AWS Solutions Architect Associate vs Professional: Detailed Comparison

Neal Davis
5 min readNov 6, 2023

Stepping into the world of AWS certifications is a big move towards a rewarding career in cloud computing. You’ll find yourself facing an important choice right at the outset: should you go for the AWS Solutions Architect Associate certification or the more advanced AWS Solutions Architect Professional? It’s a common dilemma, given that both certifications are highly valued in the industry and can open doors to lucrative opportunities.

But it’s not just about job opportunities, it’s about skill development too. These certifications are a ticket to gaining deep knowledge and expertise in AWS, which is dominating the cloud space today. So, making an informed choice between “AWS Solution Architect Associate vs Professional” is indeed crucial.

That’s why we’ve put together this detailed guide, breaking down everything you need to know about both certifications, helping you understand which one suits your current skill level and career goals better.

Let’s dive deep into the unique features, benefits, and opportunities each certification can offer you.

Eligibility Criteria

  • AWS Solutions Architect Associate (SAA): Technically, AWS has no mandatory prerequisites for any certification. However, it’s beneficial to have foundational knowledge in AWS services and cloud architectural principles before attempting the exam.
  • AWS Solutions Architect Professional (SA PRO): Before undertaking this advanced certification, AWS recommends candidates to have a minimum of two years of rigorous experience in designing and deploying cloud architecture on AWS.

Experience Required

  • SAA: While this is an associate-level certification, having hands-on experience in designing distributed systems provides an edge. Often, individuals with one or more years of AWS experience choose this as a stepping stone. However, many students pass the exam without having any background working with AWS.
  • SA PRO: Geared towards seasoned AWS professionals, this certification is meant for individuals with extensive experience (typically 2+ years) in crafting complex AWS-based solutions. The exam is quite challenging, and we always recommend that students complete all 3 associate level certifications before taking the professional level exam.

Knowledge Required

  • SAA: Candidates should have a solid understanding of AWS including:

-AWS core services like Amazon EC2, AWS S3, Amazon VPC, and Amazon RDS (and many more)

-How AWS pricing and billing works.

-The foundational architectural principles of building on the AWS Cloud such as the AWS Well-Architected Framework.

  • SA PRO: This dives deep, with expectations including:

-Knowledge of multi-tier architectures, complex AWS services, and how they integrate.

-An understanding of enterprise-level AWS deployments, multi-account architectures, and hybrid AWS architectures.

-Mastery over migration strategies, especially large-scale migrations.

Familiarity With

  • SAA:

-Designing and deploying scalable and robust applications on AWS.

-AWS infrastructure and best practices.

-Basic networking and security concepts in the context of AWS.

-Refer to the exam guide for more info.

  • SA PRO:

-Architecting and deploying enterprise-wide scalable operations on AWS.

-Designing, managing, and maintaining tools to automate operational processes.

-Comprehensive understanding of network technologies as they relate to AWS.

-Refer to the exam guide for more info.

Types of Questions

In both the SAA and SAP, the exam consists of multiple choice and multiple-answer questions. These are all scenario based questions and the key difference between the exams is that that the SAP questions tend to be longer and more complex and thus require additional knowledge, experience, and time.

Exam Domains

The AWS Certified Solutions Architect Associate exam is broken into four test domains. These are:

  • Domain 1: Design Secure Architectures
  • Domain 2: Design Resilient Architectures
  • Domain 3: Design High-Performing Architectures
  • Domain 4: : Design Cost-Optimized Architectures

The AWS Certified Solutions Architect Professional exam is also broken into four test domains. These are:

  • Domain 1: Design Solutions for Organizational
  • Domain 2: Design for New Solutions
  • Domain 3: Continuous Improvement for Existing Solutions
  • Domain 4: Accelerate Workload Migration and Modernization

Job Roles and Responsibilities

  • SAA: Certification holders often take on roles such as Cloud Solutions Architect or AWS Solutions Architect. Responsibilities encompass designing scalable AWS solutions, making recommendations based on requirements, and advising on best practices.
  • SA PRO: Often pursued by Senior Cloud Architects or Cloud Strategists. Their tasks involve crafting advanced AWS solutions, providing thought leadership on best practices, overseeing large-scale AWS migrations, and streamlining integration across complex enterprise architectures.

Salary Prospects

  • SAA: The average annual salary for AWS Solutions Architect Associate ranges from $121,000 to $143,000, subject to experience and geography.
  • SA PRO: Recognized for their deep expertise, they can expect salaries between $142,000 to $165,000, although figures might climb even higher depending on experience, region, and company size.

SAA vs SA PRO — Which Should be Passed First?

Starting with the SAA lays a robust foundation. Post this, transitioning to the SA PRO becomes more straightforward as it expands on the intricacies covered at the Associate level. As mentioned earlier, it is also recommended to earn the other AWS associate-level certifications before you take the SAP exam. The reason for this is that there are services covered in the SAP exam that are not covered in the SAA but are covered in the AWS Developer Associate or AWS SysOps Administrator Associate.

Final Thoughts

So, is the SA PRO Certification as Hard as its Reputation Suggests?

The verdict on “AWS Solutions Architect Professional vs Associate” tilts towards the Professional certification being quite challenging. It demands a granular understanding of AWS services and architecture. However, with adequate preparation and foundational knowledge from the SAA, success is within reach.

In conclusion, the journey from AWS Solution Architect Associate to Professional is both challenging and rewarding. Assess your current standing, align it with your aspirations, and choose the certification that fits best. Remember, each certification is a milestone in the vast landscape of AWS expertise.

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Neal Davis

Founder of Digital Cloud Training, IT instructor and Cloud Solutions Architect with 20+ year of IT industry experience. Passionate about empowering his students