9 Ways to Evaluate the Best Cyber Security Degree Programs in 2021
Cyber crime is here to stay — affecting everyone from citizens and their governments to small businesses and the world’s biggest companies. The threat is so pervasive that millions of skilled cyber security professionals are needed to safeguard identities, data, online networks and financial assets from highly skilled hackers.
This has created incredible cyber security career opportunities for specialists with the right combination of education and experience. It has also prompted the academic world to introduce a range of new on-campus and online cyber security degree programs.
But how do you evaluate the many cyber security degree options to determine which ones might be ideal for you? Here are nine tips and strategies for identifying and choosing from among the best cyber security schools and programs.
1. On-Campus vs. Online Cyber Security Degree Programs
Even if you live next door to a college or university that offers a top-notch cyber security degree program, you’ll want to thoroughly explore your online cyber security degree options. Not only do they tend to be more affordable, the best online degree programs are just as academically rigorous, if not more so, than their on-campus counterparts.
Another benefit of earning your cyber security degree online is the opportunity to interact with and learn from fellow cyber security professionals from around the country and the world, since many top programs strongly emphasize and facilitate this interactive component.
Finally, one of the biggest advantages is flexibility. Many schools that offer cyber security education online have designed programs with working professionals and families in mind, so students can better balance the demands of work and family life.
2. Evaluating the Importance of a Master’s Degree
Cyber security certifications can be extremely helpful, and many institutions are now offering bachelor’s degree programs in cyber security. But in an industry where salaries are considerably higher than average (top positions paying up to $380,000, according to Forbes.com, and median salaries around $90,000), earning a master’s degree will put you in the best position to compete for countless six-figure jobs.
A master’s degree in cyber security can equip you the tools you need to become a leader in any organization and to effect positive change in combating and mitigating cyber security threats.
Because the unemployment rate in cyber security is essentially zero (with far more open positions than qualified professionals to fill them), earning a cyber security master’s degree means job security is practically guaranteed.
3. School Reputation
Reputation matters. Yet, when it comes to choosing where you will obtain your master’s, the criteria you used for your undergrad degree 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 are not the traditional Ivy League institutions you might think of.
The need to home in on schools that possess a strong reputation in the cyber security field is paramount. After graduation, when you are applying to jobs or looking for a promotion, a cyber security department with a strong reputation 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.
- Use LinkedIn to reach out to former students of various programs and ask them for their feedback. Some colleges will also provide you with this information if you ask.
- Evaluate the professors in each department. Look at their background, 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 the field of cyber security is growing and evolving so quickly that some of the most innovative programs can be relatively new — so, just because a program is new, doesn’t mean it isn’t good. 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 also be a very helpful indication of a new department’s strength.
4. Curriculum & Objectives
Curriculum is 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’s important to seek out a master’s program that doesn’t just teach skills but also provides you with the tools you need to be a lifelong learner in the field. That’s because, as adversarial tactics change daily, cyber experts must be prepared to constantly update their skills.
Learning to defeat adversaries from theoretical as well as tactical perspectives — and developing the capability to evaluate tools that can accomplish these goals — should be the ultimate mission of a master’s 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 recommended.
It is also vital to choose a program that works closely and collaborates with the greater cyber security community. By collaborating with local, regional and national players in the field, schools keep their curriculum current and relevant — an extremely important factor in cyber security education — enabling them to best prepare their students for immediate job placement after graduation.
5. Faculty Reputation
Especially in cyber security, you’ll want to learn from skilled instructors with a wealth of experience in the field. Look for indicators that the faculty is diligent about staying on top of the latest changes and advancements amid this fast-changing landscape.
Many cyber security-focused colleges and universities will have a list of faculty members with bios; but if they don’t, ask them for one. And don’t hesitate to reach out to professors to ask them questions about their background or about the program itself — most will be happy to meet or speak with you.
6. Total Costs & Opportunities for Financial Assistance
Along with being an undeniable career game-changer, a degree in cyber security is also a significant investment. Cyber security master degrees typically range anywhere from $20,000-$40,000. But just because a program is expensive doesn’t necessarily mean you should count it out. Be sure to fully research all of the scholarships and grants offered at schools that interest you, since such financial assistance can significantly reduce the total price.
7. Flexibility & Work/Life Balance
As we discussed earlier, many online degree programs are designed to include a great deal of flexibility to support the work/life balance of those who enroll. But it is important to 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 cyber security degree program 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., restrictions on taking more than three years to complete the program).
8. Length of Program & Start Dates
Be sure to understand 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? On the flip side, how quickly will you be able to complete your degree at the university you choose?
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.
9. Admission Requirements
Different programs will have different requirements when it comes to admission. Be sure you meet them all before applying or doing additional legwork. If you don’t meet all of the requirements, reach out to the school and ask what steps they suggest you take. Sometimes certain requirements can be waived on a case-by-case basis depending on the circumstances.
Synopsis: 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 essential to seek a master’s 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 – 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 $20,000 to $40,000. But just because a program is expensive doesn’t necessarily mean you should count it out. There are many scholarships available for aspiring and mid-career cyber security professionals.|
|Flexibility – 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, meaning you could start 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.|
Frequently Asked Questions [Cyber Security Employment FAQ]
Q: What makes cyber security such an important and interesting field?
A: Since technology touches almost everything in our world today, cyber security has become an omnipresent consideration, even when we’re not aware of it. The range of cyber security threats is greater than ever — from fishy emails and ransomware to connected cars and wearable technology; and the latest cyber security statistics are nothing short of jaw-dropping (example: the estimated annual global cost of cyber crime by 2021 is $6 trillion).
Q: What is the salary range for cyber security jobs?
A: Even entry-level salaries are solid in cyber security. Median salaries clock in at around $90,000 and top positions (such as a Chief Information Security Officer) can pay up to $380,000 or more.
Q: What are some of the best industries for cyber security job seekers?
A: Nowadays, no industry is immune from the pervasive threat of cyber crime. Specific sectors with the greatest need and the best opportunities include: financial services, health care, manufacturing and government. This blog post goes in-depth about some of the reasons why.
The University of San Diego offers an innovative, 100% online Master of Science in Cyber Security Operations and Leadership degree designed to be completed in as little as 20 months. To learn more, contact USD today.