IT certificate programs provide enormous professional benefits, but choosing the right pathway requires careful planning and consideration.
The information technology (IT) industry offers professional opportunities for students of all backgrounds. Some individuals who pursue IT certificate programs want a relatively short career pathway into the tech field, others aim to change or advance their careers by developing new skills, and still others simply earn certificates as a hobby.
IT's future looks bright. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects that computer jobs will grow by more 500,000 from 2019-2029. As COVID-19 expands the remote workforce, more organizations are relying on extensive computer networks and cybersecurity. The median annual wage for IT professionals is over twice as high as the median annual wage for all occupations.
This guide to online IT certificate programs aims to help prospective students make the most of these growing opportunities. This page details the various educational opportunities in the field, possible careers, and a ranking of the best online IT certificate programs.
The Best Online IT Certificate Programs
A public college founded in 1967, PHSC offers 15 different certificates in information technology. Students complete courses on their own schedule once satisfying program fees.
Notable choices include computer programming and analysis, cybersecurity, network support technician, and e-business software. Most certificates require 12-18 credits, and students can complete all courses online.
Students must apply to the college for admission as a new or returning student and must establish residency to determine certificate fees.
A community college founded in 1958, LCC offers three fully online certificates in information technology. Certificate programs include hardware and software support, routing and switching, and software developer foundations.
All three certificates require 15 credits with no general education requirements. Students learn vital skills for networking and security. Students also study foundational computer skills with introductory courses in each relevant concentration.
Applicants need a high school diploma and need to establish residency before beginning certificate courses.
A community college founded in 1950, JCC offers an online certificate in information technology. Students complete the coursework over two semesters without needing to come to campus.
Required courses include programming concepts and applications, computer hardware and system software, computer applications software, and an introduction to HTML and CSS. Students take a full-time load for both semesters.
Applicants must complete the application for the college to gain access to certificates. The school does not require standardized test scores.
A public community college founded in 1963, CPCC offers three online certificates in information technology: CompTIA Security+, CompTIA A+, and CompTIA Network+.
Students take courses online to complete the certifications. Each program comes with CompTIA CertMaster Learn, CertMaster Practice, and exam vouchers upon completion. Students who finish all three certificates are eligible for the full CompTIA IT support certification.
Applicants for continuing education programs do not need to fill out admissions forms for the university. Students simply register for the certifications and pay the necessary fees.
A public university founded in 1801, VU offers an online certificate of graduation in information technology. Students complete 30 credits entirely online.
Learners complete required courses such as information and data security, object-oriented programming, introduction to databases, and mobile application development. Most students complete coursework in as little as one year and may specialize in specific areas such as IT support and cybersecurity, web design, or computer programming.
Applicants need a high school diploma or GED equivalent to qualify for admission. Students also need either SAT or ACT scores or a minimum GPA of 2.5 to show college readiness.
Online IT Certificate Programs Ranking Guidelines
We ranked these degree programs based on quality, curricula, school awards, rankings, and reputation.
The motto of TheBestSchools.org is Finding the best school for you. Here is how we do it:
The value of any ranking list of schools and/or degree programs depends on having a methodologically sound assessment of each school’s/program’s characteristics, especially insofar as these can be objectively measured. A college or university is a complex entity, with numerous factors to consider, and distilling these down to the place where meaningful comparisons can be made to form a defensible ranking list becomes part science and part art.
To meet this challenge—and thereby provide you with the most useful and insightful educational rankings on the Internet — TheBestSchools.org formulates our rankings based on five informational categories (six, when considering online schools). The major metrics and qualities for which we rank are these (with expanded, detailed considerations and weights listed):
1. Academic excellence based on a school’s curriculum generally or within the selected discipline [weight = 25%]
- Weighs school against known leading schools in that discipline
- Weighs number of core curricula listed as advanced courses within that discipline and compares against introductory courses
- Weighs school’s curriculum against known knowledge needs of major employers in that discipline
- Considers number and types of specializations offered within that discipline
- Considers faculty expertise in that discipline
- Considers range of electives within that discipline
- Considers quality of online environment offered to students (if applicable), particularly within that discipline
2. Strength of faculty scholarship [weight = 25%]
- Considers education background of the faculty
- Considers years of faculty experience both inside and outside of academia.
- Considers faculty membership and leadership within relevant, prominent associations
- Considers academic papers published by faculty in relevant, prominent periodicals
- Considers awards and recognitions given to faculty members from prominent organizations and from other sources
3. Reputation [weight = 20%]
- Considers a school’s reputation among academic peers and employers regarding the following:
- “Freshness” of academic knowledge
- Adaptability to changes in employment sectors
- Suitability of graduates for the workplace
4. Financial aid [weight = 10%]
- Mandatory: Requires full accreditation from an agency endorsed by the U.S. Department of Education and listed on the federal register to accept student federal financial aid
- Considers range of school-sponsored financial aid such as scholarships and grants
5. Range of degree programs [weight = 20%]
- Considers range of degree levels: associate’s, bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral and professional
- Considers range of degree subjects offered, such as art & design, computers & technology, education & teaching, criminal justice, and business
6. Strength of online instruction methodology (if applicable) [weight = 25%; subtract 5% from each of the above for online schools/programs]
Considers the following of the online classes:
- Types of online technology used to deliver content
- Pedagogy style: asynchronous, synchronous, or both (depending on the degree)
- Extent and quality of the online, community learning environment, including options for communication, interactivity, and collaboration between students and also between students and instructors
- Variety, breadth, and depth of coursework, and its support, including project options and online tutoring
Considers the following of instructors:
- Extent of training for teaching within an online learning environment
- Amount of timely, consistent feedback to students
- Extent of collaboration with prospective employers to ensure suitability of instructional materials for achieving desired skills
- Ratio to number of students in a class
- Number and quality of internships in a student’s geographical area for applicable degrees
Because students tend to review a variety of information when choosing a school, the weight a student gives any one criterion will vary. For instance, it’s not enough to offer a carefully constructed ranking of great schools if many are too expensive or too difficult to get into.
To better serve the needs of prospective students, we are therefore increasingly offering filters that help you better use our rankings to find the schools that match your specific needs. These supplement our ranking criteria and include:
- Public or private status
- Acceptance rate
- Retention rate
- Graduation rate
- ACT/SAT requirements
- Cost in-state / out of state
- Undergrad, grad, or both offered
Get the best rankings here AND get them to suit your personal needs. That’s TheBestSchools.org advantage!
If you have any questions about our ranking methodology, please contact us.
Citations: For a broader account of our ranking methodology, especially as it relates to TheBestSchools.org's underlying educational philosophy and, in other ranking articles, looks beyond academic excellence (as here) to such factors as return on investment or incidental benefit, see our article "Ranking Methodology: How We Rank Schools at TBS." Reputation of schools and degree programs can at least in part be gauged through the school or department's publishing activity, citations, and desirability. At TheBestSchools.org, we keep track of such social and peer validation: "Making Sense of College Rankings." For nuts-and-bolts information about colleges and universities, we look to the National Center for Education Statistics and especially its College Navigator. Insofar as salary and inflation data are relevant to a ranking, we look to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Finally, nothing beats contacting schools and degree programs directly, which our researchers often do, with the result that all the entries in this article should be considered as belonging to this citation!
Featured Online IT Certificate Programs
What Is an Online IT Certificate?
Online IT certificate programs provide training in specialized computing fields, such as cybersecurity, database administration, and cloud computing. The training may attract new students looking for entry-level careers or experienced professionals looking to learn new skills.
IT certificate programs can offer undergraduate-level or graduate-level study, and some require previous computer-related training for admission. These programs cover both foundational and highly advanced knowledge in software, hardware, web design, and computer programming.
Certificates can also lead to further education and more specialized skills. Some graduates continue on to associate, bachelor's, and master's degrees, while others pursue industry and vendor certifications.
What's the Difference Between an IT Certificate and an Associate Degree in IT?
Online IT certificate programs typically focus on specific aspects of the field and are condensed into 3-18 month sessions. Online associate degrees in information technology, on the other hand, take two years to complete and require basic humanities and science courses in addition to classes in computing fundamentals.
Associate degrees are suitable students who are unsure about their goals in IT and wish to continue on to a bachelor's program. Associate degree graduates can also explore entry-level careers in web development or computer programming. To accommodate different learners, many schools offer both IT certificate programs and associate degrees.
What Can You Do With an IT Certificate?
With so many online IT certificate programs available, graduates can pursue diverse careers and industries. Prospective students may need to take prerequisite courses or complete a computer-related degree beforehand, depending on the level of training.
The following sections outline the major career paths for IT certificate program graduates. In addition to those listed below, IT certificate-holders can pursue careers as network administrators, computer support specialists, and computer systems analysts.
Web developers create and manage websites based on the needs of their clients and organizations. Professionals with web development skills can help organizations match their websites to marketing and public relations campaigns.
IT certificate programs may cover the web development basics for entry-level positions or provide advanced training in front-end, back-end, and interface development. Depending on their interests and goals, students can take classes in responsive web design, typical programming languages, and database website design.
These professionals oversee organizations' IT security needs by setting up protections, running vulnerability tests and analyses, and investigating potential threats and attacks. Online IT certificate programs with this specialization provide introductory training for entry-level positions or specialized training for experienced computer professionals.
Advanced training may include courses in ethical hacking and incident response, while industry-specific programs explore industrial control systems security or cloud infrastructure security.
Database managers oversee organizations' data storage and protection. They create backups, merge systems, and monitor user access and activity. The best online IT certificate programs in this field prepare graduates to handle these tasks in addition to more advanced duties.
For example, prospective database administrators can gain a competitive advantage if they possess training in data analytics and modeling, database architecture, and database security.
Choosing an Online Program
Before choosing an online IT certificate program, prospective students should consider multiple factors to make the best decision. They should consider their educational interests and career goals to ensure the program meets those demands. Check out the following links for more information on selecting the right online school and program.
Accreditation for IT Programs
Students should ensure that the schools they're considering are regionally accredited. Without this, learners may not be able to access financial aid, schools may not provide transfer credits, and employers may not take the degree or certificate seriously.
Though not mandatory for employment, the best online IT certificate programs may also hold programmatic accreditation from industry organizations. For example, certificate programs that lead to vendor-specific certifications often require accreditation or recognition from that organization.
What to Expect From an IT Certificate
Coursework varies considerably among the different levels and specializations of IT certificate programs. However, even though studies may cover advanced, niche subjects, many programs still share common courses. The following list highlights some popular classes enrollees may encounter.
IT Certificate Curriculum
- Network Design and Management: This course teaches students how to design, implement, and maintain organizational networks. Learners also explore methods for securing, monitoring, and upgrading existing networks.
- Software Security: Enrollees explore the design and development of secure software, along with methods for protecting software after development. Coursework covers how to identify the most common security flaws, assess and reduce risk, and establish some of the most effective security measures.
- Software Design and Development Concepts: Students learn major development concepts in software design, such as object-oriented programming languages, design patterns, and numerical computation.
- Markup and Scripting Languages: This course teaches learners about scripting and markup languages, such as Python. The training may cover specific aspects of scripting, including how to code automated administrative functions within different environments.
- Cloud Fundamentals: A cloud fundamentals course teaches students to develop and use various cloud applications. Learners look at the primary concepts of cloud computing and the major cloud service platforms.
How Long Does It Take To Get an IT Certificate?
Online IT certificate programs can take 3-18 months, depending on the level and scope of the training. Most programs last for one year, though accelerated and part-time options can affect the estimated completion time.
Some certificates require an associate or bachelor's degree in computer science for admission, which can add 2-4 years to the overall time commitment.
IT certificates recognize the completion of a training program, whereas certifications recognize professionals who meet specific industry standards. In general, students take IT certificate programs at colleges and universities, while IT professionals can acquire certifications from industry organizations.
Requirements for IT certifications vary by provider, but most organizations require the candidate to pay a fee, pass an examination, and apply for the credential. Once certified, professionals may need to maintain their certification through continuing education.
Organizations typically require credentialed professionals to complete a set number of continuing education credits for renewal every 2-5 years.
IT organizations can help students and experienced professionals navigate the field with greater ease and success. They may offer students financial aid resources and academic and career support services, as well as access to continuing education and professional development opportunities for more experienced members.
Some organizations offer memberships nationally, while others focus on geographical location or IT specializations. Popular professional IT organizations include Blacks In Technology, the Information Technology Association, the Information Technology Industry Council, and the National Center for Women & Information Technology.
IT certificate programs can lead to some of the best information technology jobs available. With such versatile training and skill sets, IT graduates can work in various industries. New graduates can enter the field for the first time, and IT professionals can move between roles or add specializations.
The following table highlights a few career options for graduates, along with the median salary expectation for each position.
|Career||Median Salary (2020)|
|Web Developers and Digital Designers||$77,200|
|Network and Computer Systems Administrators||$84,810|
|Computer Support Specialists||$55,510|
Frequently Asked Questions
After completing an online IT certificate program, graduates can pursue entry-level careers as web developers and computer support specialists. Professionals with advanced training can work in cybersecurity and database administration.
Prospective students can take the Google IT certificate program on Coursera with a $49 monthly subscription. The examination costs $149.
The best online IT certifications depend on a student's goals, but versatile credentials likely hold the most value to employers. For example, CompTIA A+, the various Cisco certifications, and the certified information systems security professional credential offer excellent professional opportunities.
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