Degree versus Certifications?
The biggest question in a technical career is whether to get a degree or to become certified. The answer starts with looking at your motives. Ask yourself “why do I want a degree?”.
If you aspire to become an IT manager or director, then a degree or Masters will look good on your CV. If you want to teach, then you’ll need a degree.
If you aspire to become highly paid, then pursuing certifications such as CCNA, CCNP and CCIE offer the best financial return, as you’ll probably earn more than the IT manager.
Step 1 – Do you want High Pay?
If you want to be highly paid, then get certifications. Being a contractor pays the highest rates, and for this you’ll need to be certified.
Step 2 – Want a career in Management or Teaching?
If you want to teach, then you’ll need a degree, plus an extra year’s post graduate course in teaching.
If you want to compete in the world of Management, then an MBA or a Masters in Computing will assist you.
Step 3 – Desktop Support
Generalist courses such as A+, Network+ and Security+ will equip you for desktop roles. You don’t need a degree for these roles – employers would prefer certifications.
Step 4 – Security Research
Research roles normally start at Masters, but most employers will ask for a Phd. So a degree is only the first step – prepare yourself to gain a doctorate.
Step 5 – Stay at home parents and carers
Many mums and dads find themselves as sole carers for children, due to divorce. Some children are disabled and need a carer. This provides the ideal opportunity to pursue your degree. You’ll get a student loan, and if you don’t re enter the workforce, you’ll never repay a penny towards your course fees.
If you have to care for a sick relative, then a student loan will pay you £6,000 a year, plus your £9,000 course fees. If they have cancer or need a longer period of treatment, then you can be around for them, help with the shopping and housework, and still get your degree – for free. More importantly, you’ll have 3 years at home to care for them – or drive them to hospital appointments.
The student loans company will not assist you in paying for certifications – so this route is closed to you. It has to be a university degree for carers – as only the degree is funded.
Step 6 – Want to be self employed?
Employers will hire you based on your ability to do the job. Therefore, they are keen to hire staff with certifications. A degree may or may not help you get a contract, but certifications will help.
Step 7 – Unemployed and near the age of retirement?
If you’re around 60 years old, and unemployed, then applying for a student loan and getting your degree is a great way forward. The UK government wipes out your student loan as soon as you retire. If you’re close to retirement, it means you can gain full funding, and never repay the debt. If for health reasons you are unemployed and can’t get a job, being at University means the Benefits agency will leave you alone. You’ll sign off the dole and won’t face being sanctioned for not signing on or missing an appointment. It’s an unusual solution, but if you can’t get a job, it may be a viable alternative until you reach retirement.
Step 8 – You want prestige or just prove you can get a degree?
Many of us take a degree, just to prove that we are capable of it. Many of us carry on and take a Masters degree, just to prove that we can take on the intellectual challenge. There is a certain status to having a Masters or Phd. So if you want a certain status in society – then prepare yourself for an extra 1 – 4 years of study.
Step 9 – Gain Certifications whilst at University
It is possible to take some of the cheaper certifications whilst at University. You’ll have to study over the summer break, but it is doable. From personal experience, the £150 fee is expensive – but if you pass then you have both a certification and a degree. You’ll get the job offer – with no hesitation.
Therefore keep asking yourself what outcome you want from the course. You may want a highly paid job, or want time at home with the children. Many parents become teachers, as it fits in with their lifestyle – and they get the summer holidays with their children. Some want the status of being a “doctor”. Examine your motives, and what you want from the course. That will help you select the right path, and for many, the degree is not the right choice.
That said, most of us consider University, one of the greatest experiences of our lives.