Well-trained cyber security professionals are in high demand. Good news: There’s a low supply. If cyber security school is in your future, you’re on a promising track. But how do you identify the best Cyber Security programs available, while weeding out subpar programs? Look for cyber security schools with the following seven traits. Having one trait is great, and having several is even better.
1. NSA/DHS Designation(s)
One of the easiest ways to identify quality cyber security schools is to look at those designated as National Centers of Academic Excellence in Information Assurance/Cyber Defense (CAE IA/CD) by the United States National Security Agency (NSA) and Department of Homeland Security (DHS).* The national government is all over cyber security, including the necessary education initiatives, so these designations can mean the difference between landing a job and moving back in with your parents.
2. CyberCorps Scholarships
Want to work for the government? The “CyberCorps: Scholarship for Service” program could help you get there. It also serves as a great indicator of outstanding cyber security programs, because this federal initiative specifically awards funds to cyber security students and is only available through select participating institutions.
Better described as a government fellowship program, the CyberCorps scholarship introduces government career opportunities unlike any other program available. It’s open to full-time undergrad or graduate students who are enrolled in an academic program that focuses on Cybersecurity or Information Assurance, and it requires recipients to take a cyber-security internship at a government organization.
Funds are awarded to universities in bulk, so the number of scholarships available at any one institution will vary depending on tuition and other fees. However, a participating school can expect to award 10-15 scholarships over a 4- or 5-year period.
3. Interdisciplinary Degree Programs
If you’re thinking cyber security is all about typing and clicking and staring down a screen, think again. The best cyber security degree programs out there not only teach the technology side of security, but also the political and business aspects associated with solving real-life security problems.
“The cyber security industry is no longer focused on technical expertise alone,” said Dr. Angelos Stavrou, Associate Professor in the Computer Science Department at George Mason University (GMU). “It has moved from the back office to the boardroom, and security leaders need to manage the business impact of security incidents.”
4. Faculty with Current Field Experience
Cyber security is the field of tomorrow’s problems, so if a university’s faculty hasn’t been up to its knees in today’s cyber challenges, you might not know what you’re bound to face in the ever-changing real world.
As such, make sure the school you choose connects students with progressive faculty. Cyber security grad students at Carnegie Mellon University (CMU), for example, get to do just that. According to Dena Tsamitis, Director of the Information Networking Institute at CMU, “They’re identifying solutions to problems…that are happening now. Instead of reading about it, they’re doing actual analysis of new technology…evaluating and sharing the findings.”
5. Cyber Security Equipment & Facilities
You better wanna get your hands dirty, and your school had better let you. An ideal cyber security school teaches you how to DO security, and has the equipment to accomplish that goal.
The cyber security program at Norwich University, for example, offers a course that requires hands-on penetration testing, teaching students how to read their computer screens to see if someone is trying to hack into their systems. That’s the level of hands-on experience your cyber security school should offer.
Also, take note of schools that have legit on-campus (or near-campus) cyber security facilities, like the CERT Division (aka THE Computer Emergency Response Team for THE United States of America) at Carnegie Mellon’s Software Engineering Institute (SEI).
“The majority of students are engaged in classwork with these CERT professionals who are doing day-to-day incident response, insider threats, network penetration, phishing,” said Andrew Wasser, Associate Dean of the Heinz College’s School of Information Systems & Management at CMU. “So while they’re classroom experiences, they’re highly experiential.”
6. Participation in the NCCDC
The National Collegiate Cyber Defense Competition (NCCDC) is the biggest cyber security competition out there for college students. Hosted by the University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA), the annual event attracts college teams from across the nation, vying for a chance to reign as cyber security champions.
Bragging rights go to the team who can rack up the most points for effectively managing and defending a real commercial network against real cyber attacks, waged by an opposing team. Good luck outperforming the University of Central Florida next year. These 2015 national champs beat out a slew of valiant competitors, including the second-place team from University of California, Berkeley, and the third-place team from Rochester Institute of Technology.
Of course, competing won’t make or break your career, but the NCCDC offers a spirited opportunity for students to practice in battle what they’ve learned in the lab. (And team members probably make excellent study buddies).
7. Internships & International Opportunities
Yes, it goes without saying that real-world experience is important for all pre-professionals to get under their belts, but keep reading, because internships and study abroad opportunities can also help you gauge a university’s dedication to your development. Quality cyber security degree programs should offer students assistance in applying for such experiences.
Cyber security students at Drexel University, for example, have access to an online job search tool specifically designed for the College of Computing & Informatics. Likewise, GMU offers a 10-day global residency program to get graduate students actively engaged in international cyber security issues.
These schools are packing their students’ resumes with real-world cyber successes. Make sure your resume will measure up upon graduation.
If you’re determined to attend the crème de la crème of cyber security schools, you can narrow your list down real fast by checking out the “Top 10 Graduate Schools for Cyber Security”. Since these schools house some of the top cyber security research programs in the world, this list is the perfect starting point for your mission to make a cyber security school decision.
*CyberDegrees.org, “Top Cyber Security Schools (NSA CAE IA/CD)