This guide will help sift through online master’s degree in information security and information assurance choices.
Cybersecurity career hit a plateau? Five or more years out of undergraduate school, upward mobility in information security may begin to diminish for some cybersecurity professionals.
Even with consistent refreshing and upgrading of skills and knowledge with new professional certifications, for many, there will eventually be a need to obtain additional degrees if upward progress is to continue and ambitions are to be met. With the extreme demand for cybersecurity professionals outstripping the supply of experienced professionals, there is a growing need for those with advanced skills and education.
The answer for opening up new career paths for many may be in obtaining a master’s degree in information security. The availability of cybersecurity master’s programs has blossomed in recent years, so options for would-be students have grown as well. For busy professionals lacking the time necessary to commit to a campus-based masters program, online masters programs abound.
Online vs. campus-based masters in information assurance programs
After the decision to seek a master’s degree has been made, one of the first choices is whether it will be done via a real-time campus program or through an online education conduit. Obviously, this will depend on the amount of time students are willing or able to devote to their education, and whether an appropriate campus program is available within a convenient distance of home. Some people learn best, however, in a traditional classroom, and for them, campus-based formats are usually best.
There are dozens of excellent educational choices available online. The primary benefit of online courses is the convenience for students.
Synchronous programs have set times for class instruction and often student discourse, so time and schedule flexibility are limited.
Asynchronous programs, on the other hand, are often offered without time restrictions and permit students to make their own schedule and progress at their own pace. And while online education has had a tarnished image in the past, high-quality courses from high-quality institutions are now readily available and quickly growing in number.
What does a master’s of information security mean for cybersecurity careers?
Aside from knowledge gained, professionals completing a master’s degree in information assurance can look forward to a considerable broadening of their career options, not to mention a higher pay scale.
A master’s degree can open up several new paths, making it possible for every individual professional to find a fit that enables them to excel and contribute in their own way.
Broadly speaking, these additional paths include more technically advanced cybersecurity positions, promotions up the corporate ladder, and potentially posts in education, research and consulting.
More specifically, the following is a list of just some of the occupation titles that will be within reach of a master’s in information security.
- Network architect
- Database administrator manager
- Information security analyst
- Information security engineer
- Information security manager
- Risk management specialist
- Chief information security officer
Earning potential of a master’s of information security degree
It’s difficult to put a number on how much any professional’s earning power will increase with the addition of a master’s degree to their cybersecurity resume. This is because there are so many different jobs available for people with bachelor’s degrees, and a wide variety of career paths that become available to those holding a master’s degree.
It would be trying to compare apples to oranges in most cases. The bottom line is that the possibilities and earnings ceiling are enhanced considerably by obtaining a master’s degree in information security.
Just using some of the above career possibilities as a guide, though, we can see that earning well into the six-figure range can easily be expected.
- Network architect $120,000
- Database administration manager $110,000
- Chief Information Security Officer $160,000
- Information security manager $115,000
Online information security masters degree programs
The number of online programs available for master’s degrees in information security continues to grow rapidly. The quality of these programs is also gaining ground considerably. There are many other online masters of information security programs available. See the bottom of this page for a more extensive list.
- SANS Technology Institute
- Arizona State University
- Purdue University Global
- Southern New Hampshire University
- New York University
Five steps for choosing an online master’s of information security program
- Application/Admission requirements Each individual college institution offering master’s degrees in information security has its own stipulated requirements for acceptance. All masters programs require at least a BS degree, and some specify that it must be in a technical discipline or even computer science. Other requirements may include a minimum undergraduate GPA, usually 3.0 or higher, and GRE test scores, although waivers for the GRE tests are often granted when certain other requirements are met. Typically, the only other minimum application standards are a personal goal statement, personal and work references, current resume, and college transcripts. Pay attention to the requirements of each school, and whether it will necessitate more time, classwork, certifications, etc. in order to gain admission.
- Tuition and scholarships Affordable tuition is, of course, a must when choosing a school. But alternatives for financial assistance available from the school, private scholarship sources, and sometimes government agencies attempting to increase the cybersecurity workforce can significantly mitigate the overall cost. And, of course, government-sponsored and private education loans are available as well.
- School reputation, course quality, and availability – To get the most return out of an investment of time and money in education, it’s always best to choose from schools with the best reputation among cybersecurity professionals. Specific courses and available concentrations vary from one school to another.
- DHS/NSA CAE approvals US government intelligence agencies are perhaps the organizations most interested in developing the science and resources needed to conduct the most extensive, advanced and complete cybersecurity operations anywhere. The National Security Agency (NSA) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) jointly sponsor a program to promote cybersecurity education called National Centers for Academic Excellence in Cyber Defense (CAE-CD). Choosing an institution approved by the NSA provides assurance that the program is of the highest quality. It will also give graduates a leg up on securing jobs with federal government intelligence agencies.
- Thesis research options and faculty A critical part of any master’s degree is the thesis. The exact topic and focus do not need to be determined at the outset of entering the program. However, it should be possible to know that faculty members and other available resources provide the support needed to assist a student in choosing and completing their best thesis.
Financial assistance for online masters in information security degrees
Scholarships for master’s degrees in information security are available from a number of sources, many of which are common to all masters degrees. There are several scholarship sources focused specifically on the cybersecurity industry. Examples of these include the following:
- Information Assurance Scholarship Program – available on a scholarship-for-service basis from the US Navy for both men and women
- Scholarship for Service – the National Science Foundation provides grants for cybersecurity students. Scholarship recipients are required to work after graduation for a federal, state, local or tribal government agency or approved SFS institution for a period equal to the length of the scholarship.
- Center for Cyber Safety and Education – offered by (ISC)² for women
- Scholarships for Women Studying Information Security (SWSIS) – a partnership between Applied Computer Security Associates (ACSA) and CRA-WP
- Raytheon – provides an $8,000 scholarship for women studying cybersecurity
- Air Force Institute of Technology (AFIT) – available to civilian Air Force employees and military officers
- Snort Scholarship – Cisco sponsored for information assurance majors
- Department of Homeland Security – DHS has a vested interest in all types of security, particularly cybersecurity, and has several scholarship programs
Scholarships and grants may also be available from individual schools. Always check with the college’s financial assistance office to explore all options.
A list of online masters in information assurance programs
The following list of online degree programs for masters in information assurance/information security includes up-to-date information. It is not a ranking of any sort. It is instead offered to provide education options to those interested in seeking a master’s degree from online programs and to give a basis of comparison amongst the choices.