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Information technology certificate programs teach students programming, computer support, and cybersecurity fundamentals. Enrollees use computer information technology certificate programs to help prepare for entry-level positions and further educational opportunities. As technology constantly evolves, an IT certificate can provide participants with strong knowledge to adapt as changes occur.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects an 11% growth rate for computer and information technology employment from 2019-2029. Prospective students with a strong interest in technology can pursue career opportunities in the growing sector by obtaining IT certificates.
This guide provides information on the best online information technology certificate programs. With detailed profiles about each school, the following rankings provide an excellent starting point for researching potential programs. We also explore reasons to consider an IT certificate, comparisons to other educational paths, and career possibilities.
Why Get an IT Certificate?
Information technology professionals keep digital systems running well for their employers. These workers troubleshoot computer issues, update software, operate databases, and handle security. Day-to-day tasks can include running a help desk or managing websites.
Prospective students can consider an information technology certificate program to develop practical skills and find a job more quickly. Certificate programs emphasize job readiness, and learners can later apply these credits to associate and bachelor's programs.
Aspiring technology professionals may wonder whether they want to pursue a higher degree in technology. With an IT certificate, students can test a college learning environment while also learning employable skills.
Program participants can also follow specific interests by choosing a certificate that focuses on networking, programming, or cybersecurity. They can also pursue more fundamental programs.
Some benefits of obtaining a certificate in information technology include:
- Job Preparation: IT certificate programs develop practical skills that employers want. Students leave ready for entry-level jobs in computer support, systems analysis, and network administration.
- Educational Foundation: With an IT certificate, students earn college-level credit that can later apply to associate and bachelor's degrees. Learners can test their interest in the field and college studies without committing to longer degree programs.
- Timeline: In general, an information technology certificate enrollee can finish the program in under a year, allowing them to join the workforce more quickly. The low number of credits and quick timeline can also translate to more affordable tuition costs.
Should You Get a Certificate or an Associate Degree?
With so many available options, prospective students may wonder whether to pursue an IT certificate or an associate degree. While the two share many similarities, an associate degree typically adds general education courses to the computer fundamentals.
An information technology certificate program focuses on practical skills to help learners enter the workforce. Prospective enrollees should remember, however, that the two choices are not mutually exclusive — credits earned toward an IT certificate can later apply to an associate degree.
Comparing Certificate and Associate Programs
|IT Certificate||IT Associate Degree|
|Typical Credit Requirements||12-23||60|
|Time to Completion||6-12 months||Two years|
|Curriculum Focus||Emphasizes IT-specific coursework for career preparation; often specializing in an area such as cybersecurity, IT essentials, networking, or cloud computing||Broader coursework includes some general education such as English, science, and math, plus major-specific courses for career preparation or further education|
|Example Courses||Introduction to programming, operating systems, and digital devices; software management; hardware management; network security; and computer troubleshooting||English composition; college mathematics; natural science; general psychology; intro to programming; network essentials; information security; help desk and computer support; server administration|
Top Online Associate IT Programs
Explore programs of your interests with the high-quality standards and flexibility you need to take your career to the next level.
IT Certificates Versus Bootcamps
Aspiring IT professionals may also want to compare and contrast information technology certificate programs with bootcamps. Like certificate programs, bootcamps provide career-focused technology training in about six months, though some feature shorter timelines. They typically include hyper-focused coursework in areas like app development and cybersecurity.
Bootcamps may emphasize career changes, advancement for working professionals, or entry-level preparation. Graduates do not typically leave with any college credit.
Comparing Certificate Programs and Bootcamps
|IT Certificate||IT Bootcamp|
|College Credit Earned||12-23||0|
|Types of Students||Individuals seeking entry-level work, college credit||People pursuing entry-level work, career advancement, industry certifications|
|Timeline||6-12 months||6 months, sometimes shorter|
|Careers||Computer support specialist; web developer; computer programmer||Software developer; web developer; cybersecurity specialist|
|Cost||Can run from about $5,400-$18,000||Roughly $10,000-$14,000|
What to Expect From an Information Technology Certificate Program
Prospective students considering information technology certificate programs can pursue several options. Most certificate programs emphasize job readiness, providing practical coursework in programming, operating systems, applications, and cybersecurity. Students may also work toward industry credentials, such as Cisco-certified network associate or various CompTIA certifications.
IT certificate students can focus their studies in cybersecurity, computer networking, or information systems. Some programs apply a predetermined set of courses, while others allow for customization through electives.
Typically, an IT certificate requires between about 12-23 credits and takes place over 6-12 months. Accredited programs and schools allow students to transfer previously earned credits. While tuition varies widely, prospective students can expect to encounter rates ranging from about $5,400-$18,000.
Applicants to information technology certificate programs usually need to submit high school transcripts, along with an online application. Most programs do not require a minimum GPA or standardized test scores.
Online programs specify that students must obtain the proper technology to participate in the class, including web cameras, browsers, current operating systems, stable internet connections, and software. Associate degrees apply similar minimum requirements, though more of them may test English proficiency or ask for placement exams.
Different Certificate Types
Prospective students can take advantage of many different IT certificate program options. Certificates can provide a first college experience and access to entry-level jobs, along with adding specialized skills to current degrees. Graduate certificates accept students with bachelor's degrees or higher. Prospective students should check prior education requirements before applying.
Information technology certificates can offer courses in person, online, or as a hybrid of both formats. Online courses may operate asynchronously, where students access course materials at their convenience, or through real-time video meetings.
While they share similar names, pursuing an IT certificate program differs from obtaining an industry certification. A certificate demonstrates that the student has earned college credit in a specific field. To earn industry credentials like CompTIA Security+ or Cisco-certified network associate, a professional must study and pass a multi-part examination.
An IT certificate program may prepare students to pursue industry credentials, but the two titles carry different meanings.
Popular IT Certificate Courses
Information technology certificate programs differ depending on the focus of the program. They may emphasize foundational knowledge, explore specializations, or build on previous education. A curriculum usually includes a set of core requirements, with some schools allowing students to engage with their interests through electives. Example courses include:
- Fundamentals of Networking
- With the CompTIA Network+ certification requirements in mind, this course provides an overview of local area networks, wide area networks, and wireless networks. Students delve into the specifics of network design to learn the best setups for various employer requirements. Subjects include network security measures and protocols.
- Organization of Data
- IT professionals may need to manage, build, and protect database systems for employers. Enrollees learn how organizations use databases to store critical information. The course also provides an overview of safe storage essentials, along with data evaluation, manipulation, display, and troubleshooting.
- Security Foundations
- This course takes a practical approach to network, database, and hardware security. Students learn to protect digital systems from cyberattacks through practical coursework. Techniques include protection, monitoring, and response. This course may prepare students for certifications like CompTIA Security+.
- Web Design and Development
- Learners who focus on overall IT essentials or programming courses may take core courses or electives in web design and development. This course prepares students to use the latest technology to build functional and attractive sites.
How Much Do IT Certificates Cost?
Tuition costs vary widely, depending on factors like the school's location, prestige, and the format of the program. Generally speaking, prospective students may encounter tuition costs ranging from about $5,400-$18,000.
Many schools differentiate between in-state and out-of-state students, charging higher rates for non-residents. Though private schools may not make this distinction, their rates may run on the higher end. Prestigious programs may also carry higher price tags.
Some aspiring IT professionals might choose a bootcamp instead of a certificate or associate-level program, since bootcamp costs run more around $10,000-$14,000. Prospective students planning to eventually earn degrees can pursue certificates to earn college credit and lower future educational costs.
Enrollees who meet half-time status can apply for federal loans by filling out FAFSA forms. Students may also qualify for scholarship opportunities through the school and professional organizations.
IT Jobs and Salaries
By obtaining an IT certificate, students open the door to many job opportunities. Entry-level positions like computer support or penetration specialists can provide a solid foundation for future career success. When IT professionals add additional education like an associate or bachelor's degree, plus useful industry credentials, they can pursue even more career paths.
Certificate-holders can qualify for many cybersecurity jobs under the general heading of information security analyst. As of May 2021, PayScale reports that penetration testers earn an average salary of $86,030, while incident managers made an average of $81,890. Graduates might also work as help desk technicians or entry-level web designers and programmers.
Computer network support specialists ensuring that their company's technology functions at optimal levels. They maintain systems and perform backups; evaluate network performance; and fix problems with local area networks, wide area networks, and wireless systems. These professionals may also assist individual employees with computer issues.
Largely employed in industries like computer systems design and related services, educational services, management of companies and enterprises, and software publishing, computer user support specialists directly assist customers with computer troubles. By communicating with the customer, they identify problems and offer step-by-step troubleshooting help. They may also repair equipment and provide training.
Web designers may program websites, design the user-facing front end, or perform administrative tasks like updates and error testing. Working in industries like computer systems design and related services, publishing, advertising, and consulting, they create websites to fit client needs. They may keep track of ongoing issues by monitoring traffic and performing necessary upgrades.
These professionals code software with programming languages like Java, Python, and C++. They develop functioning programs for various operating systems and work with software engineers to put plans into practice. Computer programmers check for bugs, maintain libraries of code, and run updates. Top industries include computer systems design and related services, finance and insurance, manufacturing, and software publishers.
As a subcategory of information security analysts, these professionals protect their organizations' digital assets from cyberattacks by searching for vulnerabilities. They examine websites, applications, operating systems, and network-connected systems for weak security measures and propose improvements.
Required Education: Bachelor's degree preferred; employers may accept experience and industry certifications | Average Annual Salary: $86,030
Frequently Asked Questions
How do you get an IT certificate?
Students can obtain an information technology certificate by completing about 12-23 credits over the course of 6-12 months. Most programs welcome applicants with high school diplomas or GED certificates and do not require standardized test scores.
What's the difference between an IT certificate and certification?
With an IT certificate, students take courses to earn experience and college credit. An IT certification is an industry credential that demonstrates an understanding in specific areas. Examples include CompTIA Security+ or Cisco-certified network associate.
What can you do with an information technology certificate?
An information technology certificate prepares students to work in entry-level IT jobs as computer support specialists, penetration testers, and web designers. Graduates can also apply the credits they earned toward associate and bachelor's degrees.
Can you get an IT job with a certificate?
IT certificate programs present practical, career-focused curriculum that help students secure jobs. Most programs emphasize career readiness, allowing graduates to qualify for entry-level positions. While some employers prefer further education, many IT jobs allow workers to substitute certificate-level experience.
The Five Best IT Certificate Programs
Our ranking of the five best information technology certificates is an excellent resource for prospective students. Programs must have either national or regional accreditation to qualify for this ranking. In some cases, a program may also hold industry-specific accreditation. Collegiate accreditation ensures that an institution meets the minimum educational standards set by government-recognized agencies. The accrediting bodies featured in this ranking are:
- Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE)
- Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC)
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