It’s a question we hear a lot here at TrainACE – Can I get into IT without a degree?
In short, yes you can. An increasing percentage of successful IT professionals have built their careers on their experience, and by obtaining professional certifications, rather than taking a four-year degree. Professional IT certifications cover a wide range of topics in a focused way, and many can be obtained relatively quickly. Increasingly employers in Maryland are looking for people with specific skill sets and are relying on certifications to assess an individual’s skills and knowledge.
What are IT Certifications?
IT certifications were developed by organizations like CompTIA, EC-Council and Cisco to provide IT workers with a way to prove they have gained knowledge and experience with specific aspects of the industry. These range from beginner certifications such as CompTIA’s A+, that prove an individuals’ basic knowledge of computers, through to advanced cybersecurity or risk management certifications that demonstrate years of experience in dealing with technical and managerial aspects of the industry.
For instance, if you are looking to get into IT without a degree, and have limited computer experience, you should start with CompTIA A+. This foundational qualification tests your knowledge of how a computer is put together and functions, along with some basic computer networking skills. A typical instructor-led class in Maryland will last 40-56 hours, although you will need to supplement this with a significant number of hours of self-study.
It is certainly possible to get an entry-level IT job in Maryland with just an A+ certification, particularly if you have demonstrable experience working with computers in a volunteer capacity or as a hobby, but most employers will be looking for a combination of CompTIA A+ and CompTIA Network+.
Network+ training and certification expands the skills learned while taking A+ classes and proves you understand the fundamentals of computer networking within an organization. An instructor-led Network+ class will take 40 hours of class time, plus self-study time. So, even with adding the additional time it takes to get your Network+ certification, it is certainly possible to get qualified and be applying for jobs in IT within 1-2 months, rather than 4-years.
What are the Benefits of Certification Training vs Getting a Degree?
Taking the IT certification route in your IT career has several benefits over the more traditional degree one. These revolve around time, cost, finances, and your current academic qualifications.
As mentioned above, building your career through experience and certifications allows you to get into the job market faster than attaining a degree. Rather than spending up to four years in academia, you can get into the job market within months and start building your experience. Experience in the workplace is a key factor in progressing in the IT industry, particularly in Maryland, where many large government agencies and large IT companies are headquartered.
In terms of cost, the IT certification route is generally cheaper than attending college. Training for individual early-career certifications can cost up to $3,500, depending on the certification and the type of class you wish to attend. But, even if you take 2-3 classes during your first few years in the industry, you will still have paid far less than the cost of a four-year degree. Plus, you are far less likely to need to take out huge loans to cover the training.
A large part of the decision to attend college is based on your personal financial situation. If you lack the resources to take on a college degree, then taking each certification as you need them whilst working full-time, is a great option to have.
There is the issue of prior qualifications. Most colleges, particularly the well-respected ones, have entry requirements that you may not have. You may be really great at working with computers, but you lack the more generalized qualifications that colleges often ask for. While soft skills such as the ability to communicate clearly are very important when working in IT, you can hone these skills throughout your career. So, if you find the lack of qualifications is holding you back from a degree course, think about using the experience and certification route into the industry.
Are there Benefits to Taking a Computer Science Degree?
Even though you can get into IT without a degree, there are benefits to attending college and getting a concentrated exposure to IT skills and knowledge. So, when you are considering your computer education options, do not dismiss a degree education out of hand.
Taking a computer science degree course is likely to give you a broader knowledge of the IT industry than taking individual certifications. You will get a bigger picture view of the industry and the skills you need to succeed in it.
A degree course will concentrate a lot of the knowledge and skills you will need further down the road, into a 2-to-4-year period, whereas the step-by-step approach can take longer. Perhaps the main benefit of a degree class is participating in the ‘college experience’. You will spend time networking with like-minded students and may well get access to some of the latest IT research and researchers.
One thing to keep in mind when choosing a degree course is that because the IT job market is largely driven by professional certifications, you will still need to train for and pass certifications like Security+ or CCNA in order to apply for certain job roles. When researching a computer science degree, be sure to check out whether the classes will cover what you need for the area of IT you wish to go into.
So, Prove to Me that I Don’t Need a Degree to Get into IT
If you need more assurance that you can start a career in IT without a degree, go to one of the major job sites like Monster, or Indeed, and search for jobs related to help-desk support, web development, system administration. network engineer, cybersecurity, or software development. Chances are that few of these will require a four-year degree, but nearly all will list the professional certifications needed for that role.
As you can see from those searches, a high percentage of IT jobs do not require a two or four-year degree. The reality is that most IT positions only require proof that you have the skills and experience to do the job. Professional IT certification programs do exactly that.
These days recruiters do not ignore applicants without degrees, unless they lack the actual skills needed for the role on offer. So, if you've been holding back on an IT career because you don't have a degree, think again.
Computer Professionals Without Degrees by the numbers
- The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics states that 26% or one fourth of US IT professionals do not have a bachelor’s degree or higher.
- About 69%, or two-thirds of CompTIA certification candidates lack a four-year college degree. (Source: CompTIA Post Exam Survey, Q1 2018)
- Forty-nine percent, or close to half, of IT career postings reviewed in 2017 didn’t have a degree (two or four year) as a necessary requirement for applicants. (Source: CompTIA Employer Perception Study)
Your approach to getting starting an IT career depends largely on your personal situation and learning style. There are clear benefits to taking either the certification or the degree approach.
The certification approach gives you more flexibility, enabling you to build experience in the real world, gaining each certification as you need it, while bringing in a salary.
The degree-based approach will give you a broader and more concentrated view of the IT industry, potentially enabling you to step into a higher-level role with your first job than maybe a CompTIA A+ or Network+ certification will on their own.
Which ever way suits you best, the IT industry offers a wide range of exciting and potentially lucrative career paths. So, way up the pros and cons of how you can best succeed and dive in.
If You're Ready to Get Started with Certification Training
Assuming that you have limited IT experience and are looking to get started in the industry, we would recommend looking at help-desk type roles, and taking CompTIA A+ and CompTIA Network+ training and certification. These two certifications will set you up with the fundamental skills and knowledge you’ll need to build a strong career.
There are lots of options for training out there, from free self-paced study to fully supported instructor-led classes. Be aware that you get what you pay for, many free training options lack the quality and support of more expensive programs.