Students who earn a bachelor's in cybersecurity build the foundational knowledge and skills needed to succeed in the industry. Programs are often offered online and vary in length and intensity, allowing students to find a pathway that fits with their schedule.
Potential careers for graduates include information security analyst and computer system penetration tester. Individuals can also pursue management roles that oversee security strategies and implementation.
This guide covers the basics of what a cybersecurity program entails and the salary potential for degree-holders. Additionally, this guide discusses possible courses and concentrations a student can choose from, as well as the costs and considerations involved with selecting a program.
What Is Cybersecurity?
Cybersecurity focuses on protecting data, devices, and networks from criminal activity and unapproved access. Computers are tasked with controlling more and more aspects of our daily lives, and cybersecurity is a continually evolving field. Additionally, although network security is routinely upgraded, criminals are constantly working to outsmart new security protocols.
What are the best cybersecurity programs of 2020? Here are our top 10:
|1||Colorado State University-Global Campus||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-University College||Adelphi, MD|
|9||Western Governors University||Salt Lake City, UT|
|10||Bellevue University||Bellevue, NE|
Should I Get a Bachelor's in Cybersecurity?
With the increased threat of cyberattacks and a greater need for solutions, a recent (ISC)2 study reported that the cybersecurity workforce in the U.S. needs to grow by 62% to meet current demand. Along with this need for more cybersecurity professionals, the median yearly salary of an information security analyst is $99,730.
Students who earn a bachelor's degree in this field can find a job directly out of school. However, job opportunities are known to grow with education level, making graduate degrees an attractive option for professionals looking to advance their career.
Cybersecurity professionals can find employment in a variety of areas, as virtually all industries benefit from some level of cybersecurity. For example, financial institutions and healthcare organizations need to employ many workers to build and maintain security systems.
What Will I Learn in a Cybersecurity Program?
A cybersecurity program teaches students many foundational skills, preparing graduates for the workforce. Students explore different operating systems and focus on programming languages and software development. They also learn various techniques and methods of testing computer system securities. Students in some programs may be able to pursue management coursework, preparing for upper-level careers.
Read on to discover more information about cybersecurity courses and concentrations that are common in this field of study.
- Cloud Security
As the cloud grows in popularity and function, it's imperative that cybersecurity professionals gain experience working with its higher level concepts. Coursework focuses on cloud architecture, real-world applications, and the features of successful cloud infrastructures.
- Introduction to Python
Python is a programming language that emphasizes readability and easily understood syntax. Python can also increase productivity by streamlining programming steps. Coursework focuses on problem-solving and writing applications, with students aiming to complete working programs during the course.
- Ethical Hacking
Ethical hacking courses explore methods of exploiting weaknesses in computer systems. Students learn to find vulnerabilities and stress-test security parameters through a variety of techniques. Coursework also focuses on the ethics and legal issues involved with hacking.
- Web Page Development
This class covers the storyboarding and creation steps involved in creating websites. Students learn best practices that allow for more intuitive page layout and navigation. They also cover basic image editing and an overview of font and table usage.
- Introduction to Operating Systems
Students in this class focus on the three prominent computer operating systems: Windows, Mac OS, and Linux. Students gain an understanding of various system functions and structures. They also compare these systems to mobile device options.
- Software Development
Students work with Java and C# programming languages, learning how to write code. This allows students to create applications, design websites, and develop a base level of knowledge that helps them learn additional programming languages in the future.
- Mobile App Technology
This concentration covers the tools used to create applications for mobile devices, such as smartphones and tablets. In particular, students learn how to work with iOS and Android devices. Participants may develop web- and cloud-based applications.
- Computer Forensics and Vulnerability Management
Students who focus on computer forensics learn to identify and analyze digital evidence. This evidence may be used in legal proceedings. The process of vulnerability management involves regularly testing computer systems to look for weaknesses.
- Information Warfare and Security Management
Cybersecurity professionals need to be able to assess potential threats in order to safeguard information in cyberspace. Coursework covers current international conflicts and dynamics, as well as relevant government policies.
- Cloud Security
With the cloud allowing for exponential growth in computing capabilities, cloud security has become integral to cybersecurity. Individuals pursuing this concentration learn how to handle cloud-based threats and design security protocols against those threats.
What Can I Do With a Bachelor's in Cybersecurity?
Earning an on-campus or online degree in cybersecurity prepares students for computer science careers, such as forensic computer analyst, security architect, and chief security officer. Programs can also provide the foundation needed to pursue additional certifications and advanced degrees, which help professionals qualify for job advancement within specific cybersecurity subfields.
- Information Security Analyst
Information security analysts organize and enact protections for digital networks and computer systems within an organization. Typical tasks include monitoring, testing, and instructing staff about an organization's security measures. Analysts must keep track of industry trends and suggest enhancements to senior staff.
Median Salary: $99,730*
- Penetration Tester
Often referred to as an "ethical hacker," a penetration tester stresses the integrity of computer systems to determine potential security concerns. These testers often work as a member of an IT team.
Median Salary: $85,090*
- Forensic Computer Analyst
Forensic computer analysts process and analyze large quantities of data for their company. This may include recovering lost data from destroyed hard drives and generating reports describing forensic evidence found within a data set.
Median Salary: $74,200*
- Security Architect
A security architect researches and designs security systems for an organization's computer network. After assembling the security measures, the architect works with a team to maintain and analyze the system's integrity.
Median Salary: $124,200*
- Chief Information Security Officer
Chief information security officers manage computer security for their organization. These officers design security strategies and contingency plans. This upper-level career usually requires several years of experience.
Median Salary: $163,560*
Sources: Bureau of Labor Statistics and PayScale
How to Choose a Cybersecurity Bachelor's Program
When choosing a cybersecurity bachelor's program, it is important to consider the program's accreditation, specifically whether the school is regionally accredited through a recognized agency. Additionally, it's important to look for a program that is designated as a Center of Excellence in Cybersecurity or Cybersecurity Defense by the U.S. National Security Agency and the Department of Homeland Security.
Click here for more information about top cybersecurity bachelor's programs.
How to Get Into a Cybersecurity Bachelor's Program
Most degree programs require an applicant to supply their high school transcripts (or the GED equivalent) and standardized test scores. Admission prerequisites, such as minimum test scores or a minimum GPA, vary from school to school. Schools may also ask applicants to submit an essay and letters of recommendation.
How Long Does It Take to Get a Bachelor's in Cybersecurity?
Though full-time students typically earn an on-campus or online bachelor's degree in cybersecurity in four years, there are accelerated programs that can be completed in less time. Many of these options feature shorter terms that are offered throughout the year.
While not a requirement for many jobs, a master's degree in cybersecurity allows for further specialization and can prepare graduates for leadership roles in the industry. Students may also enhance their job prospects by seeking industry credentials, such as the certified information systems security professional credential. This certification demonstrates mastery of information security protocols.
How Much Does It Cost to Get a Bachelor's in Cybersecurity?
The cost for a bachelor's in cybersecurity varies depending upon the type of school (public vs. private). A student's enrollment status (full time vs. part time) and residency status (in-state student vs. out-of-state student) can also dramatically influence tuition rates. However, the National Center for Education Statistics reported that the average tuition at four-year institutions during the 2018-19 school year was about $13,000.
Interview With a Professional in Cybersecurity
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 also 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 chose 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 program, I decided to get a jump and plan my bachelor's pathway.
I chose UMUC (now known as the University of Maryland Global Campus) for my bachelor's degree because of its designations as a National Center of Academic Excellence in information assurance and cyberdefense education, as awarded by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the National Security Agency. UMUC is also a partner of the National Centers of Digital Forensics Academic Excellence. 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 programming, 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 of the field. Creating 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, as did all the real-world team projects, which 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 to 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. 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. 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 where there is a 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.