Certifications can be extremely helpful to have depending on the job. Where I work at least one cert is required, and the more you have the more likely you are to get a job here, but there are some very talented team members who do not have certs. The best of the best are MCSE or close to getting their MCSE and are highly knowledgeable on many many things. Getting the certs helps to broaden your knowledge and prepare you for many more tasks than you are likely to be prepared for without them. Those team members with few certs were well trained on the job but they still do not hold a candle to those who have the certs. Having the certs very often will get you in for the interview at the very least. The rest is up to you. If you can afford it, get the training. If it’s out of your price range yes you can do your own study and start getting your certs. A+ , Net+, MCP and Exchange I got without formal classes but the other server certs I attended classes for and I am very glad that I did. It gave me a chance to ask questions; the self-study of course did not give me that opportunity.
I noticed you were looking into New Horizons. I am currently going there for a number of certifications and if you do have financial resources to do it, it is definitely worth it! In the beginning I was looking into the program you are, but it depends if thats the area you want to go into. I lean more towards security so I am doing A+, Net+, and Security +. They provide test past insurance, so if you do fail the first exam you can take it agin, plus they have teachers there who are so willing to help and answer any questions you have. They also do a wonderful job helping you find a job. Through the connections I made there with the staff, I was able to get an advantage over other applicants for a dream job becuase I was able to meet the HR manager before interviews even started. I have a Bachelors degree in Business and Computer Information Systems, but these certs a must for most positions and can transfer into experience from an Employeers point of view… Hope this information helped a little bit!
It depends on how pro-active and self motivated you are. If you can do the self-study on your own time without fiddling your fingers, you will save money. Otherwise, your best course of action is to take a class which will put you in the environment where you need to study and take the exams. It is expensive to get training equipment and materials, but motivation is the key.
Getting the CCNA / CCNA-V and CCNP were all well worth the time invested. The 15k you quoted is a bit extreme, as there are SEVERAL free / low-cost study materials and folks out there to assist you….