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Earning a cybersecurity degree can prepare you for high-paying jobs in a cutting-edge field that’s growing quickly. With society’s increasing digitization comes a greater need to safeguard sensitive data, software and networks—but there aren’t enough qualified cybersecurity experts to fill the growing demand.
All that considered, now is a great time to pursue a cybersecurity career. But how do you get started? What kind of cybersecurity degree do you need to get a job? And what kind of positions can you find when you graduate? Explore this guide to learn the answers and determine whether a cybersecurity degree is right for you.
What Is Cybersecurity?
Cybersecurity is a subset of information security (infosec). It refers to the practice of protecting programs, computer networks and digital information from malicious actors.
Professionals in the cybersecurity field must know how to counter cybersecurity threats like malware, ransomware and phishing. Some cyberattacks grab national headlines, but most cybersecurity work happens behind the scenes, protecting people and organizations who don’t know they’re under threat.
Cybersecurity experts’ main job is to prevent attacks before they occur. Incident response is also a key part of their skill set, and these professionals must always be ready to take decisive action when a security breach happens.
What Makes a Good Cybersecurity Professional?
Cybersecurity might be a good career for you if you are a detail-oriented, analytical person with a collaborative mindset and the ability to improvise. On the technical side of things, you’ll also need sharp math and computing skills. Most jobs in the field require at least a bachelor’s degree in cybersecurity or a related subject.
The best infosec pros have enthusiasm for the field’s overarching purpose as well as its day-to-day tasks. Cybersecurity offers attractive benefits like high salaries and job security, but the work can sometimes be stressful—think combating an active hacking attempt with millions of dollars on the line. It can also be repetitive, like checking incident logs.
To thrive in this industry, you should enjoy problem-solving and work well under pressure.
Earning a Degree in Cybersecurity
The tech industry is known for valuing skills as highly as education, so is a cybersecurity degree worth it? In short, yes—many employers prefer college-educated candidates.
Applicants without degrees may face limited career options. According to a 2019 Burning Glass Technologies report, 88% of cybersecurity job requirements include at least a bachelor’s degree.
Earning a cybersecurity degree can also affect pay rates and job security. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), bachelor’s degree-holders earned about 65% more than workers with only a high school diploma as of 2021.
Master’s graduates outearned bachelor’s-educated professionals by about 18%. The BLS noted unemployment rates of 6.2% for high school graduates, 3.5% for those with a bachelor’s and 2.6% for master’s degree-holders.
Degree-seekers can find on-campus, hybrid and online cybersecurity degrees at both undergraduate and graduate levels.
A bachelor’s degree in cybersecurity teaches foundational computing skills and knowledge with an emphasis on information security issues. Most bachelor’s programs comprise about 120 credits and entail four years of full-time study.
Some students earn an associate degree in computer science or information technology (IT) before transferring to a four-year school to complete their bachelor’s.
Undergraduate-level cybersecurity degrees usually begin with general education and computing fundamentals classes. Next, cybersecurity majors move on to specialized topics like ethical hacking, network security and security risk management. Many bachelor’s programs prepare graduates to pursue in-demand industry certifications from organizations like (ISC)2 and CompTIA.
Some schools offer a standalone cybersecurity major. Others include the discipline as a concentration within a broader major like computer science or IT. Professionals in the field often hold undergraduate backgrounds in areas like engineering, mathematics and information assurance.
A master’s in cybersecurity explores important industry issues in depth. Learners build on their knowledge of subjects like cryptography, privacy engineering and network security to prepare for leadership and innovation roles.
Along with advanced technical topics, master’s programs often teach management skills. Students gain a holistic understanding of the cybersecurity discipline’s ethics, legal dimensions and national security role.
Master’s in cybersecurity curricula usually comprise 30 credits and culminate in an integrative capstone project or practicum. Frequently designed to accommodate working professionals, most programs take about two years to complete. Depending on the school, candidates can choose a specialization like policy, energy systems, cryptanalysis or management.
Cybersecurity master’s applicants often hold a bachelor’s in computer science or another STEM field. Those with bachelor’s degrees in other areas can still be competitive candidates if they also have IT work experience, relevant professional certifications or previous related coursework.
Students without undergraduate degrees in computer science, cybersecurity or related subjects may need to take bridge classes before enrolling in more advanced courses.
Attending a Cybersecurity Bootcamp
If you’re wondering how to get into cybersecurity without going to college, you’re in luck. For many aspiring infosec professionals, a cybersecurity bootcamp may work just as well as or even better than a traditional degree. However, the bootcamp model has both pros and cons.
Bootcamps offer actionable, targeted curricula that prepare graduates for entry-level cybersecurity jobs. Since these intensive career-training experiences feature a narrower range of subjects, participants may not learn as much about theory and context as they would in a bachelor’s program.
With an average tuition price of $11,900, according to a 2019 RTI Press study, many bootcamps cost less than bachelor’s degrees. However, students should remember that bootcamps are ineligible for most kinds of federal financial aid.
Bootcamps are shorter and more flexible than many degree programs, making them more convenient for working students. For example, Flatiron School offers a 15-week, full-time cybersecurity bootcamp and a 40-week, part-time option. Springboard‘s part-time program lasts six months. Udacity delivers a suite of infosec-oriented programs in which students commit only 10 hours a week for four months.
Bootcamps can be particularly useful for prospective infosec professionals who did not major in cybersecurity or a related subject during undergrad. For these learners, bootcamps can deliver just the right amount of training to jumpstart a cybersecurity career. People with bachelor’s degrees in a nontechnical discipline may benefit from coding basics prep courses before starting a bootcamp.
Cybersecurity Career Outlook
As more sensitive personal information and essential economic functions move online, the cybersecurity industry is booming. Businesses and governments rely on infosec experts to help them stay ahead of novel cyber threats.
Fortune Business Insights reports that the global cybersecurity market’s value stood at $139.77 billion as of 2021. By 2029, the organization projects that value to shoot up to $376.32 billion, thanks to the continuing rise of e-commerce.
Emerging and developing technologies like machine learning, cloud computing and the Internet of Things will open up both new opportunities and new challenges in the field.
The job outlook for infosec professionals is bright. Burning Glass Technologies’ report describes a tight job market, citing a 94% increase in demand for cybersecurity workers from 2013 to 2018. Cyberseek reported nearly 715,000 cybersecurity job openings from May 2021 through April 2022.
High demand seems likely to continue as well. For example, the BLS projects a 35% job growth from 2021 to 2031 for information security analysts. This growth rate is more than three times the national average projected growth for all occupations.
With comparatively few qualified workers to fill a fast-growing number of openings (according to Cyberseek, there are only enough qualified professionals to fill 66% of cybersecurity job openings), cybersecurity professionals can command high pay. Burning Glass Technologies notes an average advertised cybersecurity salary of $93,540 for job postings.
A cybersecurity degree can prepare you to pursue positions like the following.
Chief Information Security Officer
This leadership position is one of the highest-paying, most senior cybersecurity roles. Chief information security officers oversee all aspects of their employers’ information security needs. They set security policies, audit existing systems, hire security teams and make recommendations for improvements.
These executive officers usually need seven to 10 years of IT experience and at least a bachelor’s degree. Many employers prefer candidates with master’s degrees. According to Payscale, chief information security officers earned an average annual salary of over $170,000 as of September 2022.
Information Security Analyst
These hard-working professionals do much of the daily legwork of keeping networks and data safe. Their responsibilities may include data collection, vulnerability assessments, security system updates and end-user support.
Information security analysts usually need a bachelor’s degree in a computer-related discipline. Payscale reports an average annual salary of over $74,000 for this role as of September 2022, with senior analysts making an average of about $107,000 per year.
Security architects design and implement information security systems, policies and procedures. After the research and planning stage, they oversee programming teams during the development phase. Finally, these professionals assess and improve systems after launch.
Security architects typically need a bachelor’s degree in a field like cybersecurity or computer science, along with related work experience. According to Payscale, security architects garnered an average salary of over $130,000 per year as of September 2022.
Security engineers devise solutions to improve computer system security. They should have strong skills in incident response and digital forensics. Their duties may include keeping incident logs, developing automation strategies and collaborating with other IT professionals to identify potential vulnerabilities.
Security engineers usually hold a bachelor’s in computer science, engineering or a related field. Payscale notes an average annual salary of over $96,000 for these professionals as of September 2022. With 10 or more years of experience in this role, senior security engineers can take home close to $120,000 a year.
Frequently Asked Questions About Cybersecurity Degrees
Is it worth getting a degree in cybersecurity?
Yes. For individuals who want a career in the field, a cybersecurity degree can lead to a variety of well-paid information security jobs. Most cybersecurity positions require at least a bachelor’s degree, with a master’s preferred for some senior roles.
Is cybersecurity the right major for me?
If you have strong math and computer skills, an analytical outlook and a desire to fight cybercrime, a cybersecurity major may be a great fit for you. If you know you want a career in tech but haven’t settled on a cybersecurity specialization, a general computer science major may keep your options more open.