Whether you’re looking to expand your skillset, or just transition into the IT field, an online certificate in information technology can be exactly what you need. We’ll go into more detail about the various reasons why you might want to choose a certificate over a full associate’s or bachelor’s degree. Online IT certificates might not be the best choice for everyone, but they can be a great move for many people. It all depends on your individual goals.
Most online IT certificate programs are offered through community colleges, which makes them, on average, much cheaper than degrees at private or even state universities. This ranking of the top 10 most affordable online IT certificate programs ranks the colleges from most to least affordable. It’s important to note that for the purposes of this ranking since it showcases fully online information technology certificates, we used out-of-state tuition prices for the purposes of this ranking. For convenience, we listed the in-state tuition rates for each college so you can see the difference between a local and an out-of-state community college.
It’s also important to note that all of the programs featured here are fully online. Many community colleges offer hybrid and blended programs that are offered mostly online, with some on-campus sessions required. If your local community college does this, then check it out because it will likely be much cheaper than going to a school outside your state of residence and you won’t have to sacrifice too much convenience. The great thing about this ranking is that many of the colleges have tuition rates that are incredibly cheap even for students who live out-of-state–especially when you compare the prices to private and even state colleges and universities! Check out the FAQ at the end of the ranking for more information and answers to common questions.
Reviewing the Cheapest IT Certificate Programs Online
#1. Metropolitan Community College
Metropolitan Community College offers four online IT certificates. These certificates are in business intelligence systems, computer programming, data center technician, and server technician. Each of these certificates includes a pathway to an associate’s degree to make building on the certificate easy if the student so desires.
- In-State Tuition: $3,195
- Out-of-State Tuition: $4,680
#2. Vance-Granville Community College
Vance-Granville Community College offers a number of IT tracks for associate degrees. However, there are also certificate level options that include Cisco Networking Certificate, cyber security support certificate, healthcare informatics certificate, simulation software specialist certificate, and game design fundamentals certificate.
- In-State Tuition: $1,948
- Out-of-State Tuition: $5,168
#3. Harrisburg Area Community College
Central Pennsylvania Community College offers an online certificate in computer information systems. Students can choose from concentrations in support specialist, database analyst, and business intelligence application developer. The certificate is 31 credits, and students will take courses like client administration, intermediate database management, information security fundamentals, and database programming.
- In-State Tuition: $5,328
- Out-of-State Tuition: $6,408
#4. Kapi’olani Community College
Kapi’olani Community College offers a number of different certificates with different credit requirements. These are the advanced professional certificate (18 credits), certificate of achievement (30-31 credits), and certificate of competence (18 credits). The IT subjects offered in at least one of these certificate forms are information technology, information security and assurance, database administration, help desk services, and programming.
- In-State Tuition: $3,284
- Out-of-State Tuition: $8,420
#5. Wayne Community College
Wayne Community College offers a degree, diploma, and certificates in IT business support. The business support-related certificates are A+ fundamentals certificate, business apps, business support, cybersecurity concepts, hardware/software support, operating systems support, systems and hardware support, systems support, and windows operating systems certificate.
- In-State Tuition: $2,524
- Out-of-State Tuition: $8,668
#6. Brunswick Community College
Brunswick Community College offers several online information technology certificates in areas like C++ programming, cybersecurity, information systems, and java programming. You can also pick up certificates in internet marketing, simulation and game development, and web development, which can be good supplements to your information technology education.
- In-State Tuition: $2,532
- Out-of-State Tuition: $8,676
#7. Haywood Community College
Haywood Community College offers online information technology certificates in hardware support tech and in cybersecurity. The certificates feature courses like network and security foundation, hardware/software support, linux/unix single user, network and security foundation, introduction to cyber crime, security concepts, and security administration.
- In-State Tuition: $2,580
- Out-of-State Tuition: $8,724
#8. Rowan-Cabarrus Community College
Rowan-Cabarrus Community College offers a large number of online information technology certificates in subjects like Cisco networking, database administration, productivity software, security essentials, systems administration, windows administration, and workforce essentials. These certificates are offered fully online and may require proctored exams depending on the subject and format.
- In-State Tuition: $2,632
- Out-of-State Tuition: $8,776
#9. College of Southern Maryland
The College of Southern Maryland offers two online IT certificates. The first is a certificate in information services that features courses like computing essentials, program design and development, systems analysis and design, and introduction to databases. The technical support certificate features courses like computer security, local area network administration, and information technology center support.
- In-State Tuition: $6,870
- Out-of-State Tuition: $8,820
#10. Cerro Coso Community College
Cerro Coso offers data analyst, information technology, and information technology plus online certificates. These programs feature courses like principles of project management, data analytics for business, introduction to programming concepts and methodologies, elementary probability and statistics, computer network fundamentals, and information and communication technology essentials. The 12 and 13 unit certificates can be completed in one semester. The 23-unit information technology certificate program can be completed in two semesters.
- In-State Tuition: $1,058
- Out-of-State Tuition: $7,567
Frequently Asked Questions About Online IT Certificate Programs
Are certificates cheaper than associate’s degrees?
Overall, yes, certificates are often cheaper than associate’s degrees. This is because certificates are usually around ⅕ to ½ as many credits as an associate degree. Normally colleges and universities charge per-credit. So fewer credits means lower cost. The tuition rates used for this ranking of online IT certificates generally reflect the cost of one-year of full-time tuition at the college in question. This is roughly the most you can expect to pay for a 30-credit certificate from the school. Some certificates are only 12-18 credits and will actually be even cheaper than the tuition used in this article. Many of the schools featured in our ranking offer more than one online IT certificate, each covering different elements of the field. So we decided to use the the tuition cost students can expect to pay for the higher-credit (and therefore more expensive) certificates. The certificate you want may be even cheaper than the tuition used in this ranking! Or you may be able to get two 12-18 credit certificates for the posted price instead of just one 30-credit certificate. That hints at part of the answer to the next question!
What makes certificates a better choice than associate’s degrees?
There are many circumstances in which a certificate can be a better choice than an associate’s degree. For instance, certificates are more concentrated. You study fewer subjects that aren’t directly related to the skill set you are trying to develop. This is great for people who are already working and want to add new skills to their arsenal. Certificates are also a great choice for people who already have an associate’s or bachelor’s degree who just want to build on the skills they already have, or broaden their skill set.
Even if you don’t have a degree at all, certificates can still be a great choice. They can be earned faster than an associate’s degree. Take a 30-credit certificate as an example. This can be earned in just a year. Most associate’s degrees contain 30 credits of general-education credits, and 30 credits of major credits. So a 30-credit certificate essentially just strips out those general education credits, but allows you to get the same level of IT education, in half the time, at half the cost! If you want to expand on the skills you acquire through the larger certificate, you could then earn two smaller and more specialized certificates to complement the first one. This gives you twice as much IT education as you might have gotten from an associate’s degree in the same amount of time. IT is a field that is more interested in what you’re able to do on the job than whether or not you have a given level of education. The best part? If at some point you decide your lack of an associate’s or even a bachelor’s is holding you back, you can transfer your credits from your certificates into a program and finish out your degree, which means even if the certificates end up not being enough to get you where you want to be, you can still get there and won’t have wasted any time. And you will have actually saved money in the process! That’s a pretty good deal.
The tuition rates still seem pretty expensive. Can I get financial aid?
This can be a little confusing but yes! If your school is a regionally accredited college, then undergraduate level certificates make you eligible for federal financial aid. And even the smaller grants and loans offered through FAFSA are generally more than enough to cover community college tuition, especially if you are attending in-state. Please make sure you contact the financial aid office of your target schools and get any necessary information you can from them, and remember to submit your FAFSA application as early in the application season as possible!
If you work full-time (or sometimes even part-time) for a company, then you may also qualify for tuition aid benefits available to employees. Make sure you talk to HR and find out if there are any such benefits available to you, as they can help cover extra costs.
Books can be expensive if you buy them through the school’s store. But did you know sometimes schools have previous editions of course textbooks available through their libraries? There are also ways to acquire books second-hand online for much cheaper than MSRP. Be careful though. With IT related subjects, it’s important to have books that are pretty current, as technology is changing constantly, and an outdated book can contain old information that doesn’t apply, and can also lack important new information.
I’m not sure if online learning is a good choice for me. Are online certificate programs worth it? How can I tell without wasting my money?
The good news is that there are many online college courses offered for free through websites like Coursera and EdX. Some of these courses cost money if you want to get a certificate of completion and have the course potentially count as college credit. But if you just want to try out the format, there should be free classes you can take. Taking one of these, especially something to refresh your high school math or even get you started on college level math or writing can also be beneficial to you in preparing to earn your online certificate, so definitely check out these resources!