Associates Degree vs. Professional Certificate: Which is Right for You?

Staff @InterCoast

Staff @InterCoast

Editorial Team

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Hacks and cyber attacks have become part of the daily news cycle. Because of this, the cybersecurity field is rapidly expanding.

It’s estimated that the whole industry will grow by over 30% within the next ten years.

If you’re interested in pursuing a cybersecurity career, you’re not alone. More and more skilled workers are being added to the industry every year.

There are many options for entering the cybersecurity profession. The main options are to earn an associate’s degree or to become trained in areas allowing you to gain a professional certificate.

Which one is right for you? Which one should you get first? We’ll break them down so that you can decide for yourself.

Degrees Can Be Considered More Thorough

Degrees have been the traditional standard for educational achievement. There’s a good reason for this.

No matter what level or field, degree programs tend to be very thorough in teaching their field of study.

This is true for cybersecurity degrees. An associate’s degree will teach the hard skills of working in cybersecurity. They will also convey important information like history, psychology, and training in soft skills relevant to the field.

Although it seems trivial, this information is vital to working, evolving, and growing in the profession.

Associate’s degrees are a great source of getting a broad understanding of cybersecurity. This level of knowledge can be essential for career mobility.

Degrees Can Open More Career Opportunities

Because of their comprehensiveness, a cybersecurity degree can be desirable to employers.  There are typically more certification opportunities because there is additional training in networking and other cyber subjects.

In the cybersecurity field, there is little room for error and endless room for expansion.

As the field expands, new entry-level roles are being created to handle cybersecurity. Many of these roles need those trained in various aspects of the field.

If your goal is to get a job in a specific area of cybersecurity, a certificate program may be a better choice.

Certificates Are More Focused 

Cybersecurity certifications are more specific and focused on an area in which they prepare a worker.

While associate’s degrees cover multiple cyber areas’ hard and soft skills for work, certificates still cover the specialized skills or fields.

Realistically, a certificate alone can prepare you for entry-level employment in cybersecurity, provided you study and pass the certification examination in the specialized area in which you want to work.  Any college you attend should prepare you for the examination.

The cybersecurity field is constantly evolving. Knowing the recurring patterns or contextual relevance is key to staying competitive.

The focus of the certificate program is to prepare you for a specific certification so that you can get into a specific position in a shorter time. 

Certificates Are Faster to Complete

Most associate degree programs take a minimum of two years. This time frame depends on the specific program and if the student is studying full-time or part-time.

Certificate programs generally take less than one year to complete.  Students in the certificate program usually learn a specialized skill and prepare for a certification examination in that specialized field. 

All companies are held to specific security standards and are looking for qualified people to help them meet or exceed those standards. Considering new cyber threats and exploits get discovered every day, this is no surprise. Companies pursue the highest level of cyber safety because it minimizes their liability.

For workers, this creates a requirement to be constantly updating their skill sets with fresh information.

Because certificates take less time to teach and compete, students will finish quicker with more specific training.  General education coursework is typically not included or required in the certificate programs.

In this sense, the speed it takes to complete a certificate is an advantage to getting one.  Now, you need to focus on passing certification exams after training, and you should ask your school for help with this.

Difference in Costs

Associates degrees are going to have higher tuition rates. This is only the cost of enrollment. It doesn’t consider factors like educational materials, gas, or transportation costs. Of course, more programs are moving exclusively online post-COVID. This makes some of those costs irrelevant.

A certificate program is going to be cheaper than an associate’s degree. And it takes less time to complete. You can enter the field faster than if you are waiting to complete your associate’s degree. In both cases, you must pass your certification examination for the area in which you will specialize.

So, from this perspective, is a cybersecurity certificate the perfect choice? It’s not that simple.

A certificate and a cybersecurity associate’s degree will help you achieve your educational goals of learning about cybersecurity.  With this in mind, the cost of a degree compared to the cost of a certificate program becomes your personal decision.

Associate’s Degree or Certificate?

There’s no doubt that the cybersecurity field is growing fast.

There is a consistently high demand for a variety of positions. They include generalists, specialists, managers, and entry-level positions.  If you have never worked in the field, you will need to start somewhere.  Explore various entry-level positions.  Remember, most positions will require high-level security clearance and good job references, to name some of the requirements. 

Which one is right for you only depends on where you are and your journey into the cybersecurity space.  But, if you’re ready to make some progress, you’re already in the right place.

InterCoast offers both associates degrees and certificates programs. We will teach you what you will need to be prepared for entry-level work in the cybersecurity field. They’re all online and can pave the way for your future career.  Remember, the field is growing, challenging and will require that you update your training frequently. 

Contact us today about your interest in joining the exciting field of cybersecurity.



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InterCoast Colleges, a private institution, was granted institutional approval to operate by the BPPE, Bureau for Private Postsecondary Education pursuant to California Education Code, Title 3, Division 10, Part 59, Chapter 8.. The Bureau’s approval means that the institution and its operation comply with the minimum standards established under the law for occupational instruction by private Postsecondary educational institutions and does not imply endorsement or recommendation.
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