Experience always matter. So don't miss any opportunities. Even if its a small organization, Try to gain experience & Hunt for the bigger ones latter. Being an OCP is a value added advantage. ALL THE BEST.
"How important is certification ?" - Well it won't hurt. I have been with many companies - some place alot of importance on it while others do not care. Some companies just test your problem solving skills. But overall, I would say that companies will look at your experience first, next education (including certifications). At least if you have minimal on the job experience, the certifications at least will give the potential employer a baseline of your competency.
Even if you find a job that is below your salary expectations - realize that if you are good, you can jump up pretty quickly. Keep learning and add certifications as much as possible - learn Java,.Net(C#) SQL Server - these will help you as well. Too many developers are vb/asp developers - that area is saturated.
Simply put, the certifications/degrees/misc schooling simply get you the interview, experience gets you the job.
Take anything and everything you can get your hands on that sounds remotely IT related. The easiest aid in landing an IT job is getting your foot in the door and demonstrating applicable knowledge. Even if you start as the secretary.
Anything on your resume will help. Creating a backend (db schema design, etc, etc) for some small online startup is a tremendous help because you can make it sound big on your resume :-). Having two of such gigs listed on your resume and a certification will land you a job sooner or later -- just don't give up.
So, my advice would be to offer your skills and drive to learn in forums like this one. if you are lucky you'll get paid for it or will score some free hosting or email account with a domain you like. but if anything, the least (or the most) you'll gain is experience and a paragraph or two on your resume which will eventually jump start your career.
Umm, I'm not sure that certification gets you much of anything other than a bill on your credit-card.
You have to start at the bottom, just like any master-craftsman starts out as an apprentice. The traditional job was to tear paper off the line-printer. It got you the job; it got you inside.
Frankly, it don't matter if it's a college degree or a certificate that you're strutting around ... both are expensive and both are fairly useless ... it's no substitute for experience. And of course you can't get the experience you want without ... experience. So what you do is to get any experience you can find. That leads to references, and that is what leads to jobs.
If you can get your professor to write you a letter of reference, do that.