I've been writing and working in the "certification patch" since 1996, when I started teaching Windows NT 4.0 Server classes for what was then the American Research Group (aka ARG, now part of the Global Knowledge training colossus). In that time, I've been constantly cheered and reminded of the value of certification by interacting with IT professionals who've shared their stories of persistence and success with me.
Whether they pursued Cisco, Microsoft, Novell, CompTIA, or other certifications, all these people have had wonderful and inspiring stories to tell about how earning IT certification has opened the door to a good job, better opportunities, or more interesting work for better pay. I'm reminded of this because I'm running a contest over at the Tom's IT Pro Website, right now, where I'm giving away 9 MCP exam vouchers to worthy applicants who make a convincing case to receive one.
So far I've heard from a surprising number of college graduates who are working on master's degrees -- two in business (MBA) and one in computer science -- who are still looking for an "extra edge" to help them find and land a dream job in IT once their education is completed. If this kind of thing can work for them, it can work for anybody.
I ran a similar contest last year over on TechTarget through my "IT Career JumpStart" blog, with similar results. My favorite contestant, a young woman in the Philippines named Rene wrote me back in December to tell me that she'd earned her MCITP in Windows Server 2008, thanks in large part to obtaining the free MCP exam voucher which she used for the 70-640 exam earlier that year. She also told me that she'd landed a 2nd level support-tech job with US firm that operates call centers in the Philippines, and is happy making a good living in the Manila suburbs.
Do yourself a favor: even if you have to spend your own money to self-study for some kind of IT certification -- it doesn't matter which one, as long as it's something that interests you and is recognized in the marketplace -- you should consider it an investment in your future success, well-being, and happiness. Even if you only learn something new and interesting, you will still be ahead. And results in the marketplace argue that there may very well be more tangible benefits than that in the offing.