You’ll often see Cisco’s CCNA certification referred to as an entry-level accreditation, but closer examination of Cisco’s suggested prerequisites recommends that candidates have at least two years of network experience before taking the test. This can be confusing as the term 'entry-level' suggests that a candidate with limited experience can pass the exam in a relatively short period of time and get an entry-level IT job.
So, if Cisco is recommending candidates need years of experience, is CCNA entry-level?
What is CCNA?
The Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA) certification is an early-career IT accreditation that covers the fundamentals of computer networking, with a particular focus on Cisco hardware and software. If you’re looking to build a career that requires networking knowledge, then Cisco certifications are extremely beneficial, starting with CCNA.
Why is CCNA Popular?
Cisco Systems Inc was founded in 1984 and quickly became the dominant player in the computer networking industry. Its software and hardware are used widely throughout the world, and most of the world’s businesses rely on Cisco to support their digital infrastructure. This dependence on such a well-established and trusted organization means that there is always a steady flow of well-paid opportunities for skilled Cisco technicians.
Cisco certifications are also popular because they tend to lead to better salaries than similar qualifications. Job advertisements show that technicians with CCNA typically command higher salaries than those with the similar CompTIA Network+ qualification.
In addition to the credibility being CCNA certified affords you, the US has a growing skills gap when it comes to qualified IT personnel. For the foreseeable future, there will be more openings for IT roles than there are people to fill them. So, people with certifications like CCNA and some IT experience can find rewarding and well-paid jobs.
Is CCNA Entry-Level?
Well. Yes and no!
Technically, it is totally possible for an IT novice to prepare for and pass the CCNA exam. The CCNA exam has no proscribed prerequisites, so anyone can take and attempt to pass it.
If, however, you are starting from scratch, it will be challenging to assimilate and understand the considerable volume of knowledge required to pass the test in a reasonable amount of time. In addition, your lack of practical experience working with Cisco equipment will make the exam that much harder to pass. It will be a bit like jumping into the deep end of the pool when you haven’t learned to swim yet.
According to students who have taken the CCNA exam, the hardest part is absorbing and understanding all the required knowledge needed to answer the broad range of questions. Many say that having previously taken CompTIA A+ and Network+ was a big advantage, as it meant that preparing for the CCNA exam was building on what they already knew rather than starting from scratch.
In addition, those who were able to train with real Cisco switches and routers ‘hands-on’, rather than though online virtualizations, said that this helped their overall understanding of the equipment.
So, if you are an IT novice thinking about getting Cisco certified, you need to consider whether you dive straight into CCNA, a potentially heavy lift, or is there an alternative approach that will ultimately get you Cisco certified, but allow you to get an entry-level job and experience along the way.
There is no right or wrong answer here. Your approach will depend on your available time, your ability to learn and retain large amounts of knowledge, and perhaps most importantly, how quickly you need to get that entry-level IT job, you are looking for.
CCNA is certainly a foundational certification that can help you find an entry-level job. Preparing for the CCNA exam will ensure you have a sound understanding of networking and Cisco-specific fundamentals; however, you do not necessarily need this level of certification to get an entry-level IT job. If you’re asking the question ‘is CCNA entry-level?’ you may want to consider other foundational courses that are easier to pass while giving you a good grounding in IT and networking.
Is CCNA Worth it?
All this may sound a little discouraging if you were set on getting your CCNA, but don’t be put off pursuing Cisco certifications as a goal.
Career-wise and financially, CCNA is a great certification to have and more than worth the time and money you will put into training for it. If you plan on a career working with networks, Cisco certifications carry a lot of weight and will give you an edge over other job applicants who don’t have them.
Cisco qualified technicians also tend to earn more than those with similar certifications such as CompTIA Network+.
- According to ZipRecruiter, the US national average salary for people with CCNA certification is $84,376 a year, instead of those with CompTIA Network+, which average $72,858.
- With a big concentration of government agencies, military bases, and corporate headquarters In Washington DC, the average salary for CCNA qualified technicians rises to $91,035. In contrast, CompTIA Network+ technicians earn a little less at $73,730.
Whether you jump right into CCNA training or take a more measured approach, keep it as a near-term goal.
How Should I Prepare For CCNA in Washington DC?
If you have CompTIA A+ and Network+ under your belt or a couple of years of experience working with networks (particularly Cisco networks), you are ready to start preparing for the CCNA exam. You should find that CCNA training builds on your existing knowledge and adds many Cisco specific terminology and skills.
If you are a novice with little or no IT experience and are looking for an entry-level IT job, our recommendation would be to take a step back from CCNA and start with CompTIA A+ and CompTIA Network+. These certifications will ensure that you have the foundational knowledge you need to step into CCNA training in the future. They will also enable you to jump into an entry-level IT job more quickly than taking CCNA from a standing start.
If you’re an IT novice, but you are prepared for the heavy-lift that training for CCNA will be, then we applaud your commitment and determination. Despite the challenges, it is certainly possible, and we do have students who come to us with limited IT experience but succeed in getting their CCNA accreditation in a timely fashion.
Whichever approach you take to getting your CCNA, we recommend that you take the best available training program you can afford. Whether that’s a self-paced, online video program or an in-person, instructor-led boot camp, the adage ‘you get what you pay for’ still applies.
Having run thousands of CCNA training classes, we also recommend that you find a program that offers hands-on training with real Cisco equipment. Students often comment on the difference this makes in preparing for the exam versus learning using online simulations.
Get Your CCNA Training in Maryland
TrainACE CCNA classes include everything you need to prepare for the exam. In addition to experienced instructors, you train on real Cisco equipment, get all the official course ware, and should you fail the first attempt at the exam, we’ll give you free class retakes and a free exam retake voucher.