Cybersecurity Degree Program Overview

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Earning a cybersecurity degree prepares students for well-paying careers in this growing field. A 2021 CompTIA report on the tech industry named cybersecurity a leading job.

Additionally, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects a 33% growth rate for information security analysts from 2020-2030. This is much faster than the average projected growth for all occupations, indicating a strong job outlook for cybersecurity school graduates.

The rise of cyberattacks will likely fuel the demand for cybersecurity professionals. This guide covers how to choose a cybersecurity program, types of degrees, and potential careers.

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Is a Degree Worth it? | Cybersecurity Jobs | Types of Degrees | Choosing a Program | Online Degrees | FAQs

What Is the Field of Cybersecurity?

A subfield of computer science, cybersecurity focuses on protecting computer systems, devices, networks, and data from intrusions. Cyberattacks cause individuals and organizations to lose valuable, private, and proprietary information.

Cybersecurity professionals identify computer vulnerabilities and monitor for threats. As organizations put more data online and cyberattacks increase, the demand for cybersecurity professionals will likely grow. The cybersecurity field attracts detail oriented, analytical problem-solvers with previous information technology experience.

As organizations put more data online and cyberattacks increase, the demand for cybersecurity professionals will likely grow.

CompTIA reported 738,677 cybersecurity, systems analyst, and engineer occupations in 2021. Top employing industries for graduates with a cybersecurity degree include computer systems design and related services, finance and insurance, and information technology. Major employers of cybersecurity experts include Apple, Lockheed Martin, Patient First, and General Motors.

Why Get a Cybersecurity Degree?

As the world increasingly depends on computers, the demand for cybersecurity professionals also increases. The rise in cyberattacks has sparked demand for professionals who can protect computer systems against these threats. Cybersecurity professionals have become crucial across several major industries, including healthcare, finance, and business.

Graduates with at least a bachelor’s degree in cybersecurity qualify for more professional opportunities than those without this credential. Cybersecurity programs feature a variety of formats to accommodate diverse student needs, including online, on-campus, and hybrid learning platforms.

Jobs for Cybersecurity Majors

Cybersecurity degree-holders can qualify for in-demand, lucrative jobs in the tech field. Specific opportunities and earning potential depend on level of education, experience, location, and industry.

Potential careers include information security analyst, chief information security officer, IT security architect, and IT security manager. Cybersecurity graduates also work as security engineers, penetration testers, security directors, and information security consultants.

Due to high demand for their technical skills and knowledge, cybersecurity professionals often make above-average salaries. For example, information security analysts earned a median annual salary of $103,590 as of May 2020. PayScale reports that chief information security officers made an average annual salary of $166,150 as of September 2021.

Hiring Statistics for Cybersecurity Graduates

Cybersecurity graduates face excellent job prospects. The BLS projects a 33% job growth rate (much faster than the average for all occupations) for information security analysts between 2020 and 2030.

The BLS projects information security analyst jobs will increase from 141,200 to 188,300 from 2020-2030. These projections indicate 16,300 job openings per year on average, driven by workers retiring or switching jobs.

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Types of Cybersecurity Degrees

Prospective students can choose from many types of cybersecurity programs, including certificates and degrees at the associate, bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral levels. Learners can earn their cybersecurity degrees online, in person, or in a hybrid format. Tech professionals may expand their career opportunities by completing a cybersecurity bootcamp.

Below, we cover what to expect from cybersecurity programs at different levels of education. We also describe program lengths, admission requirements, and typical courses for each credential.

Certificate in Cybersecurity

A cybersecurity certificate appeals to people who cannot or do not want to invest the time and money to earn a full degree. Tuition costs, program length, and required credits vary by school. Certificates usually take less time and have less stringent admission requirements than degrees.

Earning a certificate may be ideal for people seeking a career change or an entry-level job. Tech professionals with a degree in another field can also benefit from a certificate. Do not confuse a certificate in cybersecurity with a certification. Professional certifications are voluntary credentials awarded by organizations that demonstrate specific skills.

Undergraduate, graduate, and post-graduate students can pursue cybersecurity certificates. Students may be able to apply certificate credits to a full degree. Potential classes include fundamentals of infrastructure security, ethical hacking, and computer forensics.

Cybersecurity certificate-holders may pursue jobs like cybersecurity analyst, computer user support specialist, cybersecurity technician, and network systems administrator.

Learn More About Cybersecurity Certificate Programs

Associate in Cybersecurity

Students can earn an associate degree in cybersecurity online or in person. Schools offer associate of arts (AA) and associate of science (AS) degrees in cybersecurity. These degrees’ curricula are similar and count toward the first two years of a bachelor’s degree. An AS focuses more on science and math, while an AA includes more liberal arts classes.

An associate in cybersecurity takes 1.5-2 years to complete and requires 60 credits. Typical courses include computer networking, cybersecurity foundations, database management systems, and communication and network security. Students gain broad information technology and security skills and learn to identify and mitigate risks.

Common admission requirements include a high school diploma or GED certificate. Applicants do not complete prerequisites. Tuition varies by school, but public community colleges may offer the most affordable options. Students who earn their associate cybersecurity degree online can qualify for entry-level positions like cybersecurity specialist and cybersecurity analyst.

Learn More About Associate in Cybersecurity Programs

Bachelor’s in Cybersecurity

Bachelor’s in cybersecurity programs may culminate in BA or BS degrees. The two degree types are similar, but a BS focuses more on technical courses within the major, while a BA is broader and encompasses classes in other disciplines.

A cybersecurity degree at the bachelor’s level usually requires around 120 credits and takes about four years to complete. Students who earn their cybersecurity degree online may be able to graduate in less time than those who attend in person.

The cost of a bachelor’s varies by school, but cybersecurity colleges offer many financial aid opportunities. Entrance requirements usually include a high school diploma or its equivalent. Other admission criteria may include SAT or ACT scores, a minimum GPA, and a personal essay.

Typical courses for cybersecurity majors include introduction to scripting, security risk management, securing visual and cloud systems, and cybersecurity capstone. Cybersecurity degree-holders qualify for jobs like information security analyst, security engineer, and security architect.

Learn More About Bachelor's in Cybersecurity Programs

Master’s in Cybersecurity

Master’s students can pursue a cybersecurity degree online or in person. A master’s in cybersecurity usually takes 1-2 years to complete and requires 30-36 credits. Tuition for master’s in cybersecurity programs varies depending on the school type (public or private), students’ residency status (in state or out of state), and school prestige.

Core courses for master’s in cybersecurity programs include enterprise architecture, risk management, information security assurance, and cybersecurity management. Some cybersecurity master’s programs require a thesis or capstone.

Admission requirements typically include a bachelor’s degree, a minimum GPA, letters of recommendation, and a resume. Some cybersecurity colleges require GRE scores. Depending on previous education and experience, applicants may need to complete prerequisite computer science courses.

A master’s in cybersecurity can qualify graduates for advanced, senior level positions in the field. Potential jobs include chief information security officer, security manager, security director, and information security consultant.

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Ph.D. in Cybersecurity

A doctoral cybersecurity degree typically takes 4-5 years, requiring 48-75 credits. Common courses include software vulnerabilities and security, computer hardware and system security, systems and application security advances, and assurance controls and compliance management. Cybersecurity Ph.D. students may need to pass a comprehensive exam and complete a doctoral research dissertation.

Admission requirements typically include a bachelor’s or master’s degree in computer science or a related field and a minimum 3.0 GPA. Applicants may need to submit letters of recommendation, writing samples, a resume, and transcripts.

The cost of cybersecurity programs at the doctoral level vary by institution, but students who qualify for assistantships or fellowships may receive tuition waivers and living stipends.

Graduates with cybersecurity Ph.D.s can pursue university teaching and advanced research positions. Potential careers include professor, information security consultant, and computer and information research scientist.

Learn More About Doctorate in Cybersecurity Programs

How to Choose a Cybersecurity Program

Students researching cybersecurity programs should consider factors like location, accreditation, and concentration offerings. Students should also consider tuition costs, faculty qualifications, and residency requirements when researching potential programs.

Typically, learners at in-state, public institutions pay the lowest tuition rates. However, many online programs allow all students to pay the same tuition rate regardless of residency. Additionally, online learning allows students to attend the top programs in the country without relocating.

Accreditation is another important consideration as it can affect financial aid, credit transfer opportunities, and future employment. For example, some employers and certification agencies may require graduates to hold an accredited degree. Only students at accredited schools qualify for federal financial aid and can transfer credits between accredited institutions.

Students with specific career goals or professional interests should research each prospective program’s concentration offerings. Concentrations can help students gain knowledge and skills to prepare for specific career paths.

Accreditation for Cybersecurity Schools

Prospective cybersecurity students researching programs should focus on two types of accreditation: regional and programmatic. Regional accreditation indicates that a school meets high standards related to faculty qualifications, academic rigor, and student learning outcomes.

Students who attend accredited schools can secure federal financial aid, employment, and transfer credits more easily than learners enrolled in unaccredited institutions.

Regional accreditation comes from independent regional accrediting bodies, recognized by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation. Students who attend accredited schools can secure federal financial aid, employment, and transfer credits more easily than learners enrolled in unaccredited institutions.

Programs within a school may also hold accreditation, such as business, social work, and engineering programs. Prospective cybersecurity students should look for programs accredited by ABET. ABET accreditation recognizes programs for high-quality education, safety protocols, and student satisfaction.

More than 4,000 programs at over 800 institutions hold ABET accreditation. Students can search the ABET database to find accredited cybersecurity degree programs.

NCAE Cybersecurity Criteria

To promote cybersecurity training and expertise in higher education, the National Cryptologic School at the National Security Agency manages the National Centers of Academic Excellence in Cybersecurity (NCAE-C) program. Postsecondary institutions can apply for an NCAE-C designation to show they meet high educational standards in the cybersecurity field.

Three types of NCAE-C designation exist: cyber defense education (CAE-CDE), cyber research (CAE-R), and cyber operations (CAE-CO).

  • CAE-CDE designates regionally accredited schools that offer cybersecurity certificates and/or degrees at the associate, bachelor’s, or master’s levels.
  • CAE-R institutions include regionally accredited, four-year schools that qualify as R1, R2, or R3 universities under the Carnegie Foundation basic classification system. Military academies that offer doctoral programs and Department of Defense Schools can also receive this recognition.
  • CAE-CO designates schools with technical, hands-on, and interdisciplinary programs in computer engineering, computer science, or electrical engineering.

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How to Pay for Cybersecurity Schooling

Cybersecurity degree costs vary by institution, degree level, program length, and residency status. Other factors that influence price include program format (online or in person), level of prestige, and type of school (public or private). Finding an in-state cybersecurity program at a public institution may offer the most affordable option.

Universities and colleges provide financing options to students, including scholarships, grants, and student loans to help offset the cost of a degree.

Scholarships: The gold standard of financial aid, scholarships do not require repayment. Organizations offer scholarships based on merit, identity (race, gender, ethnicity, etc.), and athleticism.

Grants: Students usually receive grants based on financial need. Like scholarships, grants do not require repayment.

Loans: Students can apply for public or private loans. Public loans from the federal government offer low interest rates and many other benefits.

Should You Get a Cybersecurity Degree Online?

For most students, online cybersecurity programs provide more flexibility than traditional on-campus programs.

Online programs feature synchronous courses that require set meeting times, while others offer asynchronous courses, allowing students to view lectures when convenient. However, both formats feature deadlines for assignments and exams. Some programs also combine online and on-campus learning to give learners a blended experience.

Some online programs may be more affordable than on-campus programs. These programs may offer in-state tuition to all online students regardless of where they live. Taking courses online also saves students money on commuting and relocation costs.

Below, we detail some common online program types to help students make the best decisions for their needs.

Self-Paced

Self-paced programs offer schedule flexibility, which is critical for many nontraditional learners. While most self-paced programs follow an asynchronous format, not all asynchronous programs are self-paced. Self-paced programs typically offer flexible deadlines and course end dates, allowing students to finish one course and immediately begin the next.

This type of learning requires great discipline, but it allows enrollees to complete their degrees in less time than traditional programs. Self-paced programs also help students who need longer periods of time to complete their courses. These students can take their time and finish at a pace that works for them.

Real-Time

Real-time online programs feature synchronous classes, which entails set meeting times and scheduled start and end dates. In many cases, students take real-time courses as part of a cohort, working on pace with their peers in the program.

Synchronous courses may not offer the same level of flexibility as asynchronous programs, but they allow students to interact with instructors and peers in real time.

Since real-time programs closely resemble on-campus programs, this format works well for learners who want the interactivity and structure of traditional programs with the flexibility of online classes. Synchronous programs may require less self-discipline than asynchronous and self-paced classes, helping to engage learners who work best in classroom settings.

Hybrid

For many students, hybrid programs offer the best of both worlds, combining online and on-campus elements. Some hybrid programs feature primarily asynchronous courses with some residency requirements. Other programs combine synchronous online classes with weekend classes on campus.

Learners can often choose which classes they want to take on campus and online. Some hybrid programs call for minimal on-campus requirements. Other programs split their on-campus and online requirements more evenly.

Earning a Cybersecurity Degree Online vs. In Person: Pros and Cons

Online Cybersecurity Programs

  • Convenience. Students can continue to work or take care of other responsibilities while earning their degree.
  • Flexibility. Online learners can log on and complete classwork anytime and anywhere.
  • Accessibility. Online programs offer greater accessibility for students who may not be able to attend in-person classes.
  • Ability to complete courses independently

  • Too much freedom and independence for students
  • Potentially not enough interaction or structure
  • May be challenging for students with less motivation or self-discipline
  • Less access to campus resources and amenities in some cases

In-Person Cybersecurity Programs

  • High levels of interaction with students and teachers
  • Highly structured learning environment
  • Provides student support and accountability
  • Access to many campus resources and amenities

  • Less flexible. Students need to attend class at a set time and place.
  • Less accessible. Learners with full-time jobs or family responsibilities may not be able to enroll.
  • Requires time commuting to and from campus.
  • May cost more

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How long does it take to finish a cybersecurity degree?

    Program length varies by school and degree level. Typically, full-time students can complete cybersecurity associate degrees in 1.5-2 years, a bachelor’s in 3-4 years, and a master’s in 1-2 years. A cybersecurity Ph.D. usually requires 3-7 years.

  • Are cybersecurity colleges accredited?

    They should be. Make sure that any cybersecurity schools you consider enrolling in hold regional accreditation. Even if you earn your cybersecurity degree online, you can find regionally accredited options. The best cybersecurity programs may also hold a designation from the National Centers of Academic Excellence in Cybersecurity program.

  • How much does a cybersecurity degree cost?

    The cost of a cybersecurity degree varies by school and degree level. Attending a public university where you qualify for in-state tuition typically offers the most affordable option. Cybersecurity majors may qualify for financial aid and scholarships to help pay for their degree.

  • Is an online cybersecurity degree easier than on-campus programs?

    Students earning a cybersecurity degree online typically need to meet the same requirements as those completing an in-person cybersecurity program. However, online options may offer greater convenience and flexibility than on-campus programs.


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Find the right education path to take advantage of this fast-growing industry and join the front-lines on technology and security.