Online cybersecurity 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 over the last year, 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.
What is Cybersecurity?
While the definition of cybersecurity may vary based on the source, this field works to protect data, networks, and devices held online. With so many individuals, companies, governments, and other entities relying on computers and internet-connected business tools, the need for confidentiality and security is greater than ever.
Cybersecurity focuses on developing new methods of security and fortifying existing systems. Cybersecurity professionals may work in-house for companies or governments or operate in a consultant or freelance capacity.
What Can I Do With a Cybersecurity Degree?
As an online cybersecurity degree graduate, individuals can qualify for several fascinating jobs within computer science and information technology. Some common titles include:
- Security architect
- Security auditor
- Ethical hacker
We look at a few more careers in the following section.
Cybersecurity Jobs, Salaries, and Career Outlook
As the table below demonstrates, cybersecurity 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.
|Career||Salary||Projected Job Growth (2019-2029)||About the Position|
|Information Security Analysts||$103,590||31%||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.|
|Chief Technology Officer||$107,680||4%||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.|
|Computer Systems Analysts||$93,730||7%||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.|
|Computer Support Specialists||$55,510||8%||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.|
Earning an Online Cybersecurity Bachelor’s Degree
Earning an online cybersecurity degree serves as the starting point for several high-profile and important careers. We look at the mechanics of such programs in the following sections.
Types of Degrees in Cybersecurity
As prospective students research their options, they will likely come across two different types of cybersecurity degrees.
While more and more schools are starting to offer bachelor’s in cybersecurity options as standalone programs, many departments also provide a bachelor’s degree in computer science with a cybersecurity concentration. These types of programs provide a more solid grounding in general computing topics before moving into 2-3 classes focused on cybersecurity.
At the graduate level, students can pursue a master’s degree in cybersecurity.
Courses in Online Cybersecurity Programs
Courses in an online cybersecurity 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.
- Engineering Secure Systems: This course provides an overview of commonly used security frameworks and techniques, with emphasis on how to design and deploy each. The entire course is structured around the Department of Homeland Security’s 16 Critical Infrastructure Elements.
Many bachelor’s degree programs also culminate with a capstone project.
How Long Does an Online Cybersecurity Degree Take To Finish?
Online cybersecurity degrees can vary in length based on several factors. Students who previously completed approved credits at another institution may be able to transfer these credits and graduate more quickly.
As a general note, a Bachelor of Science in Cybersecurity typically requires at least 120 credit hours.
Learners enrolled on a full-time basis finish more quickly than those following a part-time plan, but degree seekers who find an accelerated program typically graduate fastest. Some online programs provide condensed semesters, allowing students to complete more credits in a shorter amount of time.
Skills Learned in a Online Cybersecurity Program
Cybersecurity degree programs instill various skills in graduates, ensuring they possess the knowledge needed to take on a variety of positions or qualify for entrance to an advanced degree program. Some of the skills learners typically gain include:● Ethical hacking
- Computer forensics
- Security management across various platforms
- Technical support
- Network security measures
Choosing the Best Degree in Online Cybersecurity
As students review cybersecurity education options, they will soon find that they can choose from several different paths. Understanding each early on is the key to making a confident and informed decision. Whether a learner wants to pursue a certificate or degree via distance or campus-based learning, plenty of options exist to help them get their desired education.
Cybersecurity Degree vs. Certificate
Both degrees and certificates are popular in cybersecurity, 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 cybersecurity degree covers both foundational and advanced topics in a comprehensive manner, providing learners with expansive knowledge of the discipline. Certificates, conversely, take less time and usually cover either 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.
Online vs. On-Campus Degrees
Given the nature of the coursework, many colleges provide partially or entirely online cybersecurity 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.
Should I Complete Courses Online?
Completing online cybersecurity 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 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.
How Long do Online Courses Take to Complete?
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 for their schedules.
Most semesters (and courses) last approximately 16-weeks, while accelerated classes take as few 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.
Choosing a properly accredited cybersecurity degree is one of the most important steps a student can take to ensure future career success. Accreditation typically comes in two forms: institutional and programmatic.
Institutional accreditation further breaks down into two categories: national and regional. Regionally accredited schools tend to be considered the better option of the two, as this means they went through a more rigorous process. Many employers and graduate programs prefer candidates who studied at a regionally accredited institution.
In terms of programmatic accreditation, the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET) maintains the Computing Accreditation Commission that provides accreditation for cybersecurity degrees. The National Security Agency (NSA) also highlights the National Centers of Academic Excellence in Cybersecurity.
Applying to Online Cybersecurity Degree Programs
Applying to an online cybersecurity degree 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 for Online Cybersecurity Programs
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 and 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.
Paying for a Degree in Online Cybersecurity
Cybersecurity degrees, like all degrees, are expensive. In addition to tuition, learners also need to consider costs associated with school fees, textbooks, supplies, and any course-specific requirements.
The good news is that plenty of scholarships, grants, and other types of financial aid exist to help cut costs and reduce student loan debt.
Online Cybersecurity Degree Costs
Pursuing an online cybersecurity 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.
Scholarships for Online Cybersecurity Students
- Raytheon Intelligence & Space Women’s Cybersecurity Scholarship: Administered by the Center for Cyber Safety and Education, this award supports female students with a $10,000 scholarship that can cover tuition, books, required electronics, and fees. Applicants must possess a GPA of 3.30 or higher and attend on a full-time basis.
- Stokes Educational Scholarship Program: The NSA provides this $30,000 per year award that includes a year-round salary for students who agree to work at the NSA for at least six years after completing their degree. Recipients also participate in summer internships at NSA while in school.
- (ISC)² Information Security Undergraduate Scholarship: ISC provides up to 20 undergraduate scholarships each year ranging from $1,000-$5,000 each. Applicants must pursue a degree focused on cybersecurity or information assurance and possess a minimum 3.3 GPA.
- Snort Scholarship: Provided via Cisco, this annual $10,000 award supports two students each year. Applicants must be enrolled in an undergraduate cybersecurity or similar degree program and submit answers to several short essay questions.
- Building Cybersecurity Diversity Scholarship: FS-ISAC provides a $10,000 award and mentorship opportunities to women pursuing cybersecurity degrees focused on financial services.
Online Cybersecurity Career Resources
- 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.
- Black Cybersecurity Association: Joining BCA provides access to training programs, mentorship, certifications and open forums, study groups, and boot camps.
- Center for Internet Security: CIS helps make the connected world a safer place by connecting expert cybersecurity professionals to businesses and individuals in need of help.
- International Association of Privacy Professionals: IAPP provides resources for cybersecurity professionals across the span of their careers. Examples include training and certification resources, industry news, opportunities to connect with others, and an annual conference.
- International Consortium of Minority Cybersecurity Professionals: Becoming a member of ICMCP provides access to chapters throughout the world, scholarships, training and certification programs, professional development, and mentorship.
As the cybersecurity 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 cybersecurity training to advance.
Completing a cybersecurity 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. These programs also signal to future employers your dedication to learning.
Because the field of cybersecurity 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.
Professionals working in cybersecurity can earn ample salaries well above the national average for all occupations. According to the BLS, information security analysts earned median annual salaries of $103,590 in 2020. Those in the top 10% of earners brought home more than $163,300.