Cybersecurity vs. Computer Science Degree Programs

| Holland Webb Modified on May 25, 2022

Reviewed by Brian Nichols

Cybersecurity vs. Computer Science Degree Programs

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

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects that information security analyst careers will grow 33%, while software developer careers will grow 22% between 2020 and 2030.

The cybersecurity and computer science fields offer rewarding careers for people skilled at solving complex problems.

Computer scientists combine critical thinking with programming, networking, and coding skills to work in various settings. In comparison, cybersecurity specialists emphasize risk detection, analysis, and prevention to work in information security.

Degrees in both fields offer access to fast-growing, well-paying careers. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects that information security analyst careers will grow 33%, while software developer careers will grow 22% between 2020 and 2030.

According to Payscale, a master's degree in computer science provides an annual average salary of $105,000, while a master's in cybersecurity commands $89,000 on average as of January 2022.

Learn more about computer science vs. cybersecurity programs and how to decide which degree is best for you.

Computer Science vs. Cybersecurity Careers

Cybersecurity and computer science careers may overlap. For example, a degree in either field can lead to a career in information technology management. This is because computer science is a field of study, while cybersecurity is a subfield of computer science.

However, the two careers differ in many ways. Cybersecurity experts build, test, and improve data and information security systems. They can study digital forensics, ethical hacking, and cyber law, along with basic computer theory. In comparison, computer scientists take a broader focus. They may fit into any career that uses hardware or software to solve complex computer problems.

Cybersecurity professionals can work as information technology auditors, cryptographers, or penetration testers. Computer scientists may serve as software engineers, systems managers, or researchers.

Both computer science and cybersecurity require professionals with the sharp skills and deep tech knowledge that a college degree can offer.

Computer and Information Research Scientists

Annual Median Pay: $126,830

Source: BLS

Information Security Analysts

Annual Median Pay: $103,590

Source: BLS

Degree Programs in Computer Science

Computer scientists help improve people's lives and shape the future. A degree in computer science can be the first step towards a career in this fast-growing field.

As of 2020, the BLS projects that computer and information technology jobs will grow by 13% between 2020 and 2030. Fields such as software development may see even faster growth.

Computer science degrees vary in scope and focus. Some universities emphasize artificial intelligence or software development, while others focus on computer architecture or human computer interaction.

Undergraduate students take courses such as software design and ethics or computers in society. Graduate learners may study topics like computational applied logic or architecture of parallel computers.

At the doctoral level, students learn to conduct research that helps produce new technology. They may study a subfield like robotics, artificial intelligence, or wireless sensor networks.

Associate Degrees in Computer Science

An associate degree in computer science trains students in basic computer theory and application. This two-year degree typically requires 60 credits. Graduates may enter the workforce or pursue a bachelor's degree in the discipline.

Students can pursue an AA, AS, AAS, or AAB in computer science.

The AA and AS prepare students for four-year colleges. The AA focuses on humanities and social sciences. The AS emphasizes math and science. The AAS prepares graduates for technology jobs. The AAB emphasizes computer science in a business environment.

Enrollees take courses such as:

Calculus I and II Introduction to discrete structures Computer programming Introduction to computer science

An associate degree can help lead to a web developer or support specialist job.

Bachelor's Degrees in Computer Science

Earning a bachelor's degree can equip students with the technical and professional skills to take on entry-level positions in computer science. This four-year degree usually requires 120 credits.

Students can earn a BA or BS.

The BA includes more courses in the humanities. The BS focuses on science and engineering.

Potential concentrations include:

Computer science theory Artificial intelligence Systems and architecture Data analysis Software engineering

Degree-seekers take courses like:

Single variable calculus Software security Computational graphics and visualization Full-stack development I and II

Graduates with a bachelor's in computer science may apply for jobs as computer programmers, software developers, or database administrators. Some schools offer a combined BS/MS program to shorten the time and expense required to obtain a masters' degree.

Master's Degrees in Computer Science

A master's degree in computer science can prepare technology professionals for fast-growing, well-paying technology careers. Most computer science master's programs require two years and 30-45 credits.

Students can pursue an MS, MBA, or a master of engineering (M.Eng.) in computer science.

The MS emphasizes general computer science theory and application. The MBA focuses on the interaction between computer science and business plus theory. The M.Eng. enhances students' practical skills in computer software and hardware development. Some schools offer dual master's degrees in computer science and business, journalism, or engineering.

Courses can include programming languages and algorithms, computer networks and mobile computing, and distributed algorithms and parallel computing.

Graduates may pursue careers as software developers, computer systems analysts, or database administrators.

Doctoral Degrees in Computer Science

A doctoral degree can equip computer scientists to perform innovative research or design new computational theories or algorithms. This degree often requires 60-75 credits, including dissertation credits and credit earned as part of a master's program.

Students can earn a Ph.D., doctor of computer science (DCS), doctor of education (Ed.D.) with an emphasis in computer science, or a DBA in computer science.

The Ph.D. focuses on computer theory. The DCS emphasizes technical design and implementation. The Ed.D. prepares computer science educators. The DBA focuses on the intersection of business and computer science.

Classes may include complex data management systems, research design in computer science education, machine learning, or advanced data structure and algorithms.

Doctoral graduates can apply for jobs as researchers, public policy analysts, postsecondary educators, or organizational leaders.

Degree Programs in Cybersecurity

Information security careers often appeal to creative problem solvers. A degree in cybersecurity can help launch a new profession.

These academic programs vary in philosophy and goals based on the university. Some institutions focus on technical knowledge and application. Others emphasize the principles and ethics of white-hat hacking or cybersecurity and public policy.

At the undergraduate level, students take general education and major courses. In a master's program, learners delve deeper into advanced studies. Graduate courses may include big data and security or scenario and path gaming.

Doctoral students conduct research to help solve problems in cybersecurity. Besides conducting an original research project, doctoral degree-seekers may take courses in how to empower smart cities or use big data analytics.

Most employers expect applicants to have bachelor's degrees along with appropriate industry certifications. Leadership positions and research roles, however, typically go to professionals with graduate degrees.

Associate Degrees in Cybersecurity

Cybersecurity professionals can access entry-level jobs with an associate degree. These two-year programs usually require 60 credits. A cybersecurity associate program may take one of these options:

Associate of Science (AS) Associate of Applied Science (AAS) Associate of Arts (AA) Associate of Applied Business (AAB)

The AS and AA prepare students to transfer to a bachelor's in cybersecurity. The AAS prepares students for entry-level technology roles, and the AAB blends business courses with cybersecurity technology.

In addition to general education and electives, an associate degree may include courses such as:

Database management systems Cybersecurity fundamentals Communication and network security

Graduates may pursue jobs as:

Applications security specialists Cybersecurity threat analysts Cybersecurity engineers

Most cybersecurity roles call for certification and/or a bachelor's degree.

Bachelor's Degrees in Cybersecurity

A bachelor's degree in cybersecurity requires about 120 credits or four years. The BS in cybersecurity can take one of several forms, including:

BS in computer science with a concentration in cybersecurity BS in cybersecurity BS in computer engineering BS in information technology BS in information security

Students learn the technical foundations of computer security and how to analyze risks and threats.

Major courses can include:

Web programming Computer security Computer forensics Database security

The program may conclude with a capstone and/or internship.

Most cybersecurity jobs require a bachelor's degree. Graduates can apply for positions as an:

Information security engineer Penetration tester Cybersecurity analyst Computer forensic analyst Firewall engineer

Students who aspire to leadership positions or who want to deepen their theoretical knowledge of cybersecurity could pursue a master's degree.

Master's Degrees in Cybersecurity

Requiring 30-36 credits, a two-year master's degree in cybersecurity can diversify career options. It may also increase salaries or create opportunities to influence public policy. Cybersecurity master's degrees can take several forms:

An MS in cybersecurity An MS in computer science with a concentration in cybersecurity An MS in computer engineering with a specialization in cybersecurity An MBA in information security

Courses in these programs may include:

Applied cryptography Security in network systems Managerial computer forensics

Some programs conclude with an internship, a master's thesis, or an applied research project.

Earning a master's in cybersecurity can position graduates for careers like:

Senior security analyst Core OS engineer Reverse malware analyst Cyber warfare officer Foreign service specialist

Cybersecurity professionals with a master's degree may choose to pursue a doctorate in cybersecurity. Graduates may teach, do research, or pursue leadership positions.

Doctoral Degrees in Cybersecurity

A 3-5-year doctorate prepares practitioners and theorists to perform active research. Doctoral degree students can choose a Ph.D. or a doctor of science (D.Sc.).

The Ph.D. focuses on:

Original research Academic theories

The D.Sc. may emphasize:

Application of theory Information security or data science leadership

Doctoral students may choose a concentration such as blockchain or digital forensics. Courses can include:

Inferential statistics Information governance Emerging threats and countermeasure

Both the D.Sc. and the Ph.D. require a culminating research project. Usually, the Ph.D. focuses on theoretical research, while the D.Sc. requires applied research.

Earning a doctorate may lead to a career as a policy researcher, college professor, or chief information security officer.

Should You Study Computer Science or Cybersecurity?

Cybersecurity and computer science overlap on the fundamentals but differ on application. Interested in building programs using code? Think computer science. Prefer to solve puzzles using cryptography? Consider cybersecurity.

Besides personal preference, degree level matters in this field. High-paying computer science jobs such as researchers, architects, or software developers may require graduate-level education. Even entry-level positions typically require a bachelor's degree in computer science.

Cybersecurity roles, however, may open up to applicants with an associate degree, certification, or other training. As an example, the U.S. Department of Defense issued Directive 8570 outlining its mandates for proficiency to ensure that its cyber task force stayed up to date. The directive listed several required cybersecurity certifications but no academic degrees.

Fortunately, first-year students do not always have to choose computer science or cybersecurity. Some degrees can prepare graduates for roles in either field. For instance, a bachelor's degree in computer science with a concentration in cybersecurity may set up students for success in one of several tech or security jobs.

Students who opt for a cybersecurity bootcamp instead of a degree in either computer science or cybersecurity should know that bootcamps usually do not hold accreditation. Hence, students may not be able to use bootcamps to position themselves for academic or research roles.

In comparison, universities should hold regional accreditation and perhaps program accreditation with ABET's Computing Accreditation Commission.

The table below offers a snapshot of some of the main differences between cybersecurity and computer science student interests.

Computer Science

  • Broad interest in computer-related activity
  • Fluent in programming languages
  • May progress to a chief technology officer post
  • Broader research opportunities for students who aspire to earn a doctorate
  • May require more courses in algebra, calculus, programming, and business
  • Can pursue a career in software engineering or computer programming

Cybersecurity

  • Focused interest in security and information defense
  • Knowledgeable about malware and security threats
  • May achieve a post as chief information security officer
  • Narrower opportunities for original research
  • May require more courses in statistics, cryptography, networking, and database administration
  • Can pursue a career in security analysis or vulnerability assessment

Learn More About Cybersecurity Degrees

FAQ About Working in Cybersecurity

Is computer science or cybersecurity a better career choice?

Both careers offer high-paying jobs in fast-growing industries. Computer science includes jobs such as software engineering, IT support, network research, and security. Cybersecurity, by contrast, focuses only on network and data protection.

Can you get a computer science degree and work in cybersecurity?

Yes, you can! A computer science degree with a concentration in cybersecurity can prepare graduates to become security professionals. Students may study how computers work alongside cybersecurity tools and techniques.

What major is best for a career in cybersecurity?

Computer science and cybersecurity majors can help jumpstart a security career. Computer science students focus on the theory of computers and computing. Cybersecurity focuses on the tools to protect data and networks.

Does the field of computer science or cybersecurity pay more?

Both cybersecurity and computer science pay far above the median annual salary. According to the BLS, information security specialists earn $103,590 and computer scientists earn $126,830 per year.

Reviewed by: Brian Nichols

Portrait of Brian Nichols

Brian Nichols

Born and raised in upstate New York, Brian Nichols began his IT education through a vocational high school where he focused on computer science, IT fundamentals, and networking. Brian then went to his local community college, where he received his associate of science in computer information science. He then received his bachelor of science in applied networking and system administration from a private college. Brian now lives in Kansas City, where he works full-time as a DevOps engineer. Brian is also a part-time instructor in cybersecurity. He's passionate about cybersecurity and helping students succeed.

Brian Nichols is a paid member of the Red Ventures Education freelance review network.

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