The Microsoft Certified Solutions Associate (MCSA) certificate is for those with at least a year’s experience in the IT industry looking to improve their prospects for a new job by proving they have the necessary, core technical skills. There are no prerequisites to this certificate, but you do need this in order to advance to the Microsoft Certified Solutions Expert (MCSE) certificate.
See also: How to Get an IT Job
1. MCSA or MCSD?
While the MCSA will prove your skills at the server and operating system level, the D in MCSD stands for Developer and it is for those who want to prove that they can build systems both on-premises and on the cloud. Both are prerequisites for the MCSE expert-level certification.
2. Which branch?
The MCSA is divided into seven different areas; to gain the certificate, you need to pass all the exams in a given area. You can choose from:
MCSA: Windows Server 2012
For those who want to work as a network or computer systems administrator or as a computer network specialist, this certificate proves that you have the primary skills to reduce IT costs and deliver more business value. There are three exams:
- Installing and Configuring Windows Server 2012
- Administering Windows Server 2012
- Configuring Advanced Windows Server 2012 Services
MCSA: Windows Server 2008
Getting this certificate will prove that you can work with this server in a real-world business context. There are three exams:
- Windows Server 2008 Active Director, Configuring
- Windows Server 2008 Network Infrastructure, Configuring
- Windows Server 2008, Server Administrator
MCSA: Windows 8
This certificate is for those who want to work as computer support specialists by proving that they can configure, manage and maintain a Windows 8 enterprise system. As of last year, these exams have been adjusted to account for the Windows 8.1 upgrade. There are two exams:
- Configuring Windows 8.1
- Supporting Windows 8.1
MCSA: Windows 7
This certificate proves that you know how to configure and support a Windows 7 enterprise system. There are two exams:
- Windows 7, Configuring
- Windows 7, Enterprise Desktop Support Technician
MCSA: SQL Server 2012 & MCSA: SQL Server 2008
This certificate qualifies you to be a database developer or database analyst: you will demonstrate your skills in developing and maintaining the next wave of mission-critical environments. There are three 2012 exams:
- Querying Microsoft SQL Server 2012
- Administering Microsoft SQL Server 2012 Databases
- Implementing a Data Warehouse with Microsoft SQL Server 2012
Or two 2008 exams:
- Microsoft SQL Server 2008, Implementation and Maintenance
- Microsoft SQL Server 2008, Business Intelligence Development and Maintenance
Note: SQL Server 2014 certificates are only offered at MCSE level, and no certificates are going to be added to the MCSA level.
MCSA: Office 365
For those who want to qualify as a software as a service (SaaS) administrator or cloud applications administrator focused on Exchange, SharePoint, Lync, etc. This certificate will prove that you can transition to and administer cloud-hosted business applications with Office 365. There are two exams:
- Managing Office 365 Identities and Requirements
- Enabling Office 365 Services
You have the option to take an earlier or later certificate, for example Windows 7 or Windows 8, but when you click on the links you’ll see that there’s advice about upgrading. Unless you need the older certificate, it is probably best to take the latter.
- Take the MCSA: Window Server 2012, not MCSA: Windows Server 2008
- Take the MCSA: Windows 8, not MCSA: Windows 7
Take the MCSA: SQL Server 2012, not MCSA: SQL Server 2008. (The 2008 page actually links to the 2012 page, though there it does tell you "How to earn your MCSA: SQL Server 2008 certification.")
4. Optional Training
Once you’ve chosen your branch, the following page will tell you what you’ll be qualified to do. There is also a list of the exams you need to take, and beside each exam are two links: "optional training" and "required exam."
At the bottom of the page you will see a resources section with various helpful links, including success stories, books and copies of the software to practice on.
Clicking the "optional training" link will take you to a page with an overview, details and prerequisites of the five-day classroom-based course, along with a search facility to find a Learning Partner near you.
If you prefer to work online, there are several options:
There are four areas to choose from to find your exam, and then a choice between the relevant Discussion Forum or Exam Prep Wiki. If you have experience with forums, you’ll know that their helpfulness depends on how many people bother to contribute, so the wiki is likely to be of more use.
Microsoft Virtual Academy (free)
On finding the right exam, you will find an overview and then a video, slide presentation, and assessment for each module; the assessment requires registration.
Measure Up (paid)
This site offers practice tests and e-learning content such as videos and online coaching from certified professionals.
5. Take the exams
Remember that you need to take all the exams in your chosen branch. On clicking the "required exam" link, you will find:
- The cost of the exam in your country, and the option to change country; if you’re a student you may be eligible for special pricing.
- The schedule exam link takes you to a registration page.
- A link to a list of countries where you can take the exam online.
A list of everything you’re expected to know for the exam; a must-read especially if you choose to skip or do your own training.
This is similar to the "optional training" page, but it also includes exam prep videos, a paid practice test and books to buy.
Who should take this exam?
It’s your final chance to be sure that the exam is right for you, by matching the description to the experience you have.
- You must wait at least 24 hours before a second attempt
- You must wait at least 14 days before a third, fourth or fifth attempt
- You may not take the exam more than five times in a 12-month period unless you obtain permission
- If you pass, you cannot take the exam again
Once you’ve taken and passed your exams, you have the MCSA certificate which doesn’t expire and doesn’t need to be recertified. You’ve become a Microsoft Certified Professional with access to the professional community, and have the groundwork to move up to the MCSE.
Why are you interested in taking the MCSA? Are you planning to move on to the MCSE? Let us know in the comments section below.