Cybersecurity degrees: types, comparisons and best practices for selection
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There are many cybersecurity degrees out there. But what exactly do they offer in terms of career prospects, what are the various degree options available, and which should you choose?
What does a cybersecurity degree offer?
Anyone completing a cybersecurity course at a college can look forward to a rewarding and well-paid career. The median base salary for cybersecurity professionals in the U.S. is now more than $100,000 per year. That can rise in excess of $150,000 based on factors such as experience, possessing a master’s degree or promotions to executive or manager level.
Those completing an undergraduate cybersecurity degree or more advanced training can also expect to attract strong interest from potential employers. With the IT talent market being so tight, there is little chance of anyone being on a job hunt for long.
Importance of cybersecurity degrees in 2022
Cybersecurity degrees have been sought after for many years. But with the number of ransomware attacks continuing to rise, their profile is rising even higher in the enterprise. The NCC Group Annual Threat Monitor report noted that ransomware accounts for 65.38% of all incidents dealt with by its global cyber incident response team during 2021.
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Ransomware attacks rose 93% in 2021, from 1,389 in 2020 to 2,690. The U.S. was targeted in more than half of these attacks, followed by Europe at 30%. Organizations in these locations are grabbing cybersecurity graduates as soon as they complete — and, in many cases, before any degrees are conferred. NCC Group added that most ransomware targeted the industrial and public sectors (both at 19.35% of attacks) followed by the consumer vertical (16.13%).
[Related: Top 20 cybersecurity interview questions to know in 2022]
Types of cybersecurity degrees
There are many different cybersecurity degree programs to choose from.
Training for beginners
For beginners, there are many basic certification courses available from vendors and institutions. A good number of these are free. There are also various bootcamps available at a cost that provide theoretical and practical knowledge. These provide a good grounding for those intending on achieving full academic qualifications, whether associate, bachelor’s, master’s or doctoral degrees.
An associate degree in cybersecurity can be done online or in person. They typically count for two years of a full bachelor’s program. The content varies widely but can include networking, the basics of security, how to secure database management systems, programming, devops, DevSecOps and more.
A bachelor’s in cybersecurity can go two directions — either a BA or a BS. The former has an arts focus and the latter of a more technical nature. But if cybersecurity is included, either will serve. The one chosen should align with the specific interests of the individual. The important thing is majoring in cybersecurity. Different programs offer a variety of directions including scripting, risk management, cloud systems and more.
A master’s in cybersecurity requires a bachelor’s degree as a prerequisite. While the BS generally takes four years, the MS is usually two years, though it can sometimes be done faster. The training at this level is, of course, more advanced. It encompasses areas such as architectural design, security risk management, security governance and the management of security teams. Many programs require a thesis or capstone.
Finally, there is a Ph.D. in cybersecurity. Such courses can take up to five years and delve even deeper into the intricacies of vulnerabilities, system security, overall system design, application security and compliance. A doctoral research dissertation is required to complete.
Top 5 steps to selecting the best-fit degree for your career
There are a great many options out there in terms of cybersecurity degrees. Those considering one should plan carefully. Here are some tips to help you along in the selection process.
Online or in-person?
It wasn’t long ago that online degree programs were rare. These days, there are hundreds of cybersecurity training programs available online. Even major institutions such as MIT, Purdue and others offer cybersecurity degrees online. Those not wishing to commute daily to in-person study or who have no desire to move to another area to pursue a degree should find the right online option. Further, those with a full-time job should take advantage of online programs that can be done over evenings or weekends.
That said, there is plenty to recommend the immersion in learning provided by attending a university program. Further, it offers a great many networking opportunities and friendships that can sometimes lead to business opportunities in later years. And increasingly, business partnerships blossom during degree and postgraduate programs. Facebook and Google are two among many examples.
In-person learning requires the selection of a location. For those wishing to attend an institution in their city, the selection process is simplified. Otherwise, there are a lot of possibilities all over the country, and even overseas. Some base their choice of institution mainly on the city or the climate. These factors may be important to some, but they should not predominate.
Cybersecurity program specifics
If you’re keen to attend only the very finest institutions. In the U.K., it might be Oxford or Cambridge. In the U.S., MIT, Yale or Stanford, for example. But those specializing in cybersecurity may be less prone to hold such preferences. For one thing, competition is greater at elite colleges and entry requirements can be high. In addition, they may not necessarily offer the best cybersecurity qualifications. Their strengths may lie in other disciplines.
Every program is different. Those seeking a specific specialty or career path should delve closely into the various candidate cybersecurity degree programs to find a match. Those with less-defined plans should still investigate curricula to ensure they fit their needs. Such data is freely available online. It is also possible to find feedback online from current and past students about their experiences on the various programs.
Each institution and each course has its own entry requirements. Not everyone can measure up. Those without the very best in SATs, grade point averages, and other metrics should, therefore, avoid applying to places with very stiff qualifications. There are so many options in cybersecurity and entry qualifications vary widely. And some, particularly online options, may have lenient entry qualifications.
Tuition costs are another major factor. They vary widely. In the U.S., state institutions typically have much lower tuition rates than other colleges. But that attracts far more applicants, and there may be residency requirements. Scholarships can help, but they are not always available.
The overall cost of the cybersecurity degree over its entire term should also be understood. Too many students embark on a college program without any concept of the student debt they may end up with. Pay attention to the final bill for that education. How much do you want it? The good news is that a cybersecurity degree or postgraduate qualification pays very well and offers the possibility of paying off student loans more rapidly than other disciplines.
Read next: Top 10 cybersecurity colleges in the U.S. in 2022
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