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Would I be better off obtaining my four-year degree or earning MS admin certs as I go out to seek my

I'm about to finish an AA degree in MIS and am wondering whether I should continue on to complete my bachelor's or pursue MCSE/MCSA certification instead. Can you tell me if I'd be better off obtaining my four-year degree or earning Microsoft administrator certs as I go out to seek my first job in IT?

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To some extent your question is easier to answer if you reframe it in the dating sphere: "Would you rather date someone who's gorgeous or someone who's rich?" It doesn't take a big stretch to realize that the honest answer is, "I'd rather date someone who's both!" Employers feel the same way about degrees and certification. While it's difficult for them to take an either-or position (and some do go for degrees, while others prefer certs, if pressed on this matter), it's easy and practical for them to prefer their candidates to have both kinds of credentials.

It's not just a matter of laziness, either. Four-year or advanced degrees demonstrate an ability to learn, to solve problems, to work inside complex systems and to stick things out for a significant amount of time. IT certifications demonstrate an interest in complex technologies, an ability to learn and solve problems, to focus one's efforts in one- to three-month chunks to get past specific exam topics, and some degree of familiarity and competence in working with current versions of complex systems, tools and platforms. Good IT people know how to do all of these things, which is why employers really do want people with both degrees and certifications.

Thus, I'd urge you to look for a four-year program where IT certifications are part of the curriculum (a surprising number of institutions, from Phoenix University to Southern Methodist University, make earning various IT certs -- including MCSA and MCSE -- part of their MIS and CS bachelor's programs). That way, you can get certified at the same time you earn your bachelor's and take advantage of some pretty good outplacement programs when you're ready to hit the street.

Hope this helps. If you have more questions or concerns, do feel free to post again.

--Ed—

This was first published in June 2005

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