IT Career JumpStart

Sep 17 2010   3:25PM GMT

The Real Costs of Certification

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel

In a recent posting to one of my blogs here, a reader indicated that he or she had spent “six figures” on obtaining numerous certifications over the course of a professional career of some standing. At first, I was staggered to read a number of this magnitude, but then upon reflection it occurred to  me that if broken down or compared to other kinds of educational or career development costs, it is neither terribly shocking nor too extreme.

Ponder these items, as you seek to digest the news that the costs of certification can indeed add up over the course of a professional career in IT:

  • The average cost of a bachelor’s degree in 2009 was $25,143 per year at a private college and $6,585 at a public institution. Over four years this adds up to $100, 572 and $26,340 respectively at relatively current cost levels. Then, recognize that it takes more than 4 years for most undergrads to finish their degrees nowadays (at least an extra semester, sometimes two or more).
  • The average cost of a master’s degree runs from $10-15,000 on the low end to just under $100,000 on the high end (such as an MBA from a top-flight school like Harvard, Stanford, or Wharton).
  • A mid-range certification like the MCITP, CCNP, or CISSP can easily cost $500 to $1000 for exams, $500 for study prep materials and practice exams, and up to $5,000 for classroom training to prepare for the exam. Out-of-pocket costs usually range from $1,000 to as much as $6,500 to earn the credential to begin with, and another $300-500 a year to maintain (for exam retakes or continuing education costs) currency after the cert has been earned. Factor in the time involved at even a modest $25 an hour, and in most cases you’ll add $5,000 to $10,000 to the cost of each certification earned.
  • A high-end cert like the CCIE can cost a lot more: $350 for the written exam and $1,400 for the lab exam (which also requires travel and lodging costs as well, unless you’re lucky enough to live in one of the handful of cities or metro areas around the world where a CCIE test lab is located). Most people take the exam two times, many may even go to three times, so it’s not at all unusual for out-of-pocket costs for the CCIE to run from $10,000 to $20,000, including lab access and lab test costs, but not costs for time spent preparing (again, add another $10-20K to cover this if you must).
  • Certifications age out of the mix over time, and must be replaced with newer ones. So, although you need earn a degree only once, keeping certs current adds an ongoing source of out-of-pocket expense plus time and effort. Over the years this can add up. Even an individual who keeps only two or three certifications current can easily spend over $100K over the course of 20 or more years working in IT.

So maybe “six figures” is to be expected, rather than to be marveled at, or shied away from. When I look at what I’ve spent to buy materials, take exams, and conduct research for the many certification topics I’ve written about, it certainly makes sense for me — and then some. How about for you? Do some back-of-the-envelope calculations and post your lifetime cert outlays here, too.

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