by Sarah K. White

MCSA certification guide: How to become a Microsoft Certified Solutions Associate

Apr 30, 2019
CareersCertificationsIT Skills

Microsoft’s associate level certifications are a smart choice to prove your skills and bolster your resume as you launch and develop your career in IT.

microsoft logo graduate mcsa certificate certification
Credit: Getty Images / Unsplash / Microsoft

What is an MCSA certification?

Microsoft’s entry-level Microsoft Certified Solutions Associate (MCSA) certifications cover a range of Microsoft products and job areas. Not to be confused with Microsoft’s now retired Microsoft Certified Systems Administrator (MCSA) certifications, the MCSA certifications are designed as a way for entry-level workers to demonstrate proficiency in a variety of Microsoft products, roles and knowledge areas.

The MCSA certifications also act as prerequisites for many of the Microsoft Certified Solutions Expert (MCSE) certifications, which are designed for more experienced IT workers. If you’re planning to get an expert-level certification from Microsoft, you might need to pass one of these entry-level associate exams first.

MCSA certifications

Microsoft offers certifications focused on your ability to design and build technology solutions. Certifications center around specific roles and proprietary products such as Microsoft Azure, SQL Server, Office 365, SharePoint Server, Skype for Business, Microsoft Dynamics 365, Exchange Server and Windows Server.

There’s a long list of MCSA certifications to choose from. Each has up to three exams that you’ll need to pass in order to get certified. These certifications and exams include:

MCSA: BI reporting

This certification covers consuming and transforming data, modeling and visualizing data and configuring dashboards with Excel and Power BI. You’ll need to pass two exams on visualizing data to earn this certification.

MCSA: Microsoft Dynamics 365 for operations

No prerequisites are required for this certification, but you will need to pass three exams on SQL and Dynamics 365 to earn the designation. The certification is best suited for developers, solution architects or implementers who rely on Microsoft Dynamics 365. 

MCSA: SQL 2016 BI development

Microsoft recommends that you have foundational IT skills before embarking on this certification path. The certification is for extract, transform and load (ELT) and data warehouse developers who create BI solutions. You’ll need to pass two exams on BI development and implementing SQL to earn this designation.

MCSA: SQL 2016 database administration

You’ll want foundational IT skills and some experience with SQL for this certification. There are two exams to pass, one on administering a SQL database infrastructure and the other on provisioning SQL databases. Overall, the certification covers data base installation, maintenance, configuration and provisioning.

MCSA: SQL 2016 database development

This certification is designed for database professionals to demonstrate your skills working with on-premises and cloud-based databases. There are no prerequisites, but you’ll want at least foundational IT knowledge. You’ll need to pass two exams on querying data with SQL and developing SQL databases.  

MCSA: SQL Server 2012/2014

This certification requires foundational IT knowledge and is designed for database developers and analysts. You’ll need to pass three exams on querying, administering and implementing databases with Microsoft SQL Server 2012/2014.

MCSA: Universal Windows platform

Microsoft’s Universal Windows Platform certification covers HTML5, SQLite, CSS3, JavaScript and ASP.NET MVC. It’s designed for software developers and engineers who already have foundational IT knowledge in these areas. You’ll need to pass two exams — one on programming in C# and another on developing mobile apps — to earn this designation.

MCSA: Web applications

Designed for web developers or web administrators, the web applications certification covers technologies like C#, mobile apps, visual studio, .NET and Framework 4.5. You’ll need to pass three exams: programming in HTML 5 with JavaScript and CSS3, programming in C# and developing ASP.NET MVC web applications.

MCSA: Windows Server 2012

Targeted at computer network specialists and administrators, the Windows Server 2012 certification covers windows server virtualization. You’ll need to pass three exams on installing, configuring and administering Windows Server 2012 to earn the designation.

MCSA: Windows Server 2016

This certification is for network or computer systems administrators and computer network specialists to verify skills with Windows Server Virtualization. It requires foundational IT knowledge and you’ll need to pass three exams on installation, storage, computing and networking with Windows Server 2016.

MCSA certification costs

Each individual MCSA exam costs $165, so for certifications that require multiple exams to pass, you’ll need to pay the fee for each exam. Cost of training will depend on the course you choose. You can also find plenty of free resources if you don’t want to budget for a full course.

You won’t need to worry about renewal fees, as MCSA certifications do not expire. However, Microsoft does retire exams as products change, so if you get certified in a product that gets replaced, updated or changed, you may need to earn another certification.

MCSA training

Microsoft offers several options to help you prepare for your certification exams. You can choose from on-demand training or classroom training offered through Microsoft training partners. Instructor-led training courses are taught by individuals who have “completed rigorous training and have met stringent technical certification requirements,” according to Microsoft.

Microsoft also offers free training materials, practice exams, code samples and access to necessary products to help you prepare. Once you decide on a certification path, you can search for on-demand courses, live-virtual training and in-person instructor-led classes. If you don’t feel you have the foundational IT knowledge required for each certification, you can take one of Microsoft’s foundational courses on a related topic.

Each certification comes with its own requirements and prerequisites, so you’ll want to make sure you read the descriptions for each exam on Microsoft’s website. However, since these are entry-level certifications, most entry-level IT workers will qualify for each certification.