5 Best Associate Degrees in Cybersecurity 2021

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Cybersecurity experts protect data and networks from hackers and malicious actors in an increasingly digital and globally connected world. The profession offers some of today’s most lucrative jobs, with salaries ranging from $55,000-$150,000 per year.

The field also continues to add jobs at near-record rates. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projections indicate that information security analyst employment will grow by 31% from 2019-2029, making this profession one of the country’s fastest-growing careers. 

A cybersecurity associate degree can provide the perfect jumping-off point for tech-minded students looking to begin careers in the field. Aspiring professionals can use this guide to research information on available roles and explore education requirements for cybersecurity associate degrees.

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What Is Cybersecurity?

Cybersecurity originated in the 1970s when humans began storing valuable data on computers. In the early days, most security breaches extended to people accessing physical documents for which they did not have clearance. Soon, countries began to weaponize computer hacking, and individuals started experimenting with illegal data breaches. Cybersecurity has since evolved into a burgeoning and critical professional field.

Cybersecurity specialists work for corporations, government agencies, nonprofit organizations, and educational institutions. They serve on the front lines of national security, protect corporate data, and establish safeguards for healthcare records. 

New technologies related to the internet of things and the accumulation of big data suggest that cybersecurity will continue to grow into the future. This field attracts professionals driven by their love for technology and their passion for making a difference for vulnerable companies, governments, and individual consumers.

In cybersecurity, associate degrees can lead to entry-level jobs. A two-year degree provides the foundation to earn valuable certifications and advanced degrees in the field.

What To Expect From Associate in Cybersecurity Programs

Cybersecurity associate degree programs prepare students for entry-level jobs in information technology settings. Many schools have only recently added cybersecurity majors as the field continues to grow in popularity. 

An associate program typically requires 60 credits or two years of full-time study at 15 credits per semester. Courses combine general academic studies, technology courses, electives, and field experiences. Students with transferable credits or enrollees in accelerated programs can complete their degrees in less time. Graduates can pursue certifications or advanced academic degrees. 

Associate degree costs vary widely. Private and for-profit schools usually charge much higher prices than local, state-supported community colleges. Prospective students should consider that affordability does not come down to tuition alone, as financial aid plays a crucial role.

While each learner encounters different classes, instructors, and learning environments, associate programs share some aspects of length, curriculum, cost, and benefits. 

Admission Requirements

Community colleges typically offer associate degrees. In general, these institutions set a lower standard of entry than four-year colleges and universities. Most community colleges require an applicant to hold a high school diploma or its equivalent. Usually, prospective students should demonstrate strong math and science skills through their high school GPAs.

Community colleges do not require SAT or ACT scores. Most two-year programs accept all applicants, and placement exams determine each student’s math and English coursework. While prospective enrollees do not need experience in cybersecurity, those applicants who already hold certificates in the field may have a leg up in the program.

Degree and Concentration Options

Aspiring candidates encounter cybersecurity associate degrees in several forms, including the associate of science (AS), the associate of applied science (AAS), associate of arts (AA), and the associate of applied business (AAB).

  • Associate of Science: The AS prepares students to transfer to bachelor of science in cybersecurity degrees at four-year institutions.
  • Associate of Applied Science: This degree introduces learners to the fundamentals and practices of information security, readying them for entry-level roles in the field. Upon graduation, learners should feel prepared to take exams for cybersecurity certifications.
  • Associate of Arts: The AA emphasizes social studies and humanities, generally preparing enrollees to transfer to four-year programs. Consequently, learners can take more courses in criminal justice, sociology, public policy, and business to explore the broad implications of security studies.
  • Associate of Applied Business: This degree prepares students for entry-level careers in business. A cybersecurity major takes a blend of courses in business and technology, culminating in a field experience integrating the two disciplines.

Popular Cybersecurity Courses

Most cybersecurity associate degree programs require 60 credits to complete. Students usually take a core of general education classes, several courses in the major, and electives.

If the program emphasizes business, criminal justice, or information technology, then the general education courses should reflect that emphasis. In addition to traditional coursework, some schools may require internships or capstone projects. Sample courses include:

Businesses conduct sensitive negotiations and transactions online. Consequently, the need for security and its role in business and society have grown in prominence. This course covers access controls, malicious attacks, threats, vulnerabilities, and common risk responses.
This course stresses database modeling and design to cover the basics of designing, implementing, and managing database systems. Students discuss the facilities and languages surrounding database management systems along with implementation and administration techniques. As part of the course, learners may investigate case studies and problems in database management and propose alternative solutions.
Modern organizations employ computers to store, sort, and analyze the data they use to solve problems. In this introductory course, enrollees learn the fundamentals of algorithms, including expressions, variables, and array processing.
Networks serve as the major entry point for most systems. Students learn to prevent intrusion, abuse, or flooding of communication channels. They also discover how to preserve network resources. Topics include VPNs, network access controls, firewalls, packet filtering, and intrusion detection.

How Much Will an Associate in Cybersecurity Cost?

Many factors determine how much a student pays for a cybersecurity associate degree. In some states, community colleges charge no tuition to residents, and in all states, community college tuition costs run much lower than the price of most nearby four-year schools.

State colleges typically cost less than private schools, and nonprofit institutions are usually cheaper than for-profit schools. Even if a student receives a tuition-free education, pursuing an education still incurs costs for books and other learning materials.

Fortunately, most students do not have to pay for degrees on their own. Federal financial aid programs can provide grants, private foundations offer scholarships, and schools maintain work-study programs that help learners cover their costs.

In addition, earning an associate degree before starting a bachelor’s program can help learners save. The low price of most associate programs often yields significant savings for students.

Why Get an Associate Degree in Cybersecurity?

As one of the most exciting career fields, cybersecurity combines technology, public policy, and investigative work to help protect individuals and companies. Jobs in the field pay lucrative salaries, and employment continues to grow. 

Associate degrees in cybersecurity can help young professionals and those looking to change their professional focus. At the associate level, students learn networking technology, cybersecurity law, criminal justice, and intrusion detection. 

Secure Employment
Recent high school graduates or those looking to shift their career can consider cybersecurity associate degrees as the perfect entry point for new professions.
Advance in the Field
An individual who already holds a degree in another field or who has completed a cybersecurity certification may see an associate degree as the next logical career move.
Transfer to a Bachelor’s Program
Cybersecurity associate degree programs typically make up the first half of a bachelor’s degree. Some students earn two-year degrees, then work in the field to gain experience and income before completing four-year programs.

Jobs for Associate in Cybersecurity Graduates

As one of the world’s fastest-growing and highest-paying fields, cybersecurity offers opportunities for tech-minded people who enjoy using problem-solving skills. An AS in cybersecurity can help new professionals join the field as network administrators, network support specialists, or system administrators. 

To advance to more lucrative cybersecurity jobs, experienced professionals may need to earn bachelor’s degrees, certifications, or even graduate degrees in the field. Advanced positions in cybersecurity include ethical hacker, information security analyst, or security software developer. For cybersecurity professionals with management expertise, chief information security officers are at the top of the field.

  • Network Administrator

    Network and computer systems administrators oversee day-to-day operations of their organizations’ computer networks. They organize, install, and support computer systems; upgrade and repair computer networks; train users to properly use hardware and software; and provide technical support.

    • Required Education: Postsecondary certificate or associate degree; bachelor’s preferred
    • Job Outlook (2019-29): +4%
    • Median Salary: $83,510

  • Computer Support Specialist

    These professionals work with individuals and organizations to provide help and advice. This role often splits into two different focuses: computer network support and computer user support. Computer network support specialists analyze, evaluate, and troubleshoot problems with computer networks. User support specialists, also called help desk technicians, provide technical support to computer users who do not work in IT.

    • Required Education: Associate degree or some postsecondary classes
    • Job Outlook (2019-29): 8%
    • Median Salary: $54,760

  • Penetration Tester

    Sometimes called “ethical hackers,” penetration testers use cybercriminals’ tools to test network and data security. These professionals simulate cyberattacks to identify weaknesses and vulnerabilities. Penetration testers work in government agencies, corporate offices, healthcare facilities, and educational institutions. While certification may open an entry-level testing position, advanced posts often require an academic degree.

    • Required Education: Bachelor’s degree preferred
    • Average Salary: $85,320

  • Information Security Analyst

    Charged with protecting organizations’ data and networks, information security analysts serve as front-line soldiers in the war against cyberthreats. These professionals research trends in the field, conduct penetration tests, monitor their employers’ systems, and develop security standards and best practices for their companies. An information security analyst’s specific job description largely depends on their employer’s distinct needs.

    • Required Education: Bachelor’s in a related field; MBA preferred
    • Job Outlook (2019-29): +31%
    • Median Salary: $99,730

Continuing Your Education Past an Associate Degree

Earning a cybersecurity associate degree can help launch a new career, but professionals who aspire to top jobs need more than a fundamental educational background. Advanced education or certification can help cybersecurity experts earn more money, engage in more challenging work, and assume leadership positions in the field.

Bachelor's Degree

A bachelor’s degree typically requires 120 credits, amounting to 60 semester hours beyond the associate program. Full-time students with associate degrees usually need two years to finish their bachelor’s.

Enrollees can specialize in network forensics, cybercrime, information assurance, or cyberoperations. As perhaps the best cybersecurity degree for professionals with 1-2 years of experience, the bachelor’s can lead to higher-paying jobs in the field.

Master's Degree

A prospective student who holds a bachelor’s degree and 1-5 years of professional experience in cybersecurity can apply to a master’s program. This degree usually requires 33-36 credits and takes 18-24 months to complete.

Specializations vary by school but may include information technology and project management. Along with increased job security and higher salaries, a graduate degree in cybersecurity can prepare students to influence information security policy.

Cybersecurity Certifications

Third-party organizations offer cybersecurity certifications such as certified ethical hacker, certified information systems security professional, and CompTIA Security+. These certifications demonstrate skill and knowledge, unlike academic certificates that demonstrate the courses a student has taken.

Most certifications require 3-9 months to earn, and final exams can cost $300-$900. Many employers insist that applicants hold certification for consideration.

Choosing the Right Cybersecurity Program

While a rankings list provides a great entry point for degree-seekers, many considerations should go into selecting a cybersecurity degree. Several key factors include accreditation, cost, career services, reputation, and alumni network. 

Accreditation comes in national, regional, and programmatic forms. To maximize the benefits of their degrees, students should select regionally accredited schools. The best institutions also hold programmatic accreditation with groups such as the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology. Many top cybersecurity programs have earned designation as a National Center of Academic Excellence in Cybersecurity from the National Security Agency.
Cost and Financial Aid
Each prospective enrollee should weigh a degree’s total cost against their available financial aid. The school with the highest price tag may cost significantly less when offset by a generous aid package.
Career Services
Does the school maintain a robust career services program for cybersecurity students? Can online learners easily access and benefit from this program?
Prospective learners should consider how potential employers view a school’s cybersecurity program.
Alumni Network
Does the school maintain a large, organized, and influential alumni base with cybersecurity professionals? Online students should consider the availability of their schools’ alumni networks, as well.

Should You Get Your Associate Degree Online?

Over time, distance programs have achieved recognition equal to those earned in brick-and-mortar schools. Amid the current pandemic, nearly every level of student has participated in virtual learning.

Digital learning offers an ideal platform for associate degrees in cybersecurity. Prospective students should still weigh all the factors of online learning before committing to programs. 

For instance, studying from home requires initiative, self-discipline, and a strong support system. Online learning requires as much time and energy as in-person education. Virtual learners must commit to a rigorous, disciplined study regime to be successful. 

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What is the best degree for cybersecurity?

    Most cybersecurity jobs require bachelor’s degrees in related fields. For management, research, or teaching jobs, however, information security professionals need master’s degrees. Still, an associate degree can lead to entry-level jobs in the field.

  • How long does it take to get an associate degree in cybersecurity?

    Generally speaking, full-time students can earn associate degrees in cybersecurity in just two years. Some schools offer accelerated programs that learners can complete in even less time.

  • How much can you make with an associate in cybersecurity?

    Although an associate degree in cybersecurity does not offer the same job options as a bachelor’s degree, it can provide professionals with a living wage. PayScale estimates cybersecurity employees with associate degrees earn $53,540 per year.

  • Is cybersecurity a good career?

    Cybersecurity offers one of the most lucrative emerging career fields in the early 21st century. According to PayScale, the average cybersecurity analyst earns $76,340 per year, and the BLS projects 31% growth in this field from 2019-2029.

2021’s Top Five Cybersecurity Associate Degree Programs

Listed below are the best associate degrees in cybersecurity in the U.S. as of 2021. Interested applicants can compare tuition, courses, and other crucial features about the colleges listed below to make the best choice for them.

All schools in the list are regionally or nationally accredited. They hold approval from organizations of regional and national repute and exhibit exceptional qualitative standards. In addition, some of the courses may also hold accreditation from industry-specific bodies. The following agencies endorse the enlisted programs.

  • Higher Learning Commission (HLC)
  • Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC)

Our Ranking Methodology

  1. Cochise College

    Sierra Vista, AZ



    A public college located in Sierra Vista, Arizona, the Cochise College is a two-year institution founded in 1964. This college offers nearly 50 undergraduate associate courses and educates a student population of 10,800.

    Associate of Applied Science in Cybersecurity

    Graduates can deal with cyber threats, secure servers, and workstations. They can also perform investigations and appropriate planning related to contingencies.

    The program splits between general courses and core curriculum courses, including essentials of networking, network security, and network defense. It also includes a liberal arts course in psychology. The program also comprises a practical application course to prepare students to manage cybersecurity and computer forensics immediately after the degree.

    How to apply

    Interested applicants can fill the college application form online and free of cost. The application also requires enrollees to submit their social security numbers. Those seeking financial aid or scholarships should apply for the same as soon as they submit the application form.

    Program at a glance

    School type: Public | Accreditation: HLC | Tuition: $91/credit | Required credits: 66-67 credits | Program length: 2 years | Delivery format: On campus

  2. Rend Lake College

    Ina, IL



    Located in Ina, Illinois, RLC forms a part of the Illinois Community College System. The school offers over 100 degree and certificate programs to prospective students.

    Associate in Applied Science in IT Security

    The program prepares students for the IT industry with an emphasis on cybersecurity. They learn to manage network servers, and they qualify for roles as entry-level technicians. The program also touches upon courses in communication and psychology.

    The program splits between classroom and laboratory, consisting of modern hardware and up-to-date software. It also serves as an apt foundation for those pursuing Cisco, Microsoft, and CompTIA certifications. Students must complete a capstone experience at a senior-level institution earn their degree.

    How to apply

    Interested candidates can apply through the enrollment form, available on campus and online. Students must also attach transcripts from previous high schools and colleges, plus test scores or scores from an alternate assessment determined by RLC.

    Program at a glance

    School type: Public | Accreditation: HLC | Tuition: $110/credit (in state); $200/credit (out of state) | Required credits: 64 credits | Program length: 2 years | Delivery format: On campus

  3. Northeast Wisconsin Technical College

    Green Bay, WI



    Established in 1912, NWTC is a public college with campuses in nine counties of Wisconsin. Famous for its eagle mascot, the university enrolls over 41,500 students across 100 associate degrees and 84 certificate courses.

    Associate in Cybersecurity

    The program trains students to become professionals in the fields of firewall administration, IDS/IPS administration, and systems security analysis. It also enables them to access mainstream certification programs.

    The curriculum spreads over diverse courses in economics, psychology, and career-planning courses. Students can also pursue a capstone course in IT networks in their fourth semester. Program outcomes include installing network hardware with ease; creating, installing, and configuring user environments; and maintaining security with confidentiality and discretion.

    How to apply

    In addition to a finished application, prospective students must submit relevant high school transcripts. At least one year of high school algebra is mandatory. User-level familiarity with one or more computer operating environments is also a requirement for admission.

    Program at a glance

    School type: Public | Accreditation: HLC | Tuition: $158/credit (in state); $228/credit (out of state) | Required credits: 65 credits | Program length: 2 years | Delivery format: On campus

  4. Richland College

    Dallas, TX



    A public community college in Dallas, Texas, Richland began in 1972 as part of the Dallas College. The largest campus in the college hosts over 20,000 students in various degrees and certificate courses.

    Associate of Applied Science in Cybersecurity

    Students can choose from five tracks: cyber defense, digital forensics, information assurance, network security administration, or system security administration. The cybersecurity program holds recognition from the Texas Skill Standards Board, making it the only Texas institution to meet this standard.

    The program spreads over four semesters, where students pursue various concentration-specific courses and mandatory general courses. The program also enables students to apply for advanced technical certificates while enrolled in this degree.

    How to apply

    Applicants can apply early by completing the online application. They can also apply by mail or in person. Prospective students must submit official transcripts from all high schools/colleges attended in the last five years.

    Program at a glance

    School type: Public Community College | Accreditation: HLC | Tuition: $79/credit (in state); $135/credit (out of state) | Required credits: 60 credits | Program length: 2 years | Delivery format: On campus

  5. Georgia Piedmont Technical College

    Clarkston, GA



    With a main campus located in Clarkston, Georgia, Georgia Piedmont Tech also features nine additional centers of learning and a second campus in Covington. The school enrolls over 7,000 students in a diverse array of courses for more than 120 subjects.

    Associate of Applied Science in Cyber Forensics Technology

    Graduates of this associate of applied science in cyber forensics can effectively secure systems and networks and protect them from hackers and cyber threats. The program's aims to train students to become skilled professionals in cybersecurity fields and criminal justice.

    The curriculum consists of general and occupational courses. General courses include introductory math and options to take psychology and sociology classes. Occupational courses include computer concepts and an introduction to criminal justice. The program also touches on communication and language skills.

    How to apply

    Those seeking admission must complete the online application or submit an application in person or by mail. Applicants must also submit relevant official high school transcripts and earn satisfactory scores on the ACCUPLACER, SAT, ACT, or ASSET.

    Program at a glance

    School type: Community Technical College | Accreditation: SACSCOC | Tuition: $100/credit (in state); $200/credit (out of state) | Required credits: 62 credits | Program length: 2 years | Delivery format: On campus

Accredited Online College Programs

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

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