As industries increasingly rely on computer networks, systems, and data, demand rises for cybersecurity professionals, such as information security analysts. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects jobs for information security analysts to grow 32% from 2018-2028. These professionals earn a median annual wage approaching $100,000.
This guide covers important information for prospective cybersecurity students, including degree options, the importance of accreditation, and the pros and cons of working in the cybersecurity field.
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Is a Cybersecurity Degree Worth It?
From 2010-2016, computer and information sciences ranked among the fastest-growing degrees, growing at a 50% rate, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. Cybersecurity represents an important piece of the computer and information sciences pie.
As the world increasingly depends on computers, the need for cybersecurity professionals increases. According to BLS career data, recent growth in cyberattacks has sparked demand for professionals trained to prepare and defend computer systems against such threats. Cybersecurity professionals have become increasingly important in several major industries, such as healthcare, finance, and business.
Graduates with a bachelor's degree in cybersecurity enjoy more professional opportunities than professionals without the degree. These programs feature a variety of formats to accommodate diverse student needs, including online, on-campus, and hybrid learning formats.
How to Choose a Cybersecurity Degree
Students researching potential bachelor's in cybersecurity degrees should consider factors like location. 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 employment, financial aid, and education opportunities. For example, some employers and certification agencies may require graduates to hold an accredited degree, and only students at accredited schools qualify for federal financial aid.
Students with specific career goals or professional interests should research each prospective program's concentration offerings. Concentrations can help students gain specialized knowledge and skills to prepare for specific career paths. Students should also consider tuition costs, faculty qualifications, and residency requirements when researching potential programs.
NSA CAE in Cyber Operations Academic Criteria
In an effort to promote cybersecurity training and education across the country, the National Security Agency and Department of Homeland Security jointly sponsor two Centers of Academic Excellence (CAE) programs, which recognize institutions and programs that meet specific criteria.
Two types of CAE designations exist: cyber defense (CD) and cyber operations (CO). CAE-CD designates schools that offer education and research in cyber defense, while CAE-CO designates schools that offer programs focused on specialized cyber operations.
CAE-CO programs train students to emphasize action over reaction. Students learn the skills and technologies used in military and law enforcement organizations to collect information, exploit technologies, and enhance national security. To earn CAE-CO recognition, these programs must offer a variety of opportunities for practical experience and applications. With this designation, schools and students may qualify for additional funding, internships, and employment opportunities.
Programs with CAE-CO designation must hold accreditation from the ABET and offer a cyber operations specialization or certification. The program's courses must run at least every 18 months, and the faculty and student body must be involved in cyber operations community activities and research projects.
Prospective cybersecurity students should focus on two types of accreditation when researching programs: regional and programmatic. Regional accreditation indicates that a school meets high standards with respect to faculty qualifications, academic rigor, and student learning outcomes. Regional accreditation comes from independent regional accrediting bodies recognized by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA).
Students who attend accredited schools more easily secure federal financial aid, employment, and transfer credits.
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 the 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.
BS in Cybersecurity vs. BS in Computer Science
Two of the most common degrees for cybersecurity professionals include a BS in cybersecurity and BS in computer science. Bachelor's degrees in cybersecurity provide a direct route to cybersecurity careers. These programs teach students to identify, evaluate, and defend against threats and attacks on networks, data, and information systems. Learners may also acquire the skills to design and implement protection and prevention measures.
Some cybersecurity programs offer concentration options in areas such as cybersecurity analysis, digital forensics, systems security, network security, and cloud computing. Each of these fields features its own technologies, threats, and security measures.
Conversely, a BS in computer science is a more general degree that covers various programming languages, algorithms, and networks and operating systems. Some of these programs may offer cybersecurity specializations. With a strong grasp on the design and operation of major computer technologies, computer science graduates can often work in cybersecurity careers.
Online Cybersecurity Degree Format
The format of an online cybersecurity degree can vary considerably between schools and programs. For most students, online programs provide more schedule and travel flexibility than traditional on-campus programs. Some online programs feature synchronous courses, which require set meeting times, while others offer asynchronous courses, which don't require set meeting times, allowing for more schedule flexibility. Some of these programs also combine online and on-campus learning to give learners a blended experience.
Online programs are often more affordable than on-campus programs, oftentimes offering in-state tuition to all online students regardless of where they live. They also save students money on commuting costs. Below, we detail some common online program types to help students make the best decisions for their needs.
Self-paced programs offer schedule flexibility, which proves critical for many nontraditional learners. Most self-paced programs follow an asynchronous format, but not all asynchronous programs are self-paced. Self-paced programs often 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 considerably 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 speed that works for them.
Real-time online programs feature synchronous classes, requiring set meeting times, in addition to 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 while still offering the convenience of online study.
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 typically require less self-motivation than asynchronous and self-paced classes, helping to engage learners who work best in classroom settings.
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, while others combine synchronous online classes with weekend classes on campus. Students should examine each program's residency requirements and whether these requirements suit their schedules.
In hybrid programs, learners can often choose which classes they want to take on campus and online. Some programs call for minimal on-campus requirements, such as an orientation or a weekend immersion each semester, while others split their on-campus and online requirements more evenly. Hybrid programs tend to expand the number of accessible programs for students. Most students aren't willing to travel great distances to attend regular classes, but many will travel for occasional on-campus requirements.
Online Cybersecurity Degree: Pros and Cons
Online cybersecurity degrees offer many benefits, such as accessibility and flexibility. They also prepare graduates to enter in-demand roles with high salary potential. However, prospective cybersecurity students should also consider the drawbacks of online learning and whether a cybersecurity career is in line with their interests and goals.
The following information covers some of the pros and cons of online cybersecurity degrees to help prospective students decide whether this degree path fits their needs.
- Pros of an Online Cybersecurity Degree
Online degrees in cybersecurity offer the benefit of focused, flexible training. These programs provide general training in information technology and computer science, but they often contextualize this learning within security settings. A focused degree can help demonstrate specialized skills to potential employers.
Graduates with a cybersecurity degree enjoy a positive career outlook. For instance, the BLS job projects information security analyst positions to grow 32% from 2018-2028. Many large organizations and industries adopt strict cybersecurity protocols, and the increase in cyber threats and businesses' reliance on cloud services should further increase the demand for security service providers in the future.
A highly technical field, cybersecurity often restricts positions to highly skilled, well-trained technicians. The field offers continuing education and professional certifications, which allow motivated professionals to grow their knowledge and improve their skills. As technology evolves, professionals who stay on top of their training can significantly improve their career prospects.
- Cons of an Online Cybersecurity Degree
Online cybersecurity degrees may not suit all learners. Learners still deciding on their ideal career path may prefer less concentrated studies, such as a more general degree in computer science. Cybersecurity graduates still qualify for other computer-related professions, but more generalized degrees can help learners identify their professional interests and qualify for more opportunities.
Moreover, online study formats challenge many students, since distance learning requires a great deal of self-discipline and motivation. Some enrollees find on-campus classes more conducive to their learning styles. Asynchronous programs in particular may not offer enough interactivity and structure for some students.
Cybersecurity professionals must stay abreast of their constantly changing field. As technologies change and new technologies arrive, professionals must update their skills or risk no longer being competitive in the job market. This level of pressure may overwhelm some learners, making cybersecurity a poor fit in the long run.