Bad news first: As you are probably already aware, our increasingly interconnected world is vulnerable and becoming more fragile by the day.
Some combination of crazy hacker activity, malware, spyware, social engineering, and dreaded computer viruses seem like they are in the news all the time.
As critical information (not only our personal info like vital records and financial data, but also really important corporate and government information) migrate to live in data centers, on clouds, and internet servers, there are greater risks that this information will get stolen or become corrupted.
It’s what cybersecurity analysts and experts might call a growing attack surface. As the internet becomes more critical to just about every function possible, the likelihood that some kind of criminal enterprise will look for ways to steal data grows exponentially.
After all, these days data is as good as money.
OK, so now the good news: There are massive (and lucrative) opportunities available in the booming field of cybersecurity. Once only the domain of government contractors and computer scientists with specialized skills, cybersecurity is now a broadening field encompassing a number of different kinds of jobs requiring different backgrounds and skill levels.
Companies from large to small are hiring for in-house cybersecurity experts. Also growing in number are firms and organizations that specialize in cybersecurity issues — everything from ethical hacking and penetration testing to information technology infrastructure and networking — in order to fill a growing need for safe and secure computing.
There are a few points of entry into this growing field. One good place to start is to obtain an associate’s degree in cybersecurity.
Traditionally, an associate’s degree was a two-year program at a college or university that offered entry-level training (the curriculum equivalent of the first and second year of a four-year degree) for students looking for some level of education beyond a high school diploma.
In some fields, such as nursing, or professions such as data entry or jobs like a paralegal, an associate’s degree was a good way to develop the skills necessary to get hired into a skilled entry-level career-track position.
Today, the kinds of associate’s degree programs continue to expand and the new offerings are designed to get students into high demand jobs in a growing field.
The upside of a cybersecurity associate’s degree
So where does an associate’s degree in cybersecurity fit into the picture of creating a successful career in cybersecurity? Research shows that the two things that employers look while hiring for cybersecurity positions are hands-on skills and industry certifications.
And gaining expertise and experience and preparing for cybersecurity industry certifications are exactly the areas where cybersecurity associate degree programs excel. Whether stand-alone programs designed to quickly train students for the digital workforce or as part of larger funnels to act as stepping stones to more cybersecurity education such as a bachelor’s degree in cybersecurity or a cybersecurity master’s or Ph.D.
Another thing that makes associate degrees attractive for many students is that today’s associate degrees are offered in a number of formats, including on-campus, online, and a hybrid approach that is a combination of online learning and more traditional campus-based learning.
Finally, many cybersecurity associate’s degree programs also offer flexibility in terms of scheduling, which makes them a good fit for students who need to work or have other kinds of commitments that might prevent a full-time commitment.
What to look for in a cybersecurity associate’s degree program
There are a number of factors that will determine if a cybersecurity associate’s degree program is a good fit for prospective students. There are always very tangible aspects such as the program’s curriculum, but other factors such as the potential return on investment and career services and support should also play a key role in determining whether or not individual cybersecurity programs are worth pursuing.
Geography and schedule are also always key considerations when considering enrolling in a cybersecurity associate’s degree program. And new programs offering online or self-paced instruction help with the scheduling and geography piece (because students no longer need to necessarily live near the school they are attending), making the opportunity for this kind of education more accessible.
Another major factor for prospective cybersecurity associate degree program students — and maybe the most significant — is the overall program cost. Associate degree training, like any other college or graduate program, is quantified both by credit cost and then overall program cost. The good news is that of all post-secondary career prep options, an associate’s degree is usually the most affordable because it only requires half the number of credits of a bachelor’s program.
The cost of tuition for associate’s cybersecurity degree programs varies widely and can range anywhere from $3,000 to $4,000 for completely remote, online degree programs to $18,000 to $20,000 for in-person, on-campus training.
Some associate degree programs might be organized under a school’s computer science or information technology departments and offer specialties in cybersecurity. While other schools have standalone cybersecurity programs with dedicated resources and offerings. One thing to keep in mind is that there are different components to cybersecurity and so colleges and universities might offer different focus areas.
This is an example of a couple of popular cybersecurity focus areas:
Network security: Network security refers to securing networks from attack or corruption by understanding how things like passwords, firewalls, and hacking work.
Computer systems security: Computer security professionals are concerned with securing individual computers on a network, which often means being familiar with the security needs of individual hardware and software components.
Information security: Also known as InfoSec is the field of understanding how to secure and store data in such a way that it remains private and is only accessed by the intended users.
Length of program
Associate degrees in cybersecurity usually require 60 credit hours to complete. Those credit hours are broken up over general education courses and then more specific and specialized cybersecurity training.
On average, it can take students anywhere from two to four years to complete a cybersecurity associate’s degree depending on the number of course availability and frequency as well as degree requirements.
Cybersecurity associate’s degree admission requirements
The admission requirements for a cybersecurity associate’s degree are pretty standard and similar to the admission requirements for associate degree programs. Prospective students need to have obtained a high school diploma, taken the prerequisite math and science courses (the exact prerequisites will depend on the individual program) and be proficient in English.
General associate degree level career outlook
An associate’s degree in cybersecurity can definitely be leveraged to start a great career.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) entry-level cybersecurity positions with job titles like information security analysts will grow by nearly 30 percent over the next several years, which is faster than opportunities in other fields.
Check out these school listings for more detailed information on specific programs.