A cyber security degree places you on the path toward a career in a growing field. Cyber security professionals are in high demand as private companies, government agencies, financial businesses, and a wide range of other institutions work to stay ahead of would–be hackers, cyberterrorists, and other cybercriminals. With a degree in cyber security, you’ll be qualified to help organizations identify vulnerabilities, make security improvements, and ensure legal compliance. Your level of degree and the certifications you pursue could have a direct impact on your opportunities for professional advancement and greater earning potential.
A cyber security degree teaches the knowledge and skills required to work as a cyber security professional. Many cyber security programs overlap with computer science and engineering programs. Other cyber security degrees may include specializations like cybercrime, fraud investigation, organizational risk, and digital forensics. Most programs also include courses in coding, where you’ll learn how to apply your coding skills to prevent, solve, and prosecute digital crimes.
What Kind of Accreditation Should My Degree Program Have?
Accreditation is the process by which colleges and universities are evaluated and validated. Colleges and universities that have earned accreditation have met the standards set by accrediting organizations. These organizations are comprised of faculty from various accredited colleges and universities. Legitimate regional and national accrediting organizations are recognized by the U.S. Department of Education (ED). Typically, the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) recognizes the same institutions, although CHEA recognition isn’t mandatory. A college or university must be accredited by a Department of Education-recognized accreditor in order for its students to receive federal financial aid.
For a detailed look at the differences between regional and national accreditation, check out What Do I Need to Know About College Accreditation?
- What is Regional Accreditation?
- Regional accreditation is the signifier of quality education; this includes the currency of curriculum, credentials of educators, and credibility of degrees. Regional accrediting agencies only accredit institutions in their geographical area.
- The Six Regional Accrediting Agencies
- Middle States Commission of Higher Education (MSCHE)
- New England Commission on Higher Education (NECHE)
- The Higher Learning Commission (HLC)
- Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (NWCCU)
- Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC)
- WASC Senior College and University Commission (WSCUC)
To find out if a college or university on your list is regionally accredited, check the Department of Education’s Database of Postsecondary Institutions and Programs.
- What Is National Accreditation?
- National accreditation is often perceived as a less rigorous standard than regional accreditation and is governed by educational accreditors agencies that are not restricted by region or geography. This means that one such agency can provide accreditation to any college or university in the U.S. that meets its criteria. National accreditation is commonplace among trade schools, religious schools, and for–profit colleges.
Most regionally–accredited colleges do not accept or recognize credits or degrees earned from colleges that lack regional accreditation. However, national accreditation may be a useful indicator of quality for students pursuing vocational training, competency-based education, or other education models that operate under a for-profit model.
To learn more about National Accreditation, check out Understanding National Accreditation.
For help safely navigating the For–Profit Sector, check out our Guide to For–Profit Colleges: What You Need to Know.
- What is Programmatic Accreditation?
- Programmatic accreditation certifies that an institution’s program, department, or college has met the standards of the programmatic accrediting agency. While programmatic accreditation agencies often have national jurisdiction, programmatic accreditation is not institutional national accreditation. In fact, programmatic accreditation often coexists with regional accreditation. In some disciplines, a degree with programmatic accreditation may even be required to earn a license or enter professional practice. When it comes to cyber security, there are several programmatic accrediting organizations of note:
- The National Centers of Academic Excellence (CAE) was created jointly by the National Security Agency (NSA) and Department of Homeland Security (DHS). The CAE offers two designations: cyber defense and cyber operations.
- The Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET) also offers programmatic accreditation for cyber security degree programs.
The easiest way to determine accreditation status is to contact your school of choice, or visit the website for any of the above accreditation agencies. Each provides a searchable database of accredited institutions and degree programs. You can also look at the Department of Education’s database of all recognized accreditors within its purview.
To learn a little more about navigating the tricky accreditation landscape, check out Accreditation of Colleges and Universities: Who’s Accrediting the Accreditors?
What Kinds of Cyber Security Degrees Are There?
Associate Degree in Cyber Security
An associate degree in cyber security will prepare you for an entry–level career in the field. An associate degree can also be a great place to start if you’re planning to advance into a four–year degree program, saving you time and money on core and introductory courses. Most associate programs require 60 credit hours and take around two years to complete. Cyber security is an umbrella term for a variety of related degrees and positions, including network security, information security, and information assurance. When considering an associate degree program, be sure to look at the school’s website to determine the specific requirements and focus of a given program.
What Courses Will I Take?
- Computer Forensics
- Cyber Information Security
- Data Security Awareness
- Ethical Hacking
- Introduction to Computer Science
What’s the Difference Between an Associate of Arts and an Associate of Science in Cyber Security?
Most cyber security programs will be associate of science (AS) degrees, and will have a core focus on math and science, in addition to the computer and network security courses you’ll take. An associate of arts (AA) degree program includes courses in the degree subject area, as well as core curriculum in the arts and humanities.
Bachelor’s in Cyber Security
A bachelor’s in cyber security is the degree that most professionals earn before entering the field. Like associate degrees in cyber security, these programs may have varying names and slight differences in focus, including security and risk analysis, cybercrime, information technology, and network security. Bachelor’s degree programs usually require between 90–120 credit hours and typically require a minimum of four years to complete. If you’re looking for a flexible way to earn your bachelor’s degree, an online cyber security degree may be the right fit. Depending on your education and career goals, a bachelor’s degree in cyber security or a related field will prepare you for numerous jobs in the prevention, detection, and prosecution of cybercrimes.
What Courses Will I Take?
- Cybersecurity Fundamentals
- Decision Theory and Analysis
- Information Assurance
- Introduction to Cybersecurity
- Operating Systems
- Threat of Terrorism and Crime
What’s the Difference Between a Bachelor of Arts and a Bachelor of Science in Cyber Security?
Most programs in cyber security will be bachelor of science (BS) degree programs, and will include STEM core courses with an emphasis on math and science alongside the foundational cyber security curriculum. A bachelor of arts (BA) degree program might focus on the same overall subject, with more emphasis and required courses in arts and humanities.
Master’s in Cyber Security
A master’s in cyber security is an excellent next step on your educational path and will qualify you for more advanced positions and higher earnings. As with the other degrees on this list, master’s programs in the cyber security field may concentrate on cybercrime, network security, digital forensics, or information management. Most master’s degree programs in cyber security require 30–36 credit hours and take around two years to complete. If you’re already working in the field and hoping to advance your career or update your knowledge, an online master’s in cyber security could be a great fit.
What Courses Will I Take?
- Computer Network Security
- Database Security
- Information Security Management
- Microcomputing Technology
- Risk Management in Information Security
- Secure Programming
What’s the Difference Between a Master of Arts and a Master of Science in Cyber Security?
As with associate and bachelor’s degree programs in cyber security, most master’s degrees will be master of science (MS) programs rather than master of arts (MA) degree programs. MS programs emphasize STEM subjects, while MA programs include an emphasis in the arts and humanities.
Doctorate in Cyber Security
A doctorate in cyber security is the most advanced degree available in the field. If you’re interested in a doctorate program in cyber security, you face a choice between Ph.D. and D.Sc. degree programs. Most doctorate programs consist of 50–67 credit hours and take five to seven years to complete. Doctorate programs in cyber security include courses in networking, security, and forensics, as well as opportunities for hands–on research experience and more direct focus on your intended areas of specialization.
What Courses Will I Take?
- Computer Forensics
- Computer Security
- Global Cybersecurity
- Managing Cybersecurity Risk
- Technology Leadership
What’s the Difference Between an Ph.D. and a D.Sc. in Cyber Security?
A Ph.D. in cyber security will focus on research and prepare you for a career as a university professor or researcher. The D.Sc. is also a prestigious degree, but with more of a focus on working in the professional sector as an advanced cyber security professional.
What Kind of Licensing or Certification Do I Need?
For cyber security professionals, there is not one license or certification that you’ll need to obtain. However, there are several certifications and credentials that can help you stand out as a trustworthy and experienced professional. Depending on the career path that you choose, one or more of the following options may be worth pursuing as you advance your career in cyber and network security.
Cyber Security Certifications
- CompTIA Security+
- CompTIA Security+ is a global cyber security certification that covers hands-on skills and provides a springboard to intermediate-level cyber security jobs.
- GIAC Security Essentials
- GIAC Security Essentials (GSEC) certification is another entry-level certification that lets you demonstrate both your understanding of information security technology and concepts, as well as hands-on technical expertise
- Certified Ethical Hacker
- The Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH) credential is offered by the International Council of Electronic Commerce Consultants and serves to recognize that you meet or exceed the standards of ethical hacking.
- Certified Information Security Manager
- The Certified Information Security Manager (CISM) is offered by ISACA (formerly the Information Systems Audit and Control Association) and is shown to increase earnings and career advancement for IT professionals who manage, develop, and oversee information security systems.
What Can You Do With a Cyber Security Degree?
If you are wondering, “What can I do with a cyber security degree?” there are plenty of options. Your cyber security degree can be the key to many challenging and exciting Computer and Information Technology Careers. For more detail, check out a few of these top cyber security degree jobs:
What Kind of Salary Can I Earn With a Cyber Security Degree?
Your cyber security degree could open the door to a career in computer, network, and information security. If you’re curious about the cyber security salary you might be able to learn, read on. The Bureau of Labor Statistics provides median annual salary information as of 2018 for these top cyber security degree jobs:
|Computer Support Specialists||$53,470|
|Network and Computer Systems Administrators||$82,050|
|Computer Systems Analysts||$88,740|
|Information Security Analysts||$98,350|
|Computer Network Architects||$109,020|
|Computer and Information Research Scientists||$118,370|
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics
Are There Professional Cyber Security Associations or Societies I Should Join?
Professional associations are a fantastic way to make connections in your field, learn about valuable seminars or certifications, and improve your own credentials. The association or associations you choose to join will depend to an extent on the career path you take. Look for cyber security associations that correspond with your academic or professional concentration.