4 min read

Are IAPP Certifications Worth It?

Wondering whether the popular IAPP certifications are actually worth it? Read this.

Why You Should Read This

It can cost over $1,000 to get your IAPP certification—but is it worth it?

It depends. Maybe. Sometimes. Only during a full moon (kidding).

Privacy and its sub-disciplines change constantly. The IAPP helps provide a level of definition and clarity to privacy topics through their professional certifications.

Companies also rely on IAPP certifications as a hiring signal. You won't get hired solely based on your IAPP certifications. However, they have several benefits:

  1. Demonstrate a baseline understanding of privacy topics
  2. Demonstrate knowledge or capability without experience
  3. Show continuous learning and personal development

It's undeniable that IAPP certifications carry a particular weight.

But how do you know if they're useful and the right choice for you? Read on!

Questions to Ask Yourself

Getting an IAPP certification should depend on your goals and circumstances.

People constantly ask me whether IAPP certifications are worth it. Before answering, you need to ask yourself some additional questions:

There's no right answer to these questions—but they're still important.

This post works through a few of these. However, consider the remaining questions on your own before jumping into your IAPP certification journey.

In short, make sure you're getting an IAPP certification for the right reasons.

Start With Your Goals

There are good, bad, and silly reasons to get an IAPP certification.

The best way to figure this out? Start with your goals and work backward. Here are a few good reasons (but not the only reasons) to consider IAPP certifications:

  1. Break into privacy and meet hiring criteria
  2. Demonstrate transferrable knowledge
  3. Personal development

These reasons have one thing in common: privacy education.

Let's be real. There aren't great options to get a formal privacy education—unless you're a lawyer or go to a highly selective privacy engineering program.

IAPP certifications can help you develop your expertise and fill this gap.

Whether you're a seasoned privacy practitioner or considering a privacy career, IAPP certifications provide a reasonable structure to learn about privacy. You even get a cool piece of digital paper to post on LinkedIn afterward—nice!

Check out our dedicated post to help you evaluate the benefits of certification.

Whatever your reasons, consider whether they align with the required time (average of 30 hours) and costs of certification ($900-$1k).

There are some alternatives to IAPP certifications, but not a lot.

Are You Considering a Privacy Career?

IAPP certifications are most valuable for aspiring privacy practitioners.

Why? Well, the formal privacy education pipeline is woefully inadequate.

There are few privacy-centric undergraduate or graduate programs. Where these programs do exist, they are often full-time, highly selective, and expensive. Privacy also doesn't have established ad hoc programs like boot camps—yet.

How do you show your expertise as an aspiring privacy practitioner?

An IAPP certification won't get you a job on its own, but it won't hurt.

Companies are desperate for privacy talent, but there are no good pipelines. Because of this, many companies list IAPP certifications as preferred or required in their hiring criteria, alongside a laundry list of other requirements.

How do IAPP certifications help? Well, they send a stronger hiring signal.

For entry-level privacy roles, companies sometimes focus on capability and mindset vs. a proven track record. IAPP certifications are one potential way to demonstrate your interest (and commitment) to pursuing a privacy career.

This is especially true if you're a full-time student or in an adjacent field.

When formal education is lacking, IAPP certifications may help close the gap.

Consider the Costs

You've decided that IAPP certifications fit your goals. Great—where do you sign?

Jokes aside, IAPP certifications are not cheap and may be cost-prohibitive.

Depending on the IAPP certification, your IAPP membership status, and the study resources you choose, your IAPP certification can easily cost over $1,000. Wowza.

If your employer is paying, you may not be overly concerned.

However, IAPP certifications have the most benefits for students and working professionals considering a career in privacy. These aspiring privacy practitioners may have no option but to pay certification costs themselves.

That's a non-trivial amount of money. A few recommendations:

  1. Check whether your employer reimburses continuing education
  2. Check whether your employer has a Corporate or Group Membership
  3. Find a faculty sponsor for IAPP's Higher Education Program
  4. Consider alternatives to IAPP certifications

Unfortunately, there are very few ways to lower the costs of IAPP certifications.

As a student, you may qualify for the IAPP's Higher Education Program. The IAPP does not appear to advertise this program or show it on its website. However, if you have a faculty sponsor, you can get an IAPP certification for $250 vs. $1k.

Check out our dedicated blog post for a breakdown of certification costs.

So, Should You Get An IAPP Certification?

To once again share an adage as old as time itself—it depends.

As an aspiring privacy practitioner, IAPP certifications are a great way to bolster your privacy education. They provide a structured study plan to learn about different privacy topics and help you meet hiring criteria.

However, they only make sense if you can reasonably afford them.

As an established privacy practitioner, IAPP certifications provide good personal development opportunities. Your employer may reimburse most, or all of the certification costs. Here you're paying with your time rather than your wallet.

If you just want to learn about various privacy topics, consider alternatives.

The decision to get an IAPP certification is personal. However, if you need help thinking through your circumstances and goals, please reach out!

Alternatives to IAPP Certifications

There are plenty of reasonably priced (or free) alternatives to IAPP certifications.

If you still want a certification, consider something like the Certified Data Privacy Solutions Engineer (CDPSE). ISACA released the CDPSE in 2020 and some people view it as a viable alternative to IAPP certifications.

For a crisp $3,000, you may consider Carnegie Mellon's Privacy Engineering Certificate Program. This is a 4-week course that runs 3-4 times a year. Carnegie Mellon also has a full graduate program that costs ~$80k.

Once you've retrieved your jaw from the floor, keep reading—you have options.

There are some free, publicly accessible privacy courses. These are relatively high level but expose you to various privacy topics without the high price tag. A few favorites from the privacy community include:

  1. Privacy Engineering Certification (Data Protocol)
  2. Technical Privacy Masterclass (Privado)

You could also build your own personal privacy curriculum.

If you're a true masochist, you could directly read privacy laws. However, many government agencies also publish recommendations and guidelines for consumers and businesses alike—these are often more palatable.

You can glean a lot from these resources, and they're free and widely available.

Finally, you may just consider picking up a good privacy newsletter or book.

Wrapping Up

I sincerely hope this post was accessible, useful, and practical for you. If you have any feedback on this post, please let me know. Cheers.