How to Pay for a Degree in Cybersecurity

How to Pay for a Degree in Cybersecurity

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Cybersecurity professionals are in high demand, and often well-compensated. But paying for a cybersecurity education can be daunting.

The average tuition at public four-year institutions is about $9,400. Meanwhile, the cost of a one-hour full-time credit in cybersecurity can start from $350, depending on the school.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), up to 87% of first-time students use financial aid.

Read on to discover how to pay for a cybersecurity degree.

What Does a Cybersecurity Program Cost?

NCES data states that between 2019 and 2020, the average tuition for a public, four-year institution was $9,400, compared to $36,700 for a private, nonprofit four-year institution.

Private institutions are often costly because they rely on tuition for funding. Profit-driven private institutions may raise their costs even more.

Education quality also factors into tuition costs. Private institution classes are often smaller than their public counterparts, allowing instructors to give more time and attention to students.

Paying for a degree in cybersecurity involves more than tuition. Other costs include:

  • Room and board
  • Off-campus housing
  • Transportation
  • Books, computer(s), and other school supplies
  • Cost-of-living index for the school's surrounding area

Studying at a college is only one way to get a cybersecurity education. Cybersecurity bootcamps provide a way to transition into the security field.

Bootcamps offer students a shorter time commitment and a way to learn cybersecurity skills without relocating. Note that bootcamp curriculums tend to be more rigorous than college courses.

Methods of Paying for a Cybersecurity Degree

Fortunately, there are many ways of paying for a cybersecurity degree.

Scholarships

Scholarships are great for covering costs, because students need not pay back funds. With fewer financial concerns, students with scholarships can focus more on their studies.

In the 2023 fiscal year budget, the U.S. Department of Education (ED) earmarked $23.5 million for merit- and need-based scholarships and fellowships. Some of those scholarships can go towards paying for a cybersecurity degree.

Merit-based Scholarships

These scholarships, often awarded by schools, reward students for their skill and hard work. Programs award merit-based scholarships based on test scores, extracurricular involvement, and academic performance. Examples include:

  • Academic scholarships
  • Athletic scholarships
  • Other special talent scholarships award performing arts, robot building, etc.

To qualify for and keep merit scholarships, students must maintain a certain GPA throughout college. Scholarships like the National Merit Scholarship Program require high school students to take the Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test.

Non-Merit-based Scholarships

Other types of scholarships students can seek:

The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) partners with the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) to provide scholarships through the CyberCorps.

Other examples of cybersecurity scholarships in 2022 include Microsoft Cybersecurity Scholarship Program, and “Tuition Solution” Scholarship for STEM Students.

Private Scholarships

This category of scholarships is awarded by agencies, organizations, clubs, and various businesses. There are five types of private scholarships, namely:

  • Local scholarships
  • Regional scholarships
  • National scholarships
  • Military scholarships
  • Workplace scholarships

Start early. Some scholarships are due up to a year before classes begin. Learners can start applying before deciding on a school, since many scholarships are not tied to certain institutions.

But some institutions can and do recommend scholarships. After deciding on a school, prospective students can check that institution's website for a scholarship list.

Grants

As implied, a grant is a form of financial aid that is granted to a student. Organizations often provide grants based on demonstrated financial need.

Like scholarships, grants do not require repayment. Unlike scholarships, grants are primarily need-based.

Since grants are “free money,” students should prioritize applying for them. Several grants can help learners afford college:

Applicants should start by submitting a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form. Students should visit the individual grant pages for eligibility and application requirements.

Pell Grants have an income limit. In addition to displaying need, an applicant cannot have a bachelor's, graduate, or professional degree. The United States allows citizens and eligible non-citizens to obtain student grants.

States also offer need-based college grants, often in amounts determined by FAFSA. Check out the Department of Education in your state for the most specific information.

Some cybersecurity-related grants include:

Student Loans

Student loans help cover the cost of postsecondary education. This includes tuition and fees like room and board, books and supplies, and general living expenses.

Federal Student Loans

The government lends the money, and schools disburse federal student loans. The schools calculate the award amount by subtracting the estimated family contribution and other financial aid from the cost of college attendance.

Government loans are divided into two categories: subsidized and unsubsidized. Direct Subsidized Loans have better payment terms, like income-based payments, in which the government heavily subsidizes interest payments. With Direct Unsubsidized Loans, the student receives no subsidy for interest payments.

Subsidized loans cater to undergraduate students with financial need. The federal ED pays interest on the student's behalf. These loans have lower limits compared to unsubsidized loans because the federal ED pays interest on the student's behalf.

Unsubsidized loans are more costly because they are not based on financial need. Unlike subsidized loans, both graduate and undergraduate students can apply. Graduate loans may have higher rates.

The United States Congress sets students’ interest rates in spring. The interest rate is fixed based on the year of disbursement.

Federal student repayment plans fall into two categories: traditional plans and income-driven plans.

Traditional Repayment Plans

  • Standard repayment plan
  • Graduated repayment plan
  • Extended repayment plan

Income-driven Repayment Plans

  • Pay As You Earn (PAYE)
  • Revised Pay As You Earn (REPAYE)
  • Income-based repayment (IBR)
  • Income-sensitive repayment (ISR)
  • Income-contingent repayment (ICR)

FAFSA provides students with an all-in-one application for federal loans, grants, and work-study aids. Students can check out the various standard repayment plans and income-driven repayment plans.

In addition to government funding, students can also explore private loan options.

Private Loans

Banks, online lenders, credit unions, and state-based organizations fund private loans. Private loans tend to carry higher interest rates, and are thus more expensive. Schools legally cannot suggest private lenders, but may list recently used lenders on their sites.

Instead of the government, lenders set the terms and conditions of private loans. Since they are not subsidized, the student is responsible for all the loan interest.

Private loans are often used as a last resort. However, they provide some advantages that federal student loans do not.

Private Loans Can Be Cheaper than Federal Student Loans

The government sets the interest rate on federal loans, so every borrower is treated equally. One of the benefits of private loans is that students can leverage good credit history.

Private Loans Provide Higher Borrowing Limits

Since the government regulates federal student loans, students cannot borrow an unlimited amount. The maximum amount undergraduate students can receive for federal direct subsidized and unsubsidized loans falls between $5,500 - $12,500 per year, based on the student’s school year and dependency status.

Lifetime maximums for federal student loans come in at $31,000 for dependent undergraduate students and $57,500 for independent undergraduate students.

Students seeking private loans must meet certain criteria:

  • Current enrollment in an eligible, (often accredited) school.
  • Meet any specified credit and income criteria.
  • A confirmation of the cost of attendance along with cogent plans to use funds for educational purposes.
  • Satisfy age, education, and citizenship requirements.

Here are the private student loan repayment options currently available, however, they are not offered by all lenders:

  • Immediate repayment: This requires students to make full monthly payments while in school.
  • Deferred repayment: Students do not make any payment while in school, including during separation or grace periods.
  • Interest-only repayment: The student pays only the interest on the loan while enrolled in school.
  • Partial interest repayment: The student makes only fixed monthly payments covering only part of the interest.

Federal Student Loans vs. Private Loans

The table below provides readers an overview of the differences between private loans and federal student loans.

Stafford Loans Grad PLUS Loans Private Loans

Amount You Can Borrow

$20,500 annually (max)

The cost of attendance (determined by the school) minus any other financial assistance you receive

The limit only depends on the amount you can borrow.

Eligibility Requirements

  • Subsidized loans are available to undergraduate students in financial need.
  • Must be enrolled in a United States post-secondary institution
  • Must be a United States citizen or legal resident

In addition to meeting the general eligibility requirements for federal student aid, to receive a Grad Plus loan, a student must:

  • Be enrolled as a graduate or professional student
  • Have a good and not adverse credit history
  • Enrollment in an accredited institution
  • Often require an established credit record or a cosigner

Interest Rate

Variable, does not exceed 8.25%

7.54% (varies year to year)

Depends on the conditions of the loan

Repayment Terms

Repayments start six months after graduation, leaving school, or dropping below half-time enrollment.

Repayments start six months after graduation, leaving school, or dropping below half-time enrollment.

  • Immediate repayment
  • Deferred repayment
  • Interest-only repayment
  • Partial interest repayment

Income-Based Repayment Available?

Yes, for subsidized loans.

Yes, income-driven repayment plans are available.

No

Loan Forgiveness Available?

Yes, federal student loans are eligible for forgiveness.

Yes, under certain conditions, a student may be eligible for all or part of their loan to be canceled or forgiven.

No

Sources: ED, Benefits.gov

More Ways to Pay for a Cybersecurity Degree


Work-Study Programs

Work study lets students earn money through part-time jobs to pay for educational expenses. Either federal or institutional, these employment programs provide work related to the student’s field of study, or some form of community service.

Work-study programs are available for full-time and part-time students. Learners can often find work-study positions through college employment offices, job banks, or postings by participating institutions.

To qualify for federal work-study programs, students must apply through FAFSA and demonstrate financial need each academic year. Some institutional work-study programs include graduate and research assistantships offered by individual academic departments.

Although not college-based, the SANS Work Study program provides learners an avenue to pay for SANS training at a reduced tuition rate, in return for assistance teaching. The United States Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) also provides paid internships.

College Tuition Payment Plans

Most colleges offer students flexible and creative plans to meet college tuition demands These plans allow students and their families to pay tuition bills over time.

These flexible plans include deferred payment plans or tuition payment plans — installment plans that often involve equal monthly payments. May involve a startup fee.

These plans are helpful alternatives to federal loans because they lack interest charges. Borrowers pay installments over a less lengthy repayment period.

Employer Tuition Assistance Programs

Employer Tuition Assistance Programs, also called Employer Tuition Reimbursement, is where an employer agrees to cover part or all of an employee's education. This includes GED certificates, undergraduate courses, and graduate-level education, as long as the study and costs are within the guidelines of the company’s policies.

Depending on the company, tuition assistance might be tax-deductible for the employee. Companies like Target, Walmart, Starbucks, Chipotle, Amazon, FedEx, HomeDepot, and UPS use these tuition assistance programs to attract workers.

GI Bill®

The GI Bill provides military veterans benefits that include tuition payments for them and their dependents. The bill also includes a stipend for textbooks and supplies for up to 36 months.

The GI Bill covers all tuition and fees for in-state colleges and other institutions of learning, including some of the top cybersecurity bootcamps. The housing stipend depends on the percentage level of benefits the recipient is eligible for and how many courses they are taking.

However, the Post-9/11 GI Bill and Montgomery GI Bill have different eligibility requirements. Qualification for the Montgomery GI Bill Active Duty (MGIB-AD) requires active members to serve at least two years, have a high school diploma or GED certificate, and not be dishonorably discharged.

Meanwhile, the Montgomery GI Bill Selected Reserve (MGIB-SR) is for reservists who have either a 6-year service obligation in the Selected Service, or are an officer in the Selected Reserve who agreed to serve 6 years beyond their initial service obligation.

To learn more about careers available for military veterans, click here.

Family Support

Family support, whether moral or financial, goes a long way in ensuring students make it through the challenges and sacrifices of higher education. Parents who are financially capable often help pay for their dependents' cost of education.

While up to 70% of parents are saving to cover college expenses, they are not obligated to (except, for instance, if a divorce or custody agreement requires).

Some parents might feel that their children or wards will appreciate their education better and take their studies seriously if the child takes responsibility for paying for college.

Private loans often require a parent to cosign, and Parent PLUS (similar to Grad PLUS) loans are in the parent's name. Parents involved in paying student loans off should consider how the burden of educational expenses will impact saving for their retirement.

Savings Accounts

There are several savings options that help pay for college. Most people prefer a 529 savings account, often categorized as either prepaid tuition or college savings plans.

They have a mix of benefits for qualified education expenses, and they offer several investment options. However, 529 savings accounts can fluctuate in value, depending on the stock market.

Education Savings Accounts

Education Savings Accounts (ESA), or Coverdell ESAs, offer people, but mainly families, the ability to pay for cybersecurity education and expenses. An ESA provides investment options that come with tax-free savings.

Since guardians establish ESAs on behalf of minors, the beneficiary must be under 18 when the account opens. Only couples with an adjusted gross income below $220,000 are eligible to open an ESA. Donations are limited to $2,000 a year and end after the beneficiary's 18th birthday.

U.S. Savings Bonds

U.S. Savings Bonds are issued by the United States Treasury Department. In essence, they can also be used as college-saving bonds to pay for education.

U.S. Savings Bonds principle always remains intact and cannot be lost. However, bonds have a lower rate of return compared to other college saving options.

High-yield savings accounts

As its name suggests, high-yield savings accounts provide higher interest rates than traditional savings accounts.

High-yield savings accounts act as emergency funds with little additional risk. This type of account is best for families with a small window to pay for college.

Additional Resources

FAQ About Paying for an Education in Cybersecurity


Which financial aid options are best for cybersecurity programs?

Cybersecurity scholarships and grants are the best financial aid options. Examples include NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program, Cyber Security Public Service Grant, National Defense Science And Engineering Graduate Fellowship, and National Science Foundation Scholarship for Service (SFS).

How do you pay for a cybersecurity degree without money?

Pay for your cybersecurity degree by filling out FAFSA, loans, private scholarships, work-study programs, employee tuition assistance programs, the GI Bill, and many types of savings accounts.

Are scholarships available to cybersecurity students?

Yes, scholarships available to cybersecurity students include Microsoft Cybersecurity Scholarship Program, “Tuition Solution” Scholarship for STEM Students, and scholarships for cybersecurity-related degree programs through the CyberCorps.

Is paying for a cybersecurity education worth it?

Yes, paying for a cybersecurity education is worth it. Cybersecurity is currently one of the most in-demand and well-compensated degrees, with security architects earning an average of $129,546 per year.

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/.

Reviewed by: Andy Buchanan

Andy Buchanan has over 10 years of experience working with financial aid and student accounts in higher education. He has worked in the financial aid offices at Columbia University and New York University, as well as the student billing offices at New York University and Seattle Pacific University, where he was most recently the associate director of student accounts. He has a bachelor's degree from Hamline University in St. Paul, Minnesota, and is currently pursuing his master of business administration from Seattle Pacific University.
Andy Buchanan is a paid member of the Red Ventures Education Integrity Network. 
Page last reviewed Aug 10, 2022


Featured Image: gorodenkoff / iStock / Getty Images Plus

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