Vet Before You Invest: Uncovering the Best Online Cyber Security Degree Programs
The flexibility of a graduate online cyber security degree offers students a number of benefits including the ability to access the best programs, professors and universities despite their physical location; pay less for materials (often times textbooks are replaced with digital content that can be viewed online or printed): and interact with students from around the world. And as eLearning industry stated, “According to a recent study conducted by The Research Institute of America, e-Learning has the power to increase information retention rates by up to 60%. That means that, not only is e-Learning more cost efficient, but also it’s also more effective (in terms of how much knowledge is truly acquired during the learning process).”
A master’s degree in cyber security can offer you the tools you need to become a leader in your organization and effect positive change mitigating cyber security threats. For professionals with the right mix of skills and experience, cyber security jobs are abundant, with postings increasing 75 percent over the last five years. Not only that but pay is high, with the median salary for information security analysts coming in at $90,120, as of 2015 according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. And, in addition to information security analyst, there are plenty of other lucrative careers to choose from within the industry — this post talks about the many job options in the field and how to land them.
With high pay and a strong job outlook, getting an advanced degree in cyber security can really pay off. But in order to land begin a career in cyber security, you need a high level of education. When vetting potential graduate schools there are certain criteria you should consider in order to ensure you are investing in the highest caliber education.
Vetting Online Cyber Security Degree Programs
You have decided that an online master’s degree is right for you. But how do you go about choosing the best cyber security school? There are a number of factors to consider, including school reputation, teacher caliber, cost and curriculum that can help you narrow down your options.
Reputation matters. Yet, when it comes to choosing where you will obtain your master’s, the criteria you used for your undergrad doesn’t necessarily apply. While you want to make sure you get your online degree from a university of the highest quality and caliber, it’s not the overall school reputation that matters so much as the school’s reputation in your field of study. In other words, the department and program reputation matters more than the school’s reputation. For cyber security, the top schools aren’t the traditional Ivy League institutions you might think of.
For graduate school applicants the ability to really hone in on the schools with a strong reputation in the cyber security field is paramount. After graduation, when you are applying to jobs or looking for a promotion, a department with a strong reputation in the field will carry a lot of weight. So how do you determine what schools have the best reputation in your field?
- If you are currently working in a related field, talk to co-workers, managers and peers to get recommendations.
- Research ranking reports such as the U.S. News and World Report.
- Reach out to former students and ask them for their feedback on the program. Sometimes colleges will provide you with this information if you ask or you can look on LinkedIn.
- Evaluate the professors in each department. Look at their background and experience both their teaching experience and their professional experience in the field.
- Identify the top companies in your field and then look to see where their cyber security experts received their master’s degrees.
It is important to realize that in fields like cyber security, a constantly changing and evolving space that has exploded in recent years, many programs may be new. But just because a program is new, doesn’t mean it isn’t good. It does mean that the program may not have had the time to create a reputation for itself yet. In this case, looking closely at the professors and program affiliates that may have partnered with the university to create the program can help you gauge its true caliber. And while overall school reputation should come secondary to a department or program reputation, the school’s overall ranking can be a very helpful indication of a new department’s strength.
Curriculum & Objectives
Curriculum is perhaps one of the most important considerations when choosing an online cyber security master’s program. Because the world of cyber security is constantly changing, it is important to seek out a master’s level program that doesn’t just teach skills but provides you with the tools you need to be a lifelong learner in the field. Cyber security is one of the most perishable skill sets in the world, as adversarial tactics change daily. Learning to defeat adversaries from theoretical as well as tactical perspectives, thus providing the capability to evaluate tools that can accomplish the goal of defeating threats, should be the ultimate mission of a master’s level degree in cyber security, as this type of thinking and skill set is imperative for long-term success.
While every person’s goals will differ, selecting a multi-disciplinary program that focuses on leadership in conjunction with cyber security strategy and management is wise when pursuing a master’s degree and in light of the salary opportunities awarded at the leadership level. Far too often cyber operations or engineering specialists do not understand the “big picture” and lack the skills necessary to communicate the threat, solution, or business need at multiple levels of an organizational hierarchy.
In order to gain these necessary skills and reach the highest levels of cyber security leadership, there are certain competencies that should be covered in the master’s level cyber security program you choose. These include:
- Cyber security strategy
- Cyber security business operations – including areas such as acquisition, procurement, policy, human resources, and budgeting
- Cyber security management – including areas such as decision making, trade-offs, requirements building and team building
It is also vital to choose a program that works closely and collaborates with the greater cyber security community. By collaborating with local and national players in the field, schools keep their curriculum current and relevant – an extremely important factor in cyber security education – and schools are able to best prepare their students for immediate job placement after graduation.
Additional Considerations When Comparing Online Cyber Security Degree Programs
In addition to school reputation and curriculum it is important to consider:
Teacher Reputation – At the master’s level you want to have the highest caliber teaching faculty. When it comes to cyber security, professors should have significant experience in the field and be diligent when it comes to staying on top of the latest changes and advances in the space. Many schools will have a list of faculty members with bios, but if they don’t ask them for one. And don’t be scared to reach out to professors to ask them questions about their background or the program itself – most will be happy to meet or speak with you.
Costs – Understandably, costs are important when considering a master’s degree. Cyber security master degrees typically range anywhere from 20k-40k. But just because a program is expensive doesn’t necessarily mean you should count it out. Be sure to look at the scholarships and grants offered at that school, which could significantly reduce the total price.
Flexibility – If you are interested in an online degree, most likely it is because you seek the flexibility it offers. But make sure you are clear on how much of the program is online. While some programs are 100% online, others are hybrid, which means you take some classes online and some on campus. There are also programs that require you to be on campus for an extended period of time, say two weeks, at some point during the program. Make sure the one you choose is as flexible as you require.
You should also consider how many classes you are required to take per semester and if there are any deadlines on program completion, i.e. you can’t take more than three years to complete.
Length of Program and Start Dates – Be sure to check how long it will take you to complete your degree at your pace. If you are only taking one class per semester how many years will go by before you receive your degree or vice versa how quickly will the university allow you to complete your degree.
Looking at start dates can also impact your decision. Some schools have rolling admissions and admit students each semester, which would allow you to start your degree immediately or better plan your start date around your schedule. Others, however, start students once a year, which could mean waiting a while before beginning your degree.
Cyber Security Degree Requirements – Every program will have different requirements when it comes to admission. Be sure you meet them all before applying. If you don’t meet the requirements reach out to the school and see what steps they suggest you take. Sometimes certain requirements can be waived depending on the circumstance and on a case-by-case basis.
What to Look for in an Online Cyber Security Degree Program
|School Reputation – It’s not the overall school reputation that matters so much as the school’s reputation in your field of study.|
|Curriculum & Objectives – Because the world of cyber security is constantly changing, it is important to seek out a master’s level program that doesn’t just teach skills but provides you with the tools you need to be a lifelong learner in the field.|
|Teacher Reputation – When it comes to cyber security, professors should have significant experience in the field and be diligent when it comes to staying on top of the latest changes and advances in the space.|
|Costs – Cyber security master degrees typically range anywhere from 20k-40k. But just because a program is expensive doesn’t necessarily mean you should count it out. There are many scholarships available for cyber security hopefuls.|
|Flexibility – If you are interested in an online degree, most likely it is because you seek the flexibility it offers. But make sure you are clear on how much of the program is online. While some programs are 100% online, others are hybrid.|
|Length of Program and Start Dates – Some schools have rolling admissions and admit students each semester, which would allow you to start your degree immediately or better plan your start date around your schedule.|
|Academic Requirements – If you don’t meet the requirements reach out to the school and see what steps they suggest you take. Sometimes certain requirements can be waived depending on the circumstance and on a case-by-case basis.|
The University of San Diego offers a 100% online Master of Science in Cyber Security Operations and Leadership. To learn more about our nationally accredited program visit our program page.