An entry level cert can certainly help with some of the front-end / HR filters and demonstrates your interest in the field. Regarding the second point, there are of course other ways of demonstrating your interest / keenness in the field - such as through summer internships, open-source / personal projects, etc. That being said, having both will only help if you have the time to attain one.
I think you have hit the magical and all important question with that one DGreen. The sad fact in today's hiring process is that key words matter on a resume as they are largely filtered by those key words. Without words like "A+" or "Security+" or "MCSA" or whatever, the likelihood of your resume even being reviewed is slim. So that would be one reason to get a couple of certs. Another reason is that it shows the employer that you are willing to invest in your future and that you are taking steps to be current in your skill sets.
I have owned my own companies as well as taught technology courses at the college level and what I told my students then is that the college degree is the most important, and then a couple of certs would put them ahead of others who do not have any. It won't get them hired but it will help to get them in front of the person who can make that happen, and that in my opinion is the most important piece. Once they get the interview, those certs don't have a lot of impact and all that matters is how they can solve the problem that the company is trying to fill.
Yes, the certifications are important because they demonstrate the drive to go beyond just taking the classes in college and to do the hard work to complete and maintain the certification. I am now an adjunct professor but I was a military, government civilian, and corporate leader and this is how I view it. The certification always gave the candidate a "leg up" in the competition because attaining the entry level certification demonstrates that the candidate knows at least the basics of what they are doing. Certifications by necessity due to competition, must keep pace with the market place and how technology operates today, not all college programs an text books keep pace with technology or changes. You would be surprised how how many information technology professionals will do everything to avoid the hard work and stress of getting certified and then avoid maintaining the certification if they do get it. This attitude about certification is an indication of an unwillingness to keep up with the profession and is not a good indicator. However, if a person has a list of certifications with no real experience, even for beginners who should be able to cite some hands on experience in school or volunteer work, then that candidate is suspect as well since they may be the type that just likes "checking the block" rater than doing real work. Certification is important but is not the only issue that should be considered, obviously.
From my personal experience, I got lucky to get a position with a Fortune 500 company before I got my 4 year degree. But, 4 year degree is minimum, unless you have certs & experience. The problem with the application process is that it really depends on whether you are applying for a Public or Private sector position, and depending on their requirements, it scares people away from applying as it's not always very clear on what they will let you slide with to become a candidate.
A+ = To me, if you've never had experience working on servers/computers, this one would be important.
Security+/Network+ = Feels like A+, when it comes to Infosec, but its extremely helpful if you dont have a lot of certs or experience. Gives employers the confidence in your ability to understand the basics before you start working on more complicated tasks/objectives.
CCNA= Depends on the job path you are leaning towards. If you're Network Oriented, then it is a good one to have, also CCNA Security looks good for a network/network security role.
I'm personally on a path to get more certs as well. Best thing I can advise is be specific depending on what job role you choose, and make sure you don't just get certs just to get them.
Are Entry Level Certs Important to Hiring Managers? Answer is always Yes & No! But It doesn't hurt you!
(Former) Systems Service Representative
"One question, how did folks that didn't hold a certificate get their resume in your hands?"
The job market is like a giant iceberg.
Floating above the waterline is a small portion of the overall chunk of ice - this represents the jobs that everyone sees and everyone applies for. You may post on open position and get 200 resumes. The reason yours didn't make it might just be that the screener already found 20 good resumes, so why keep looking until they get to yours? Because there are so many resumes, things like a CS degree and certs are often used as reduction criteria, or a simple way to narrow down the size of the pile.
The part of the iceberg that's under water is like the other 80% of the jobs that get filled. They get filled because someone knows a person who would fit for an opening, even before the opening has been posted. These are the openings to target. Networking is important!