10 best-paying IT certifications

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Certifications aren’t just a few letters after your name. They can give you verifiable skills that turn into promotions, open up job opportunities that better match your career goals and help you build a resume that’s more attractive to hiring managers. The right certifications can even boost your earning potential by the thousands.  

A recent survey showed that 93% of employers value IT certifications, with 72% actually requiring them for certain job openings. But certs can cost you a lot of upfront time and money (with some reaching $15,000 in exam costs alone), so it’s important to pursue the right ones. 

To help you decide, we’re revealing the most lucrative IT certifications in the United States right now, using survey data from the Global Knowledge 2019 IT Skills and Salary Report. We’re breaking down the best IT certifications for you based on your role title and experience level—and covering prerequisites, exam costs and how to prepare for each of these top IT certifications while we’re at it.

How many certifications should you get?

Nearly 70% of IT professionals hold more than one certification. Earning multiple certifications in different categories is known as “cross-certifying,” and it’s really where the money’s at. For example, if you combine a project management certification with a cybersecurity one, you’re more likely to earn a higher salary, since it (literally) pays to be ultra-specialized.

In the US and Canada, tech pros with six or more IT certifications earn over $10,000 more per year than those with just one. In fact, each additional certification leads to a salary bump (with only a few exceptions). That means if you’re looking to maximize your salary, earn more than one cert, but do so strategically—i.e., don’t rack up certifications just because you can. Instead, think carefully about where you are in your career and where you want to go, and carefully mix and match from there.

top it certifications by salary

Pro tip: Getting multiple certs (or even just one) can get expensive. To avoid dipping into your own wallet, ask your current employer if they’ll pay for you to get certified. You could get reimbursed for study materials, training courses, the exam itself and even continuing education credits to stay certified. 

10 highest-paying IT certifications

We’ve seen that certified professionals typically earn more than non-certified professionals, so now let’s take a look at the top IT certifications based on earning potential. According to survey responses from Global Knowledge’s report, of the top 10 highest-paying IT certifications in the US, three are in cloud computing, three are in project management and four are in cybersecurity. 

Keep in mind, though, that certifications alone aren’t a golden ticket to better pay. It takes experience plus the right skills to reach such high salaries. But what this survey shows is that top-paid tech pros consistently have certain certifications that set them up to earn higher salaries, which you’ll see below.

top 10 highest-paying it certifications

Quick jump

1. Google Certified Professional (GCP) Cloud Architect

2. Project Management Professional (PMP)

3. Certified ScrumMaster

4. AWS Certified Solutions Architect – Associate

5. AWS Certified Developer – Associate

6. ITIL Foundation

7. Certified Information Security Manager (CISM)

8. Certified in Risk and Information Systems Control (CRISC)

9. Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP)

10. Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH)


Note: Global Knowledge’s survey included Microsoft Certified Solutions Expert (MCSE): Server Infrastructure as the #6 top-paying certification. However, we removed it from our list since the certification was retired in 2017.

1. Google Certified Professional (GCP) Cloud Architect

The GCP Cloud Architect certification comes out on top as the most lucrative IT certification, with tech pros reporting an average salary of $139,529 per year. What makes this cert unique is that the exam doesn’t test your knowledge of the Google Cloud Platform itself. Instead, it’s vendor neutral, verifying your ability to design, deploy and manage cloud solution architectures from scratch.

So why is it one of the best IT certifications? Companies are shifting their workloads to the public cloud, making cloud architects a necessity, not a luxury. Get this certification and you’ll show employers you know the ins and outs of cloud architecture, from creating migration plans to container orchestration with Kubernetes all the way through to deployment and release management.

Who should get it: Cloud architects, solutions architects, cloud engineers and software engineers looking to break into cloud computing.

How to get certified: Take the two-hour long exam in-person at a Kryterion testing center location. While the exam doesn’t require any formal prerequisites, Google recommends that you have three or more years of cloud experience, plus one year using GCP technologies. Why? Real-world, hands-on experience—not studying theory—is the best way to prepare. 

Cost to get certified: $200

How to prepare:

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2. Project Management Professional (PMP)

In second place is the PMP certification, one of the most prestigious certifications for project managers. It’s not specific to tech, but demonstrates to employers that you have a more sophisticated approach to taking projects from conception all the way through to completion. And that you’re much more likely to do it successfully.  

According to Indeed.com data, 66% of those certified say earning their PMP helped them make more money (an average of $135,798 per year to be exact). That’s because the exam is tough. It doesn’t just test your memory of project management concepts, but the practical applications of them—from managing conflict and removing blockers to leading cross-functional teams, assessing risks, planning a project’s budget and recommending methodologies (e.g., predictive, agile, hybrid).

Who should get it: IT project managers, program managers, product managers, senior consultants and anyone at a manager or leadership level. 

How to get certified: Apply to take the exam. To get approved, you’ll need a secondary degree, 7,500 hours of project management experience and 35 hours of PM education (or the CAPM cert). If you have a four-year degree, you’ll only need 4,500 hours project management experience, plus 35 hours of PM education (or the CAPM cert). Once your education and experience is approved, pass the four-hour exam, which you’ll take in-person at a Pearson VUE testing center location

Cost to get certified: $405–$555

How to prepare:

3. Certified ScrumMaster

Shipping software frequently, on time and within budget requires productive teams working together in harmony. But conflict, obstacles and competing priorities often get in the way. Product managers set deadlines that are too aggressive, dev teams face productivity blockers that prevent them from keeping up and soon, projects are derailed (or extremely delayed). Enter Scrum Masters, the “mediators” that make sure product owners and their teams are focused, productive and cohesive. 

By becoming a Certified ScrumMaster, you’ll prove to employers that you have what it takes to put Scrum—a framework in agile project management—into practice. And as more and more companies undergo an agile transformation, this is one of the best IT certifications you can get to make your resume stand out (and help you earn a potential salary of $135,441 per year in the process). 

Who should get it: Project managers, product owners, program managers, engineering managers, software developers and anyone who wants to prove their skills in Scrum and agile processes.

How to get certified: Attend an in-person, two-day training course taught by a Certified Scrum Trainer. Within seven days of completing the course, take the one-hour exam in the comfort of your own home (no fluorescent testing center lights fueling your exam nerves). The even better news? The exam is open-book so you can use your notes, books and other resources to help you. 

Cost to get certified: $1,000–$1,400

How to prepare:

4. AWS Certified Solutions Architect – Associate

AWS is a top cloud provider, making this AWS certification a top payer. The rise in cloud computing means there’s a growing need for cloud experts. In fact, demand is so high that tech pros with this AWS certification report making an average of $132,840 annually. 

From AWS’s core services (e.g., IAM, VPC, S3, EC2) to estimating AWS costs to getting into the nitty gritty behind how network technologies work in AWS, this is a top IT certification that demonstrates your skills in architecting secure, robust apps on AWS.

Who should get it: Solutions architects, software architects, solution design engineers, system administrators and cloud engineers.

How to get certified: You can take this exam no matter your experience level, but the cert is best suited for people with one or more years of hands-on experience designing distributed systems on AWS. To get certified, pass the 130-minute exam in person at either a PSI test center or Pearson VUE test center. 

Cost to get certified: $150

How to prepare:

5. AWS Certified Developer – Associate

It’s unsurprising to see another AWS certification making the top five, since the rapid pace of cloud adoption has been a contributor to the tech skills gap—and AWS is the primary computing platform for hundreds of enterprises, from Netflix to Airbnb. Explosive employer interest in mobile development, IoT and artificial intelligence is also contributing to the need for cloud skills.

While the previous AWS solutions architect certification proves your ability to design AWS infrastructure, this AWS programming certification proves your skills in using those resources to develop scalable cloud applications. It doesn’t validate your actual programming skills, but rather if you know how to refactor code for the cloud, deploy cloud-based apps and write code that interacts with AWS services (e.g., APIs, SDKs, AWS CLI). 

Who should get it: Software developers, cloud developers, DevOps engineers, automation engineers and any other engineering-focused role.

How to get certified: Like all AWS certs, you don’t need a certain amount of experience or education to take the exam. However, you’ll have the best shot at success if you have at least one year of experience developing AWS-based apps. To earn your certification, pass the 80-minute multiple choice exam in person at either a PSI test center or Pearson VUE test center.

Cost to get certified: $150

How to prepare:

Where can you earn the highest salary as a cloud engineer? Check out our list of the 10 top-paying cities for cloud talent.

6. ITIL Foundation

ITIL is a framework for managing the IT service lifecycle, which includes change management, capacity planning and disaster recovery, to name just a few elements. The ITIL Foundation cert shows off your understanding of how the framework delivers business value, including key concepts and terminology from Lean, Agile and DevOps.

What makes this cert so valuable? It focuses on aligning the design, development and delivery of digital services (e.g., apps, email systems, cloud services, APIs) with both business needs and customer demand. This translates to saved time and money, and a better end product. Plus, when technology practices change (as they often do), you’ll be able to help businesses adapt on the fly and stay ahead of the competition. 

Who should get it: IT managers and directors, database admins, systems analysts, software developers, IT support and anyone else with an interest in IT service management. 

Cost to get certified: $200–$350

How to get certified: With no prereqs required, you can take this exam online at home, where you’ll have an hour to answer 40 multiple choice questions. You can choose one of two routes: (1) classroom training or distance learning with the exam at the end or (2) self-study and take the exam whenever you’re ready. 

How to prepare:

7. Certified Information Security Manager (CISM)

The headlines are constantly filled with news stories about high-profile cyber crimes that have led to damaged bottom lines and reputations. That means there’s strong demand for cybersecurity pros, especially at the leadership level. And if you already have several years of hands-on cybersecurity experience and are used to managing enterprise information security teams, then this certification may be perfect for you. 

Designed to test your ability to align a company’s security strategies with greater business objectives, the CISM cert covers everything from managing security audits to detecting intrusions to managing the day-to-day of security teams. And since it’s more management-focused than other cybersecurity certs, over half (54%) of CISMs say earning this certification boosted their salaries.

Who should get it: Cybersecurity leaders, information security managers, auditors and those who want to become chief information security officers (CISO).

Cost to get certified: $575–$760

How to get certified: This cert is one of just a few on our list that requires extensive work experience. To get certified, you’ll need at least five years of information security experience, three of which must be as a manager. Then, you’ll need to pass the four-hour CISM exam, which consists of 150 questions.

How to prepare:

8. Certified in Risk and Information Systems Control (CRISC)

Technology is risky business. From permanent data loss to overloaded network connections to running over budget and behind schedule, there are tons of potential dangers that threaten the success of IT projects and entire organizations. 

The CRISC certification proves your mastery in detecting these real-world IT risks and implementing countermeasures to prevent and minimize them—without stifling innovation. Pros with this cert on their tech resume report earning an average of $117,395 per year. So even though you’ll be focused on planning for the unexpected, you can still expect a high paycheck.

Who should get it: IT security specialists, network security engineers, control and compliance practitioners, business analysts and project managers.

Cost to get certified: $575–$760

How to get certified: To get certified, you’ll need at least three years of experience in information systems risk and control. You’ll also have to pass the four-hour CRISC exam, which is made up of 150 questions.

How to prepare:

9. Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP)

Unlike other cybersecurity certifications on this list, the CISSP cert doesn’t just focus on management, but the ops side of computer security, too. It shows that you have what it takes to architect, design, engineer and manage an organization’s entire cybersecurity program. Forget just listing skills like risk management, network security or IAM on your resume and hoping the hiring manager believes you. This certification proves it. 

71% say earning their CISSP helped them make a higher salary. In fact, people who hold this top IT certification report making an average of $116,900 per year. Not only are salaries big, but so is demand. The Department of Defense, for example, requires a large portion of its military and civilian personnel to hold the CISSP certification (depending on their specialty). This makes it a great certification to pursue if you plan on working for the military or a government agency.

Who should get it: Security managers, network architects, IT auditors, security consultants, systems engineers and aspiring CISOs.

Cost to get certified: $699

How to get certified: Similar to the CISM exam, you’ll need at least five years of paid work experience in two of the eight topics covered on the exam. If you have a four-year degree, you’ll only need four years of experience. Once you’ve been approved, get certified by passing the three-hour exam.

How to prepare:

10. Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH)

What better way to beat a hacker than to think like one? It’s not all black hoodies and dark rooms lit by the ominous glow of a computer screen. White-hat hackers prod for holes and vulnerabilities in a company’s network using the same tools and techniques malicious hackers use. Their goal? Make a company’s security defenses stronger by finding flaws before a real hacker does. 

If you have a background in networking, security and programming processes, this certification rounding out our top 10 may be the perfect option to make you competitive. This is especially true as the need for CEHs is high in a world where almost all data is now stored online (and as attacks get more and more sophisticated).

Who should get it: Cybersecurity professionals, IT auditors, site admins and other tech pros working in network and data security.

Cost to get certified: $850–$1,199

How to get certified: To qualify to sit the exam, you need to either prove that you have two years of security-related work experience or attend an official EC-Council training course. Then, you’ll be required to pass a four-hour exam which is made up of 125 multiple choice questions.

How to prepare:

Want career acceleration? Get certifications.

Leveling up with one or more of these top IT certifications not only makes you more desirable in the eyes of employers (especially since the tech skills gap isn’t closing any time soon), but can also bring you higher pay and better career prospects. 


85% of all IT pros worldwide have at least one certification. Is it your turn?


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