Both the CCNA (Cisco Certified Network Associate) certification and a Bachelor’s degree in computer networking, computer science, or a similar field can be great foundations for a career in networking. They signal to recruiters that you have relevant knowledge and give you an advantage over candidates without a cert or degree.
So, if they both provide similar benefits, is the CCNA equivalent to a degree?
There are some scenarios where a CCNA won’t act as a good substitute for a traditional degree. For example, if your long-term plans involve a Master’s degree or Ph.D., earning a four-year degree makes sense.
However, if you’re simply looking to land a quality networking job, in many cases, a CCNA can be more beneficial to your career progression than a degree. Why? Because the CCNA demonstrates you have relevant practical skills while a degree implies broader theoretical knowledge. For entry-level jobs, practical skills can trump theoretical knowledge.
Of course, understanding whether a degree or a CCNA (or both!) are right for you requires analyzing the details. Here, to help you make an informed choice on the CCNA vs degree topic, I’ll take a closer look at how a CCNA stacks up to a Bachelor’s degree.
Practical knowledge (CCNA) versus theoretical knowledge (a degree)
When it comes to advancing your career, a CCNA and degree both do two things:
- Help you gain knowledge and skills relevant to your career
- Signal to others — particularly potential employers — that you have a specific set of skills and knowledge
The difference between the two is the type of knowledge and skills involved. A CCNA has a narrow focus on knowledge relevant to administering and implementing networks, particularly with Cisco equipment.
On the other hand, a degree — even one focused in computer networking or computer science — has a much broader and more theoretical focus. You’ll learn more fundamental concepts and cover a wider range of topics. That said, there are courses and projects in many degree programs that have a practical focus. For example, some computer networking degrees include a CCNA course and exam as part of the program.
CCNA versus a degree for career progression
The CCNA’s practical focus is a big part of what can make it a better resume-booster for networking pros in the early stages of their career.
To understand what I mean, think about it from the perspective of a recruiter or hiring manager. I’ll oversimplify a bit, but all else equal, here is how the comparison breaks down:
If a candidate has a Bachelor’s degree, you know:
- They have broad theoretical knowledge
- They had the skill and determination to complete a four-year degree
If a candidate has a CCNA, you know:
- They have Cisco-certified skills directly related to implementing and administering network infrastructure
- They had the skill and determination required to earn a respected industry certification
If you’re hiring for an entry-level networking position, which candidate would you prefer? Probably the CCNA certified candidate that has proven skills directly related to the job. After all, your goal is to hire an employee that can do the work. For entry-level networking jobs, “the work” is often directly related to topics covered on the CCNA.
Want to know what jobs you can land with a CCNA? Check out Is the CCNA Enough to Get a Good Job?
That said, there are still some jobs and regions where a degree is often a requirement. But, that trend is changing. For example, not only are there plenty of successful networking professionals without a four-year degree, many major corporations like Google, Apple, Starbucks, and Hilton are loosening or dropping degree requirements.
📝 Note: Experience matters! While I’m focused on CCNA vs degree here, experience is a big part of getting hired or promoted. Whichever path you take, try to gain relevant experience (e.g., in helpdesk or support roles) early in your career.
CCNA versus a degree: Cost, Time, and Value
When you’re deciding what path to take, the cost, time investment, and value of a certification or degree all matter.
In the table below, I’ve outlined some estimates to help you understand how a CCNA compares to a degree. Keep in mind that these figures can vary a lot depending on your location, choice of school, previous experience, whether you self-study or not, etc.
|CCNA||Bachelor’s degree in Computer Science|
|Cost||~$1,500-4,000 (with courses or bootcamp)||~$15,000-80,000|
|Study time||~6-12 months||~4 years|
|Need to renew?||Yes, every 3 years||No|
While the specific numbers will vary from person to person, generally:
A CCNA is cheaper and can be earned faster than a four-year degree.
Of course, there is a reason the CCNA is cheaper and faster. You’re not learning as much with a CCNA as you would with a degree.
With a degree, you’ll gain knowledge from a variety of fields including business and social sciences. If you have your sights set on a management role down the line, that additional knowledge can be valuable.
Final thoughts: Making the right decision for you
Now that you have this information, it’s up to you to make the right decision for your career. There’s no one-size-fits-all answer. A degree can be a great choice if it’s aligned with your long-term goals. On the other hand, if you are looking for a fast low-cost way to land a networking job, the CCNA has several compelling advantages.