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November 29, 2016

By Lisa Dare

Hidden gems: Worthwhile certifications under $500

Our research demonstrates that most certifications pay off, but you have to pay up front. If you’re looking for a bargain, here are two picks under $500 that can add the most to your earning potential.

MongoDB Certified DBA

Database administrators and application developers may wish to add a MongoDB certification to their profile. At $150 and no maintenance fee, it’s practically free and can add a couple grand each year to your salary.

  • Five-year cost: $150 exam fee
  • Five-year average potential ROI: $14,095 total
  • Exam: 90 minutes online
  • Prerequisites: None, but MongoDB recommends you understand system programming and database fundamentals, as well as basic JavaScript.
  • Difficulty: People rate the MongoDB certification as moderate
  • Training: MongoDB offers free online training and prep materials, making it even more of a steal

CCSK

The Certificate of Cloud Security Knowledge (CCSK) isn't just one of the cheapest certifications, it's also the highest-paying. Aimed primarily at cloud and InfoSec pros, the CCSK is also recommended for people who manage cloud vendors and contracts. The CCSK doesn't validate or substitute for practical experience, but it's a great way to demonstrate knowledge of cloud models, security risks and best practices. Many IT pros obtain it in conjunction with a higher-level cloud certification. 

  • Five-year cost: $345 exam fee, which also includes a free retake; free update modules are offered with new versions; no continuing education or maintenance fees
  • Five-year average potential ROI: $121,550
  • Exam: 90 minutes online; open book
  • Prerequisites: None
  • Difficulty: Hard
  • Training: The essential documents are free but many people recommend formal training to increase your chance of passing the test
  • Related resource: With My Head in the Clouds: Preparing for the CCSK

Top 5 highest-paying IT certifications 

If you're looking for ROI, these certifications offer the most reward for your monetary investment. Because most certifications cost more than the exam fee, we've calculated a five-year cost that includes maintenance fees, recertification costs within five years and required continuing education. The five-year return reflects the potential salary increase multiplied by five years, minus how much you pay for the certification.

It's important to note that certifications—especially advanced ones—won't necessarily help your career or earnings if you don't have practical experience to go with them. And while some companies do reward current employees for obtaining certifications, many do not. The real value of certifications is in helping you get promoted or obtaining a higher-level position. 

1. CCSK

Five-year cost: $345

Five-year return: $121,550

2. CCIE

Five-year cost: $2,650

Five-year return: $110,720

3. ITIL Foundation

Five-year cost: $524

Five-year return: $106,166

4. Lean Six Sigma Green Belt

Five-year cost: $294

Five-year return: $104,963

5. CSSLP

Five-year cost: $949

Five-year return: $102,051

See the full ROI chart with information about prerequisites and training options. 

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