Thus, given your timeframe, unless you're prepared to deliver some truly heroic levels of effort, the CCNA is your only real choice. Unfortunately, a CCNA by itself doesn't really do that much to improve your job opportunities. As a 1 (or sometimes 2) exam-based entry-level cert, the CCNA is really designed to help people get started pursuing other, more advanced Cisco certifications (either in the Professional program with CCNP, CCDP, CCIP, CCVP and CCSP credentials available, or in the Specialist program with more than a dozen credentials available across a large number of content and technical areas).
Here again, if you had access to Cisco hardware and tools you might actually be able to pursue the CCNA and a CCNP (or other professional level cert) in five months. But it, too, would involve heroic levels of activity, study and practice. That said, it's somewhat more doable than the MCSE in that time frame and probably would help shape you into a more attractive job candidate.
One avenue of research might be to approach your college or university's careers or placement office and ask them for advice. You can probably get access to hiring data for previous, recent graduates in your department. You might even be able to find some data that helps you correlate certifications held to hiring decisions. But at a minimum, you should be able to get the names of companies who have hired recent graduates (and thus, probably will hire more in the near future). By talking to their recruiting and hiring offices, you should be able to get a much more definite sense of how much good earning any of these certifications will do for your cause of finding employment.
Good luck in your research and in your career and certification planning. With a degree on the way soon, you've already completed what some would argue is the most important first step in entering the technical job market.
This was first published in November 2005