Philip Cao

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Pearson: Ranking IT Certifications (2013 Edition)

8 min read


Part 1: One Method for Rating Certifications

Employers look for and seek out certified IT professionals but generally prefer candidates who possess both college degrees and specific certification credentials. Aspiring or active IT professionals can benefit from an informed evaluation of certifications in terms of the time commitment, cost, and other factors involved in earning such a credential vis-a-vis the ultimate financial or career advancement that such an investment can return. This article looks at one method for rating and ranking IT certifications

Editor’s Note: This article previously covered information on certifications for 2012. It has been updated to account for changes to certification programs in 2013.

Many prospective IT employers actively seek out job candidates who possess college degrees and various specific certifications. Perhaps even your current employer looks at IT certification as an important or deciding factor when it comes to promotions, bonuses, or raises. With so much attention focused on certification, many IT professionals enter the certification maze trying to determine which one is the “best” or “right” for them. Deciding which certification to pursue is no easy task. Not only are there hundreds (perhaps even thousands) of certifications from which to choose, they come in varying shapes and sizes in terms of price (some can be costly), time to complete, ongoing continuing education requirements, and membership or renewal fees. Let’s face it: although IT certifications provide IT professionals with specialized information and improved skills and knowledge, certifications must also be worth the investment. At a minimum, they should give you an edge on the competition in a job search, or help you move up within the ranks in your current organization.

It can be daunting to sort through the many and various IT certifications to strike the right balance between time and money spent, then assessing their actual financial and career benefits. To help in this selection- and decision-making process, many experts and IT professionals rate IT certifications according to specific, well-defined criteria. While everyone may use different criteria, here we introduce and explain those we consider to be most important; namely career level, time commitment for completion, number of exams and costs, along with prior experience required, and (of course) the potential for future income such credentials can confer.

As each criterion is introduced, it’s also defined and explained. Each criterion is assigned a range of values, which we then put together and map into an overall ranking value. For example, given that certifications can take from one month to two years to complete, we could use the number of months as a ranking value, or we could divide the number of months by 2.4 (to map 24 months into a 10-point scale).

At the end of our ranking exercise, we simply add ranking values for all criteria to calculate a total score for each certification as a whole. This lets you compare these scores to decide how certifications compare to one another and which ones might be right for you. In Ranking Certifications, Part 2: The Ratings, we provide a table that provides rankings for 113 popular IT certifications. Though it’s not an exhaustive survey, this article is intended to provide sufficient information to help you apply this approach to other certifications not included in the survey.

There is room for adjustment or interpretation here, however. Mapping all ranges into the same scale for each criterion weights all criteria equally. Mapping some ranges into bigger scales gives them greater weight because we add values to calculate a certification’s overall ranking. That’s why we explain the weighting that our formula gives to various criteria so that you’ll understand how to change the ranking characteristics if you like. And if you decide you don’t like our approach, you can customize your own!

Choosing Certification Ranking Criteria

For this ranking exercise, we chose criteria that, in our opinions, are important when evaluating IT certifications and their benefits. If you wish to consider other factors you consider important, you can easily add them to create your own ranking system. We use these criteria to rank numerous certifications in our companion article Ranking Certifications, Part 2: The Ratings. Here are those criteria with their respective values and weights:

  • Career Level: Assigns one of four values to a certification, based on how it’s positioned for candidates:
    • Entry-level, basic, or beginner: value of 2
    • Intermediate or novice: value of 4
    • Advanced or senior-level: value of 6
    • Expert, instructor, or specialist-level: value of 8.

Thus, A+ certification would be worth 2 on this scale, and the various Cisco Certified Internetwork Expert (CCIE) certifications would be worth a minimum of 8. This approach increases the scores for more senior certifications, which is as we think it should be.

  • Average Time to Completion: Lists the average of the fastest known time to completion and the longest reasonable time to completion for a certification, unless the certification itself includes a time requirement. For example, the fastest Microsoft Certified IT Professional (MCITP) completion that I’ve come across was one month; a long but not unreasonable completion time is 18 months. Thus, I set the average at 9 months. This squares up nicely against an analysis of average completion times in the “real world.”
  • Number of Exams: Number of exams candidates must pass to obtain certification. (It does not take into account the average number of tries to pass an exam.)
  • Cost of Exams: Cost for all exams that candidates must pass to obtain certification. As with the preceding criterion, it does not take into account the average number of tries to pass any exam.
  • Experience Requirement: Some certifications are entirely amenable to book or classroom learning, whereas others are unapproachable without real-world, hands-on experience with the tools and technologies that such certifications cover. Here, we rank such requirements as low (2 points), medium (4 points), high (6 points) or extremely high (8 points). For example, we rate the Certified Wireless Networking Expert (CWNE) as high and the CCIE as extremely high.
  • Income Potential: Some certifications are pretty common or don’t add much additional income potential to their holders. We rank a certification’s income potential as low (2 points), medium (4 points), high (6 points) or extremely high (8 points). For this criterion, for example, I rate the VMware Certified Advanced Professional (VCAP) as medium and the Microsoft Certified Trainer (MCT) as extremely high. Some values are higher than 8 for “special cases,” such as the CCIE (14 points).

Although there are undoubtedly more criteria that we could use to rank certifications, these six criteria produce values that are useful enough to make our comparisons interesting and informative. For example, we could easily define another cost metric that uses the average cost for web-based training because many certification programs offer such education today. As it turns out, though, that particular ranking adds little value to the existing data because it stays in line with the values for self-study and classroom costs.

In Ranking Certifications, Part 2: The Ratings, Table 1 ranks 113 IT certifications according to the six criteria discussed above. To save space, we’ve shortened longer certification monikers (hopefully, they should still be pretty clear).


Hopefully, you’ll find this approach useful as you compare and contrast the certifications specifically mentioned in Table 1 of Ranking Certifications, Part 2: The Ratings. Even better, we hope it gives you some insight into how to weigh and rank other certifications not mentioned there. By providing a collection of criteria and documenting our value assignments and weighting mechanisms, we hope you not only find some value in the rankings that do appear, but also that you use similar evaluations and ratings to rank other certifications that may interest you, but that don’t appear in that table.

Part 2: The Ratings

Aspiring or active IT professionals can benefit from an improved understanding of how top IT certifications rank in terms of the time commitment, cost, and other factors involving in obtaining the certification against its ultimate financial or career advancement return on investment. Here you’ll find a table with rankings for more than 100 top IT certifications.

Editor’s Note: This article previously covered information on certifications for 2012. It has been updated to account for changes to certification programs in 2013.

Aspiring or active IT professionals can benefit from an improved understanding of how top IT certifications are ranked in terms of time commitment, cost, and other factors to obtain the certification against the ultimate financial or career advancement return on investment. Here, you’ll find a table with rankings for 85 different leading IT certifications.

Certifications Mentioned

There are 113 certifications from 26 vendors listed in our rankings. To see the list in alphabetical order by vendor/sponsor name, click here to open a PDF.

To see the certifications in order by ranking, click here to open a PDF.

The Rankings

In Ranking Certifications, Part 1: One Method for Rating Certifications (2013 Edition), we examine one way to take an objective look at how the time commitment for completion, cost, and other factors stack up when compared to the financial benefit that one might hope to reap by obtaining such certifications. These criteria included career level, completion time, number of exams required, exam cost, prior experience or skill required, and perhaps most importantly, the income/earnings potential associated with such certification.

We used the ranking system described in Ranking Certifications, Part 1 and applied it to 113 leading IT credentials. Because of the high value of experience and pay related to the credential, we double those values and add them to the rest of the ranking values unchanged (and thus also unweighted). We also used an out-of-range value for experience in the CCIE and a few other select rankings because of their extremely demanding curricula and numerous observations that such credentials demand an unusually high level of technical acumen and experience.

You can add other criteria to create your own chart, with your own values and ranking approach, but our rankings should give you enough information to assist in your decision making when selecting the right IT certification in which to invest your time and money.

The ranking is organized as follows:

  • Name: Provides a moniker for each certification.
  •       Level: Defines a job ranking as entry-level (2), intermediate (4), advanced (6) or expert (8).
  •       Time: Defines the average time to completion in months.
  •       # Exams: The total number of exams required.
  •       Cost: Totals the cost for the exams that must be taken. We divide this number by 100 to scale it to match other ranking values, so the value represents thousands of dollars.
  •       Experience: Defines how much hands-on experience is required to attain this cert. Valid values are low (2), medium (4), high (6) and extremely high (8). Some values go even higher than this, as you will see for the CCIE. We double this value when calculating the rank metric to make sure it receives proper emphasis.
  •       $$$: Defines the income potential for cert holders. Values come from averaging reported pay at for job postings that mention the certification by name. All $$$ values are divided by 10,000 to adjust pay into a range between 3 and 16, but the weighting algorithm doubles this value to make sure it assumes its proper significance.
  •       Rank: Sums the total of all ranking values for the certification.

For more information on the criteria definitions and ranking weights for this table, please seeRanking Certifications, Part 1: One Method for Rating Certifications.



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