Information technology is one of the few career fields you can get a meaningful start even as a high school student. That represents a great opportunity since it is an area of solid job growth and high average salaries.
One of the best early moves you can make is to earn certifications. In this article, we’ll explain the importance of certifications in the tech world and why you might consider earning one (or more).
There are many available, however, and some are more valuable than others. So we’ll also provide suggestions about which IT certifications for high school students are most useful to have.
What Are Certifications, Anyway?
Sometimes people aren’t exactly sure what certifications are, so it’s helpful to clarify before moving ahead. A certification is a credential given by a certifying organization after the successful completion of an examination.
Certifications tend to be narrowly focused on a particular area (like networking or cloud computing) and skills-oriented. Their purpose is to let a potential or current employer know that you have a clearly defined set of skills and knowledge to perform a particular job.
Sometimes you’ll also come across the word certificate. What’s the difference? A certificate shows that you have completed a certain course of training. It doesn’t necessarily mean, however, that you have absorbed what you’ve learned or can do anything with it in the real world.
A certification, in contrast, is designed to assess the outcome of a course of training. It shows that you have actually learned what you need to know. In fact, it doesn’t even matter how you’ve acquired the skills tested for. You may have taken a course or just learned them on your own. The important thing is that you have the knowledge and skills in question.
Why Get Certifications?
Why are certifications valuable? The simple answer is that they help you get a job. Traditionally, most professional careers required a college degree. This has been shifting recently and you can see this, especially in IT.
CompTIA's Workforce and Learning Trends 2022 report reveals that support for eliminating or at least relaxing degree requirements has risen to 85% for those making hiring decisions in IT. Seventy-six percent say certifications play a role in hiring decisions and 47% say they’ll be even more important in the future.
Certain certifications can even help you land an entry-level job right out of high school without a college degree.
For those who are already employed, by the way, certifications still matter. Adding them can be an important factor in increasing your pay and opening up new opportunities to advance.
Why Get IT Certifications as a High School Student?
Even if you can see why certifications are strategically important for a career in IT, you might wonder about the timing. Is high school really the time to go after them?
There are three reasons why your teenage years can be a great time to get certified.
1. You have capacity
High school is a time when you typically have fewer responsibilities and much lower expenses than you’ll have as an adult. It is easier to find the time to work on getting certified when you’re not juggling a full-time job and other obligations.
2. You can gain direction
Often students will head off to college with a career in mind only to find out halfway through that they don’t really like it. Working toward a certification is an easy way to explore a career in tech and find out whether it’s right for you before you invest a lot of time and money into preparing for it.
3. You can get a head start
As we mentioned above, it is possible to land an entry-level job in IT in an area like tech support with your high school diploma and the proper certification. You don’t have to wait another four years to start your career.
Some Strategic IT Certifications to Consider
So which certifications are actually useful for you to pursue as a high school student?
It’s helpful to think first about what’s included in the domain of IT. Think of it as centered around computing resources in a business or organizational environment. This consists of the tasks of designing, deploying, and managing computer hardware, software, and systems like networking.
Let’s make this more concrete. An IT professional could be any of the following (this is by no means a complete list):
- A technician who installs desktop computers in an office building
An engineer who designs and maintains large databases
A programmer who develops cloud computing applications
- A cybersecurity expert who guards company data and networks
Some certifications are quite broad whereas others will focus on one particular area of IT. For instance, if you know you’re interested in cybersecurity, it makes sense to earn certifications in that domain.
No matter what your interests are, though, it’s a good idea to start with something that demonstrates you have at least a basic grounding in the core areas of IT. This is a great foundation upon which additional certifications can build.
There’s really just one certification in this category that we would recommend: The CompTIA A+ Certification.
CompTIA Career Tech Academy is an organization that serves the tech industry and is known for its widely-recognized and trusted certifications. The A+ certification exam tests for basic skills and knowledge in computer hardware, operating systems, networking, cloud computing, security, and troubleshooting.
It’s a basic credential for entry-level jobs in technical support. We also found it shows up in more job listings on Indeed than any other entry-level certification. Preparing for the exam will teach you a lot of things that will be useful no matter where your career in IT takes you.
If you’re only going to pursue one certification, you should seriously consider making it the A+.
More Focused Certifications
If a specific area within IT interests you, more specialized certifications are worth considering. CompTIA offers a number of others that are designed to build on the A+.
For instance, CompTIA Network+ validates knowledge in IT infrastructure and could form part of your preparation for a career as a network administrator. They also offer the CompTIA Security+ certification for those interested in jobs in cybersecurity.
All of the CompTIA certifications we’ve mentioned so far are vendor-neutral. That means they assess the knowledge that you could use to work on software or hardware from a number of different companies. Some certifications, in contrast, are vendor-specific and test for your expertise in one particular company’s offerings.
One popular certification in this category is Amazon’s AWS Certified Cloud Practitioner. AWS stands for “Amazon Web Services,” and it’s one of the largest providers of cloud computing resources for businesses. Jobs in cloud computing are among the best paying in IT.
Another group of certifications to look at are the Microsoft Certified: Fundamentals. They offer 8 different beginner-level certifications in software solutions widely used by businesses and organizations. These skills will definitely enhance your resume.
One final kind of certification to consider, especially if you’re interested in coding, is in a particular programming language. Python, for instance, is used in a range of areas within IT and is seeing strong growth as an in-demand tech skill. The Python Institute offers several levels of certification, starting with the Certified Entry-Level Python Programmer.
What Happens Next?
Suppose you earn a certification in high school. What are the next steps open to you when you graduate?
If you still think you’d like to continue forward in IT, you can either look immediately for an entry-level position or seek further training in the form of a college degree or a specialized program in some area of IT.
CompTIA offers everything you need help you prepare for and pass the CompTIA A+ exam and give you full support in finding your first job in IT. If you don’t yet have the A+ when you graduate, this is a great way to get up to speed and launch your career quickly.
Getting a certification during high school will take hard work to master the skills and knowledge covered on the exam you’ll need to pass. The payoff is worth it, though. You’ll have a credential that can help you enter a lucrative and exciting career in IT.
You’ll also learn valuable information about what the possibilities along that career path might be and establish a base on which your further learning and training can build.
Interested in exploring more opportunities in IT as a high school student? Explore CompTIA's career roadmap.