Students who enroll in a bachelor of cybersecurity program gain core information technology (IT), computer programming, and data analytics skills needed for careers in this rapidly growing field. Learners can personalize their degree plans through concentrations in areas like cloud security and mobile application development. Bachelor's programs also include practicums and research projects to provide students with real-world, hands-on experiences.
What are the best cybersecurity programs of 2020? Here are our top 10:
|1||Colorado State Global||Greenwood Village, CO|
|2||University of Charleston||Charleston, WV|
|3||Hallmark University||San Antonio, TX|
|4||George Mason University||Fairfax, VA|
|5||University of Illinois at Springfield||Springfield, IL|
|6||Champlain College||Burlington, VT|
|7||Robert Morris University||Moon Township, PA|
|8||University of Maryland Global Campus||Adelphi, MD|
|9||Western Governors University||Salt Lake City, UT|
|10||Bellevue University||Bellevue, NE|
Full-time students typically earn their undergraduate degree in four years. Accelerated online programs can reduce the time commitment to as little as two years.
This guide provides information on cybersecurity degrees, including course offerings, admission requirements, and tips on how to pick the right program. You will also learn about career opportunities and professional development resources.
What Is Cybersecurity?
Cybersecurity is the practice of protecting computer programs, systems, and networks from intrusion and data theft. As implementation and use of networked computers and devices increases across the world, hackers engage in more frequent and innovative cyberattacks to steal information and data -- and even take control of entire systems. According to the University of Maryland's Clarke School, computers with internet connectivity face a near-constant barrage of hacker attacks, averaging an incident every 36 seconds. Attacks include information theft, asset destruction, and social engineering extortion using ransomware and phishing techniques.
In addition to harming individual users, cyberattackers increasingly target large corporations. Juniper Research projects that global businesses will lose over $8 trillion to cybercrime from 2017 through 2022. To respond to these threats, companies in all sectors recruit cybersecurity specialists who can build multilayered defenses, retrieve stolen assets, and track down assailants.
You can begin the journey to becoming a cybersecurity professional by learning about your academic options. Check out our list of the 25 best online cybersecurity programs for information on program aspects like cost, quality, and student resources.
What You Can Do With a Bachelor's in Cybersecurity
By earning a bachelor's degree in cybersecurity, you can work as an information security analyst, system administrator, or cybersecurity consultant. You may also pursue general IT positions, like software developer, computer programmer, and information systems manager.
- Information Security Analyst
These specialists plan and implement measures to protect computer networks and systems. They assess IT standards and practices to develop cyber defenses that support organizational needs. While some information security analysts are employed full time for a single entity, others pursue freelance consultant roles.
- Software Developer
Software developers create applications for individual workstations, networked computer systems, or other digital devices. They collaborate with programmers to ensure that programs meet client needs and run without error on designated hardware. Software developers also test and maintain computer programs.
- Information Systems Manager
Also called IT managers, these organizational leaders plan and coordinate computer-related activities for their companies. Information systems managers work with teams to install and upgrade systems that protect digital assets. They also oversee employee recruitment and training.
For more information on cybersecurity and computer science careers, consult this in-depth careers page. You'll find average salaries, employment potential by location, and general entry requirements (including relevant certification/licensure).
What to Expect in a Cybersecurity Program
A bachelor of cybersecurity degree generally requires at least 120 credits, which full-time students complete in 2-4 years, depending on program structure and students' prior academic and career experiences. The best online cybersecurity programs integrate career-relevant coursework with hands-on training through internships and capstone requirements. This section explores typical cybersecurity coursework.
- Cybersecurity Principles
- This class offers an overview of cybersecurity threats, countermeasures, and prevention strategies. Students delve into best practices in security policy formulation. They also examine the security of communication channels, computer networks, and systems infrastructures.
- Technical Communication
- In this course, students learn to convey complex information to nonexpert audiences using oral, written, and multimedia communication strategies. They also develop the skills to create clear and logical written works, including technical reports, user manuals, and research papers.
- Digital Forensics
- Digital forensics courses teach students skills needed for investigating threats to information security. Topics include incident management and evidence categories. Learners also examine how laws and ethical considerations affect incident response and report.
- Ethical Hacking and Penetration Testing
- In this course, students learn how cybercriminals strategize and attack systems and networks. This knowledge ultimately enables cybersecurity professionals to develop effective countermeasures against worms, viruses, and other attacks that exploit system weaknesses.
- Legal and Ethical Issues in Information Security
- This class covers the laws, regulations, authorities, and best practices involved in developing IT operational policies. Students learn to maintain data integrity with respect to compliance issues and legal constraints.
Interview With Gustavo Hinojosa
Gustavo Hinojosa is the executive director of the National Cybersecurity Student Association. He champions the development of strategic alliances and relationships within academia, governmental institutions, and industry. His primary focus is to energize, expand, and cultivate an ecosystem of next-generation cybersecurity professionals through education, mentoring, and professional development opportunities while aiding in bolstering the knowledge, skills, and abilities of a diverse learning community.
- Why did you choose to earn a bachelor's degree in cybersecurity? Was this a field you were always interested in?
I choose to earn a bachelor’s in cybersecurity because after several layoffs in other fields, it was time for a change. I always loved technology and computers, so I decided to pursue an education in information technology (IT). There were so many routes to take in IT. Which one was best for me? After months of research, I decided to pursue an associate degree as an information system security specialist. During my associate, I decide to get a jump and plan my bachelor's pathway.
I choose UMUC for my bachelor’s degree because of their designations as a National Center of Academic Excellence in information assurance and cyberdefense education from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the National Security Agency. They are also designated as a National Center of Digital Forensics Academic Excellence by the U.S. Department of Defense Cyber Crime Center. At the time, no other university in the world had all three prestigious designations.
- What are some of the most crucial skills you gained in your bachelor's degree program that apply to your job on a day-to-day basis?
I earned several crucial skills while attending UMUC. I learned about programing, networks, and how to secure them. To defend an organization from cyberattacks, we must understand the methodologies utilized by attackers in order to thwart threats. This was fun to learn. After a threat has been remediated, the forensics portion of my courses aided my understanding of the anatomy of the attack. This digital dig then allowed me to fix the vulnerabilities in the system(s).
Technical skills are great, but we must also understand the governance, risk management, compliance, and business aspects. Creating the policies and procedures to aid in the mitigation and prevention of attacks is also crucial, which strengthened my writing skills. These practical skills and strategies in cybersecurity management enabled me to become a well-rounded and knowledgeable professional, along with all the real-world team projects that were challenging. I would say that everything I learned at UMUC is crucial to my success on a day-to-day basis.
- What was the job search like after completing your bachelor's degree? Did you feel fully prepared when making the transition from school to the workplace?
My job search upon completing my bachelor’s degree in cybersecurity was hard. During my studies over the years, I was building my personal brand, which is an essential and foundational element for success. I fully immersed myself in the field. I joined the school’s cybersecurity clubs, participated in cyber competitions (NCL, CCDC), joined student government (politics), and connected with several professional local organizations (ISSA, ISACA) to build my professional network. By attending these organizations' monthly meetings, I developed professional relationships with the member base, which made me a desirable candidate; telling your story displays your passion, which alone is attractive.
My job search was hard because I had so many job offers over the years, and by building up my professional network, I was able to choose whom I wanted to work for. It was a hard decision, but this is a good problem to have. My studies allowed me to understand both the technical and business sides of the house, and I feel that many academic institutions miss this essential baseline. The education I received, coupled with my professional branding and outreach, made me feel confident when making the transition from school to the workplace. It is also important know your value.
- What are some of the challenges you face in your work on a day-to-day basis?
I would say that the biggest challenge I face in my work on a day-to-day basis is commuting to work. If you can, find a remote job. But, in the office, things are not always going to run smoothly. You’re going to have to work with others and sometimes teams, which can be challenging in itself. We are not always going to be on the same page. Have patience and be respectful; if you need to, walk away for a breather. The organizational culture, people, and process are essential for innovation and success.
- How do you think the field of cybersecurity will change in the coming years?
Technology is constantly evolving, and as cybersecurity professionals, we understand that the field will always require us to cultivate our knowledge, skills, and abilities. Staying abreast of cybersecurity topics, trends, and attack methodologies is essential for our success. There have been several advances in machine learning, artificial intelligence, robotics, and the "internet of things." As these technologies evolve, automated and autonomous attacks will only get worse; mitigating them will be increasingly challenging in this age of cybersecurity professional shortfall. These issues also bring up privacy concerns in a very connected world. We have our job cut out for us.
- What advice would you give to students who are considering a degree in cybersecurity?
My advice for students who are considering a degree in cybersecurity is to do some research on your prospective university and the courses that are being offered, along with the school’s designation(s). Make sure that cybersecurity is the right fit for you before making the big leap. Do research! There are several technical courses, and it can be frustrating and challenging at the same time (not necessarily in that order). Talk with students and/or professionals in the field to understand what cybersecurity entails and the several paths that you can take.
My best recommendation is to look at NIST’s Cybersecurity Workforce Framework, which outlines 33 specialty areas and 52 work roles. Also, CyberSeek.org has interactive tools and data to help you learn about the cybersecurity demand in your area.
How to Choose a Cybersecurity Program
You should select the cybersecurity bachelor's program that best supports your academic interests, career goals, and budget. As you conduct research on potential schools, pay attention to accreditation, tuition rates, and graduation timeline. Course offerings and student resources should also factor into your enrollment decision.
- Colleges and universities must maintain national or regional accreditation to confer degrees recognized by other higher education entities and respected by government agencies, professional organizations, and employers. National accreditation comes from authorities supported by the Council for Higher Education Association and the U.S. Department of Education. Schools earn regional accreditation from one of six location-specific organizations. Cybersecurity programs can also gain specialized accreditation from the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology.
- Cost and Financial Aid
- To attract distance learners, some higher education institutions offer tuition rates that ignore residency status. Students should inquire if a school uses a per-credit or per-term tuition system. Some universities charge higher prices to part-time degree candidates. Financial aid represents another major consideration. Students should ask admissions counselors about federal funds, institutional awards, and scholarships specifically for distance learners.
- Program Format
- When assessing online cybersecurity programs, prospective students should factor in whether classes are asynchronous or synchronous and if learners can set their own pace for progressing through the program. Most schools do not limit the number of classes you can take per term as long as you meet minimum standards. However, certain institutions operate a cohort learning structure that requires students to advance through the program at the same pace as their peers. This format fosters collaboration and relationship building but can slow down degree completion.
- Concentration Options
- Although core topics are more or less uniform among cybersecurity bachelor's programs, you should consider which degree concentration you want to pursue. Popular options include software development, mobile technology, and cloud security. Students can also select concentrations in healthcare informatics and business intelligence. Your chosen concentration affects advanced coursework and capstone requirements.
- Career Services
- Higher education institutions that provide dedicated career services greatly bolster students' success rate after graduation. You should ask schools about internship and externship placements with partner companies. You should also look into the availability of career counseling services, including job search assistance, resume writing workshops, and interview practice sessions.
Cybersecurity Program Admissions
This section contains common admission requirements and general information about what to expect during the application process. You should always confirm details with a school's admissions specialists. These counselors can also help you navigate financial aid and course selection.
- Minimum GPA: In general, colleges expect you to have a 2.0-3.0 minimum GPA. Competitive cybersecurity programs typically require better academic performance. Most colleges require you to submit official transcripts for all prior schools attended, which you can request through each school's registrar office or an online student portal. Some colleges provide waive their GPA requirements for students with strong standardized test scores and/or relevant work experience.
- Work Experience: Conventional bachelor's programs in cybersecurity do not require applicants to possess relevant work experience. However, students who demonstrate skill mastery through real-world experience (via their resume or CV) may be able to seek course exemptions and earn transfer credits. One to two years of work experience is usually necessary if learners want to enroll in an accelerated bachelor's program or a dual-degree track.
- Prerequisite Coursework: To formally take on a cybersecurity major, students must complete prerequisite classes as part of their general education/university core training. Major topics include college algebra, applied probability and statistics, and English composition. Students who complete this work as part of an advanced high school curriculum or associate program can accelerate completion of a bachelor's degree.
How to Apply
- Standardized Test Scores
- Postsecondary schools, particularly institutions that offer online cybersecurity programs, increasingly disregard ACT/SAT scores. Requirements vary among schools that do require standardized test scores. The College Board reports that average scores for the 2018 freshman class stood at 536 for evidence-based reading and writing and 531 for math. ACT/SAT results can impact financial aid and fellowship opportunities.
- Personal Essay
- Also known as a letter of intent, this one- to two-page personal essay allows applicants to discuss academic interests, professional qualifications, and career goals. Schools use this letter as a way to discern if a student's character and motivation align with their institutional mission. In lieu of a formal letter, certain universities ask applicants to answer a series of essay questions.
- Recommendation Letters
- Degree candidates should expect to submit 2-3 recommendation letters from individuals who can attest to their academic potential, professional accomplishments, and personal qualities. These letters can come from mentors, professors, and employers. Some schools require that only people in specific roles may write your recommendation letters. Certain institutions prefer to contact recommenders directly through phone and video conferencing.
After you decide which cybersecurity program you want to attend, the application process can begin in earnest. If you need to submit ACT or SAT scores, schedule at least three months of time to prepare prior to taking the tests. After test day, you can expect ACT scores to arrive within two weeks (though it can take up to eight weeks). SAT scores are viewable online 13-15 days after your test day. Schools will receive your scores an additional 10 days later.
Colleges and universities typically set early decision deadlines in November and regular admissions deadlines anywhere between January and March. Certain institutions operate rolling admissions and accept applications year-round. Once you know your school's deadline, work backward to create a schedule. Ideally, you should leave yourself 4-6 weeks to gather and submit application materials. Of course, this is a rough time frame. You can work with admissions counselors to craft a schedule that fits your specific needs.
Resources for Cybersecurity Students
Established in 1969, ISACA supports over 140,000 members in 180 countries. The association offers membership options to students, recent graduates, and professionals. Benefits include access to webinars and on-demand training sessions. ISACA also delivers certification programs for careers like information systems auditor and information security manager. Members connect through online forums, regional networking opportunities, and global conferences.
ISSA serves cybersecurity practitioners by providing education and professional support at all career stages. Students enjoy pre-professional resources that include internship opportunities and mentorship programs. The association funds academic scholarships and research fellowships. ISSA also operates a vast career center, where members can apply for open positions and receive guidance. Additional resources include leadership training programs and web conferences.
The IEEE Cybersecurity Community facilitates symposiums on areas like research development and emerging trends in electronic privacy. Members can access academic journals through an online library and engage with colleagues in special projects, including the Try-CybSI initiative. The organization also operates the Center for Secure Design, which focuses on identifying common software and network design flaws.
NCSA fosters educational and professional development of cybersecurity students through research, networking opportunities, and job listings. The association connects learners to industry experts and potential employers via conferences and training events. Students can also access internships, fellowships, and mentoring programs.
A national intelligence agency within the U.S. Department of Defense, NSA gathers, processes, and monitors foreign and domestic information to develop countermeasures against terrorist attacks. The agency helps students apply for college internships, work-study positions, and full-time jobs. Cybersecurity professionals can apply for development programs that offer three-year, entry-level jobs with the agency.