with the vocational nature of the certification.

The second answer is “You can worry about the certs later, do your degree now”.

Conventional wisdom is to spend time doing the degree and then pick up the certs later. Working against this is the increasing cost of degrees which are still by and large non-vocational. If you’ve passed a certification, you’ve demonstrated that you have a set of specific job role appropriate skills. Completing a degree demonstrates something more ephemeral. You might not get a job because of the skills you learned during the course of your degree study, but as you progress in your career it is more likely that you won’t get higher level jobs if you lack a degree.

Degrees have been around several hundred years and even if they don’t seem specifically useful to whatever you are going to be doing in your job, our culture’s attachments to them isn’t going to go away. Choosing to pursue a cert now and not a degree may lead to quicker employment, but you might be setting up a career roadblock for yourself 20 years down the track. Most people find going back to do a degree later in life more difficult than they find going back to do a certification. If you’ve completed a degree, you will have the ability to ramp up quickly for each cert exam because getting the degree has taught you to study effectively. I’ve noticed that people who haven’t finished degrees tend to have a harder time self studying for certifications than people who have finished degrees.

The third answer is “Just keep up with the Certs”

For some people embarking on a process of continual certification will suit their career a lot better than spending several years working on a degree. That’s the thing you’ve got to remember about certification though: It is a continuing process. Certs are very suited to the modern workplace where you constantly need to re-skill if you are to stay on the ball. You can’t just get one cert and coast for the rest of your career. You’ll need to continue to take exams on a regular basis for the rest of your career because the technology is evolving. You’ll need to do this to an extent if you have a degree also, but just be aware that to get ahead without a degree you will need to study just as hard for your certs, if not harder (until you develop the appropriate learning skills) as you would have to attain a degree.