There is an ongoing debate on whether or not higher education is necessary for individuals who work in the IT career field – especially the cleared IT field.  Some of us went into the military right out of high school and chose not to pursue a four-year degree immediately. Others decided to go to college immediately after high school. Either way, if you have a bachelor’s degree, that is awesome – but it may not be enough in today’s IT career field.

If you’re an IT professional or considering a career in the IT field, you have to consider: Is it necessary to get a master’s degree? Or would a bachelor’s degree and technical certifications be better? Trying to decide whether or not to pursue a graduate degree or add advanced tech certs to your resume is a tough question. As we approach the proverbial fork in the road, let’s weigh out the pros and cons of each path.

Pros of Getting a Master’s Degree

A master’s degree is an advanced degree, so it will give you an advantage over your fellow bachelor’s degree holder. It offers you training and knowledge above and beyond the course curriculum in your bachelor’s program. Odds are, when you obtain a master’s degree, it will make you a better technical writer – which can come in handy in many positions. Just the simple fact you have “master’s degree” on your resume will move it to the top of the pile. These days there are a lot of positions that require a master’s degree or equivalent years of experience in order to even be considered.

Cons of Getting a Master’s Degree

Cost, cost, cost. Master’s degrees are expensive – some to the tune of $65k+. The cost will be most heavily impacted by where you decide to enroll in your degree program. A Harvard MBA is going to be expensive and very picky with who they accept. A master’s degree from University of Phoenix will be much more lenient in the application process and will give you flexibility in completing your program – but will also be costly. A master’s degree will likely take you one and a half to three years, depending on the program and whether you are attending full time. That is a significant time commitment. Can you afford to have a full time job and a full time student status?

Pros of Getting Advanced Tech Certs

There are many pros to getting an advanced tech certification. First off, an advanced cert sets you apart from the entry-level or associate level certs. Many if not all entry level/associate level certs are 100% multiple choice and can be obtained with nothing more than memorization of key topics. An advanced tech cert tests your hands-on skill level as you navigate live labs, fix broken environments, or troubleshoot errors.

Advanced certs will put your resume above the others in the pile – because employers know that if you have one, chances are you know what you are doing. In some cases, companies will even give the employee a performance bonus if the advanced cert helps them to compete for a position that requires it.

Cons of Getting Advanced Tech Certs

There are two main cons of going after advanced tech certs: time and cost. Much like the master’s program, there is a significant time commitment and the exams are generally two or three times more expensive than the entry level exams. An advanced cert is still cheaper than a Master’s, but will still set you back $3,000 to $5,000 easily – plus the cost of the exam. There are some advanced certs that will not give you adequate return on investment, which can be difficult to accept. Add to the list of cons the fact that any advanced cert you take will be obsolete in two to three years (or less).

So What Do I Do?

The answer to this question is specific to each and everyone’s situation. However, there are some pointers that will help you go in the right direction. First, if you can afford to get a master’s degree or if your company is willing to sponsor it, go for it. The benefits of having an advanced degree far outweigh the cost and time associated with achieving it.

If you are thinking about going after an advanced cert, figure out first if your job requires it. Not having the advanced cert does not necessarily mean you do not know the material and are not proficient. It is simply a piece of paper that helps show that you know your stuff. There are many people out there that are way more intelligent and better at their job than people I know with advanced certs.

Take your own situation in to account: What do you want in the future? More managerial responsibility in the workplace? Or more technical responsibilities? Having both a master’s degree and technical certs has served me well, as I believe it would serve you well also.

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Greg Stuart is the owner and editor of vDestination.com. He's been a VMware vExpert every year since 2011. Greg enjoys spending time with his wife and 3 kids. He has 20 years of IT experience and currently works as an IT Consultant both in the private and public sector. Greg holds a BS in Information Technology and an MBA degree. He currently resides in Southeast Idaho. You can follow him on Twitter @vDestination, read his blog (vDestination.com) and listen to his podcast (vDestination.com/feed/podcast).

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