Is a Cyber Security Degree Worth it?

Cyber Security is more than a buzz phrase, it’s an exploding field that tackles a wide variety of existential threats to digital information and systems. Qualified professionals in the field will be courted by an ever-growing menagerie of employers willing to pay competitive salaries to a slowly growing, under supplied roster of applicants. While people enter the field of Cyber Security from a number of career paths, it’s expedient, efficient and preferable to earn a degree in Cyber Security if you’re looking to begin a career within it. Here we’ve examined why getting a Cyber Security degree is absolutely worth it for the right candidates.

When considering the Cyber Security field, it’s easy to ask, why do you specifically need a Cyber Security degree? This is a good question, especially considering the number of cyber security-related academic subjects that prepare people for cyber security positions. While this will differ some depending on the degree level in question, one reason why degrees that are specifically in cyber security excel is due to their interdisciplinary nature. As opposed to other more traditional IT or software engineering roles, many cyber security positions traverse a range of disciplines: IT, support, data analysis, law, incident response, public relations, defense of infrastructure, management, business, information systems, and more. While there are a range of related degrees in information technology, systems, computer science, and national security, cyber security degrees often tackle a little bit of all of these subjects. For more information on qualifications needed for specific cyber security positions, check out out our cyber security career guides or our more general guide on how to prepare for a career in cyber security.

Perhaps the biggest contender for an alternate to a cyber security degree is computer science. While there are specializations that tailor CS degrees for cyber security roles, we have one large reason why cyber security programs could be a better fit for the field. The reign of traditional computer science has led to a climate in which nearly 50% of American adults have been hit with a cyber attack. Clearly, established wisdom and common security protocols aren’t enough to secure individual information, which can often be used to compromise organizational information, systems, and integrity. Cyber attacks are advancing rapidly, and the efforts to combat them must too. Cyber Security degrees are newer programs, that utilize experienced faculty with actual experience in the field, and they reflect the latest tools and methods to fend off, prevent and imprison cyber criminals.

Job Prospects and Cyber Security

Another great reason to specifically pursue a Cyber Security degree is the exorbitant demand for people in the field. Last year there were over one million job openings in the American economy for Cyber Security professionals. Tech is already a booming industry, and Cyber Security is one of its fastest growing sectors. Between 2010-2014, there were three times as many Cyber Security positions created in comparison with overall IT job growth. Still, companies were growing desperate, with 53% of organizations searching as long as six months to find qualified security candidates to fill positions. It’s expected that there will be 1.5 million more openings in Cyber Security than professionals to fill them by 2020, according to one report. Another report claims there will be a deficit of 2 million unfilled Cyber Security positions by 2019. One factor leading to this deficit is how uncommon it is to hear Cyber Security touted as a career option. According to a report in 2015, 77% of women said there was no mention of Cyber Security by their high school teachers or guidance counselors (67% of men said the same). It’s also estimated that by 2020 the cost of data breach will cost an organization $150 million on average. All this demand, low supply, and mounting costs of attacks means that qualified, accredited Cyber Security professionals have significant economic leverage in the marketplace, and will continue to for the foreseeable future.

The often conservative U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics believes Cyber Security jobs will increase by 18 percent by 2024, over twice the average for all jobs. What’s even more encouraging is that cyber attacks can harm any organization that has a digital presence, many of which don’t necessarily need a wealth of computer science professionals. This equals more diverse hiring opportunities for Cyber Security workers. Many computer science professionals will likely fill some of these positions, but they’re also more likely to require extensive on-the-job training than graduates with degrees in Cyber Security. Even people who don’t have credentials may enter Cyber Security through on-the-job experience. However, for people who have earned Cyber Security degrees, you’re far less likely to be playing catch up when you enter the field, allowing you to rise quicker through the ranks than your peers, and qualify for higher paying positions.

Choosing a Cyber Security Degree Level

In order to excel in Cyber Security, you’ll need an analytical mind, strong communication skills, an intuitive understanding of computational science and mathematics, stamina to continue in the face of adversity or failure, independent work ethic, and a passion for the field. These are all skills and traits that should exist in you, but can be considerably developed in a Cyber Security degree program. A great place to start from scratch is with an Associate degree in Cyber Security. In these programs, you’ll gain foundational skills in information technology, network security, Cisco networking and much more. Graduates with Associate degrees in Cyber Security are qualified for positions in computer support, programming, help desk, IT, and network administration that pay $60-70,000 annually.

An analysis of Cyber Security job postings found 86% of them were looking for candidates with Bachelor’s degrees. In these programs, students will learn advanced skills, theory and hands-on problem solving in information assurance management (IAM), technology, IT, network infrastructure, software development, network security, forensics, and how to prevent or stop cyber attacks. Cyber Security Bachelor’s degrees allow graduates to qualify for mid to upper level positions in the field, working as information security analysts, computer support specialists, cryptographers, forensic experts, among many other positions. Cyber Security professionals report an average income of $116,000 annually, or $55.77 per hour. That’s almost three times the national average annual income, according to BLS.

In addition to Associate and Bachelor degrees, there are a glut of Master’s, Doctoral and certificate programs in Cyber Security that can enhance and refine your experience and credentials. For a full examination of the different degree programs within Cyber Security, please check our cyber security ranking page. For an in-depth look at differences between degree levels and types often used to enter cyber security fields, see our degrees page.