A bachelor’s degree in cybersecurity is considered a fundamental building block for constructing a successful professional career in the field.
The good news is that like other technical fields, such as computer science or engineering, an undergraduate degree in cybersecurity will open opportunities on multiple fronts — and while some cybersecurity professionals decide to specialize in one aspect of the field and pursue a graduate degree, there is a tremendous amount of opportunity for cybersecurity bachelor degree holders.
In fact, there is an alarming shortage of qualified experts in the field, which means that people with the right qualifications are reporting short job searches and competitive job offers.
The field is growing so fast because more and more of our lives are unfolding on the internet. Everything from shopping to dating and banking to investing happens online. So, while these new digital worlds and opportunities are creating the need for cybersecurity experts, they are also creating the need for some great online cybersecurity bachelor’s degree programs.
Learning online, and even obtaining a challenging degree like a bachelor’s in cybersecurity has never been easier. Today, colleges and universities ranging from brand name universities to more local and regional schools are offering a blend of traditional on-campus education, hybrid on-campus and online degree programs, as well as 100 percent online learning.
This guide looks at some of the key considerations when thinking about pursuing a cybersecurity bachelor’s degree online.
Five steps for picking the right online cybersecurity bachelor’s degree
- Settling on cybersecurity — There are a number of reasons to choose cybersecurity as a profession. As mentioned earlier, over the next several years it is predicted by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and others, that cybersecurity jobs will grow at a rapid rate. In fact, the industry is already struggling to keep companies and organizations supplied with fresh and well-trained talent. This is evident across a number of professional organizations and certificate-granting bodies, all of which have various recruitment, training, and scholarship programs. But choosing to pursue a degree in cybersecurity should not just be about job security alone. The profession is also fascinating. It’s a field that blends the technical and quantitative side of computer programming, with other fields such as law, policy, and training and teaching. Within the field of cybersecurity, there are a number of paths to pursue and professional options to explore.
- Finding an online program — More new online cybersecurity bachelor’s degree programs are launching all the time (check out the school listings below for more details). This gives students more options and flexibility, but it also creates a greater need to research and understand all of the options out there. A good place to start is to create a list of constraints such as budget, test scores, prerequisites, etc., and then find programs that fit within those constraints. Another key thing to look for when doing research on undergraduate programs is the strength of the career services and advising, and support for finding good internship opportunities.
- Research admission requirements — Like traditional on-campus degree programs, the admission requirements for online cybersecurity undergraduate programs generally follow the same structure. Students will need relevant test scores (like ACT and SAT), transcripts from high school or from a community college or associate’s degree program, letters of recommendation, and entrance essays. Understanding and making note of important deadlines during the application process is an important part of school research.
- Schedule testing — Any testing for college admission should be scheduled and taken well ahead of the application season. Making time for test prep and practice exams should also become a priority in advance of taking the test. Test scores are often used for making admission decisions and also for awarding merit scholarships. The good news is that with the right planning and runway, both the ACT and SAT can be taken multiple times, and often scores improve with more attempts.
- Budget and financial aid — One of the deciding factors for most students when considering which college program to attend are budgetary considerations. Understanding what kinds of financial aid and scholarships are available to students majoring in cybersecurity will go a long way in helping to make informed financial decisions.
What kinds of courses are required to get a cybersecurity bachelor’s degree online
Online cybersecurity bachelor degree programs mimic traditional, campus-based programs in terms of academic requirements.
Like a campus-based program, online cybersecurity bachelor degrees usually require 120 credit hours. These credit hours are broken down into general education requirements, electives, and then courses specific to the cybersecurity degree requirements.
One key factor to understand about each program is the transfer credit requirements. Transferring credits to complete an online degree is very common, but the transfer process will vary from program to program.
Some high-level cybersecurity courses that are commonly offered as part of the undergraduate curriculum include:
- Ethical hacking
- Network security
- Security breach detection and response
- Cyber attacks and defense
- Computer security laws and ethics
What to look for in an online cybersecurity bachelor’s degree
There are advantages and disadvantages to obtaining an online cybersecurity degree versus a more traditional campus-based degree.
One of the biggest advantages is that most institutions that offer online degree programs and on-campus degree programs grant the same degree to both types of degree offerings. In other words, there is no difference in the final diploma that students receive.
Another big advantage of online learning and online cybersecurity bachelor’s degree offerings is that they give students some degree of flexibility. Whether trying to learn remotely or juggle undergraduate studies with other family or work commitments, online learning requires a different level of commitment than what is required to be physically present somewhere.
Not to mention, some students prefer learning online because it suits their learning style better — often lectures are delivered via video, and exercises and assignments are modified for online learning. The ability to speed-up or slow-down lectures, or review material multiple times works better for some learners.
Depending on living and work situations, pursuing a cybersecurity bachelor’s degree online might be more cost-effective than attending a traditional campus-based degree program.
One of the biggest advantages of attending a campus-based degree program is that developing in-person relationships with both peers and professors fosters the beginnings of a professional network.
Having a professional network becomes invaluable later in a career, not only in the years right after college while looking for that first position within the cybersecurity industry, but also down the road. As colleagues move through their own careers, they become good resources for job leads and opportunities — and they might someday become hiring managers too.
That’s not to say that in-person relationships are the only way to develop a professional network. Today, more and more options exist for creating a robust network outside of traditional activities.
Another trend is that remote work is becoming more popular across a number of industries, including many tech fields. As remote work becomes more popular, digital and social networking in a professional context is becoming more acceptable. So there are plenty of opportunities to make up for the lack of personal connection or face-to-face time with cybersecurity peers and professionals.
Admission criteria for an online cybersecurity bachelor’s degree
Like traditional undergraduate degrees, the requirements for an online bachelor’s in cybersecurity vary from program to program. So it’s a good idea to double-check individual program admission criteria after making a list of interesting schools.
While the specifics will vary, there are some common requirements in common with many programs:
- A high school diploma or equivalent
- Official high school transcripts and/or transcripts showing course work completed at community colleges or other universities if applicable
- A resume (highlight computer/programming experience if applicable)
- Application fees
Cybersecurity career options
In terms of evaluating career prospects in the cybersecurity field, it can not be stressed enough how fast the cybersecurity field is growing and how in-demand cybersecurity professionals will become.
Some estimates show a 10x growth in the information security field from an $800 million to a $6 billion over the next several years. And that is just in North American.
Organizations and companies including the Department of Defense to a number of professional computer science and engineering organizations — are all pitching in to help highlight the pending shortage of cybersecurity professionals and help lead recruiting efforts and academic support programs, including scholarships.
The US Cyber Challenge is just one example of a new kind of opportunity for students interested in the cybersecurity field. The US Cyber Challenge program offers a few different types of programs, including structured competitions, camps, and scholarships to help get students prepared to enroll in an undergraduate cybersecurity degree program.
Not surprisingly, newly-minted professionals with an online cybersecurity degree are finding their skills in demand (in some respects new graduates are attractive to employers because they have the most current cybersecurity training available). Arizona State’s online cybersecurity program, for example, reports that 87 percent of its graduates receive job offers within 90 days of graduating from the program.
Another crucial part of rounding out a cybersecurity education is figuring out what kinds of professional certifications are required and completing the necessary steps to get certified. Unlike other fields, cybersecurity requires various levels of professional certification in addition to the completion of an undergraduate or graduate degree.