Cybersecurity Degree Program Guide

| Liz Simmons and Cynthia Widmayer Modified on August 5, 2022

Cybersecurity Degree Program Guide

Are you ready to find a school that's aligned with your interests?

Earning a cybersecurity degree prepares students for careers with higher-than-average salaries in a growing field. A 2022 CompTIA report on the tech industry found that the expected growth rate for tech jobs is nearly twice the national rate for all jobs over the next 10 years. The report also found cybersecurity was among the top-employing areas of tech.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) also projects a 33% growth rate for information security analysts (an umbrella term used for many cybersecurity positions) from 2020 to 2030. This much-faster-than-average projected growth rate indicates a strong job outlook for cybersecurity school graduates.

The rise of cyberattacks will likely fuel the continued demand for cybersecurity professionals. This guide covers how to choose a cybersecurity program, available concentrations and degrees, and additional student resources.

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.

According to the BLS, top-employing industries for graduates with a cybersecurity degree include computer systems design, credit intermediation, and information services. CompTIA reported the U.S. employed 736,417 cybersecurity and systems engineer workers as of 2021.

Graduates with at least a bachelor's degree in cybersecurity often qualify for more job opportunities and higher salaries than applicants without this credential. Potential cybersecurity careers include:

Hiring Statistics for Cybersecurity Graduates

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

Due to high demand for their technical skills and knowledge, cybersecurity professionals often make above-average salaries. For example, BLS data shows information security analysts earned a median annual salary of $102,600 as of 2021. Payscale reports that chief information security officers made an average annual salary of $170,980 as of July 2022.

Additionally, the BLS projects that information security analyst jobs will increase from 141,200 positions to 188,300 positions from 2020 to 2030, with a projection of 16,300 job openings per year on average.

Read More About Jobs in Cybersecurity

Cybersecurity Jobs Overview

Government Cybersecurity Careers

Cybersecurity Career Guide for Veterans

How to Get Into Cybersecurity From General IT

Cybersecurity Degree Levels

Prospective students can pursue several cybersecurity degree programs, including professional certificates and degrees at the associate, bachelor's, master's, and doctoral levels. Learners can earn their cybersecurity degrees online, in person, or through hybrid programs. Tech professionals can expand their career opportunities by completing cybersecurity bootcamps.

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

Cybersecurity Degree Majors and Concentrations

Learners studying cybersecurity can choose from a variety of majors and concentrations to prepare themselves for jobs in the field. To determine which area of cybersecurity to pursue, students should research common career outcomes for each major or concentration to ensure it aligns with their occupational aspirations.

Information Assurance

Information assurance is the practice of protecting digital and physical data against security threats. In addition to risk management, information assurance also ensures data integrity, confidentiality, and timely availability of information. Information assurance professionals can help organizations continually strengthen their data safety measures.

Common courses in information assurance programs include security engineering, identity and access management, penetration testing, network security, and cryptography. Information assurance specialists can find employment across industries, as many businesses need data protection. This degree is suitable for both cybersecurity beginners and professionals with prior experience in the field.

The BLS projects 13% job growth for all information security jobs between 2020 and 2030, demonstrating a positive outlook for information assurance careers. July 2022 Payscale data shows the average annual salary of these professionals is $80,770.

Information Systems Security

Popularly known as infosec, information systems security is the protection of computer networks from data breaches and unauthorized use. With a degree in infosec, professionals can design and upgrade security systems and protocols while ensuring compliance with legal standards.

Topics covered in infosec programs include data privacy and security, business continuity, web security, and security planning and auditing. Aside from a bachelor's degree, information security officers may also need professional certifications to qualify for some jobs, since the role involves the handling of sensitive data. CISSP and CISA are common certifications for infosec professionals.

July 2022 Payscale data shows the average annual salary for information security officers is $95,190.

Business and Technology

A business and technology degree blends two concentrations to form one program, simultaneously developing learners' technical, analytical, financial, and managerial skills. Business technology courses typically include data analytics, business management strategies, computer applications, accounting, human resources management, and entrepreneurship.

These degrees are often primarily business programs with a tech-related specialization, such as information security, computer science, or software development. A business technology program is best suited to learners who want to explore the business end of cybersecurity.

With a degree in business technology, graduates can find employment in business and IT. Skills gained from this program can also help an individual successfully manage both the business and technical aspects of an enterprise. Common occupations for business technology graduates include information security officer, data analyst, project manager, and database manager.

Computer Engineering

Computer engineering is a combination of electrical engineering and computer science. Computer engineers possess knowledge of both hardware and software engineering. In this program, students learn engineering and computing concepts that enable them to design, develop, and update computer operating systems.

With their array of technical skills and network security knowledge, computer engineers are critical to cybersecurity. These professionals protect digital infrastructure from external threats, build secure hardware and software systems, and create resilient technologies that power tools like medical devices and self-driving cars.

Some schools combine computer engineering and cybersecurity into one program, which may be ideal for students who aspire to blend the two disciplines for a career.

Computer Forensics

Computer forensics is the collection and analysis of data related to malicious online activities and cybercrime. Computer forensics professionals must be proficient in areas like computer programming, network security, and digital storage methods. They also need a thorough understanding of the law to assist in criminal investigations.

Aside from a bachelor's degree, computer forensics certifications can provide an edge to aspiring professionals. Forensic analysts work with private organizations and law enforcement. The legal sector is the biggest employer of digital forensic analysts, but private investigation agencies, financial services, corporate companies, information technology, and most military branches also hire forensics professionals.

The average annual salary for computer forensics analysts is $75,020, according to Payscale data from July 2022.

Computer Programming

Computer programmers write and update code for computer applications, mobile applications, and software programs. They find and fix bugs, write technical guides, manage databases, and maintain operating systems. Computer programmers are indispensable to the cybersecurity field because of their coding knowledge. These professionals often work closely with web and software developers.

Computer programmers must be proficient in various programming languages; possess mathematical, analytical, and problem-solving skills; and easily learn new concepts. One of the most popular industries for computer programmers is video game development, followed by finance, healthcare, architecture, and web development.

According to July 2022 Payscale data, the average annual salary for computer programmers is $66,290, and earners in the 90th percentile make $102,000.

Computer Science

Computer science is the umbrella field under which most tech-related specializations fall, including cybersecurity. Computer science degrees explore theoretical and practical knowledge of computing and information. A computer science program with a specialization in cybersecurity is ideal for students who aspire to work in data protection.

Computer science graduates can find work as information research scientists, software developers, data scientists, information security analysts, and database administrators. Typical curricula of computer science programs include computer security, data science, programming, artificial intelligence, and web development courses.

BLS data shows the median annual salary of computer and information research scientists was $131,490 in 2021. The projected employment growth rate for these jobs from 2020 to 2030 is 22%.

Information Sciences

A major in information sciences teaches students about how individuals and businesses use, store, exchange, and transfer information. Information science programs explore the creation and management of data, the needs that lead to the consumption and utilization of that data, and the technologies that support these processes.

A typical information sciences curriculum may include classes in data science, data analytics, information systems analysis and design, mathematics, and principles of computing.

Information sciences degrees prepare learners to use technologies like deep learning, big data, and blockchain to benefit society and businesses. Career options for graduates of information science programs include data scientist, competitive intelligence specialist, data science engineer, and network architect. Information research scientist jobs are projected to grow 22% between 2020 and 2030, according to the BLS.

Information Technology

Information technology is the study of digital and electronic systems used for storing, transferring, and processing information. A typical IT curriculum explores topics like principles of computer hardware and software components; algorithms and databases; and user tactics, human interfaces, and application design.

Though IT and cybersecurity both focus on data and information systems, IT is a broader field. Some cybersecurity degrees offer IT specializations. IT degree-holders can pursue careers inside and outside information security. These positions include network architect, security analyst, and software engineer.

According to Payscale data from July 2022, the average annual salary in IT services is $84,000.

IT Management

IT management is the maintenance and governance of hardware, software, and network systems. IT management optimizes information systems for performance efficiency. Typical duties for IT managers include monitoring compliance and safety, maintaining network security, implementing and updating software and hardware systems, and fulfilling IT systems' business requirements.

IT management programs explore topics like cloud computing, analytics, artificial intelligence, and the Internet of Things. Bachelor's and master's graduates with IT management degrees can secure positions like IT security manager, IT project manager, chief technology officer, and chief information officer. July 2022 Payscale data shows the average annual salary for IT managers is $89,370. The salary of the highest-paid 10% of these professionals averages $134,000 a year.

Software Engineering

Software engineers design, develop, and analyze computer software programs. Popular classes in software engineering programs include quality assurance, project management, and software testing. Unlike the theoretical approach of computer science, software engineering involves practical skills in building and maintaining software applications.

Aspiring software engineers can pursue degrees, earn graduate certificates, or attend bootcamps. Software engineers need coding, programming, and problem-solving skills and are knowledgeable about computer system operations. The BLS projects 22% growth for software developer jobs from 2020 to 2030. The median annual salary for these professionals was $110,140 as of 2021.

Web Development

Web developers work on front-end or back-end coding to control the functionality of a website or application. Some web development roles may also involve web design.

Web development requires knowledge of programming languages such as HTML5, JavaScript, Python, and PHP. Employers may not require college degrees for entry-level web developer roles. These professionals can find full-time positions or work as freelancers.

Common web developer duties include writing code, creating web layouts, debugging and fixing errors in code, testing and troubleshooting websites, and exchanging ideas with clients. Web developers with a foundation in web development and programming can use their experience as a springboard for cybersecurity careers.

How to Choose a Cybersecurity Program

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

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

Prospective students should also research accreditation, which 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 learners at accredited schools qualify for federal financial aid, and many institutions only allow transfer credits from accredited schools.

Students with specific career goals should research potential programs' concentrations. Concentrations can help enrollees gain knowledge and skills to prepare for particular professional paths.

Accreditation for Cybersecurity Schools

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

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

Specific programs may also hold accreditation from agencies that verify the programs' curricula prepare students for careers in the field. Prospective cybersecurity students may want to look for ABET-accredited programs. ABET accredits programs in areas like engineering, science, and computing.

More than 4,000 programs at over 800 institutions have received 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 NCAE-C designation to show they meet high educational standards in the cybersecurity field.

There are three types of NCAE-C designation: cyber defense (CAE-CD), cyber research (CAE-R), and cyber operations (CAE-CO).

  • CAE-CD designates institutionally accredited schools that offer cybersecurity certificates and degrees across associate, bachelor's, and graduate levels.
  • CAE-R institutions include accredited four-year schools with R1, R2, or R3 research designation 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, and electrical engineering.

Cybersecurity Programs by State

How to Pay for Cybersecurity Schooling

Cybersecurity degree costs vary by institution, degree level, program length, and student residency status. Other factors that influence price include program format (online or in person), level of prestige, and type of school (public or private). In-state cybersecurity programs at public institutions usually offer the most affordable tuition.

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

Scholarships: Organizations offer scholarships based on factors such as merit, identity (gender, ethnicity, disability, etc.), and financial need. Scholarships do not require repayment.

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

Loans: Enrollees can apply for public or private loans, which they must repay with interest. Public loans from the federal government typically offer lower interest rates and more flexible repayment plans than private loans.

Should You Go to an Online College for Cybersecurity?

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

Some online programs feature synchronous courses that require set meeting times using technology like videoconferencing. Other schools offer asynchronous classes, allowing learners to view lectures and complete coursework on more flexible schedules. Programs may also combine online and on-campus learning to give learners a blended experience.

Online programs may be more affordable than on-campus programs, even at advanced degree levels. For example, some institutions offer in-state tuition to all online students, regardless of where they live. Other schools may offer lower tuition rates specifically for online learners. 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 Cybersecurity Programs

Self-paced programs offer schedule flexibility, which is critical for many nontraditional learners who have family and career obligations. Course content is delivered asynchronously, with students watching lectures and completing tests and assignments on weekly or monthly deadlines. Some self-paced programs that offer course end dates may allow students to finish one course and immediately begin the next.

Completing a self-paced program requires self-sufficiency and time management, as these courses offer less structure and less interaction with instructors and peers. Self-paced programs with flexible course end dates can allow enrollees to complete their degrees in less time than traditional programs. These programs also help students who need longer periods of time to complete their studies, working at a self-determined speed to ensure they understand the material.

Real-Time Cybersecurity Programs

Real-time online programs feature synchronous classes, which require set meeting times and scheduled start and end dates. In some 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 peer interactivity and scheduled structure of traditional programs while maintaining some of the flexibility of online classes. Synchronous programs may require less self-discipline than asynchronous and self-paced courses, helping to engage learners who work best in classroom settings.

Hybrid Cybersecurity Programs

Hybrid cybersecurity programs combine online and on-campus elements. Some hybrid programs feature primarily asynchronous courses with occasional residency requirements like on-campus orientations. Other programs combine synchronous online courses with weekend classes on campus.

On-campus requirements for hybrid programs vary. Some institutions have minimal in-person events, but others may ask students to take a significant portion of their classes on campus.

Online Cybersecurity Degrees vs. In-Person Programs: Pros and Cons
Online Cybersecurity Programs In-Person Cybersecurity Programs

Pros

Students with career and family obligations can integrate online degree classes into their busy schedules.

Enrollees can interact daily with classmates and instructors.

Online learners can usually log on and complete asynchronous classwork on more flexible schedules.

In-person courses often create a highly structured learning environment.

Online learning can make programs accessible to students without requiring relocation.

Attending class in person can provide student support and accountability.

Learners can complete coursework independently, working at their own pace to ensure content mastery.

On-campus students can access many resources, amenities, and extracurricular groups.

Cons

Some learners may struggle with the flexible structure of asynchronous coursework.

In-person programs are typically less flexible because students must attend class at set times each week.

Students may prefer the classroom interaction of in-person courses.

On-campus degrees may be less accessible to learners with full-time jobs or family responsibilities.

Learners need to maintain self-sufficiency and motivation to complete less structured online classes.

Students have to commute to and from their classes.

Online enrollees typically have reduced access to campus resources and amenities.

On-campus programs may charge higher tuition than their online counterparts.

Do You Need a Degree to Work in Cybersecurity?

It is possible to find entry-level jobs in cybersecurity without a four-year degree, particularly if you have prior infosec or IT experience, have completed a bootcamp, or hold a cybersecurity certification. However, some employers may seek a bachelor's degree, along with relevant experience, for more advanced roles like cybersecurity engineer or compliance operations officer.

FAQ About Cybersecurity Programs


How long does it take to get a cybersecurity degree?

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.

Is going to college for cybersecurity expensive?

Typically, in-state public institutions offer the most affordable tuition rates. Cybersecurity majors may qualify for financial aid and scholarships to help pay for their degree.

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

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

Do cybersecurity majors have a high employment rate?

According to BLS data, all computer and IT jobs have a positive career outlook — the organization projects 13% career growth from 2020 to 2030. Cybersecurity-related jobs like information security analyst have a much-faster-than-average projected growth rate.

Which cybersecurity degree pays the most after graduation?

Cybersecurity is a growing field with in-demand jobs. According to July 2022 Payscale data, professionals with a bachelor's degree in cybersecurity earn an average annual salary of $74,000. Additional degrees tend to boost earning potential.

GI Bill® is a registered trademark of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). More information about education benefits offered by VA is available at the official U.S. government website at https://www.benefits.va.gov/gibill/.

Recommended Reading

Take the next step toward your future.

Discover programs you’re interested in and take charge of your education.