You are reading this article on some sort of device, whether a laptop or desktop computer, smartphone, or tablet. Your devices, like those of anyone else, are vulnerable to criminal hacking, even if you take security measures. A cyber security professional’s job is protecting the public from hackers and the damage they cause. Hackers not only steal information but can cause computer networks to crash and cause untold damage for businesses and government. These days, most companies, large and small, have experienced some sort of hacking or other cyber security threat.
Since cyber security threats are rising, the demand for those who can protect systems from these malefactors is high. Not only is this a strong and growing field, but it is one in which you can make a real difference and take personal satisfaction in knowing you are protecting valuable data and combating criminal activity. In addition, the job, though intellectually demanding, is always interesting. If doing good and never being bored are personal career goals, you might consider earning a degree in cyber security.
Why Start With an Associates?
If you want an associate degree that will get you a good job, there are few better choices than cyber security. After earning a cyber security associate degree, the student can find a job in his or her field while continuing to go to school and earn a bachelor’s degree. With an associate degree, it is possible to find an entry-level position as a network administrator, support specialist, security administrator and more. Employers prefer hiring those with hands-on experience.
An associate degree is also a good option for someone who has an information technology degree and would like to specialize in cyber security. Jobs are available in the private and public sector in this field. While virtually every industry requires cyber security expertise to protect itself, the financial and healthcare sectors are among those in which the need is strongest.
Types of Associate Degrees Available in Cyber Security
Students attending school full-time can complete an associate degree within two years. In most cases, an associate degree involves earning 60 credits, taking 20 courses at three credits per course. Along with courses specifically related to cyber security, the student will also take general courses required by the college.
After earning an associate degree, the student can then enter the workforce in their chosen field or go on to earn a bachelor’s degree. Although many jobs in cyber security require a bachelor’s degree, an associate degree can help in obtaining an entry-level position. In some cases, a company hiring a cyber security specialist with an associate degree may pay for completion of a bachelor’s degree or even a graduate degree.
AS in Cyber Security
An AS in cyber security prepares students to work with critical cyber security concepts, such as network monitoring for breaches, detection of intruders, searching for cyber criminals, system defense, security system installation, creating security policies, and networking technologies.
Typical courses include:
- Principles of Cyber Security
- Penetration Testing
- Internet and Intranet Security
- Network Defense
- Disaster Recovery
AS in Computer Forensics
Forensic science uses scientific methodology for crime solving, and computer forensics deals with determining who hacked into a system and how it was done. The findings must stand up in a court of law. In essence, computer forensics retraces the steps performed by the cybercriminal. Also known as cyber forensics, investigators use various techniques and specialized software to track down their quarry, documenting each step in a chain of evidence.
Typical courses may include:
- Data Recovery and Analysis
- Constitutional and Criminal Law
- Ethical and Legal Issues in Computer Forensics
- Fundamentals of Linux and Unix
- Network Security
AS in Network Security
As the name indicates, an AS in Network Security prepares students for work in network administration, with a concentration in security. Network security concerns the policies used to prevent unauthorized access or other misuse of a computer network. Although this degree is not identical to an AS in cyber security, there are many areas of overlap.
Typical courses include:
- Network Security Management
- Survey of Operating Systems
- Computer Systems Technology
- Systems Administration
- Installation, Service and Maintenance
Students seeking admission into a cyber security associate degree program must have a high school diploma or GED. Potential students should have a strong background in math and science, particularly statistics and calculus. Knowing how to code before entering college is highly recommended. Success in the cyber security realm requires possession of solid analytical skills and attention to detail. Because so much cyber security work involves problem solving, specifically that of keeping criminals from accessing networks, a person with the ability to think in an innovative and original manner should do well in this profession.
Traditional – Online – and Hybrid Programs
Cyber security students have a choice between attending a traditional brick-and-mortar school for classes, taking classes online, or a combination of the two. Many people must work or meet family responsibilities while going to school and, for these students, taking courses online offers the flexibility necessary to complete their education.
While online courses have grown tremendously in popularity, they also require a lot of self-control and motivation. Other students prefer a more structured, standard classroom approach. Hybrid programs attempt to offer the best of both worlds, with some courses taught online and others spent in a regular classroom setting. Some hybrids split online and classroom coursework 50/50, while others might devote more time to the classroom.
Associate Degree Curriculum and Courses
When working toward an associate degree in cyber security, you should expect to take various general computer courses alongside those focusing on cyber security, as well as general education classes. While courses may vary by school, the following should give you a good idea of what to expect:
Year 1 Sample Curriculum and Courses
- English Composition
- Introduction to Computer
- Security Concepts
- Hardware and Software Support
- Linux Operating Systems
- Unix Operating Systems
- General Psychology
Year 2 Sample Curriculum and Courses
- Incident Response
- Criminal Law
- Windows Operating Systems
- Routing and Switching
- Server Administration
- Network Security
- Wireless Networking
Some schools may offer an internship in the second year.
Financial Aid and Scholarships
The majority of students depend on some form of financial aid or scholarships to reach their educational goals. Make sure the college you plan to attend is accredited, as financial aid and scholarship money is not available to unaccredited schools.
- Federal Student Aid
Fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), available online, to apply for federal student aid. Federal financial aid can consist of grants, which do not require repayment; loans, which do require repayment; and work-study programs.
- Federal Pell Grant
This federal grant is available to students who meet its financial need requirements. The Federal Pell Grant does have a maximum output, so it’s important to take this into account. The amount awarded depends on the cost of attendance, the expected family contribution, whether attendance is full-time or part-time, and whether or not you will attend school for the entire academic year.
- State Financial Aid
Check with your state’s Department of Education for information on state financial aid for education. In most states, such aid is based on need. Deadlines for filing an application are generally earlier than for federal financial aid.
- School Financial Aid
Your school may offer its own financial aid packages. Check the school’s financial page on its website, or call or visit the financial aid office. It is also worth contacting the computer science department at your school to see if they offer scholarships or have a list of available scholarships for students.
Sponsored by the National Security Agency (NSA), this scholarship is available to high school seniors, especially minorities, interested in computer science careers, including pursuing degrees in cyber security. Those selected for the Stokes Program receive not only up to $30,000 for tuition and fees, but an annual salary. Students attend school full-time at the college they choose, then work for the NSA during the summer. Only U.S. citizens are eligible to apply.
This partnership offers scholarships for undergraduates and a scholarship specifically for female students. Scholarships vary between $1,000 to $6,000 and are open to students planning to pursue an undergraduate degree in cyber security.
Sponsored by technology giant Cisco, this scholarship gives up to $10,000 to students pursuing a computer science-related career. Students may apply for the scholarship in their senior year of high school. Employees of Cisco and their children are ineligible for this award.
Open to Virginia residents, this grant does not pay for education per se, but those graduating from a Virginia school with a cyber security degree may receive up to $20,000 in state and employer match benefits upon graduation and taking a job in the state’s public sector. The award is renewable up to three years.
Career and Salaries for Associate Grads
While top salaries are commanded by those with bachelor’s degrees, there are still plenty of jobs available in the cyber security industry for people with an associate degree. As per Payscale, the average salary of someone with an associate degree in cyber security is $51,000, and starting salaries range between $26,000 and $38,000.
Salaries with this degree for specific positions include:
- Support Technician: $37,000
- Computer Help Desk Analyst: $39,000
- Help Desk Administrator: $39,000
- Information Technology Consultant: $43,000
- Systems Administrator: $53,000
- Information Security Analyst: $55,000
- Security Analyst: $55,000
- Cyber Security Analyst: $65,000
- Information Technology Manager: $66,000
- Network Security Analyst: $54,000
- Information Security Officer: $80,000
These salaries represent the highest levels for those with an associate degree.
Overall, information technology jobs are expected to grow by 12% in the decade between 2018 and 2028, faster than the average rate for all occupations according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. However, the demand for information technology security analysts is even higher, with growth expected at 32% over the next decade – much higher than average. There are currently about 112,300 individuals working in security analysis, and an estimated 35,500 more jobs will require filling by 2028. Since there is no shortage of hackers trying to steal information, and these hackers are becoming increasingly sophisticated, the need for effective cyber security analysts will only continue to grow.
In 2018, the median pay for an IT security analyst was $98,350, but these positions often require a bachelor’s degree. An associate’s degree in cyber security is a good way to get started in this critical field.