Cyber security degrees are becoming more and more popular, so much so that programs are being instituted in colleges, universities, technical schools, community colleges, and polytechnic colleges all over the country. Find some of the top colleges and technical schools offering programs for cyber security.
Find a College that Has the Education Options You Want
If you are at the beginning of your university or college studies, then you have more flexibility. You may choose to enroll in an on-campus program. Or, if you want to start working sooner, you may opt for a two-year degree or even a certificate program. A cyber security degree can be earned at just about any level, from the more-basic two-year program up to a doctoral program. If you have been working for a few years, then an online program may suit your needs perfectly. With this option, you can study whenever it’s convenient for your schedule.
Overview of Schools and IT vs Cyber Security
Information technology and cyber security do share some characteristics. However, the aim of each type of degree program is different. In IT, you create information systems to help an organization store and send data. With cyber security, you create software and tools that help you to protect the data stored on your organization’s servers, computers, or in the cloud.
An IT specialist is responsible for ensuring that data can be efficiently stored, shared, or made accessible to another party or company. This specialist also possesses analytical and critical thinking skills to determine a solution should a systems disruption stop the flow. A cyber security professional keeps company information and data secure from hacking or theft.
Is it Worth Getting a Degree in this Field?
Is earning a cyber security degree worth the effort? Definitely. Looking at it from a numbers perspective, consider that, in 2021, there will be 3.5 million unfilled cyber security positions. Another 380,000 reasons why this is a highly attractive field to enter: at the high end of the salary scale, a Chief Information Security Officer may potentially earn $380,000—this is more than a quarter of a million dollars!
By 2021, hackers will try to steal information 6 trillion times. Yes, that is a “t.” Hackers are trying to access government agencies, such as the FBI. They are also trying to access customer information from well-known companies like Target and Equifax.
Earning an advanced (master’s or doctoral) degree in cyber security widens your employment options. A good cyber security master’s program shows you how an organization is managed, and you’ll learn how executives make their decisions.
A few reasons to commit to a master’s degree in cyber security:
- You’ll have job security.
- Your salary will be about 9% higher than basic IT professionals.
- The cyber security field is growing much faster than other job sectors.
- Your career will more than pay for the costs of your education.
- In a cyber security master’s program, you’ll learn about management and leadership.
- Cyber security degree programs across the country strive for flexibility.
- You can benefit from financial incentives, even as a student.
Outlook for Cyber Security Jobs
Cyber security professionals in all job roles will easily be able to find employment. Between 2016 and 2026, the Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that the employment of cyber security personnel will grow 28%. This is much faster than the average for any other job occupation.
Strong demand for cyber security experts is driving these employment numbers. With cyber attacks coming from every area of the world, security specialists are required in greater number, as they can develop imaginative solutions that stop hackers from gaining access to sensitive information.
Private organizations still need to beef up their information system security. With recent attacks against Equifax, Target, and other private companies only increasing, it’s clear that they haven’t strengthened their security systems sufficiently. Healthcare practices are doing the same.
Online vs. On-Campus Degrees
A cyber security professional working in a full-time position and helping to provide for their family may hesitate to return to school, whether part-time or full-time. Doing so forces them to devote less time to work and family—and they may not want to do that. This makes it difficult to commit to an on-campus degree program.
Online programs fill the educational need for an adult learner who wants to earn a new degree and make themselves more valuable to their employer, without losing their job or slacking in their other responsibilities. Online degrees are offered by many educational institutions with accreditation backing up their programs. You can earn a degree from a solid program with a good reputation.
Your cyber-security degree program should be accredited. An excellent source of accreditation is the National Center of Academic Excellence. While this isn’t a traditional accreditation program, it is sponsored by the National Security Agency (NSA).
This program sponsors two Centers of Academic Excellence: one is in cyber operations, and the second is in cyber defense. Look for a CAE-CDE for cyber security programs that offer associate, bachelor’s, master’s, or doctoral degrees. Next, look for a CAE-R for research.
The NSA also sponsors a CAE-CO (cyber operations) program that is structured to be inter-disciplinary and highly technical. This is a higher-education program with roots in computer science, computer engineering and, when it applies, electrical engineering. Students have abundant opportunities for hands-on learning through labs and exercises. This CAE-CO program is a complement to an existing CAE-CD (cyber defense) degree program. This offers a stronger emphasis on techniques and technologies focused on specialized cyber operations, such as collection, response, and exploitation.
Schools that receive this accreditation designation are required to meet strict criteria. They may choose to specialize in one or more focus areas. This program enhances the national security readiness of the U.S.
National and Regional Accreditation
There are some differences between national and regional accreditation.
National: National accrediting agencies focus on single-purpose, vocational, or narrow-scope programs. Larger public institutions typically don’t request a national accreditation.
Regional: Public and private universities both seek out regional accreditations. These cover a wide range of degree programs. To be accredited, a university or college is required to pass a peer review given by administrators and faculty from institutions that are similar to the university seeking accreditation. Regional agencies accredit most of the schools in a geographical region. For instance, a school in New England would be accredited by the New England Commission of Higher Education.
Industry-specific accreditations are granted for degree programs, such as a Master of Science in Nursing, or a Master of Business Administration, and they are respectively accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) and the Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs (ACBSP).
Universities that offer cyber security degree programs may be designated as National Centers of Academic Excellence (NAE) in Information Assurance and Cyber Defense Education (IACDE), by the NSA and DHS. They may also be designated as a National Center of Digital Forensics Academic Excellence (NCDAE) by the Defense Cyber Crime Center Academic Cyber Curriculum Alliance.
Degree Levels Available
Cyber security certificates, such as Certified Cloud Security Professional (CCSP), Comp TIA’s Security+, and the Certified Encryption Specialist (EC-Council ECES) are just a few you can obtain at school. Senior-level jobs come with their own certifications; EC-Council Computer Hacking Forensic Investigator (CHFI) and the EC-Council Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH) are two.
Students who earn associate degrees in cyber security can begin working in a security position, but they will be able to do more with a bachelor’s degree. A bachelor’s degree is the entry-level degree that about 71% of cyber security professionals hold. With this degree, you’ll be able to begin an entry-level position with a private organization or with the government.
Increasingly, a master’s degree is becoming the standard for employers as they look for new cyber security personnel. If you want to gain entry into this profession, as well as to advance, a master’s may be a necessity in the long run.
How Long Does it Take to Earn a Degree?
If you begin at the associate degree level, your program should take about five semesters. A typical cyber security degree may require that you earn about 60 credits, which consists of your general education classes (about 36 credits), classes in your major (about 24 credits), and any additional general education credits.
At the bachelor’s level, you may be able to graduate in about four years. Most cyber security degree programs are based on the semester. Others are based on the quarter term, which runs roughly 10 weeks. One class is equal to between four and six credits, which makes it easier to progress through your degree program more quickly.
A master’s degree, whether on-campus or online, is usually about 36 credits. Because you already earned your general education credits as an undergraduate student, you’ll only have to take classes in your major in a master’s program. You should expect to complete your degree in about two years.
In another program, as long as you consistently enroll in 9 quarter hours of graduate credits per quarter, you are considered to hold full-time status. In this same program, if you are a doctoral, cyber security student, your full-time status will be determined, not by the credits you take, but by the structure of your program. A typical doctor of science degree program in cyber security may take about three years, and you’ll complete between 54 and 66 credits in your program.
Certifications will be helpful, and some may be required for you as a cyber security professional. Certifications have a lifespan of roughly two to three years.
- Cyber Security Technology Certificate: This enables you to enter an entry-level position in an IT field, with a position as a security analyst or security administrator.
- Cyber Security Certificate: You’ll develop an understanding of data network devices and communications architecture, technology, and management.
- Cyber Security and Digital Forensics Certificate: Increase your technical knowledge by learning the theory and practice of computer systems and cyber security forensics.
- Applied Cyber Security Certificate: Build skills in security operations, network security, risk assessment, and governmental and regulatory compliance.
- Certified Ethical Hacker: One who holds the title of certified ethical hacker has demonstrated extensive training and knowledge of various techniques used in hacking computer systems and has proven their capabilities.
Choosing Your School
As you are narrowing down your school choices, don’t forget to consider whether your current life would better accommodate an on-campus program or an online one. You know the reasons you’re interested in a cyber security program. So, you should choose a program that will best allow you to finish.
If you are working even part-time, this may affect your ability to attend your classes and take part in vital class discussions. Even your ability to get your homework done can be affected by your work hours. The same thing applies if you have a family of your own. Your spouse and children, if you have them, need your time and attention. An online program can more easily facilitate your need for work, family, and study time.
Don’t forget about accreditation. Your current or future employer will check to see that your degree program was accredited. If it wasn’t, you might not get a job offer. If you do get an offer, your salary may not be as high as it would otherwise be.
Read student reviews of each school’s cyber security degree program. Too many negative reviews should be a red flag for you. Check to be sure that schools you’re at have the specific program in which you’re interested. Don’t stop searching until you find a few degree programs. Talk to the dean of the cyber security, engineering, or IT department. Ask about how faculty members connect and interact with students.
Technical Institute or College Institute of Technology
Technical schools, also called institutes of technology or polytechnic schools, are more career-focused, often encompassing both undergraduate and graduate universities. They offer liberal arts educations, along with applied learning. The applied learning relies on tools to shape, create, and evaluate human comprehension.
These schools also stress “real world,” “hands-on” learning experiences. Using each tool, you develop critical thinking, leadership, communication, and complex problem-solving skills. When you enter a polytechnic school, you’ll be exposed to many academic disciplines. Polytechnic schools focus on technology, math, and engineering. Some schools focus more on technology, while others work more with math or engineering—elements of each discipline will be included in every school’s degree programs.
At one polytechnic university, the message given to students and faculty is that we are now in the digital age—we are no longer in the industrial age. As such, schools have had to refit their degree offerings.
Community College Options
The general perception of community colleges is that they are vocational schools. While some programs offered by community colleges do fall into vocational education, this catch-all term no longer fits today’s community colleges.
In the advent of community colleges, their first goal was to train women to become teachers. Today’s community colleges are truly “community” colleges. They educate students from the local area; they also strive to educate students with specific educational plans or needs. The students may be older, going to school part-time, and working. They strive to be accessible to the needs of every student. In addition, they are more affordable than a four-year university. Students in a community college degree program should be able to transfer easily to a four-year program.
The community college offers an accredited workforce education designed to quickly get students into their first (or subsequent) jobs.
Four-Year College or University
Four-year colleges or universities offer bachelor’s degrees, master’s degrees, and doctoral degrees. They are more expensive than two-year colleges; however, students who opt for a university are more likely to benefit in a career that will take them farther than just an associate degree.
Bachelor’s degrees are the first in a series of progressive degree offerings. Students pursuing a bachelor’s degree will be in school for four to five years, depending on how many credits they take per semester. Degrees are divided into “bachelor of arts” (BA) or “bachelor of science” (BS). Students can take hard science degree programs such as math, computer science, engineering, or cyber security. They can also choose liberal arts majors such as history, journalism, or psychology.
Students who want to earn a degree beyond their bachelor’s can earn their master’s degrees. Generally speaking, degree offerings are more detailed and are more in-depth than bachelor’s degree programs.
Private or Public
As you decide on a college or university, you have one more choice to make: public or private?
Private schools are generally smaller than public schools. You may be one of only 5,000 students in this setting. Private schools are funded heavily by donations and private contributions. If you need financial aid, as long as the private school is accredited, you can apply for federal aid. Some, though not all, private schools have a religious affiliation. School leadership, faculty, and staff hold to the religious beliefs espoused by the college, and students are usually expected to do so as well.
Public universities are much larger, sometimes with student enrollments reaching 55,000. Class sizes are also larger. Public schools are funded by state governments and can set lower tuition rates. Public schools stay away from religious affiliation because of government funding.
Top Online Cyber Security Schools and Options
Online education is completed away from a college campus. The education offered in an online cyber security degree program is usually the same as that offered by an on-campus degree program. The difference being that you will be able to sit down to read and study at times that are convenient for your work and personal schedule instead of having to put work down to attend a class or two in the middle of the day. You’ll be able to study after work or after the children have gone to bed. You will still have to meet deadlines the professors give you.
Online learning isn’t always completely solo. Some professors set up online forums, giving students an opportunity to interact with other students. These forums are also times where class assignments and topics can be discussed, and even though you are taking your classes in an online degree program, you still receive full support services, just as on-campus students do.
Overview of Schools Offering Cyber Security Learning
Cyber Security Certificates
- Online Undergraduate Certificate in Cyber Security: Harvard Extension School, Cambridge, Massachusetts - Differentiate between several security models; protect data and information from cyber threats; understand ethical and legal issues in information security; evaluate network vulnerabilities.
- Cyber Security Certificate: Colorado State University, Greenwood Village, Colorado - Develop an understanding of data network devices and communications architecture, technology, and management; obtain insight into protocols and strategies needed to secure and monitor computer networks.
Cyber Security Associate Degrees
You don’t have to have a bachelor’s degree or a master’s degree to work in cyber security. If you have some training, you can work in this field, even with only a high school diploma or associate degree.
- Associate Degree in Cyber Security and Forensics: Southern State Community College, Hillsboro, Ohio - You’ll learn about computer-based terrorism, cybercrime, and hacking. You’ll also learn how to discover evidence of cybercrime and computer tampering. Your core courses prepare you well.
- Associate of Applied Science Cyber Security: St. Paul College, St. Paul, Minnesota - Learn how to ensure that electronic information is safe for private companies and government agencies. You’ll work on computer architecture, information assurance, systems analysis, networking, and security system design
Cyber Security Bachelor’s Degrees
In a cyber security bachelor’s program, you learn about protecting data from cyber thieves and hackers. You’ll be the first line of defense against these attacks. You’ll also be able to choose from at least one concentration.
- Bachelor of Science, Cyber Security: American Military University, Charles Town, West Virginia - Learn both theory and know-how in your classes. You’ll learn about assessing, planning, designing, and implementing an effective cyber security defense for both public and private computer systems.
- Bachelor of Science in Cyber Security: Grand Canyon University, Phoenix, Arizona - Learn about stopping data breaches and protecting against different cybercrimes; learn how to deal with vulnerabilities; practice simulated situations; learn how to adapt to changing technology.
Cyber Security Master’s Degrees
The master’s degree program provides you with advanced skills you’ll need as you work to protect and defend computer systems from malicious attacks.
- Master of Science in Cyber Security Operations and Leadership: University of San Diego, San Diego, California - This program is good for students with bachelor’s degrees who are already working in one of several cyber security roles.
- Master’s Degree in Cyber Security: University of South Florida, Tampa, Florida - Learn from interdisciplinary core courses, then choose one of four concentrations in computer security fundamentals, cyber intelligence, information assurance, or digital forensics.
Cyber Security Doctorate Degrees
A doctorate in cyber security is created for the most highly qualified cyber security professionals looking to lead a field that is becoming more and more complex.
- Doctor of Philosophy in Technology and Innovation Management: Northcentral University, no location; online only - This program equips you to assume a leadership role as you and your fellow cyber security professionals work to stop hackers.
- Ph.D. in Cyber Security Management: Nova Southern University, Fort Lauderdale, Florida - You’ll work within a format of online and traditional, on-campus instruction. This multidisciplinary program blends research with theory.