Best Online IT Certificate Programs 2021

by TBS Staff
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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

Pasco-Hernando State College true View School Profile New Port Richey, FL 35% 13% 41% Pasco-Hernando State College is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC).

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.

Lenoir Community College true View School Profile $ Kinston, NC 19% 72% Lenoir Community College is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC).

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.

Jamestown Community College true View School Profile $ Jamestown, NY 37% 20% 20% Jamestown Community College is regionally accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE).

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.

Central Piedmont Community College true View School Profile $ Charlotte, NC 18% 57% Central Piedmont Community College is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC).

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.

Vincennes University true View School Profile $ Vincennes, IN 28% 14% 13% Vincennes University is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC).

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.

Best Online Programs

Online IT Certificate Programs Ranking Guidelines

We ranked these degree programs based on quality, curricula, school awards, rankings, and reputation.

Our Methodology

Here at TheBestSchools.org, we take the trust and welfare of our readers very seriously. When making our school and program rankings, our top priority is ensuring that our readers get accurate, unbiased information that can help them make informed decisions about online education. That's why we've developed a rigorous ranking methodology that keeps the needs of our readers front and center.

Our proprietary, multi-criteria ranking algorithm analyzes key data indicators — as collected by the federal government — for each school or program. What data we use depends on the focus of each specific ranking, but in all cases, our ranking methodology is impartial: Schools cannot buy better rankings at TBS.

While specific criteria under consideration can vary by ranking, there are a few data points that we value most highly. They are affordability, academic quality, and online enrollment. Below, we break down our algorithm to help you understand what you're getting when you use one of our rankings.

  • Academics
  • Affordability
  • Online Enrollment

Data Sources

The data used in TBS rankings comes primarily from the federal government, and much of it is provided by the schools themselves. We aggregate and analyze this data to build our rankings.

The Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) is our primary source. Its data comes from annual surveys conducted by the U.S. Department of Education's National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). Every college, university, or technical school with access to federal financial aid must participate in these surveys, which include questions about enrollment, graduation rates, finances, and faculty qualifications. This is publicly available data, which you can access yourself through the College Navigator.

Additionally, because we value a personal touch and the professional experience of our staff and Academic Advisory Board, we vet all results and adjust rankings as necessary based on our collected knowledge of schools and degree programs. Depending on the ranking, we may obtain additional input from AcademicInfluence.com, subject matter experts, prior TBS ranking lists, or other sources we deem relevant to a particular ranking.

Breakdown of Our Rankings Methodology

About Our Ranking Factors

Here at TBS, we value what you value: quality education, affordability, and the accessibility of online education. These factors guide all of our program rankings.

Each of these factors are further broken down into weighted subfactors. For example, retention rates are weighted more heavily than availability of program options because they are a better indicator of student success.

We chose the following factors for our rankings because of their influence on learning experiences and graduate outcomes. However, students should always balance our rankings against their personal priorities. For instance, a learner who needs a fully online program may prioritize online flexibility more than our rankings do. Our rankings are designed to help you make a decision — not to make a decision for you.

Academics - 75%
Affordability - 15%
Online Enrollment - 10%

In all our school rankings and recommendations, we work for objectivity and balance. We carefully research and compile each ranking list, and as stated in our advertising disclosure, we do NOT permit financial incentives to influence rankings. Our articles never promote or disregard a school for financial gain.

If you have questions about our ranking methodology, please feel free to connect with our staff through contact page.

We thank you for your readership and trust.

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

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.

Digital Security Manager

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 Manager

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 Certifications

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.

This certification recognizes IT professionals with experience creating systems on Amazon Web Services. AWS offers associate and professional levels of certification for candidates with one and two years of experience, respectively. This credential demonstrates proficiency in working with and managing AWS systems. The CEH exam covers hacker techniques and technologies, along with how to detect and prevent attacks. Professionals with this credential demonstrate their knowledge of modern hacking methods and how to stop them. Professionals with the CSM certification manage product development within cross-functional teams. The required course and exam for this credential teaches and tests leadership, coaching, and facilitation skills. This credential can help professionals take on management responsibilities and lead their teams to greater success. IT professionals with CCT certifications learn to manage and work with Cisco systems and networking devices. The examination tests candidates' abilities to diagnose, fix, and replace these systems and their components. There are additional CCT certifications focused on collaboration, data centers, and routing and switching.

IT Organizations

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 Careers

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
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Frequently Asked Questions

true What Jobs Can You Get With an IT Certificate?

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.

How Much Is the Google IT Certificate Program?

Prospective students can take the Google IT certificate program on Coursera with a $49 monthly subscription. The examination costs $149.

What Are the Best IT Certifications To Have?

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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