The cybersecurity field is growing like crazy, which means that there are plenty of great career opportunities for professionals with the right skills, training, and experience. In fact, U.S. News and World Report recently found that information security analyst is one of the top five jobs to have in tech.
Skilled professionals with a bachelor’s degree in cybersecurity are in high demand. A degree combined with work experience and industry certifications can go a long way toward paving the way for a rewarding career in a dynamic and interesting and well-paying field.
Seven steps in choosing the right cybersecurity bachelor’s degree program
1. Research: The first step in finding the right fit for a bachelor’s degree in cybersecurity is researching all of the available options (which is probably what lead you here in the first place). As the cybersecurity field grows and matures, so too do the options available to students looking to get the skills and experience necessary to launch a career in a high-demand profession.
In addition to traditional campus-based academic programs, there are also a number of cybersecurity bachelor degree programs available online that are worth investigating.
2. Visit or contact colleges and universities for more information: Each academic program is different in terms of course offerings, degree requirements, student and career services, available financial aid, and other critical factors. Visiting or calling individual schools and creating the opportunity to talk to professors, students, and support staff is a great way to understand the true costs and benefits of a program. Plus actually talking to real people will reveal valuable information that is not contained in the college or university’s marketing materials, which is a good thing.
3. Understand degree requirements: Not all degrees are created the same and it is important when making a decision about the right cybersecurity bachelor degree program to understand the nuances that make them different.
Sometimes understanding how degree programs are different will help gain clarity about the specific opportunities available at each school or within each department. Some schools might prioritize hands-on experience, while others promote industry access. And still others strive to offer students an array of electives and opportunities to round out a cybersecurity degree.
3. Admission prep: After developing a list of target schools and programs, dive into admissions requirements and understand what kind of preparation can be done in advance. Look at the test scores required, prerequisites, experience needed and other factors that can be prepared ahead of time. Develop good relationships with teachers and other people who can be called on as references.
5. Apply: Applying to a college or university program can be a daunting experience, but understanding specific timelines and deadlines in advance can make the process feel a little bit more manageable. Also, pay attention to schools and programs that use common applications (where one application can be used for multiple schools) and keep a list of scholarship opportunities and deadlines.
6. Budget: One of the biggest challenges to obtaining a bachelor’s degree is creating (and sticking to) a sustainable budget. Understanding the total degree costs (credit costs per year + cost of living + other factors) is one key step. Also understanding what kind of student financing options are available is critical to developing a realistic budget.
7. Professional growth/network: A great advantage of a hyperconnected world is that students and other aspiring professionals no longer need to wait until they enter the workforce to begin getting career experience or developing a professional network.
Look for opportunities such as conferences, networking events, and career fairs to start thinking about tailoring academic experiences to industry needs. Also, leverage social networks to follow companies and projects that provide opportunities for people new to the field.
Many professional organizations and conferences provide financial and other kinds of support for current cybersecurity undergraduate students to attend events or participate in career-building activities.
Cybersecurity career outlook
Whether a top-secret government, military, or intelligence work or a buttoned-down office job with a Fortune 500 company or as early start-ups building the latest technology, cybersecurity bachelor degree holders are able to find rewarding and high-paying jobs in all kinds of industries and sectors.
From a financial or career perspective, obtaining a cybersecurity degree should provide a good return on the initial investment. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median pay for an entry-level information security worker with a bachelor’s degree in cybersecurity is $95,510.
Many cybersecurity undergraduate degree programs focus on a combination of computer science with information and network security. The background and experience obtained during an undergraduate cybersecurity degree is also great preparation for the cybersecurity certification process, which is a core component of the cybersecurity field.
Cybersecurity degree admission requirements
Like other undergraduate degree programs, most undergraduate cybersecurity schools require a high school diploma or a GED.
Since cybersecurity is computer-intensive, learning the basic building blocks for computing infrastructure and programming might help demonstrate the skills and aptitude necessary to be a successful cybersecurity student and professional.
Learning to write computer code, or how to design computer software and hardware, are all good ways to prepare for a cybersecurity bachelor degree.
Not all professionals working in cybersecurity start out with a bachelor’s degree in cybersecurity or information security. Some major in math or computer science or engineering, but specialize in security either through coursework, internships, or preparing for industry certifications.
What to expect to learn
Reflecting the diversity of roles that are possible in the workforce for skilled cybersecurity professionals, the coursework and curriculum for undergraduate cybersecurity programs is broad and comprehensive.
While individual learning will vary depending on each cybersecurity bachelor’s degree program requirements, there are some universal curriculum trends. Undergraduate cybersecurity students can expect to take courses in:
- Computer science: Computer science theory and application is the bedrock of cybersecurity work.
- Network security design and hardening: Understanding how different data networks operate (and how different networks can become compromised ) are also key to the profession.
- Ethics in information technology and security fields. These courses might outline the rights and responsibilities expected of a cybersecurity professional, especially when handling or accessing sensitive data or intelligence. Issues covered might include ethical hacking, and when it is permissible to move from a defensive security position to an offensive security posture.
- Forensics: These courses relate to diagnosing a security breach or intrusion and figuring out how to trace its path to find the person or group responsible.
- Mobile and wireless security: As the world becomes increasingly more mobile and wireless, the security concerns surrounding these systems is becoming its own specialty within the cybersecurity world.
Not only are there different technical components of cybersecurity (such as learning about network security, versus how to prevent social engineering attacks) but there are other ways to specialize too.
At Colorado Technical University, for example, there is a bachelor’s degree program for students interested in pursuing management and cybersecurity. This kind of program would be ideal for someone that is interested in learning the technical components of cybersecurity while also preparing to lead teams and work within the leadership structure of a company or organization.
Online cybersecurity bachelor’s programs
The good news here is that with each passing year there are more options for students to complete their cybersecurity bachelor’s degree.
More and more colleges and universities are offering coursework and degree programs for cybersecurity students, including certificates and other professional programs.
They are also offering online degree programs that are well-suited to working professionals or for people that have other commitments that prevent them from taking on-campus courses.
Campus-based courses might offer students additional access to student groups and professional organizations, as well as internship and mentoring opportunities.
As online education becomes more prevalent, universities are offering hybrid degrees, which allow students to attend some in-person, campus-based instruction and pair it with online courses. These programs seem to offer the best blend of both worlds, by offering students campus opportunities and the flexibility of completing coursework online.
How much is tuition for a cybersecurity bachelor’s degree?
Tuition for cybersecurity bachelor’s degrees can vary widely, depending on a variety of factors.
Like most undergraduate degrees, a cybersecurity bachelor’s degree will require between 120 and 126 hours of coursework, which includes technical courses and electives.
Tuition based on credit hour can range anywhere between $300 and $500 per credit, which means total tuition for a cybersecurity bachelor’s degree can range anywhere between $23,000 and $61,000, according to research published by U.S. News and World Report.
Here are five things to consider when evaluating tuition costs.
- Cost per credit: This is probably the simplest metric to use when comparing cybersecurity degree programs to one another. Sometimes total tuition costs can include things like lab fees or other expenses. But to really get a sense of the cost versus value for a cybersecurity degree, make sure and compare credit costs for each program.
- Location: The cost of a cybersecurity bachelor’s degree might vary depending on geographic location. One thing to evaluate is whether or not the school has existing relationships with cybersecurity employers in a geographic area. This will make things like internships and career planning a little bit easier.
- Size: Overall school and program size seem to correlate to cost. Larger programs offer more in the way of diversity of course offerings because the programs are part of a larger university. However, bigger isn’t always better, so conducting research on how individual programs will help meet individual student needs and aspirations is always advisable.
- Online vs. campus-based: It’s important to look at the cost per credit when comparing online degrees versus campus-based degrees. It’s also important to compare the required course hours to obtain the degree, and then decide which is a better fit.
- Full-time versus part-time: While the decision to attend a cybersecurity bachelor degree program full-time versus part-time might not really impact the cost-per-credit, it still might make the degree more affordable, or at least financially obtainable, because students can work while attending school. Not all programs offer a part-time option, but enough do that it’s worth looking at as an option.
One thing to consider when evaluating bachelor degree options is to consider community college cybersecurity programs. Increasingly, community colleges are offering bachelor’s and associate’s degrees for cybersecurity majors with campus and online course offerings.
Qualified professions with a background and understanding of computer and network security are in such high demand that there are a number of cybersecurity specific scholarships available for undergraduate students. Many of the cybersecurity scholarship opportunities are supported by companies looking to expand the cybersecurity workforce or government agencies and organizations that need to fill critical cybersecurity-related roles.
Here are a few examples of the kinds of scholarships available for students interested in a cybersecurity bachelor’s degree:
The Science, Mathematics, and Research Transformation (SMART) Scholarship for Service Program: This scholarship pays full tuition, pays a stipend, and offers other benefits. It is designed for students interested in working for the Department of Defense (DOD) during the summer while enrolled in an undergraduate program and then working full-time for a set a period for the DOD after graduation.
The Center for Cyber Safety and Education, which is part of the International Information Systems Security Certifications Consortium, Inc., offers a number of scholarships for both undergraduate and graduate scholarships. Some of the scholarships are specifically designed to support women studying cybersecurity. The scholarships are available for students pursuing both traditional on-campus degrees and online cybersecurity degrees.
The Stokes Educational Scholarship Program: High school students who are planning on enrolling in a cybersecurity bachelor’s degree program can apply for this scholarship. Run by the National Security Agency (NSA) the scholarship offers up to $30,000 a year and provides other benefits and stipend opportunities. Students enrolled in this program are required to work for the NSA after graduation for 1.5 times the number of years the scholarship funded.
Now it’s time to take the next step and begin researching cybersecurity bachelor’s degrees that might be a good academic and personal fit. What follows is a continually updated, comprehensive list of the latest cybersecurity degree offerings.