Career advancement, better pay, more options, specialized research, switching fields — these are just a few reasons why people decide to enroll in an online master’s in cybersecurity. In this fast-moving field, a master’s degree is a great way to stay competitive, learn the latest technology and tactics, and build a valuable professional network.
The good news is online cybersecurity master’s degree programs offer a number of options for students looking for flexibility while they study. In the end, students graduating from online master’s obtain the same degree as their campus-based counterparts. And professionals with a master’s degree in cybersecurity are projected to be in high demand well into the future.
Today, hundreds of cybersecurity master’s programs exist at schools all across the country. The program offerings reflect the breadth and depth of the cybersecurity field — programs range from network and data architecture and infrastructure to degrees leaning more toward policy and law. Besides the level of academic diversity offered by cybersecurity online master’s programs, the overall design and the way the courses are delivered is also wide-ranging. Some are online-only, some are asynchronous — which means they are more or less on-demand — while others are hybrid programs that blend both online learning with campus-based learning.
One thing is for sure, that given the diversity of options for graduate education in cybersecurity there is surely a program that is a good fit for career interests, professional and academic background, and commitment level.
In fact, this guide is partly motivated by the fact that there are so many good options out there that prospective students often need to spend time and energy finding the perfect fit.
Five key steps for choosing the right master’s in cybersecurity online
Research: The great thing about online master’s programs is that to some degree they remove the constraint of having to be physically present to attend the program full-time. This means that students who already have family or work commitments that prevent them from relocating aren’t necessarily constrained by their current location. The downside is that more choice requires more research. A good place to start is with the school listings below.
Decide: The decision to attend an online cybersecurity master’s program will likely include inputs from a number of factors including finances, time commitments, as well as thinking about potential career opportunities. To be sure, obtaining a master’s degree in a growing field such as cybersecurity is a big commitment, but one that should have some return on investment.
Now that there are more choices, in terms of how student can get a master’s degree — including the traditional campus-based programs, as well as online-only programs (that sometimes run on different schedules than traditional academic schedules) and programs that combine both online learning with campus-based learning, means that decision-making process can be more complex.
But hopefully, the resources and information on this website will provide additional guidance and background to help make an informed decision. Check out the resources and career sections for more info about how a master’s degree in cybersecurity is good preparation for the future.
Apply: The application process for online cybersecurity master’s degree programs varies from school to school, so it is recommended to double-check admission requirements after creating a shortlist of schools.
Another thing to consider is that some online master’s programs have rolling admissions and staggered start dates, while other schools track the more traditional academic calendar. So, during the research phase, it’s a good idea to note both the admission requirements (more on this topic can be found below) and the admissions timeline.
Funding: The good news about pursuing an advanced degree in cybersecurity is that there are a number of scholarships and other financial aid available.
One of the key reasons that there is so much support for cybersecurity is that organizations such as the Department of Defense and the National Science Foundation, among others, have immediate needs to fill positions with professionals that are prepared to work in cybersecurity. Those needs are only expected to grow in the future, which is why investing in a well-trained workforce now is critical.
Network: One of the main reasons to consider attending a master’s degree program is that it will help to rapidly build a valuable professional network.
While researching online master’s programs it’s important to think about (and ask about) how the school’s program will help accelerate professional network growth.
Often this takes shape as focused internships or mentoring by professionals already working in the field. While internships are often thought of like training for entry-level positions, internships at the graduate level can provide insights into other aspects of the profession such as leadership and management.
Additionally, internships often provide valuable networking contacts and current references that become important when applying for positions once completing the master’s program.
Online cybersecurity master’s degree admission requirements
As mentioned earlier, the exact admission requirements for master’s programs vary from school to school. Some require test scores from the Graduate Record Exam (GRE) or from the Graduate Management Asset Test (GMAT), while others do not require test scores.
Other admissions materials required by most graduate programs include:
- A current resume or CV.
- Official transcripts from undergraduate degree experience along with other documentation that outlines work experience and past academic performance.
- An essay, which is usually a statement of purpose or some other explanation of how a master’s degree fits with personal and career goals.
- At least two letters of recommendation, ideally from people that can talk about past academic or professional experience.
Although that is a somewhat standard list, some online graduate programs might have additional or different requirements including in-person or video chat interviews.
For schools that are at the top of the list for applying, it’s always best practice to try and get in touch with someone at the school and ask questions about the admissions process and try to get a sense of what the most important pieces of a strong application are for that school.
Cybersecurity master’s online course load
The goal of a cybersecurity master’s program is to train people that already have background skills, either from related undergraduate coursework or professional experience, for more specialized work.
So graduate programs in cybersecurity position participants for leadership and management positions in a highly technical and multidisciplinary field. In addition to studying computer and information science, cybersecurity master’s students are also exposed to courses in management, ethics, law, and policy.
Most online graduate programs require between 27 and 45 credit hours, although making exact comparisons between programs isn’t always easy because not all online programs follow traditional academic calendars.
Another way to think about it is that online programs vary between one and two years of full-time study.
In addition to completing the online course requirements, some online programs require some kind of commitment to be physically present, either on campus or at professional networking events. It’s a good idea to figure out what kinds of physically-present requirements exist and plan accordingly, especially financially.
Scholarships and financial aid
There are a number of scholarships and other kinds of financial aid available for cybersecurity master’s students.
A number of cybersecurity master’s scholarships are available from government organizations, reflecting the need for well-qualified professionals in both the public and private sectors. A few examples of cybersecurity master’s scholarship opportunities include:
- The National Science Foundation’s Graduate Research Fellowship Program. This is not only a great funding opportunity but is a big resume-building opportunity. The fellowship is open to both master and doctoral students.
- The Navy’s Information Assurance Scholarship is open to bachelor through doctoral students both as service members and civilians (although civilians are required to work for the Navy in a non-uniformed role upon graduation).
- The Department of Defense provides the Science, Mathematics, and Research for Transformation (SMART) Scholarship for Service Program. This is also open to bachelor’s through doctoral students and cybersecurity is included as a critically important area.
The career outlook for online master’s in cybersecurity
As mentioned elsewhere on this site, the demand for cybersecurity professionals is expected to continue to grow over the next decade, or by 28 percent by 2026. This translates to millions of job openings in the cybersecurity field.
Add to that the fact that new kinds of industries and employers are continuing to add cybersecurity roles to their companies — especially in fields that require collecting consumer data, such as financial apps and digital retail sites — and the expected job growth makes sense.
But is getting an online master’s worth it? In general, the return on investment appears to be an average earning potential of between $18,000 and $20,000 a year according to a comparison of job openings available to holders of bachelor in cybersecurity degrees versus people that have a master’s degree. Of course, that is just an estimation and the actual numbers will vary depending on the career field and geographic location.
The resources section of cybersecurityguide.org contains guides that might be relevant when considering pursuing an online master’s degree in cybersecurity. Two popular guides include a veteran’s guide to cybersecurity and a women’s guide to cybersecurity.
For specific career profiles and information, including jobs available to professionals with cybersecurity master’s degrees check out the career hub.
The listing below is the most comprehensive and up-to-date curated list of schools that offer online cybersecurity master’s degree programs.
The list is designed to offer a quick way to compare a lot of schools and provide key program information so that prospective students can quickly start the graduate school research process and start investigating interesting schools.