Certifications for Early Career OR/MS Professionals

Kara Combs
Kara Combs
Air Force Institute of Technology

The transition from student to professional can be an overwhelming process. A student’s last year at a university is filled with regular classes and research, but on top of all of those are job applications and interviews. The job application process is competitive and extensive, with some jobs requiring up to four interviews (Indeed Editorial Team2023d). How can individuals set themselves apart from other candidates to secure a full-time position? In addition to their educational background and relevant work experience, many students turn to certifications.

What are Certifications?

Many students find themselves asking, "Why would I need anything besides my college degree?" Although a degree is important, there may still exist areas of one’s discipline that require skills not typically covered in-depth within the classroom.

Indeed.com describes a certification as a credential that designates the successful completion of a program but does not culminate in a degree (Indeed Editorial Team, 2023a,b). A certification can usually be awarded in a shorter amount of time and require less coursework compared to a degree (Indeed Editorial Team, 2023b). A certification is significantly cheaper than a degree and usually provides more scheduling flexibility since many pursuing certification are simultaneously working full-time (Missman, 2023). Some certifications can only be obtained after one has acquired real-world experience, but many have an "entry-level" version geared toward young professionals. Throughout the rest of this article, we will take a look at four popular certifications for early career professionals.

Associate Certified Analytics Professional (aCAP)

As the student magazine of INFORMS, it is essential that we mention the Associate Certified Analytics Professional (aCAP) designation provided through the Institute. The aCAP is the entry-level version of the mid-career Certified Analytics Professional (CAP) certification. Opposed to the CAP, which requires at least a Bachelor’s degree and 3-7 years of postgraduate experience, the aCAP is open to individuals at any point in their career, regardless of their background. This makes the aCAP an ideal certificate to obtain while students are in their last year of college. The aCAP covers 7 domains of the analytics process: (1) business problem framing, (2) analytics problem framing, (3) data, (4) methodology selection, (5) model building, (6) deployment, and (7) lifecycle management.

The aCAP certification costs $200 USD for INFORMS members and $300 USD for non-members, and the cost may even be covered by your university if they are a part of the aCAP Academic Pathway program. It is recommended that test takers study for 2 months before taking the aCAP exam, a 3-hour-long pass/fail test. The aCAP certification is renewable every 3 years. For individuals interested in pursuing a CAP, one advantage of the aCAP certification is that INFORMS offers an aCAP to CAP transition process upon the successful completion of the CAP eligibility requirements.

aCAP [Source] CAP [Source]

Engineer-in-Training / Engineering Intern

Many individuals within OR/MS come from an engineering background, which emphasizes professional licensure. A license is a government-issued credential that gives an individual legal authority to work in a specific field based on certain criteria such as education and/or an exam (Indeed Editorial Team, 2023c). While licenses are not technically certifications, they are similar.

Before becoming a licensed Professional Engineer (PE) (see NSPE (2023) for more information), individuals must first be- come an Engineer-in-Training (EIT), which is synonymous with "Engineering Intern" (EI).

The application process to become an EIT or EI varies from state to state; however, one underlying requirement is the passage of the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) Exam. The FE Exam is a 110-question test administered by the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying (NCEES). The FE exam comes in 7 different specialties that emphasize different topics: chemical, civil, electrical & computer, environmental, industrial & systems, mechanical, and other disciplines. The 6-hour-long exam is offered year-round and requires students to achieve at least a 70% to pass. To financially support students taking the exam, some schools cover the $225 USD exam registration fee (accurate as of January 2024). Students are often encouraged to take the FE Exam while the information is still fresh in their minds and "just in case" they would ever need to become a PE later in their professional career. It is important to note that not all engineering jobs require an EIT/EI — or even a PE — but passing the FE exam is one external way a student can show mastery of their degree area.


Credly FE Exam Certification [Source]

Certified Associate in Project Management (CAPM)

For individuals interested in more administration- or leadership- related roles, a Certified Associate in Project Management (CAPM) certification may be for them. The CAPM is a credential offered by the Project Management Institute (PMI), which also offers the mid-career Project Management Profession (PMP) certification. The PMP requires extensive work experience, 36 months for those with a four-year degree or 60 months for those without, as well as 35 hours of project management education/training. The latter can be waived if the individual has an active CAPM certification. Individuals are eligible for the 3- hour 150-question CAPM exam simply by holding a high school degree (or equivalent) and completing 23 hours of project management education (which can be fulfilled online through PMI’s Project Management Basics course). The exam fee for the CAPM certification is $225 USD for PMI members and $300 USD for non-members, but full-time students in an accredited, degree-granted program are eligible for the Student Bundle which combines PMI student membership with the exam fee at a reduced rate.


CAPM Certification [Source]

Unlike the previous certifications and licenses, individuals must earn 15 Professional Development Units (PDUs) within three years of passing the exam. PDUs has historically been awarded through continuous education; now, however, individuals can claim PDUs through content creation, sharing knowledge, and volunteering1. As most if not all businesses function through projects and teams, the skills learned through the CAPM certification will suit an individual regardless of how technical their career field is.

CompTIA Data+

As OR/MS is an ever-growing field with applications across numerous domains, individuals in cybersecurity and information technology (IT) may find themselves considering the CompTIA Data+ certification. CompTIA hosts several popular IT certifications that are considered to be industry standards such as the ITF+ ("IT Fundamentals Plus"), A+, and the Security+ certifications (Karl, 2023). However, its Data+ certification is relatively new given its initial launch of February 2022. The credential is ideal for early career data analysts who develop and promote "data-driven business decision-making." The credential is granted upon passing a 90-minute exam that costs $246 USD. Although CompTIA suggests 18–24 months of experience in a data analyst job, students who are studying a related program and taking the time for external studying should find themselves well-prepared for the exam. Like the CAPM, the CompTIA Data+ can be renewed after three years if 20 continuing education units (CEUs) are earned2.


CompTIA Data+ Certification [Source]

Platform-Specific Certifications

Up to this point, this article has focused on certifications that focus on new methodologies or concepts that are independent of the tools being used. However, there are quite a few platform- specific certifications that may interest students if a particular software is popular in the industry they are pursuing.

Amazon Web Services (AWS) one of the major platforms used within data analytics, offers over 10 certifications to current/prospective users. With the retirement of the AWS Certified Data Analytics - Speciality certification on April 9, 2024, young OR/MS professionals may pursue the AWS Certified Data Engineer - Associate credential. The content of this exam focuses on building the virtual infrastructure to support the data and, ultimately, the data analytics portion of a project. The exam costs $75 USD and test takers are given 170 minutes to answer 85 questions.

For those new to AWS, the AWS Certified Cloud Practitioner exam is considered "Foundational" as opposed to the "Associate" level of the Data Engineering certificate. Advertised as good for those without "prior IT or cloud experience," this certificate provides a high-level introduction to the components within AWS. This 65-question exam takes 90 minutes to complete and costs $100 USD.

Finally, for more advanced users, the AWS Machine Learning - Speciality certification focuses on training individuals on how to deploy advanced end-to-end machine learning models on AWS. Two years of experience on AWS is recommended before attempting this certification which costs $300 USD and consists of 65 questions to be answered in 180 minutes. All AWS certifications expire after 3 years, but re-certification options are typically available through re-taking the assessment at a reduced cost.


Data Engineer


Cloud Practitioner


Machine Learning 


Microsoft Power BI, one of the leading data visualization tools, also offers certification options. The Power BI Data Analyst Associate Certification (formerly known simply as the Data Analyst Associate Certification), provides training for the cleaning and visualization of data through Power Query and other built- in functions. This certification is awarded after taking its corresponding $165 USD exam and requires passing a free online assessment check upon renewal.


Microsoft Associate [Source]


SAS Certified [Source]

Another tech giant for data analytics is SAS, which produces popular tools such as Enterprise Miner, JMP (pronounced as "Jump"), and, arguably the most popular one, Viya. The SAS Visual Business Analytics Specialist Certification provides hands- on training with SAS Viya to import, analyze, and evaluate data. 

To receive the certification, test takers must complete a 50-55 question exam in 100 minutes. The exam typically costs $180 USD; however, students can take it for $75 USD after registering for SAS Skill Builder for Students in eligible countries.

More of a standalone tech company, Tableau, also provides data visualization software that users can be certified in through their Tableau Certified Data Analyst credential. Tableau advertises the credential to professionals with at least 6 months of experience; however, if you have hands-on experience in the class- room, research, or through internships, you may be ready to take the exam as a student. Similar to the earlier two certifications mentioned in this section, the exam covers the user’s ability to use Tableau for data analytics and visualization. The 2-hour exam consists of 40-45 questions and 8-10 hands-on problems and costs $250 USD. To maintain the certification, it needs to be re-taken every 5 years.

Those completely new to Tableau may be interested in the more basic, Tableau Desktop Specialist Certification. The exam for this credential consists of only 45 questions, with a time limit of an hour. The registration fee is $100 and the certification never expires after being awarded.


Tableau Data Analyst [Source]


Tableau  Desktop  Specialist [Source]


There are many certifications provided in-person and/or online through universities, online learning platforms (e.g., Udemy and Coursera), and tech giants (e.g., Google and IBM), and it is impossible to list all of them within one article. With the growing quantity of online content skill-broadening opportunities have never been easier to access. Admittedly, there is still a financial barrier to most certifications, but this does not always have to be the sole responsibility of the individual. Universities have partnered with some organizations to provide the credentials free of charge through course enrollment or successful completion of the exam. Additionally, employers typically cover the cost of credentials if they are essential to your job responsibilities. Many employers also have tuition reimbursement pro- grams that can be used for short-term education such as certifications.

However, before you rush to take all these certifications, take a moment and think about where you want your career to lead. Certifications take time and money to prepare for, obtain, and, where recertification is necessary, maintain. Even though their values are undeniable, they can never replace lessons learned from real-world experiences.


Indeed Editorial Team, 2023a. Certificate vs. degree vs. diploma: What’s the difference? URL: https://www.indeed.com/career- advice/career-development/certificate-vs-degree-vs-diploma.

Indeed Editorial Team, 2023b. Certificate vs. degree: What’s the difference?     URL: https://www.indeed.com/career-advice/ finding-a-job/certificate-vs-degree.

Indeed Editorial Team, 2023c. Certificates, certifications and licenses: Differences and jobs that require them. URL: https://www. indeed.com/career-advice/career-development/certifications-and-licenses.

Indeed Editorial Team, 2023d. FAQ: How many job interviews are in the hiring process? URL: https://www.indeed.com/career- advice/interviewing/how-many-interviews-for-a-job.

Karl, T., 2023. Everything you need to know about compTIA certification. New Horizons Blog URL: https://www.newhorizons. com/resources/blog/what-is-comptia-certification.

Missman, K., 2023. Graduate certificate vs. degree: Do you need a master’s degree? Advisor Education URL: https://www.forbes. com/advisor/education/graduate-certificate-vs-degree/.

NSPE, 2023. What is a PE? URL: https://www.nspe.org/resources/licensure/what-pe.

Acknowledgements: We would like to thank Haokun Du for taking time to review this article. Photo credit goes to kreatikar for the header.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are solely the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of INFORMS and/or OR/MS Tomorrow. The information presented here is for informational purposes only and should not be construed as official INFORMS and/or OR/MS Tomorrow statements, positions, or endorsement in favor of or against specific certifications.