What Is the CCNA? An Entry-Level Networking Certification

Written by Coursera • Updated on Sep 10, 2021

The CCNA is an entry-level networking certification that can prepare you for networking roles in IT like network specialist, network administrator, and network engineer.

Woman looking up the CCNA certification from her home.

What is the CCNA certification?

The CCNA—which stands for Cisco Certified Network Associate—is an entry-level information technology (IT) certification issued by networking hardware company Cisco. The CCNA is designed to validate your knowledge on fundamental networking concepts often requested in networking roles in IT positions.

Here’s a quick run down of key facts:

  • To get the CCNA certification you’ll have to pass one exam, the 200-301 CCNA.

  • Taking the CCNA exam costs $300, plus tax, as of June 2021.

  • There are no prerequisites to take the exam, but training and some experience with computer networks are recommended.

  • CCNA is a commonly requested IT certification, with over 6,000 job listings on Glassdoor and 12,000 on Indeed that mention the certification in the US, as of June 2021.

Read more: 6 Essential IT Certifications and Certificates 2021: Entry-Level and Beginner

How much is the CCNA exam?

The CCNA exam costs $300, plus tax. You can also use Cisco Learning Credits to purchase the exam. These are prepaid credits a company might buy so that their employees can tailor how to spend the credits on the Cisco platform to their preferences.

Trying to cut back on costs? If you think a CCNA certification can be beneficial to your employer, consider approaching your manager to see if the company will pay for the exam or exam training costs (or both).

What salary could I earn with the CCNA certification?

CCNA certifications can be useful in landing both entry-level and higher-level networking positions. Here are some of the job titles that can request CCNA certifications, and how much they make on average in the US. Salaries are collected from Glassdoor, and are accurate as of June 2021.

PositionSalary (average US)
IT support specialist$53,051
Network specialist$64,430
Network administrator$69,243
Network engineer$85,822
Senior network engineer$116,165

Read more: What’s a Network Administrator? A Career Guide

CCNA vs. CompTIA Network+

Like the CCNA, the CompTIA Network+ is a certification that will test you in your networking knowledge and is often acquired by professionals hoping to advance their networking skills. There are a few key differences.

  • Unlike CCNA, the CompTIA Network+ certification is vendor neutral. This means that it’s designed to prepare you to work with any network device or system, regardless of what vendor it came from. The CCNA tests you exclusively on Cisco products and tools.

  • The Network+ certification is considered by many to be more foundational than the CCNA. The CCNA is known to cover more topics and go deeper into network material than the Network+. 

So which should you choose? Many opt to take the CCNA despite it being vendor-specific to Cisco, because Cisco products largely dominate the networking market. Cisco had 47 percent of market share in Ethernet switches, and 33 percent of the combined SP and enterprise router market [1]. Because Cisco products are widely used, it can be useful to know them well. Many learners also find that the knowledge acquired by learning on Cisco products is applicable to networking products from other vendors.

That said, because the Network+ focuses on the basics, it can be useful for those completely new to networking, or who find the CCNA too difficult or comprehensive for their needs. It’s completely possible to get the Network+ and go on to take the CCNA when you have more experience.

What other Cisco network certifications are there?

The Cisco Certification Technician (CCT) is another entry-level Cisco certification. The CCT is designed to equip you with the skills to do onsite support and maintenance of networking devices. It doesn’t delve into networking concepts however, which is likely part of the reason why it tends not to be as requested as the CCNA, even for entry-level IT positions.

The Cisco Certified Network Professional (CCNP) is the next level above CCNA. CCNP further has several specializations you can choose from depending on your desired career path.

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Read more: 6 Network Certifications for Your IT Career in 2021

What’s on the CCNA exam?

The 200-301 CCNA exam takes 120 minutes, and is offered in English and Japanese.

The CCNA exam breaks down as follows:

  • Network fundamentals (20%): Network components like routers, switches, and access points; network topology architectures; physical interfaces and cabling types; IPv4 and IPv6 configuration; IP parameters; wireless, virtualization, and switching fundamentals

  • Network access (20%): Configuring and verifying VLANs, interswitch connectivity, Layer 2 discovery protocols, and EtherChannel; Rapid Spanning Tree Protocol operations; Cisco wireless architectures, AP modes, physical WLAN components, AP and WLC management access connections, and wireless LAN access 

  • IP connectivity (25%): Routing tables; router decision-making; configuring and verifying IPv4 and IPv6 static routing and single area OSPFv2; first hop redundancy protocol

  • IP services (10%): Configuring and verifying NAT and NTP; describing DHCP, DNS, SNMP, and syslog features; per-hop behavior; using SSH; describing TFTP/FTP

  • Security fundamentals (15%): Security concepts like threats and mitigation, physical access control; password policies; access control lists; Layer 2 security features; wireless security protocols

  • Automation and programmability (10%): Comparing traditional networks with controller-based networks; automation concepts; interpreting JSON data

How to get the CCNA certification

In order to become CCNA certified, you’ll have to take the 200-301 CCNA exam offered by Cisco. There are no prerequisites for the exam, but Cisco reports that CCNA candidates generally have the following experience prior to taking the exam:

  • At least one year of using and implementing Cisco products and solutions

  • Basic knowledge of IP addressing

  • Knowledge of network fundamentals

CCNA courses and training

There are many online courses you can choose from that will prepare you for the CCNA exam. There may also be in-person classes at your local community college that will do the same. 

  • Cisco offers an online course called Implementing and Administering Solutions that is designed to help you pass the CCNA exam. The course costs $800 as of June 2021 [2].

  • You can take the Computer Communications specialization on Coursera for a full introduction to the world of networking, or take individual courses if you want to focus on specific skills, like TCP/IP, or packet switching networks. Though the specialization won’t explicitly prepare you for the CCNA, you’ll learn much of the fundamentals of computer networks.

  • If you need a quick refresher on networks, or are still deciding if networking is for you, you might consider completing the Introduction to Networks and Cisco Devices guided project on Coursera. The project can be completed in under three hours.

Looking to start a career in IT? If you’re hoping to learn more broadly about IT fundamentals, consider the Google IT Support Professional Certificate. You can learn job-ready skills in six months, including network fundamentals. Plus, it’ll prepare you for the CompTIA A+ exam—and you’ll get a free trial week.

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Next steps

If you’re just getting started in IT, it can be worth exploring other entry-level certifications to see your other options. Don’t forget that there are other network certifications that you can get as well.

Article sources

1. IDC. "Global Ethernet Switch and Router Markets Deliver Mixed Results in Q2 2020, According to IDC, https://www.idc.com/getdoc.jsp?containerId=prUS46830820." Accessed June 29, 2021.

2. The Cisco Learning Network Store. "Implementing and Administering Cisco Solutions (CCNA) v1.0, https://learningnetworkstore.cisco.com/on-demand-e-learning/implementing-and-administering-cisco-solutions-ccna-v1-0-elt-ccna-v1-023587." Accessed June 29, 2021.

Written by Coursera • Updated on Sep 10, 2021

This content has been made available for informational purposes only. Learners are advised to conduct additional research to ensure that courses and other credentials pursued meet their personal, professional, and financial goals.

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