CCNA vs CCNP: Which Certification Is Best for You?

CCNA vs CCNP Featured Image

CCNA (Cisco Certified Network Associate) and CCNP (Cisco Certified Network Professional) Enterprise are both Cisco-specific IT certifications. Both of these exams are designed to test your networking ability as it relates to Cisco products.

Cisco networking certifications are in high demand due to its 41% market share of network infrastructure. Understanding how to use Cisco products to efficiently manage computer networks is a desirable skill.

CCNA and CCNP Enterprise are two highly sought-after Cisco certifications. However, not all certifications are created equal. CCNA vs CCNP differ on a number of factors ranging from the material covered to the cost, difficulty, and how respected they are by employers.

What are CCNA and CCNP Enterprise Certifications?

CCNA vs CCNP Roadmap Enterprise

CCNA and CCNP Enterprise are both vendor-specific networking certifications.

These certifications are designed to test your networking, switching, routing, security, and automation skills as they relate to Cisco technologies. While some material covered on both these exams overlap, CCNP Enterprise is a much more in-depth exam that dives deeper into Cisco technologies and how to use them.

About CCNA

CCNA Cisco Certification

CCNA is Cisco’s entry-level networking certification.

Passing CCNA’s exam validates your ability to use Cisco software and hardware for networking purposes. CCNA is Cisco’s most basic networking certification. It is a foundational certification that is used as a stepping stone to obtain more advanced certifications such as CCNP.

Despite being entry-level Cisco still recommends having one-to-two years of experience with the Cisco environment prior to taking the test. This, however is not a requirement.

About CCNP Enterprise

CCNP Enterprise Certification

CCNP Enterprise is also a networking certification provided by Cisco and is more advanced than CCNA.

When taking CCNP you’ll see many of the same topics covered in CCNA, however they will be more in-depth. Topics like network configuration, troubleshooting, and management of networks will all be tested.

When it comes to CCNA vs CCNP Enterprise, the latter requires you to pass two exams to be awarded certification.

First you’ll have to take the Core Exam, otherwise known as 350-401 ENCOR exam. This exam will test you on foundational enterprise networking technologies.

After this exam has been passed you’ll have to pass a concentration exam. You’re able to pick between seven different concentration exams, each covering a different concentration in Cisco networking.

There are no prerequisites to take CCNP Enterprise, however, Cisco advises candidates have three to five years of experience working with Cisco network solutions prior to taking the exams.

To be clear CCNP Enterprise is just one CCNP certification. Here is a list of the others:

  • CCNP Enterprise
  • CCNP Data Center
  • CCNP Security
  • CCNP Service Provider
  • CCNP Collaboration
  • CCNP Certified CyberOps Professional
  • CCNP Certified DevNet Professional

Each CCNP certification requires you to pass a core test and one concentration test. When we refer to CCNP in this article we’re referring to CCNP Enterprise.

Exam Details

While both Cisco certifications do share some details in common, there are plenty of differences you need to take note of when deciding which certification is right for you.

CCNA Exam Details

CCNA is an entry-level Cisco networking certification.

The test has a duration of 120 minutes, is comprised of approximately 100 multiple-choice questions, and performance-based lab questions, and requires a passing score of at least 825/1,000.

The number of questions you’re required to answer depends on how many performance-based lab questions you are required to answer. Performance-based lab questions are hands-on labs that test your ability to configure and troubleshoot a network. To give you a sense of how involved these labs are, Cisco recommends spending 5-7 minutes completing each of the lab-based problems.

The exam covers six topics:

  • Network Fundamentals: Demonstrate understanding of various network components, network topologies, compare and contrast physical interface and cabling types, understand differences between TCP and UDP, understand and configure IPv4 and IPv6 addressing and more.
  • Network Access: Configure and verify VLANs, inter-switch connectivity, Layer Two protocols, LAN access, and demonstrate understanding of physical infrastructure connections.
  • IP Connectivity: Demonstrate an understanding of routing tables, port forwarding, first hop redundancy protocols, and configure and verify IP static routing.
  • IP Services: Configure and verify source NAT, NTP, and demonstrate a technical understanding of other networking protocols such as DHCP, SNMP, SSH, and TFTP/FTP.
  • Security Fundamentals: Define security concepts, break down security program elements, verify access controls using passwords, configure WLAN, prove an understanding of wireless security protocols, and configure Layer Two security.
  • Automation & Programmability: Compare traditional networks with controller-based networking, explain automation’s role in network management, read JSON encoded data, and describe REST-based APIs.

CCNA devotes a certain amount of questions to test each domain. That breakdown is as follows:

CCNA Exam Domains

CCNP Exam Details

To obtain Cisco’s CCNP, you must pass two exams, the Core Exam and one Concentration Exam.

The Core Exam, otherwise known as ENCOR, will test your knowledge of vital enterprise network technologies. The exam is broken down into six topics:

  • Architecture: Understand design principles, examine WLAN deployment, distinguish between LAN and WLAN, understand Cisco SD-Access solution, and describe concepts of wired and wireless QoS.
  • Virtualization: Explain virtualization technologies, configure and verify data path virtualization technologies, and describe network virtualization design.
  • Infrastructure: Understand the OSI Reference Model, wireless, and IP infrastructure.
  • Network Assurance: Resolve a range of network problems using tools like syslog, traceroute, and debugs. Configure and verify syslog, NetFlow, IPSLA, NETCONF, and other network assurance technologies.
  • Security: Configure and verify device access control, wireless security features, describe REST API security, and network security design.
  • Automation: Be able to interpret Python scrips, create valid JSON encoded files, understand data modeling languages, and describe APIs for Cisco DNA Center.

These areas are not tested equally but rather are each weighted as follows:

  • Architecture (15%)
  • Virtualization (10%)
  • Infrastructure (30%)
  • Network Assurance (10%)
  • Security (20%)
  • Automation (15%)
CCNP Core Exam Domains

The exam consists of 90-110 multiple-choice and lab-based questions to be answered in 120 minutes. To pass, you'll need a score of 825/1000.

Once you’ve passed the Core Exam you may then take your Concentration Exam.

There are seven different Concentration Exams to choose from, each drilling down into a specific networking topic:

  • ENARSI: Tests your ability to install, configure, operate, and troubleshoot enterprise networks.
  • ENSDWI: Verifies your skills with Cisco’s SD-WAN solution.
  • ENSLD: Verifies knowledge of enterprise design.
  • ENWLSD: Demonstrates knowledge of wireless network design.
  • ENWLSI: Tests wireless network implementation.
  • ENAUTO: Asks that test takers implement enterprise automated solutions using programming concepts.
  • ENCC: Demonstrates a professional’s ability to design and implement a cloud.  

All Concentration Exams are 90 minutes in length and consist of between 44-55 multiple-choice and performance-based lab questions.

Winner: CCNP

As CCNA is more entry-level and consists of only one exam it doesn’t have the same breadth or depth that CCNP has. Both certifications are Cisco-specific networking certifications, however the CCNP not only covers the basics of Cisco networking but dives into more complex concepts.

The added Concentration Exam is a specialized exam focusing on one aspect of networking, but really drills down into that specialty. It’s for these reasons that when it comes to the content covered in CCNA vs CCNP, CCNP is the clear winner.

Eligibility Requirements

Neither certification has any hard requirements, however, Cisco does recommend having a certain level of experience before taking each exam.

CCNA Eligibility Requirements

CCNA doesn’t require test takers to have any certifications prior to taking the exam. While there are no formal prerequisites, Cisco recommends one to two years of professional experience constructing and administering Cisco solutions.

However, we have found that with diligent studying alone, it’s possible to pass the exam.

CCNP Eligibility Requirements

All are welcome to try their hand at passing Cisco’s CCNP. To take the exam you don’t need any prerequisites - you don’t even require the CCNA first. However, Cisco does recommend that test takers have three to five years of experience with Cisco enterprise networking solutions.

The first exam you must take on your way to obtaining CCNP is the Core Exam. After the Core Exam has been passed, you may choose one of the seven Concentration Exams. Once both exams have been passed, you will become a holder of Cisco’s CCNP certification.

Winner: Tie

Neither exam requires a hard prerequisite.

Cisco recommends that you have professional experience before taking both tests, however the hard barriers to entry are the same for both tests.

While Cisco recommends more professional experience for those taking CCNP than CCNA, professional experience can be overcome with studying. It’s for this reason we can’t justify a winner.

Be sure to study diligently before taking any Cisco exam. Even if you have professional experience, studying the material each exam will cover is the best way to prepare for any exam.

Exam Difficulty

The difficulty of these exams depends on your knowledge of the material being tested. Interacting with Cisco tools on a daily basis will be of massive help. That being said, Cisco certifications are more difficult than non-vendor-specific certifications such as CompTIA equivalents.

CCNA Exam Difficulty

Remember that CCNA is an entry-level networking exam.

Cisco’s CCNA will test your fundamental networking skills, and understanding of network components, access, connectivity, and security.

What may prove difficult about this exam is that it’s vendor-specific. Whereas a non-vendor-specific exam, like CompTIA Network+, will be more general, CCNA will drill down into vendor-specific technology. You should have a grasp of the Cisco networking nuances prior to taking the exam.

For instance, you should be comfortable using Cisco IOS commands and understand how to use Cisco’s management automation tools and software.

CCNP Exam Difficulty

CCNP will expand on concepts found in CCNA.

It is recommended that you take CCNA prior to taking CCNP (though not required). Expect CCNP to be more technical and to dive deeper into Cisco-specific networking technology.

Whereas Cisco recommends those taking CCNA to have one to two years of professional experience with Cisco technologies, it recommends three to five years of experience prior to taking CCNP. This illustrates how much more advanced CCNP is than CCNA.

Let’s also remember that to obtain CCNP, you must pass two exams, the Core Exam and a Concentration Exam.

Winner: CCNA

The material covered in CCNA is geared towards testing one’s entry-level understanding of Cisco networking technology. The exam is broad, covers more surface-level material, and is only one exam.

Job Opportunities

Cisco offers some of the most-used networking solutions in the market. The ability to design and maintain networks using Cisco technology is an en-vogue skill. As both these certifications demonstrate your mastery of Cisco technologies, they are both helpful in boosting your career prospects.

CCNA Job Opportunities

We found 8,210 jobs on Indeed that ask that candidates have CCNA.

CCNA vs CCNP  Jobs Linked In

Roles that consistently ask candidates to have CCNA are:

  • Entry Level Network Engineer - Average salary of $58,000 (Range $39,000 - $154,500)
  • Network Administrator - Average salary of $73,000 (Range $36,500 - $122,000)
  • System Administrator - Average salary of $81,000 (Range $39,500 - $129,500)
  • System Engineer - Average salary of $105,000 (Range $47,500 - $164,000)

While CCNA is clearly a desired certification, employers want applicants to have more than a certification to their name.

The roles previously mentioned all require hands-on experience with technical tools. Most job postings list a number of certifications they’d like candidates to have. Of the certifications frequently seen, CCNA is one of the few vendor-specific certifications. Having this will give you an edge over candidates who don’t have a Cisco-specific certification.

CCNP Job Opportunities

An Indeed search for jobs asking for CCNP returned 3,662 positions.

CCNP Job Opportunities

Positions that ask for CCNP include:

  • Network Administrator: Average salary of $81,000 (Range $36,500 - $122,000)
  • Systems Engineer: Average salary of $105,000 (Range $48,500 - $160,500)
  • Network Security Consultant: Average salary of $163,057 (Range $130,000 - $222,500)
  • Mid-level Network Engineer: Average salary of $98,000 (Range $27,000 - $156,500)

On average, jobs asking for CCNP offer salaries considerably higher than those asking for just CCNA.

You may be wondering why there are fewer jobs asking for CCNP than CCNA. Remember that CCNP is a more advanced certification. Obtaining CCNP means you’re qualified for jobs that only list CCNA, as well as more senior roles. More positions list CCNA than CCNP simply because there are more lower-level position postings on Indeed.

Winner: CCNP

Having CCNP also qualifies you for positions asking for only CCNA, in addition to the more advanced positions where CCNP is required; if CCNP isn’t listed on that posting, having “Cisco Certified” on your resume will still get the company’s attention. Don’t be fooled by the number of job postings returned.

Jobs asking for CCNP are more advanced, better paying, and more coveted than entry-level positions asking for CCNA.

Cost and Recertification

While both certifications are offered by Cisco, they do have different associated costs.

CCNA Cost and Recertification

CCNA costs $300 per attempt.

After passing the exam, the certification will be active for three years. You can renew the certification by obtaining more certifications or by obtaining Continuing Education credits.

Option 1: You can either retake CCNA or obtain a higher level Cisco certification, such as CCNP, to recertify.

Option 2: To recertify, you must earn 30 continuing education credits. You can earn Continuing Education credits via Cisco’s learning platform. Credits can also be earned via bootcamps, seminars, industry events, technical sessions, classes, and more.

CCNP Cost and Recertification

Cisco’s CCNP Core Exam costs $400.

Once you pass the Core Exam you’ll be required to take a Concentration Exam, which costs $300.

After the certification is obtained, it will be valid for three years before you must renew.

You can also renew the certification by:

  • Passing the CCNP Core 350-401 exam again, or any other core exam
  • Passing two concentration exams from any CCNP stream
  • Passing one expert-level written exam
  • Earning 80 continuing education credits
  • Passing one concentration exam and earning 40 continuing education credits

Winner: CCNA

These two certifications are identical when it regards to the duration of validity and what it takes to renew these certifications.

What gives CCNA the edge is that it’s $400 cheaper than CCNP. CCNP asks test takers to pay a fee for both tests. CCNA is one test that costs a total of $300.

CCNA Vs CCNP Cost And Recetification

CCNA and CCNP Enterprise: What’s Better?

In the battle of CCNA vs CCNP Enterprise, there can only be one winner.

The ideal certification to have is CCNP. 

While obtaining the certification costs more and is more difficult than obtaining CCNA, it offers far better job prospects and demonstrates a mastery of a variety of Cisco solutions.

While CCNP Enterprise comes away the winner it may not be the best option for you. If you’re looking for an entry-level certification, CCNA is your best bet. CCNP may prove too complicated and difficult to obtain at this point in your IT journey for someone without any experience.

CCNA  Vs CCNP Final Verdict

To help you prepare for these highly sought-after certifications, we recommend the following courses and the StationX Accelerator Program, a comprehensive training service that will equip you with the skills you need to break into the field, and provide a custom roadmap to help you meet your goals.

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  • Spencer Abel

    Spencer is part cyber security professional and part content writer. He specializes in helping those attempting to pivot into the vast and always-changing world of cyber security by making complex topics fun and palatable. Connect with him over at LinkedIn to stay up-to-date with his latest content.