IT Degrees with Certifications

Explore the benefits of pursuing an IT degree with certifications and determine which tech credentials align with your education and career goals.

The debate over formal education versus IT certifications has been raging for decades. One compelling solution to this conundrum is earning an IT degree that includes industry-recognized certifications. This rapidly popularizing approach offers the best of both worlds, blending the deep theoretical knowledge of a college education with the contemporary real-world skills of IT certification.

In this post, I will outline the benefits of pursuing an information technology degree with certifications and highlight which IT credentials you should look for in an accredited degree program.

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Top Paying IT Certifications

ITCareerFinder examines salary data and hiring trends to uncover the top-paying IT certifications and why they demand a premium.

This article will be updated annually with the latest credentials and wages.

Top Paying IT Certifications

Do IT certifications really pay off? It depends.

According to the IT Skills and Certifications Pay Index published by analyst firm Foote Partners LLC, tech certifications continued their three-year plunge in value during the third quarter of 2021 and are now at their lowest point since early 2013.

However, there are still some IT certifications that employers are willing to pay extra for.

To ensure that you invest in the training and certifications that offer the highest return on investment, here are this year's highest-paying IT certifications.

  • SANS/GIAC Security Expert (GSE)

    The GSE certification is the most prestigious and valuable credential, topping Foote Partners’ recent list of highest-paying certs. However, it’s also among the most difficult to earn.

    With companies everywhere looking for solutions to burgeoning cyber security issues, GSE's rigorous, hands-on exam, lab exam, and experience requirements – covering general security skills, incident handling, intrusion detection, and analysis – sets it apart and makes it particularly valuable for individual contributors said David Foote, Foote Partners’ chief analyst & CRO.

    In fact, employers are willing to pay high salaries and median cash bonuses or premiums equivalent to 13% of base salary to tech workers and leaders who get GSE certified.

    For example, according to Foote Partners’ 2022 IT Professional Salary Survey, the average total cash compensation (including premiums) for certified cyber security specialists is $108,703, while certified senior-level specialists earn $133,161. Meanwhile, PayScale reports that the average salary for GSE-certified information security analysts is $100,000 and $189,000 for penetration testers.

    Before you start spending that extra cash, note that the prerequisite baseline for the GSE is GSEC, GCIH, and GCIA, with two Gold certifications.

  • GIAC Exploit Researcher and Advanced Penetration Tester (GXPN)

    Clearly, the demand for penetration testing skills and certifications will remain constant in the future, driven by regulation, compliance, and ongoing business risk, Foote said. That’s why employers are willing to pay median cash bonuses or premiums equivalent to 12% of base salary to professionals who attain the GXPN certification. Moreover, PayScale puts the average salary for GXPN certified IT pros at $107,000.

    The GXPN certifies that network and systems penetration testers, incident handlers, application developers, and IDS engineers have the knowledge, skills, and ability to conduct advanced penetration tests, model the behavior of attackers and improve security in the popular Windows and Linux environments.

    Applicants need to pass a 3-hour proctored exam to earn the highly valuable GXPN.

    Related: Best Pentesting Certifications

  • GIAC Security Leadership (GSLC)

    For current information security managers, security professionals with leadership responsibilities, or IT pros looking to move into management, earning the GSLC certification can boost your career and help you score a median cash bonus equivalent to 12% of base salary. The 3-hour proctored exam covers management issues related to the overall security lifecycle, including governance and technical controls, incident response, staff, projects, application security, and more.

    Currently, managers of information security with the GSLC earn average total compensation of $147,080, while lead IT security specialists earn $152,143 and directors of information security earn $200,006 according to the 2022 IT Professional Salary Survey. PayScale puts the average salary at $111,000 with senior leaders earning close to $200,000.

    Best of all, applicants can qualify through a combination of practical work experience, IT training, college courses, or self-study.

  • InfoSys Security Architecture Professional (ISSAP/CISSP)

    “With millions of people working from home and connecting to an organization’s internal network remotely, the role of security architect is more important than ever,” Foote said.

    Companies are having to “rearchitect everything” to increase security and reduce the risk of cyber-attacks and data breaches, he expanded.

    It’s no wonder that the CISSP with the architecture extension has increased in value. According to Foote, security architects can command premium pay equal to 12% of base salary and total cash compensation of $130,770, leaving little doubt that the ISSAP certification is a worthwhile investment for professionals who want to build on their expertise in information security architecture.

  • InfoSys Security Engineering Professional (ISSEP/CISSP)

    If you have two or more years’ experience in engineering and already hold the CISSP, obtaining your ISSEP certification can lead to greater opportunities and higher wages. This in-demand cert has increased in value by 33% over the last six months and commands average pay premiums of 12% on top of average annual base salaries of $151,000, according to PayScale.

    To sit for the ISSEP examination, you must be a CISSP in good standing and have two years cumulative, paid work experience in one or more of the five domains of the CISSP-ISSEP CBK.

  • Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP)

    Most IT pros start their journey to ISSEP or ISSAP concentration by earning a valuable core security credential and prerequisite, the CISSP certification. This baseline, vendor-neutral cert – which covers 8 vital domains of information security – can benefit the careers of everyone in IT.

    To illustrate, PayScale lists some 350 job tiles under the CISSP with an average salary of $117,000. If you want to specialize in cyber security, The New York Times reports that there will be 3.5 million unfilled jobs globally by 2021, up from one million positions in 2014.

    Suffice to say, showing employers that you not only understand security concepts, principles, and tools but also the most pertinent issues around cyber security will greatly increase your power at the salary negotiation table.

  • Six Sigma Master Black Belt

    Having a Six Sigma Master Black Belt certification signals to employers that you have the skills and knowledge to manage projects successfully, a passion for quality and process improvement, and the ability to lead and coach team members. In fact, because of its focus on improving profitability, many companies are actively recruiting Six Sigma Black Belts, and market demand is higher than ever.

    Speaking of profitability, the market value increase for Six Sigma Master Black Belt certification was 9.1% in the six months through July 1, 2021, and the average total compensation was listed at $169,170 in Foote Partners’ IT Salary Survey.

    Applicants are required to pass an exam, have a minimum of 4 years experience executing Six Sigma Projects in a Black Belt Capacity (or equivalent), and submit a project for review on a pass/fail basis.

  • Certified Scrum Master

    Why is Scrum the most popular Agile framework for iterative software development? Because it’s easy to implement and it works. While product owners, project managers, developers, and also trainers and coaches can benefit from certification, the World Economic Forum ranked scrum master 6th in their list of product development jobs of tomorrow. And employment data firm Burning Glass predicts a 37.9-percent increase in demand for scrum masters over the next decade.

    What’s more, according to Foote Partners’ data, certified scrum master certification holders can command 11% in median pay premiums or bonuses above base salaries averaging $96,785.

  • PMI Program Management Professional (PgMP)

    How does an experienced and successful project manager take their career to the next level? By becoming a program manager. However, even though program management is a well-paid next step, becoming proficient at managing multiple related projects is not easy.

    Earning PMI's Program Management Professional certification can help you move forward with confidence, demonstrate your competency to prospective employers and earn median pay premiums of 11% above base salaries that range up to $134,000. Plus, both high school and college grads can qualify by meeting the hands-on experience requirements and passing two evaluations.

  • CompTIA Cybersecurity Analyst (CySA+)

    Data shows that earning CompTIA's intermediate-level CySA+ certification may help you earn more money and elevate your career no matter which role, area of specialization or industry you pursue. For example, InfoSec puts the national median salary for someone with CySA+ certification at $74,952 per year, but as high as $152,806 depending on your location and role.

    Plus, the hands-on, performance-based, and multiple-choice assessment is also approved by the U.S. Department of Defense to fulfill Directive 8570.01-M requirements. This means that earning the CySA+ certificate can help you qualify for sought-after jobs in the state and federal government.

    After validating that you have the skills, techniques, and knowledge to prevent, detect, and combat cyber security threats inside and outside of the organization, employers will reward you with bonuses or premium pay ranging from 8% to 13% of base salary according to Foote Partners.

  • Certified Cloud Security Professional (CCSP)

    With Gartner forecasting that worldwide spending on public cloud services will grow 23.1% in 2021 to total $332.3 billion in the wake of the pandemic, earning the CCSP certification is a great way to show that you know how to secure critical assets in the cloud and earn median annual pay premiums of 11%, regardless of your level or position.

    Although PayScale puts the average salary for CCSP-certified pros at $118,000, the sky’s the limit. IT managers can earn base salaries of $185,000, while CTOs can rake in $250,000 and up.

    While the CCSP isn’t for newcomers, showing commitment to ongoing development can demonstrate your leadership potential to employers and lead to new and exciting career opportunities. Explore the best CCSP bootcamps to learn more about preparing for this lucrative certification.

Final Thoughts

While many IT certifications can enhance your resume and raise your market value, it’s clear that companies are most concerned about advanced persistent threats and protecting valuable data and information. Until supply catches up with demand, earning any one of these cyber security certifications can give you a competitive advantage and the best opportunity to earn high salaries, bonuses, and upward mobility.

Methodology

Our list of the top-paying IT certifications is based on data from the latest Foote Partners’ IT Skills and Certifications Pay Index and the firm’s IT Professional Salary Survey. The reports are based on compensation data provided by 3,805 private and public-sector employers in 83 American and Canadian cities who report pay for over 300,000 technology professionals in the U.S. and Canada.

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CompTIA A+ Alternatives

ITCareerFinder breaks down the top 4 alternatives to CompTIA’s A+ certification.

comptia a plus with alternative certs

In the rapidly evolving tech space, IT professionals use certifications to show employers that they possess the latest and greatest skills. While CompTIA’s A+ certification remains the gold standard for validating essential knowledge across key IT domains - especially for tech support roles - there exist alternative credentials that offer specialized skill development and unique employment opportunities.

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Top 10 CompTIA Certifications

A guide to the most valuable CompTIA certifications, broken down by IT career path.

This article will be updated annually with the best CompTIA certifications.

best comptia certifications

CompTIA certifications have long been a staple for IT professionals looking to solidify their skills and advance their careers. Their global recognition, career-focused subject matter, vendor-neutrality, and respect among employers and workers make them the first choice for many in the field.

But which CompTIA certification(s) should you pursue?

This guide will provide an overview of today’s best CompTIA certifications, organized by IT career path and skill level, to help you decide which credentials are right for you.

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Penetration Testing Certifications: Overview & Top 5 Certs

A guide to penetration testing certifications, including what they are, why they're valuable, and the best pen testing credentials for your cybersecurity career path.

This post will be updated annually with the top pen-testing certificates.

best penetration testing certifications

Penetration testing - a.k.a. “pentesting” - involves simulating attacks on networks and computer systems to identify vulnerabilities which can then be shored up by the cybersecurity team. Pen testing is a vital component of an organization’s information security strategy.

Pen testing certifications are professional credentials earned by IT security specialists who demonstrate a level of proficiency in this field. The leading pen-tester certificates are offered by various types of institutions, including cybersecurity industry associations, globally recognized certifying bodies, and technical training providers.

In this post, we will identify the best penetration testing certifications by experience level and specialization. For each certificate, we’ll highlight the key skills it covers, prerequisites, costs, benefits, training options, and more.

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CySA+ vs. Security+ Certification

A detailed comparison of CompTIA’s CySA+ and Security+ certifications.

CySA+ vs Security+

In the rapidly expanding field of cybersecurity certifications, two prominent credentials are the CySA+ (Cybersecurity Analyst) and Security+ from CompTIA. Both industry-respected certifications play a crucial role in validating the skills of cybersecurity professionals. But, how do the CySA+ and Security+ differ? Which one should you choose?

This page will provide a head-to-head comparison of the Security+ and CySA+ certifications. We’ll summarize each credential, and outline key aspects such as skill level, curriculum, costs, job roles, and exam details. We will also highlight some of the best CySA+ and Security+ training programs to help you get skilled up and ace the exams.

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IT Certification Path for Network Administrators

Darril Gibson, certified technical trainer and best-selling author of IT study guides, lays out a rock-solid IT certification path to begin or advance your career as a network administrator.

network admin certification path

Aspiring IT professionals frequently ask me questions like “How can I get into an IT job?” and “What is the best IT certification path for a network administrator?” Unfortunately, there isn't a one-size-fits-all answer because there are so many variables, such as how much knowledge you start with and what type of jobs are available where you live.

However, if you are focused on landing an IT job and you‘re willing to take the time to master the materials, you can earn several certifications that will make you highly desirable as a network administrator, one of the industry’s most essential and opportunity-rich positions. Learn the material, earn the certifications, and you’ll have an opportunity to shine at network administration job interviews.

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CCNA vs. Network+ Certification

A head-to-head comparison of the Cisco CCNA and CompTIA Network+ certificates including exam topics, skill levels, costs, and job prospects.

CCNA vs Network Plus

In the realm of computer networking, two certifications reign supreme due to their reputation and universal acceptance: Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA) and CompTIA Network+. These are arguably the best IT certifications for individuals looking to demonstrate fundamental networking skills. While both certifications have unique benefits and areas of focus, the decision between Net+ and CCNA will boil down to your experience, career goals and preferences.

This article will provide a detailed comparison of the CCNA and Network+ certifications to help you make an informed decision between the two. We’ll also highlight some of the best training programs for Network+ and CCNA exam prep.

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