Should I Take the Network+ or CCNA?

A question that has come up a good bit recently is whether someone should pursue the CompTIA Network+ or focus their efforts on earning the Cisco CCNA certification. Both certifications certainly have their value and are a great addition to the resume, but if you’re short on time and have decided that you’re only going to sit for one, which one would be the best to pursue?

Should you get the CompTIA Network+ or the Cisco CCNA?  If you are only going to take one, most networking professionals should pursue the Cisco CCNA instead of the CompTIA Network+ because the CCNA is considered a higher level certification that is more valued by employers.  CCNA certifications usually command higher salaries than CompTIA Network+ certifications as well.

Now we’re not saying that the Network+ isn’t worthwhile or that you shouldn’t earn it now or even at some point in the future.  In fact, we specifically recommend the Network+ for many people that are starting their computer networking or cyber security career.  However, for this article, keep in mind that we’re evaluating the either/or of whether you should take one or the other.

What that said, let’s take a closer look at some of the differences between the two exams, and why the Cisco CCNA certification may be a better choice for you.

The Cisco CCNA is More Challenging Than Network+

Without a doubt, both of these certification exams are challenging. However, the Cisco CCNA exam certainly goes into more depth and detail, and probably requires a more solid understanding of networking in order to pass the exam. You can expect to see more questions about higher level networking technologies, such as the many WAN protocols and configurations, on the Cisco CCNA.  These topics are also covered on the CompTIA Network+, but almost certainly in less detail.

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Also, because the Cisco CCNA exam is testing your ability to configure the equipment itself, the exam can be more challenging than CompTIA Network+ as Cisco will certainly want to verify you know how to configure all aspects of their routers and switches that they test on.

What does this mean for you?  Cyber security certifications build either a positive or negative reputation over time, and people in the field know which ones consistently require a high standard to earn.  The Cisco CCNA is well known as a challenging networking certification.

The CompTIA Network+ Requires More Memorization

Let’s shift gears for a second.  Many people have had a common complaint about the CompTIA A+ exam, which is that it does require what some would call a unnecessarily high amount of memorization.  At some point, certification exams can go overboard with their requirements of topics or specifications that most technicians don’t need to have memorized, as they will typically just look up a spec if and when they ever need it, which in some cases may be rarely.

In some ways, CompTIA’s Network+ is similar to their A+ in that there is a decent amount of strict memorization required.  Ror example, the CompTIA Network+ covers the specifications of nearly every type of network cabling technology and connector, including every variation of Coax, UTP and fiber.  Some of those that are covered are no longer in use too. While some of this information is important, a topic such as this just requires a great deal of memorization, and there’s no way around that.  We feel that the Cisco CCNA exam requires less memorization because it tests you more on your ability to know and use the Cisco commands to configure and troubleshoot a scenario.

What does this mean for you?  While you do have to memorize the commands with the CCNA exam, you are applying them in a context and not just regurgitating them back as the Network+ often has you do, which many test takers find easier to do, and easier to prepare for.

The Cisco CCNA Has Two Testing Options

To pass CompTIA Network+, you’ll need to pass one exam which can include all of the content that CompTIA lists in their exam objectives.  Cisco has provided two methods in which you can earn the CCNA certification. For the Cisco CCNA, you can take one comprehensive exam to earn the certification or choose to take two individual exams which cover the first part and second part of the CCNA content, respectively.  As a benefit, passing the first exam on the Cisco CCNA track will earn you the Cisco CCENT certification, which stands for Cisco Certified Entry Network Technician. From there, you can continue and take the second of the two exams, which will upgrade your certification level from the CCENT to the more known and respected CCNA certification.  

What does this mean for you?  The option to take two exams instead of one provides another method to earn your Cisco CCNA certification if you want to take more time and focus on a smaller amount of content that you’ll be tested on.  And each test along the way does lead to a certification.

The Cisco CCNA Is More Valuable to Employers

Certainly both of these certifications are worthwhile and will add value to your resume, however if you’re in the situation where your study time is limited and you only want to take one certification, you should factor in that the Cisco CCNA has a solid reputation, has been around for a long time, and is generally well-respected among employers.  Most employers would probably agree that they would place more value and more clout on an applicant that earned the Cisco CCNA certification than the CompTIA Network+ certification. In other words, if two identical applicants applied for the same position and the only difference on the resume was that one had the CompTIA Network+ and the other had the Cisco CCNA, The Cisco CCNA certified applicant what probably get the interview.

What does this mean for you?  Having the CCNA on the exam will probably open more interview doors for you than the CompTIA Network+.  Of course, having the Network+ will open more interview doors for you than no certification at all.

What About If the Employer Doesn’t Use Cisco Products?

A common concern about any cyber security certification that is proprietary to a single vendor, such as a Cisco certification or Microsoft certification, is that the certification will hold little value to employers that do not have that type of technology in their networks.

Let’s try to settle this concern.  I have spoken to several employers that do not use Cisco networking equipment, or perhaps have used them in the past but have migrated to another vendor.   In every case, the employer is aware of and knowledgeable about the Cisco CCNA certification and the knowledge and ability it verifies.  They also place value on the certification because they understand that in order to pass the CCNA exam you have to have a strong networking background and understanding, which of course applied to all types and brands of networking equipment.   I have even heard an employer, who does not use Cisco equipment, say “The Cisco CCNA really is a good networking curriculum.” He knows what it is and values what it means.

To clarify, the CompTIA Network+ is considered a vendor-neutral certification, which means that the test doesn’t base any questions around specific vendor or manufacturer products, but instead focuses on the technologies that apply to networking in general.  Networking theory, protocols and ports that are used by nearly all equipment manufacturers are included on the CompTIA Network+ exam, but are also necessary knowledge for the Cisco CCNA.

What does this mean for you?  Nearly every interviewer will recognize and value your Cisco CCNA certification, even if they don’t use Cisco products.

Cisco CCNA Leads to Higher Salaries

Determining what salary a specific certification will command is nearly impossible.  Since certifications are only one small part of anyone’s resume and in no means can summarize the ability of a cyber security professional, it is a tough thing to determine how much impact a specific certification has on someone’s salary.  Payscale.com does attempt to determine a salary amount based on aggregate data, and a 2019 search on the CompTIA Network+ and Cisco CCNA certifications showed that the salaries achieved by the CCNA were over $10,000 higher than the Network+.  This probably has to do with the fact that upper-entry-level and mid level positions are more likely to require the CCNA.

What does this mean for you?  Having the CCNA instead of the Network+ might get you a few interview opportunities for positions that pay more than you would otherwise have.

In Summary

To sum up, we believe both certifications have great value and merit, but if you only want to take one, and believe you will be able to properly study and pass, the Cisco CCNA will probably be the better choice for you.  Good luck!

Related Questions

What is the CCENT certification?  The CCENT certification is an entry level certification from Cisco, which stands for Cisco Certified Entry Network Technician.  It is newer than their CCNA certification, and requires passing one exam to earn.

Are there networking certifications by Microsoft?  Microsoft has many certification exams, and they are valuable, but most focus on their software applications, operating systems and technologies, such as SharePoint, Azure or Windows Server.  Microsoft exams are not as well known for general networking.

Matt Day

Matt Day

Matt Day is a cybersecurity professional with over twenty years of experience in the IT, cybersecurity and technology training fields. He has a degree in Computer Information Science and CompTIA A+, Network+, Security+, Server+, CySA+, and Cisco CCNA certifications. Matt is the author of the book CCENT Troubleshooting Guide.