A cyber security degree can teach you to protect our digital, interconnected world where businesses, organizations, governments, and individuals encounter cyber security threats on a regular basis. Whether it's your bank account or the power grid of a large metropolitan area, these networks are protected by the work of cyber security professionals. Cyber security (for cybersecurity, if you prefer) is a rapidly growing field, and a cyber security degree offers a clear path toward a potentially lucrative career.
The best cyber security schools provide students with the theoretical, technical, and hands-on learning they need to begin a career in cyber security. The following page gives a brief overview of cyber security, undergraduate, and graduate cyber security degrees – and what graduates can do with their careers.
Keep reading to learn more about this in-demand career path.
For students looking to earn a cyber security degree online, it’s hard to beat the options available from this large, public university. UMGC offers bachelor’s programs in cybersecurity technology, cybersecurity management and policy, and software development and security. Master’s degree programs include:
The institution also offers several certificate programs at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. Students looking to put their cyber security skills into action in an interesting way may try out for UMGC’s award-winning Cybersecurity Competition Team, which competes against other schools in digital forensics, penetration testing, and computer network defense.
Whether you are looking to earn a bachelor’s degree, master’s degree, or a certificate, this for-profit institution covers an impressive area of cyber security topics. And with courses starting monthly, educational opportunities are waiting whenever you decide the time is right to begin your studies. But flexibility isn’t the only attraction for non-traditional students. You may be able to apply past academic credit, military service, job experience, or professional training/certifications to your program to achieve your cyber security educational goals even faster.
Want to earn both a cyber security degree online and industry certifications at the same time? WGU has you covered. This private institution aims to make graduates as marketable as possible. Thus, it includes certification fees in the tuition and adds certification work to the curriculum. Undergrad and graduate students alike leave ready to apply for cyber security jobs knowing they possess solid skills and an impressive resume.
Study in-person or online at this private university. Either way, you’ll obtain a quality education that puts you in position for cyber security jobs and the potentially high salaries they pay. Davenport is one of only a select number of Michigan schools designated by the National Security Agency (NSA) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) as a National Center of Academic Excellence in Cyber Defense Education. Outstanding applicants may not even need to pay tuition. Several full-rides are available through the National Science Foundation and the Department of Defense.
As you might expect from a large, public university, FSU offers cyber security studies at a multitude of levels. Students can earn an associate, bachelor’s, or master’s degree in information and security intelligence. A few of the university’s many certificate offerings are ethical hacking, digital forensics, and incident response. Whatever route they take, students leave knowing they trained at a place that has received a number of national accolades, including being the first university to be designated as a Department of Defense/Air Force Cyber Command Center of Digital Forensic Academic Excellence.
This large, private institution has been known for over a century as a pioneer in cooperative education, and its Bachelor of Science in Computing and Security Technology students continue the tradition. Bachelor’s students gain hands-on, real-world training through either a four-year program with one co-op experience or a five-year program with three co-ops. At the graduate level, Drexel’s Master of Science in Cybersecurity offers an interdisciplinary curriculum with coursework from both the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering and the College of Computing & Informatics. Plus, Drexel offers a variety of job-oriented certificates for professionals to further enhance their skills.
Chief among the distinctions of this large, private institution is its designation as a National Center of Academic Excellence in Cybersecurity by the Department of Homeland Security and the National Security Agency. But DePaul offers more than a great academic experience to the students in its cyber security bachelor’s and master’s degree programs. The school’s location in the heart of downtown Chicago provides internship and networking opportunities that boost post-graduation employment prospects.
Interested in stepping out of college and stepping into a $95,800 per year job? That figure is the average earned by RIT graduates with a Bachelor’s Degree in Cybersecurity. This large, private institution is home to the Global Cybersecurity Institute, a 52,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art cyber security education and research center designed for a holistic, multidisciplinary approach to cyber security. No wonder RIT students are recognized as powerhouse competitors in both offensive and defensive cyber security competitions!
Community College of Allegheny County (CCAC) offers many exciting computer information technology programs, including a convenient, 100% online Associate in Cybersecurity and IT Support Specialist. There’s also a popular 24-credit online Cybersecurity Support Specialist certificate which empowers graduates with “specific technical competencies for entry-level employment opportunities as a network cybersecurity support specialist.” At CCAC, it’s all about “Achieving the Dream!”
This small, private institution uses a unique upside-down curriculum to get students into their field of study immediately. Undergrads can take up to six classes in their major during their first year, so cyber security students can start career-focused internships sooner. On-campus students can choose to pursue a Bachelor’s in Computer & Digital Forensics or in Computer Networking & Cybersecurity. Champlain also offers undergraduate and graduate-level cyber security certificate programs online!
Cyber security (sometimes spelled as cybersecurity) refers to the various ways organizations protect things like networks and data, and cyber security schools teach students the skills they need to implement such protection. As the world becomes exponentially more reliant on computers and the internet, we'll need more cyber security professionals to protect from cyberattacks and cybercrime.
Without adequate cyber defense, organizations face significant risks. Banks, hospitals, and critical infrastructure are perpetually at risk from malware to hackers. Cyber security professionals reside on the frontlines of digital aggression and strive to implement effective network security plans and precautions to combat these risks.
As the need for effective cyber security continues to grow, the best cyber security schools prepare students for high-demand entry-level positions. These programs offer advanced coursework that continuously evolves to mirror the changes within the cyber security landscape. The section below highlights two types of cyber security degrees, what you'll study, and what you need to gain admission.
Cyber security degrees exist at every academic level, making it easy for novices and experts alike to receive the training they need to thrive in this field. With cyberattacks increasing significantly in recent years, the need for qualified and experienced professionals will only continue to expand.
Prospective students who want to learn more about what they can expect when pursuing one of these in-demand degrees can find answers to all their questions and more in this guide. Learn about commonly offered classes, standard graduation timelines, available post-graduation jobs, and how to pick the best possible program.
Courses in an online cyber security degree vary based on individual programs, but learners can anticipate some overlap in class offerings. Some common classes include:
Fundamentals of Cloud Security: With so many individuals and companies relying on cloud storage these days, understanding how to adequately protect them is becoming a more significant responsibility each day. This course looks at cloud computing architecture and the threats it faces.
Systems Security Management: With so many different methodologies and frameworks for mitigating security risks, students must be at least familiar with each. This class looks at the issues and techniques commonly encountered with operating systems and networks, with a focus on the best practices for safeguarding.
Cyber Threat Intelligence: Hands-on in nature, this course teaches students how to identify cyber threats throughout their life cycles and use various types of cyber intelligence to handle threats. Students consider both theoretical and practical applications.
Both degrees and certificates are popular in cyber security, making some prospective students question which one best suits their needs. Generally speaking, certificates take less time to complete and therefore provide less intensive study.
A cyber security degree covers both foundational and advanced topics in a comprehensive manner, providing learners with expansive knowledge of the discipline. Certificates, conversely, usually cover only introductory topics or focus on one topic specifically.
Individuals who want to enter the field quickly may opt for a certificate. In contrast, those considering long-term career opportunities usually go with a degree.
People looking to quickly enter cyber security jobs can appreciate how fast it is to earn an associate degree. These cyber security degree programs generally involve two years of full-time study (longer if only enrolling part-time). Many associate degree seekers choose to pursue a cyber security degree online. This provides greater flexibility for students looking to combine studies with other personal and professional obligations.
Employers often look for job candidates holding an associate degree to fill entry-level roles. Common cyber security jobs open to graduates include systems administrator, cyber security analyst, and information security engineer. Aligning with the general trend for impressive cyber security salaries, people with an Associate of Applied Science in Cyber Security make an average yearly salary of $56,000.
As prospective students research their options, they will likely come across two different types of cyber security degrees. While more and more schools are starting to offer Bachelor’s in Cyber Security options as standalone programs, many departments also provide a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science with a cyber security concentration. These types of programs provide a more solid grounding in general computing topics before moving into 2-3 classes focused on cyber security.
Individuals who earn an undergraduate cyber security degree gain the practical, theoretical, and technical expertise to begin a career in a rapidly growing field. Cyber security students often gain real-world experience through labs and a degree-culminating capstone project, whether they pursue an on-campus or online cyber security degree.
Alongside general education and core requirements, cyber security students complete classes such as cloud security, ethical hacking, cyber law and privacy, and risk assessment and prevention. Additionally, some programs offer academic concentrations in topics like cloud security, digital forensics, and security management. As a general note, a Bachelor of Science in Cyber Security typically requires at least 120 credit hours, and many bachelor’s degree programs also culminate with a capstone project.
If you're a prospective cyber security student, you must hold a high school diploma or GED to gain admission. Applicants must submit a completed application along with other admission materials like a personal essay, letters of recommendation, and a resume highlighting extracurricular activities and achievements.
Applying to an online cyber security degree program requires individuals to complete several steps. When applying for a bachelor’s degree, many schools now accept the Common App. Students who plan to apply to several different programs often go with this option, as it allows them to submit one standardized application to multiple schools.
Admission requirements vary by individual school, but learners can expect some overlap in the types of materials they are asked to provide. Here are some common components.
Transcripts: All schools require transcripts from high school as well as any post-secondary institutions previously attended.
Scores/Grades: Many programs set minimum GPA requirements as well as minimum SAT/ACT scores for admissions consideration.
Letters of Recommendation: Schools commonly ask for both academic and personal letters of recommendation that speak to a student’s character and suitability for advanced academic study.
Essay Answers: Essay answers allow learners to go beyond standardized application components and highlight their interest in the school and subject, as well as future career aspirations.
Typically reserved for professionals with a strong background in computer science or related fields, a cyber security master's offers students the skills they need to enhance career options and increase earning potential. Whether online or in-person, this cyber security degree traditionally takes students 1-2 additional years to complete degree requirements.
A cyber security master's typically requires students to complete around 30-50 credits. Popular cyber security master's classes include computer forensics, cyber security law, and security risk assessment and management. In addition to tech-based coursework, many master's programs also highlight communication and management skills that can lead to leadership positions.
If you're interested in pursuing a cyber security master's, you must hold a bachelor's degree in a relevant field and submit an online application, often with GRE scores. Depending on an applicant's academic and professional experience, they may need to complete prerequisite courses in topics like computer programming.
Also, thanks to the digital nature of the field, some schools offer online cyber security degree programs. These can sometimes be completed faster than on-campus degrees and could come with lower tuition rates.
In order to increase their chances of landing top cyber security jobs or receiving promotions, some professionals obtain certifications and other credentials. Employers look at these achievements as displaying particular dedication and knowledge in the industry.
The Computing Technology Industry Association (CompTIA), for instance, offers a core skills series with cyber security certifications, ranging from entry-level competencies through expert:
Similarly, the International Information System Security Certification Consortium, or (ISC)², awards the certificates such as:
Graduates with a cyber security degree enter a growing workforce with higher-than-average salaries. While the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects that computer and information technology jobs should grow by 15% over the next decade, BLS estimates that some cyber security careers will grow at a considerably faster clip. As an online cyber security degree graduate, individuals can qualify for several fascinating jobs within computer science and information technology. Some common titles include:
Median Salary: $102,600
Projected Growth: 35%
Job Description: These professionals utilize specialized training to plan, manage, and execute plans to maintain the security of an organization's networks and computer systems. Information security analysts keep up with the latest trends in cyber security and often develop best security practices.
Median Salary: $80,600
Projected Growth: 3%
Job Description: These tech-based professionals oversee the daily operations of an organization's computer networks. In addition to performing maintenance of software and hardware, systems administrators maintain system security and work closely with users to ensure safety protocol is followed.
Median Salary: $99,270
Projected Growth: 9%
Job Description: Computer systems analysts play an essential role in boosting the efficiency, effectiveness, and security of an organization's computer systems. These professionals keep up with industry trends that can benefit their organization while working with management and users in any new tech rollouts.
We’ll look at a few more careers in the following section.
Given the nature of the coursework, many colleges provide partially or entirely online cyber security degrees. These programs often benefit busy students trying to balance personal and professional obligations alongside academic work. With asynchronous courses available and the daily campus commute eliminated, learners who otherwise couldn’t fit the degree into their schedules find a way to make it work.
That said, some students still decide to pursue in-person learning as this style typically provides a more consistent schedule and the opportunity for face-to-face social interactions.
Completing online cyber security courses provides a great option if visiting campus multiple times per week doesn’t work with a student’s schedule. Online classes also open up potential schools to attend, given that learners don’t need to live near their school.
Still, degree seekers should consider whether online courses work with their needs. Taking classes in this format typically requires more discipline and focus since students don’t have the traditional motivation of face-to-face meetings with teachers and classmates.
Regardless of the chosen format, students can rest assured knowing that online classes carry with them the same esteem and benefits as campus-based courses. In fact, many schools use the same faculty to teach both types of classes.
The time that online students spend completing each course depends on the various types of classes offered by their school. While synchronous classes require live virtual attendance, asynchronous classes allow learners to complete assignments at times that work with their schedules.
Most semesters (and courses) last approximately 16 weeks, while accelerated classes take as little as five weeks to finish. Degree seekers with a set idea of how long they want to spend in each class should speak with prospective schools to learn about options.
Pursuing an online cyber security degree potentially lessens the final cost of a degree, especially for students who take time to find the best rates. For instance, learners who attend state schools as resident students typically pay far lower tuition rates than those attending as non-residents or seeking a degree from a private institution.
Attending online also helps reduce costs associated with in-person learning. Students can typically avoid extra costs such as parking passes, meal plans, and on-campus housing, as well as the cost of traveling to and from school each week.
As the table below demonstrates, cyber security careers offer generous salaries and are poised to grow in the coming decade. Interested students should review each position to see how it fits within their professional goals.
Projected Job Growth (2021-2031)
About the Position
These professionals work in public and private business settings to protect their organizations’ systems and networks. They look for security breaches, install encrypted software, and develop standards.
CTOs oversee all of the other tech staff at their organization. They also create short- and long-term goals, report on technology initiatives, and manage the overall department budget.
Also known as systems architects, these professionals look for ways to improve current computer systems and introduce new ones that bring more security and effectiveness. They must stay up-to-date on emerging technologies and consider functionality.
Whether working in-person or remotely, computer support specialists help individuals address computer issues and ensure their systems run smoothly. They frequently run diagnostic tests and perform maintenance to keep systems working as they should.
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics
Association of Information Security Professionals: AISP supports students and professionals alike by providing job postings, in-person and digital community events, certification and training, and other opportunities for involvement.
Center for Internet Security: CIS helps make the connected world a safer place by connecting expert cyber security professionals to businesses and individuals in need of help.
International Association of Privacy Professionals: IAPP provides resources for cyber security professionals across the span of their careers. Examples include training and certification resources, industry news, opportunities to connect with others, and an annual conference.
Is a cyber security degree worth it?
Completing a cyber security degree can significantly boost an individual’s career if they want to work in a job focused on maintaining secure computer networks for their employers or clients. Individuals graduating with a cyber security degree are uniquely positioned to enter a rapidly growing workforce that offers relatively high salaries. According to the BLS, information security analyst careers are projected to grow by 15% between 2021-2031. These programs also signal to future employers your dedication to learning. Whether online or on-campus, many colleges and universities offer flexible and affordable cyber security degrees.
What degree should I get for cyber security?
For first-time college students, pursuing an undergraduate cyber security degree is a practical way to gain the skills necessary to begin a career in the field. Alongside general education requirements, cyber security coursework often focuses on the technical proficiencies that employers value.
For those with a tech-based bachelor's degree, a cyber security master's is a great way to learn new skills while honing the management and communication skills that leadership roles require.
As the cyber security field continues to formalize, more employers expect candidates to possess focused training in relevant topics. While you may be able to enter the field with a generalist computer science degree, most employers expect you to undergo focused cyber security training to advance.
Is cyber security a hard degree?
Because the field of cyber security is forever evolving, students should expect their curriculum to do so as well. Learners who enjoy the fast-paced world of information security will enjoy this degree. For a student with strengths outside of the STEM world, a cyber security degree could prove challenging. That said, the best cyber security schools offer ample student support. At the best schools, online and in-person students have access to tutoring, library research facilities, and various student organizations. Additionally, many schools offer academic, career, and mental health counseling.
What are the highest-paying cyber security careers?
Professionals working in cyber security can earn ample salaries well above the national average for all occupations. According to the BLS, information security analysts earned median annual salaries of $102,600 in 2021. Those in the top 10% of earners brought home more than $165,920.
Veronica Miller is a cyber security Expert at VPNoverview. She specializes in corporate and enterprise marketing, developing best marketing strategies for cyber security, and business operations protection for partner organizations.
Understand the Fundamentals First
To get to security, you need to know what you're trying to secure and how it operates. Starting with the physical layer, learn how a computer works. Understand what the northbridge is and why it is important, as well as the purpose of TPUs. Continue on to Cat5e and why it is preferred over fiber. Take out a pencil and practice breaking down a /24 CIDR block into its corresponding IPs. Then figure out how to use base2, base8, and base64 encoding. Learn how routers make logs and how networks work. Log in to your router at home. Have some fun with it.
Also, communicate with others. Start following the professionals on Twitter. Find conversations when you're only half-understanding what subTee or SwiftonSecurity is saying and Google it. Talk to other people. Constantly read.
Cyber security is a broad field with several sub-specialties. But all of those specialties begin with a spark of interest and a desire to learn more.
It's a developing sector, and you hear a lot about how many unfilled cyber security positions there are, but you should be mindful. These are higher-level positions, not entry-level positions. Cyber security is now severely underfunded.
The majority of those working in cyber security used to work in IT. The new generations who earned a cyber security degree have yet to make an impact.
To stand out, you'll need to obtain certifications. To begin, I recommend getting A+, Sec+, and Net+ certifications. Getting a formal education, such as an associate's degree or a bachelor's degree, is an excellent choice.
The field is a lot of fun! It's also lucrative. You'll run into trolls now and then, but that's what occurs when people figure out how to hide their identities and protect their privacy.
In cyber security, you'll spend most of your time Googling and studying. To stay in the field, you must continue to learn. It's not a job that you can learn and expect to do the same thing every day. Every ticket you receive may be brand new.
Try Capture The Flags, talk to other cyber security professionals, and decide whether it's right for you.
|School||Average Tuition||Student Teacher Ratio||Enrolled Students|
|University of Maryland Global Campus Adelphi, MD||288 : 1||58,526|
|University of Phoenix-Arizona Phoenix, AZ||1,122 : 1||89,763|
|American Public University System Charles Town, WV||145 : 1||50,047|
|Western Governors University Salt Lake City, UT||48 : 1||147,866|
|Clover Park Technical College Lakewood, WA||36 : 1||3,591|