Today, options for getting a master’s degree in information security or information assurance are numerous and the programs continue to make gains in quality and variety. This guide will help sift through those options while also highlighting key career options and other factors to consider when choosing a program.
Information security is no simple calling. Technology is advancing at light speed and the criminals are spending billions each year trying to keep ahead of the gatekeepers in cybersecurity.
This puts the job and business of information security in a state of constant flux, and keeps the pressure on cybersecurity professionals to learn, adapt, and innovate just as quickly as technology and the criminals.
What does a master’s of information assurance 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 degree in information security.
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.
There are so many different jobs available for people with bachelor’s degrees, and a wide variety of career paths available to infosec masters, it’s impossible to adequately compare. The bottom line is that the possibilities and earnings ceiling are considerably enhanced 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. The average annual salaries listed are per payscale.com.
Campus-based vs. online masters in information assurance programs
With the decision to seek a master’s degree made, students should next consider which instructional option best fits their needs and lifestyle. If there are strong real-time campus programs available locally, this may be the best choice, but online education venues have become real options today. The choice will depend largely upon the time students are willing or able to devote to their education. Some people learn best in a traditional classroom, and for them campus-based formats are usually best.
Don’t discount the possibility of crafting a custom hybrid program. It’s possible to utilize campus programs for some courses, particularly those with lab-based or team-oriented formats, and opt for online classes for courses that lend themselves better to home study. SANS Technology Institute offers degree programs that encourage a combination of live classes and online coursework. SANS is the largest and most widely recognized worldwide provider of training and education in the cybersecurity industry.
The primary benefit of online courses is the convenience for students. Asynchronous online programs offer the greatest convenience, but synchronous programs also provide attractive advantages over campus-based programs. Lacking the commute of classroom-based courses, both types of online certification courses minimize the investment of time to complete a master’s degree. Obviously, though, the college offering the degree program being attended must be consulted to ensure online courses will be granted credit toward a degree.
Campus-based information security masters degree programs
The number of master’s degree programs available for information security continues to grow rapidly in response to rising demand. And there are now many high-quality programs to choose from. Here are a few examples of top schools offering masters of information security degrees. There are many other online masters of information security programs available. See the bottom of this page for a more extensive list.
Four steps for obtaining a master’s of information security
- Understanding the program requirements Each individual college institution offering master’s degrees in information security will have its own views of what a desirable graduate school candidate should bring to the table. All require at least a BS degree, some specifying that it be in a technical discipline or even computer science. Other requirements may include a minimum GPA threshold, usually 3.0 or higher, and GRE test scores. Waivers for the GRE tests are often granted for candidates with strong academic or professional backgrounds. 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.
- The cost of the degree program Tuition is obviously going to be a top consideration when choosing a school. But there are almost always alternatives for financial assistance available from the school, private scholarship sources, and sometimes government agencies attempting to increase the cybersecurity workforce. And, of course, government-sponsored and private education loans are available as well.
- Program benefits A good master’s program should also provide guidance and help beyond just course offerings. Often this means career counseling, hosting industry expert panels, and assistance with internship and job placements.
- Government cybersecurity jobs 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). NSA conducts extensive reviews and audits of colleges offering cybersecurity college degrees and designates a select few with CAE approval. Choosing an institution approved by the NSA provides a high level of certainty that the program offered is of the highest quality. It will also give graduates a leg up on securing a career with federal government intelligence agencies. NSA recently published a fact sheet showing 272 CAE-CD approved institutions across the country.
What to look for in masters of information security and information assurance programs
The number of options available for obtaining a master’s degree in information security has been increasing rapidly in recent years, both in the variety of venues and the focus of study.
Each individual cybersecurity professionals will be well served to first decide what direction they wish their career to take, then review the colleges that best fit their needs. This list will help sift through the noise to find the optimal choice.
Financial assistance for masters in information security degrees
Financial assistance for masters degree programs in information security is available from a number of sources, several of which are focused specifically on the cybersecurity industry. Examples of these include the following:
- Information Assurance Scholarship Program – this is a scholarship-for-service program offered by the US Navy for both men and women
- Scholarship for Service – the National Science Foundation, in association with the National Security Agency, provides grants for cybersecurity students. Recipients must 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’s in national security, particularly cybersecurity, has prompted it to create 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 campus-based masters in information assurance programs
The following list of 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 and to give a basis of comparison amongst the choices.