Clash of Cisco Certifications – CCNP vs. CCNA

The two most common types of Cisco certification are the CCNP and CCNA certification. What are the differences between these? How are they suited to different industries and applications, and which is the best certification to obtain? Here, we will look at both in detail. You may just find that the answer is more complicated than you believe.

Understanding the Cisco Hierarchy

All Cisco certifications are part of an overall hierarchy of knowledge and experience with Cisco. The ratings are as follows, from first and least experienced to the greatest possible level of expertise:

  • CCENT certification – This is the standard, entry-level Cisco certification that will get your foot in the door, and help you learn the fundamentals you will need to go on and obtain further Cisco certification.
  • CCNA certification – This is the first real, applicable level of certification in the world of Cisco. For those who need the training to advance their career, the CCNA certification is a solid first step.
  • CCNP certification – This is the most useful level of Cisco certification. Taken in sequence after the CCNA, it can expand on the opportunities afforded by that certification and offer even more career-building skills and experience.
  • CCIE certification – This certification is above and beyond what many people need. However, it also opens doors for many careers that require advanced knowledge of Cisco, and may be worth considering if you already have your CCNP certification.
  • Cisco Certified Architect – This is the top tier of Cisco certification. These professionals are in charge of everything you will come to know about Cisco, for developing and advancing the systems and educating newcomers to the world of Cisco. This certification is reserved for those who want to make Cisco their primary career, and is not generally pursued by others.

While all of these levels of certification have their own unique merits, we are focusing primarily on the two most popular, the CCNA and CCNP certification levels. Both of these are available for taking through IT and business technology solutions providers worldwide.

CCNA Certification

CCNA stands for Cisco Certified Network Associate. Think of this certification as being like an associate’s degree or vocational degree. It is the foundation for further education in the subject, and a prerequisite for taking CCNP and other certification courses. The training is comparably affordable, and is geared toward new IT professionals with one to two years of overall experience.


The CCNA exam has no prerequisites. There are two different exams to choose from.

  • The CCNAX – CCNA Interconnecting Cisco Networking Devices: Accelerated
  • The ICND1 and ICND2 – Interconnecting Cisco Networking Devices Part 1 and 2

CCNA Career Options

The career path usually followed by professionals with a CCNA certification begins with entry-level work. Some of these options include:

  • Network technicians and support agents or engineers.
  • Helpdesk and service desk engineers.
  • First and second line support agents.

CCNP Certification

CCNP stands for Cisco Certified Network Professional. To sit for the exam required to obtain this certification, you will need at least a high school diploma or equivalent, as well as a minimum of one year of professional networking experience. An understanding of the basics of IT networking helps with preparing for this examination, and the resulting certification is intended to help IT professionals advance their careers.


More complicated than the CCNA certification exam, the CCNP exam consists of three separate exams.

  • ROUTE – Implementing Cisco IP Routing
  • SWITCH – Implementing Cisco IP Switched Networks
  • TSHOOT – Troubleshooting and Maintaining Cisco IP Networks

In order to take these exams, you must have taken and passed the CCNA examination.

CCNP Career Options

Career choices for holders of CCNP certification are more diverse, and offer the chance to go further in the field than a CCNA certification. These options may include:

  • Third line support
  • Network analyst and engineer positions.
  • Systems engineer.
  • Network specialist
  • IT team leader

Which Cisco Certification is Right for Me?

Ultimately, choosing the Cisco certification level that works best for you will be a matter of deciding how you can apply the knowledge and experience available through them to your chosen career path. If you are satisfied with the training you receive at the CCNA level, you may not feel the need to invest the time and money necessary to move on to the next level. IF you feel you would be better served at the CCNP level, you know your career aspirations better than anyone else. Pursue the certifications that will get you where you want to go, and let that be the deciding factor for which certification you choose. Because when it comes down to it, the only thing that makes one level better than the other is how much you can do with it.