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Four-year degree or specialized certification?

Which should I pursue: a four-year degree in information systems or a specialized certification, i.e. MCSE?

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When posed the question, "Which do you want from your employees: a degree or certification?" most employers give the somewhat frustrating answer "Both!" That's because degrees and certificates tell a different story about a person: degrees show evidence of an ability to learn and to carry through on longer term commitments and programs (it takes two to four or more years to earn a degree, often at considerable expense, and involves long-term, sustained effort); certifications show evidence of technical ability and a willingness to carry through on shorter-term commitments at relatively lower expenses and a lesser degree of effort.

If you must choose between one or the other, ponder this: once you earn a degree, you keep it for life. Once you earn a certification, you typically either have to re-certify after two to four years or replace older, outmoded certs with newer ones as older stuff gets phased out.

HTH, and let me know if you have any follow-up questions or concerns.

This was first published in December 2004

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