In this connected world, many people share sensitive personal information without a second thought in daily activities, like online banking and shopping. Much of that data can be used by individuals with ill intent to access your bank accounts or damage your reputation. The Equifax data breach in July 2017 exposed more than 143 million consumers' personal information with thousands of credit accounts compromised. Not only must companies ensure the safety of their customers' information, so too must government agencies and healthcare providers safeguard the sensitive information they've been entrusted to secure. A cybersecurity degree prepares you to meet these challenges.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects a 28% growth in the information security analyst field through 2026, which is a much faster rate of growth than the average for all career fields, and these professionals earn a median salary of $95,510. The industry needs well-trained cybersecurity experts with a strong foundation in computer programming and an understanding of the unique needs of the industry to spot security weaknesses and prevent data breaches before they occur.
What Are The Best Bachelor's in Cybersecurity Programs?
Should I Get a Bachelor's in Cybersecurity?
A cybersecurity degree represents the first step towards a rewarding career at the forefront of technological advancement. If you like working with technology and computer programming, enjoy working with others to solve common problems, and can adapt quickly to change, this career path may suit you well. Colleges and universities offer a myriad of cybersecurity programs, both online and on campus. Recent high school graduates may enjoy the extracurricular activities available on campus, such as student cybersecurity organizations. Many of these groups organize teams to compete in national and international competitions. Individuals looking to change their career path may need to balance their classwork with their current job and family commitments. An online degree in cybersecurity provides the flexibility they need to achieve their goals.
No matter which path you choose, your cybersecurity degree will provide you with a strong foundation in the basics of computer networking and coding. Coursework also prepares you to earn industry certifications. In addition, a bachelor's degree in cybersecurity helps you develop the written and verbal communication skills necessary to explain the sometimes complex theories and principles of the field to customers, clients, or superiors. Student and professional organizations and conferences provide invaluable networking opportunities and the chance to learn the latest developments in cybersecurity. Most colleges provide their students with career placement support, as well. This help may include internship or cooperative learning placements while in the program or access to alumni networks after graduation.
What Can I Do With a Bachelor's in Cybersecurity?
Multiple industries need professionals with the expertise gained from a cybersecurity degree, including law enforcement, information management, and healthcare. The program's core curriculum and supporting electives prepare you for the career that most interests you. Overall, this degree requires keen analytical abilities and problem-solving skills. Coursework prepares you to tackle the software development and infrastructure architecture needs of an organization, while internships can provide invaluable practical experience in computer forensics. Education combined with recognized certifications ensures you have the most up-to-date skills sought after by prospective employers.
- Information Security Analyst
These professionals monitor networks for possible security breaches and conduct testing of the system's integrity, looking for any weaknesses potential hackers could exploit. They also work with computer users within the company or organization to provide tech support when needed. A bachelor's degree in cybersecurity, computer science, or a related field often satisfies entry-level requirements.
Median Annual Salary: $95,510
Projected Growth Rate: 28%
- Software Developer
Software developers design computer applications to meet specific user needs as well as the overall operating systems that allow devices to work. These professionals test their programs, looking for bugs that make them not work as planned, and ensuring the program cannot be taken over by an outside actor with ill intent. A bachelor's degree in a computer science field prepares students for this career. Experience in a particular industry, such as finance or security, helps developers understand the unique software needs of an industry.
Median Annual Salary: $103,560
Projected Growth Rate: 24%
- Forensic Science Technicians
These specialists work with law enforcement agencies to collect evidence at crime scenes. Digital forensic analysts assist in identification and prosecution of crimes, including fraud, identity theft, and human trafficking. Meticulous attention to detail ensures evidence can be presented in court. A bachelor's degree in cybersecurity with a specialization in forensics or cybercrime prepares you for this field, though new hires can expect significant on-the-job training as well.
Median Annual Salary: $57,850
Projected Growth Rate: 17%
- Computer and Information Systems Manager
Responsible for overall planning and implementation of an organization's information technology plan, system managers determine the computer needs of a business and negotiate with vendors. They secure the organization's data and plan how to respond to data breaches or loss. Depending on the size of the organization, the manager may also develop overall technology training programs. A bachelor's degree in information science, computer science, or a related area helps prepare students for this role.
Median Annual Salary: $139,220
Projected Growth Rate: 12%
- Web Developers
Web developers create the design of a website and build the web infrastructure that allows it to work as designed. Many web developers form their own freelance or consulting businesses, working with clients to create their own basic website, while others find ongoing work as webmasters, making sure information remains up to date and relevant. A bachelor's degree in cybersecurity provides the necessary computer science skills for this position.
Median Annual Salary: $67,990
Projected Growth Rate: 15%
How to Choose a Bachelor's in Cybersecurity Program
Some colleges offer a cybersecurity concentration as part of a broader computer science degree, while other schools offer a cybersecurity degree focused on the unique skills necessary to design secure computer systems and software. Expect to spend at least four years working on your bachelor's degree in cybersecurity, which is longer if you only attend school part time. The curriculum not only addresses areas of networking administration and computer coding, but also includes a general education foundation in English, history, science, and math.
As the demand for trained cybersecurity professionals increases, many colleges have expanded their offerings, including multiple concentrations and flexible online cybersecurity degree options. The type of college you choose to attend impacts the cost of your degree. If you can't find an appropriate program near your home, you may need to factor in the cost of commuting a further distance to attend classes on campus or enroll in an online cybersecurity program. Always check that the schools you're considering holds proper accreditation. Some schools may qualify for a cyber defense designation by the National Security Agency and Department of Homeland Security, as well. Evaluate the course requirements, specializations available, and any included industry certifications for each program. Many schools require students to demonstrate their skills through a required internship or by completing a capstone project or thesis in the final semester of the program.
Programmatic Accreditation for Bachelor's in Cybersecurity Programs
Cybersecurity degree programs may seek specialized certification for their programs. Attending a school that has earned this independent, third-party designation lets prospective employers know the curriculum met certain quality standards and that the content graduates studied was relevant and current for the field. Formed by the National Security Agency and the Department of Homeland Security, the National Centers of Academic Excellence in Cyber Defense evaluates associate, bachelor's, and graduate degrees to ensure the curriculum aligns with core areas of knowledge, like data analysis, security design principles, and legal and ethical considerations. Schools may also apply for designation in a focus area, like cloud computing or healthcare security.
Part of the National Initiative for Cybersecurity Education, the National Centers of Academic Excellence in Cyber Operations seeks to highlight programs with an interdisciplinary, highly technical curriculum. Only schools offering bachelor's and graduate degrees may seek this designation. The evaluation includes a review of hands-on student learning opportunities, such as research projects, attendance at relevant conferences, or educational outreach to high schools or community colleges.
Bachelor's in Cybersecurity Program Admissions
Applying to college can feel overwhelming, but preparation and organization can ease your mind and simplify the process. Admission criteria often varies from school to school. Most schools charge an application fee, so you need to carefully consider which schools and programs most interest you before putting in the time and effort to apply. Consider the concentration areas offered as well as any unique classes or programs that make the cybersecurity degree a better fit for your career goals. Research each school's requirements and start gathering your materials -- like the address of your high school or any other colleges you've attended. Keep track of application deadlines, as well, and leave a little time to review your application before you submit it. You need to decide if you wish to attend school on campus or online. You may need to provide more supporting materials to an online program to show your academic potential and your own personal determination to stay on track with class assignments. Make a list of your extracurricular activities, volunteer service, and any awards that may help set your application apart from the rest. If you've been in the workforce, consider how your professional experience can highlight your academic potential.
- Minimum GPA: Some schools require applicants to hold a certain GPA, such as a 3.0. Cybersecurity programs may place greater emphasis on grades and test scores in areas of math and science. If your grades don't reflect your ability, consider taking college entrance exams, such as the ACT or SAT.
- Application: Many schools offer online admission applications. More than 800 colleges use the Common Application, a standard application that makes it easy to apply to multiple schools at once.
- Transcripts: The schools you've attended keep a record of all your classes and grades. This record makes up a significant portion of your college application. Official transcripts must come directly from the school's record office. You need to tell the records office where to send your transcript or give the school you're applying to permission to request the transcript. Students rarely pay a fee for this service.
- Letters of Recommendation: You should plan to have between 1 and 3 letters of recommendation from former teachers, coaches, advisers, or employers, though the number required varies from school to school. Ask these individuals personally if they would write a letter for you, let them know your deadline, and give them at least a couple of weeks to complete the letter.
- Test Scores: Most schools require scores from a standardized college entrance exam, such as the ACT or SAT. The scores from these tests may determine if you'll need to take remedial or foundation coursework before starting on required coursework. Doing exceptionally well in a subject may also qualify you to skip a class. Be sure to request copies of scores on any Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate, or College-Level Examination Program tests as well, since these tests may qualify you for college credit.
- Application Fee: Admission fees cover the cost of reviewing your application materials. The nonrefundable charge can range from $30 to $90. Many schools offer fee waivers for low-income students.
What Else Can I Expect From a Bachelor's in Cybersecurity Program?
Your college's core curriculum in cybersecurity likely covers the basics of computer networking and information architecture. These classes not only ensure you gain basic technical skills, but also help develop the analytical and problem-solving abilities that will set you apart when you enter the job market. If your school doesn't offer a specific concentration area, work with your academic adviser to choose electives that may help you reach your career goals.
|Computer Systems Security||Learn the fundamentals of computer operating systems and networking with an emphasis on protecting an organization's data and hardware. This concentration prepares you to design effective security policies and to implement those policies across an organization. Coursework also covers computer system architecture and how to monitor systems for unauthorized access and protect against data loss or theft.||Security systems analyst,
information security analyst,
computer and information systems manager
|Information Assurance||This specialization works focuses on software development and security. Students learn how to establish secure coding environments, maintain and protect source codes, recommend software to defend against cyber attacks, and understand digital forensics to investigate data breaches. Students in this specialty gain the ability to conduct risk assessments and identify weaknesses in software.||Information assurance analyst,
information security specialist
|Wireless and Mobile Security||People store more and more of their information in virtual cloud networks or on their mobile devices. This specialization equips graduates with the skills necessary to secure that data, regardless of where it is stored. Courses in mobile applications, mobile devices, and wireless networking provide the technical expertise necessary to enter this fast-changing field.||Software developer,
cloud computing developer
|Healthcare Information||The move to electronic health records means healthcare organizations must ensure the digital safety of their patients' information. They also need ways to securely transmit necessary information between providers and insurance companies. This specialty explores the unique information security challenges this industry faces, with an emphasis on network architecture and software security.||Information security analyst,
computer and information systems manager
|Software Development and Security||In this specialization, students develop new tools to fight cyber attacks, such as viruses or spyware, and prevent unauthorized access to computer systems or sensitive data. The coursework calls on students to use problem-solving and analytical abilities to meet industry software needs while ensuring data integrity and protection.||Security software developer|
Courses in a Bachelor's in Cybersecurity Program
Individual course requirements vary from school to school and may also depend upon your chosen specialty or concentration. Many classes may prepare you to earn industry certifications, which also enhance your resume. Pay attention to any classes that may require prerequisites to ensure you have met those requirements before enrollment and plan ahead for comprehensive courses, such as a senior project or thesis.
- Principles of Network Security
Students in this course study prior cyber-attacks on computer systems, networks, and the internet to understand how to detect and prevent future attacks. This course covers risk assessment and common software weaknesses bad actors may exploit as well as different security mechanisms, comparing their pros and cons. This course often includes hands-on learning with lab exercises.
- Computer Forensics
Learn about the evidence hackers may leave behind after an attack and how to collect that evidence in a way that leads to the identification and, possibly, prosecution of the responsible parties. The course uses various techniques in data analysis and delves into the legal issues that can arise in a digital investigation.
- Secure Software Development
Learn the principles and tools used to develop secure software applications. The course covers a variety of programming languages with coursework on improving software integrity and usability. Coursework often includes lab exercises, group projects, and individual software development, providing hands-on learning and opportunities to demonstrate practical knowledge.
Combining criminal justice and computer science, cybercrime explores the many ways bad actors can misuse sensitive data and information. Students explore the growth of cybercrime and national and international law enforcement efforts. Expect to study landmark cases and explore the unique legal questions raised in the areas of information privacy and identity theft.
- Security Risk Management
Risk management entails identifying possible weaknesses in software or computer networks and finding solutions to make those programs or systems more secure. Students study various methodologies used by different industries to understand how to conduct a cybersecurity assessment. Expect hands-on work in this course, evaluating potential risk, research, and analysis of security measures.
How Long Does It Take to Get a Bachelor's in Cybersecurity?
Most undergraduate cybersecurity degrees require about 120 credits, though this can vary slightly from school to school. A full-time student typically graduates in four years. Part-time students often need additional time to complete all the required courses. Many schools offer accelerated programs, however, which can make it easier for a part-time student to earn more credits during an academic year. This includes shortened classes (often 8-10 weeks each) offered year-round. Some schools use a competency-based model that allows you to move on from one class as soon as you've mastered the material. In such cases, some classes may still require more time than others, but you can study at your own pace.
Also, consider any college credits you may have earned in the past, through dual enrollment in high school or as a student at another college. Those credits may satisfy some of the general education requirements. Many schools may also grant college credit for professional work experience, further reducing the credits you'll need for graduation. Anything you can do to reduce the number of credits you need for the degree up front will save you time and money later.
How Much Is a Bachelor's in Cybersecurity?
The cost of college tuition ranges from about $3,440 per year at public two-year colleges to more than $32,000 per year at private four-year colleges. In-state students attending a public school often find lower tuition costs, around $9,410 per year. These costs only consider tuition and fees, however. You must also budget for books and any other equipment you may need -- like a new laptop computer. Cybersecurity degrees may also require additional fees for technology access, lab fees, or internship supervision. Housing and on-campus meals can also add to the overall cost of college attendance.
You can reduce the cost of college by applying for federal, state, and school financial aid, often by completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. Complete this form early to ensure you receive as much assistance as you can. The form asks about your finances to determine your expected family contribution and estimated cost of your educational expenses. Collegeboard.com offers a tool to figure the estimated net cost of attendance at thousands of schools, considering financial aid and tax benefits. While the cost of college may seem staggering, it's important to remember that a cybersecurity degree represents an investment in your future and will dramatically impact your future income.
Certifications and Licenses a Bachelor's in Cybersecurity Prepares For
- CompTIA Security+
The Computing Technology Industry Association's baseline certification ensures individuals understand fundamentals of IT networking and security. It's an entry-level certification approved by the U.S. Department of Defense for information assurance. Preparation includes technical aspects of computer architecture and cryptography best practices. CompTIA charges $330 for the exam, and many cybersecurity programs include training for the test in their curriculum.
- GIAC Certified Forensic Examiner
The 115-question exam measures a candidate's ability to conduct digital forensic investigations, such as tracing online activity and meeting legal requirements for evidence collection. The exam covers analysis of systems and devices, file and program activity, and user communications. The certification lasts four years before individuals must renew it with relevant continuing education.
- GIAC Security Leadership
The certification ensures professionals have the technical knowledge and leadership skills necessary to lead cybersecurity teams and organizations. The test covers a variety of topics, such as addressing common attacks, managing information access, and the legal requirements for incident response. The test also covers contingency planning, managing employees, and communication. Successful completion of the test results in a four-year certification, which professionals must maintain through continuing education.
- Certified Information Systems Security Professional
The CISSP certification covers asset security, risk management, security operations, and communication and network security. Before you can earn the designation, you must complete five years of full-time security work. A four-year degree in the field satisfies one year of the work requirement. You can also earn the certification while gaining the necessary experience. Renewal requires continuing education and payment of a yearly membership fee.
- System Security Certified Practitioner
The SSCP designation covers technical security topics like access controls, risk identification, incident response and recovery, and application security. You must have one year of full-time work experience or a four-year degree in a related subject to take the exam. Certification lasts three years, though continuing education and membership maintain the designation.
Resources for Cybersecurity Students
This interactive, real-time map lets users monitor activities in cybersecurity around the world. The Kaspersky Security Network includes more than 60 million users who provide data to the network, allowing early warning of possible threats and development of new tools to protect information systems.
Cybersecurity Ventures maintains a list of the top 500 most innovative cybersecurity companies. Users can identify possible employment opportunities and learn more about each company's role different sectors of the industry, such as cloud security or threat protection.
Designed to expand the capacity of law enforcement and public safety agencies to respond to cybercrimes and threats, this resource offers numerous tools for officers, prosecutors, and chiefs. It includes a directory of cybercrime labs, threat bulletins, and investigative resources.
PCMag offers its Security Watch blog to provide comprehensive coverage of cybersecurity in the U.S. and around the world. The blog grew from a section of the online publishing company providing in-depth coverage of security topics.
The NSA's Cybersecurity Threat Operations Center provides a list of security principles for itself and cybersecurity professionals, such as creating a defendable perimeter and using comprehensive threat intelligence and machine learning. The NSA also supports a culture of curiosity that allows professionals to respond to threats quicky and anticipate potential reactions.
Professional Organizations in Cybersecurity
Professional organizations help cybersecurity professionals keep up with the latest news and advancements in the quickly changing technology field. That's just one of the benefits of joining a professional organization. Membership also often includes the opportunity to network with others in the field and attend conferences and workshops that improve your skills. Online social media channels or dedicated message boards provide opportunities to discuss challenging issues or unique problems you may encounter, and you gain access to job postings across the country.
This organization provides its members with access to scholarship information, internship postings, mentorship opportunities, and discounted entrance to conferences and trainings. A monthly webinar provides ongoing enrichment opportunities.
Founded in 2011, this association seeks to encourage the exchange of ideas between cybersecurity professionals in government and industry. The organization focuses on research and development in areas of cybersecurity, space, and intelligence gathering.
This association strives to offer ongoing educational and training opportunities on the latest developments in information security for its international membership. The organization works with leaders in the industry to develop robust certification programs recognized around the world.
With 10,000 members around the world, ISSA offers local chapter meetings, international conferences, and a monthly journal. Members can speak at events, contribute to the journal, volunteer in committees, and earn class credits towards certifications.
Previously known as the Information Systems Audit and Control Association, this global nonprofit organization launched in 1969 to provide a central source of information for the growing field of auditing and computer systems. The organization offers multiple industry certifications and ongoing professional development opportunities for its 140,000 members.