An online cybersecurity degree prepares you to prevent and troubleshoot malicious attacks against organizations' data, computers, and networks. Graduates of online cybersecurity degree programs find their skills and knowledge in demand thanks to a deep understanding of machine learning, data analytics, and autonomous systems.
The following article provides an overview of what to expect as you pursue a cybersecurity degree online and after you finish your studies. We highlight program admission requirements, typical classes, and career options. If you enjoy leveraging your passion for technology to protect highly sensitive information that affects people's lives, then continue reading to learn more.
Overview of Cybersecurity Degrees
You can complete most of your cybersecurity degree online, but your program may include in-person requirements like an internship. While earning a cybersecurity degree online provides the textbook know-how for a career in the field, you must also enjoy analyzing and solving complex problems. Additionally, you must possess familiarity with a range of computer systems to meet the diverse needs of organizations. Maintaining a sense of flexibility proves important, since each day may bring unexpected challenges.
Cybersecurity professionals ensure the safety and integrity of organizations' information systems. Their responsibilities require identifying who should receive access to specific data, protecting that data from anyone who should not, and implementing programs to avoid unauthorized access. Much of their work entails devising strategies to combat viruses, malware, phishing, and hacking.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects employment for information security analysts to grow 28% by 2026. This anticipated surge reflects the increased demand for experts to guard against the rise in cyberattacks. In particular, the financial services industry requires ramped up information security, while the healthcare sector must also protect sensitive data found in patients' electronic medical records.
Completing coursework for an online cybersecurity degree generally requires students to earn 120 credits, but your school may accept transfer credits if you previously completed college classes. Transferring credits for those courses may accelerate the pace for degree completion. Admission to online cybersecurity programs requires transcripts from any colleges you attended, specifying what credits you earned. Be aware that most colleges charge a nominal fee for an official transcript. In addition to college transcripts, admission typically requires high school transcripts to verify graduation status and GPA.
Expect most accredited online cybersecurity degree programs to require SAT or ACT exam scores and a personal statement that explains why you want to earn the degree. The essay provides an opportunity to share your academic and professional aspirations.
Moreover, some schools request letters of recommendation from former teachers and employers who can attest to your character, academic achievements, and potential for success. All of these materials complement your college application. The application fee typically ranges from $50-$90, but you might qualify for a fee waiver if you can demonstrate financial hardship.
What Will I Learn?
An online bachelor's degree in cybersecurity sharpens your fundamental knowledge of the field, especially in digital forensics and cybercrime. Your studies build proficiency in subjects such as math, information technology, and computer programming. Moreover, you learn best practices for protecting information systems and networks. Expect to strengthen skills in using the most up-to-date platforms to monitor and address unauthorized activities.
Completing studies for an online cybersecurity degree typically requires earning 120 credits. These include 40-42 credits in general education, 10-12 credits in arts and sciences, and 30-33 credits in the major. You can explore your interests in elective coursework that makes up the remaining 34-36 credits. These can include classes in computer science, information technology, or even criminal justice. As a result, you enjoy a well-rounded academic experience in preparation for a meaningful career. Take confidence knowing that all of your studies build project management, problem-solving, and leadership capabilities.
While specific courses vary by school, the following list provides examples of the classes in which online cybersecurity degree students enroll:
Students explore the functions of computer components, data storage, and retrieval strategies. Class topics include installing and troubleshooting printers, network and system security, and diagnostic procedures. Course instruction prepares you for the CompTIA A+ exam to earn certification that desktop support analysts frequently hold.
Secure Systems Analysis and Design
This class provides instruction to help you safeguard against illicit activity that threatens information security. Students observe how to manage access control systems, perform risk management, and develop ethical and legally compliant regulations. As a result, you can sit for the systems security certified practitioner exam for certification.
This class examines the pros and cons of technology adoption while helping students learn how best to evaluate technologies. Learners examine some of these technologies to determine how they might affect IT in the future. These skills prepare learners for careers as network systems and data analysts.
Managing Cloud Security
Learners explore design strategies to solve cloud-based operations issues. Doing so protects organizations' confidential information and better ensures its integrity when it comes to cloud computing. Topics explore disaster recovery plans, security controls, and continuity management plans. Coursework can prepare you for a career as a cloud security engineer.
Cyberdefense and Countermeasures
Students develop competencies to handle challenges when security protocols, firewalls, and encryption fail to prevent attackers' access to data. The class explores how to identify and respond to threats, manage risks, and comply with laws that govern incident handling, as well as preparing learners for the certified incident handler designation frequently held by risk management administrators.
Managing Information Security
This course builds on fundamental information security knowledge through analysis of information security and broader organizational goals. Students gain experience in developing and managing an information security program, including developing best practices to create an information security governance framework.
What Can I Do With an Online Bachelor's Degree in Cybersecurity?
A top online cybersecurity degree develops a range of competencies that prepare you for success in the workplace and life. It also allows you to enter a fulfilling career in your choice of industry and earn a lucrative salary. The following section discusses the skills you can expect to sharpen in your studies and what you can do with your degree.
Earning a cybersecurity degree online prepares you to competently execute security strategies for a range of computer systems while collaborating with teams of colleagues to do so. Degree coursework strengthens communication abilities while emphasizing the importance of ethics and integrity. Students sharpen the necessary skills for overseeing and protecting organizations' information infrastructure while learning to develop, execute, and assess policies that protect their data. Coursework for an online degree in cybersecurity also exposes learners to industry research and builds decision analysis abilities using statistical principles.
An online cybersecurity degree strengthens skills such as:
- Problem-Solving: This skill equips you with the ability to address critical networking issues and connect people to the data they need to complete their work.
- Risk Mitigation: Students in the field must possess this attribute to design appropriate security infrastructures, identify threats, and prevent the kinds of challenges and often devastating consequences those threats impose.
- Security Troubleshooting: With the know-how to install and monitor network security features, this skill enables you to protect data wisely.
- Leadership: Learners must possess this skill to serve teams, employing their abilities to resolve conflict, mediate disputes, drive consensus, and identify the best human resources to boost organizational performance.
Potential Careers and Salaries
Online cybersecurity degree programs equip students with industry-standard knowledge for protecting their most sensitive data. Earning this degree affords graduates tremendous freedom when it comes to which sector to work in. Unlike graduates of other programs, they can decide to pursue a career in many industries, such as healthcare, financial services, engineering, and academia.
Every industry and the organizations within them understand the threats posed by cyberattacks and intrusions. This places online cybersecurity degree holders in extreme demand, especially as technology rapidly advances. Unfortunately, these advances come with the likelihood that some will use it for illegal purposes that place individuals and information at high risk. Your degree enables you to resolve these problems or prevent them before they occur.
Computer Network Security Administrator
Annual Median Salary: $81,100
This professional installs software and hardware in alignment with an organization's computer system requirements. They also assess and maintain computer network and system security. Knowledge of systems like wide area networks, local area networks, and intranets remains critical.
Computing, Networking, or IT Security Consultant
Annual Median Salary: $83,147
Frequently employed by large organizations, these consultants design and improve their systems to protect against data theft, including terrorist-related activities. In addition to assessing threats, they devise emergency plans for implementation when disasters or unexpected challenges arise.
Information Security Analyst
Annual Median Salary: $95,510
This expert safeguards an organization's computer systems and networks by taking appropriate safety measures. This includes installing data encryption programs and firewalls. They also oversee penetration testing to identify and protect against vulnerabilities before attacks occur.
Information Security Engineer
Annual Median Salary: $92,389
These engineers help to maintain the data communicated within, and stored throughout, organizations. Their work requires developing protocols for data use, transmission, and retrieval. They also make certain these protocols remain flexible enough for employees to enact while nonetheless ensuring necessary security.
Information Technology Auditor
Annual Median Salary: $64,948
An expert in this role assesses an organization's IT controls to determine if they protect its assets and align with its overall goals. They also maintain client relationships, help explain the audit process, and inform management about issues that the audit reveals.
Will I Need a Graduate Degree for a Career in Cybersecurity?
Pursuing a graduate degree in cybersecurity might prove appealing if you wish to advance to either a senior or leadership role in your career. It can increase both your employability and income. According to 2016 data from the National Center for Education Statistics, earning a master's degree can mean a 28% increase in median salary over earning a bachelor's degree ($64,100 versus $50,000).
While an advanced degree can help move you along the fast track for you career, other factors play an important role in making this happen. Years of experience may outweigh holding a master's degree, especially given on-the-job knowledge of organizations' security threats and needs. Moreover, the complexity of assignments you have tackled may mean more to employers than a graduate degree because it demonstrates decision-making and analytical skills. So, know that you can still advance in the field even if you choose not to earn a graduate degree.
Accreditation for Cybersecurity Bachelor's Programs
Search for accredited schools when applying to online cybersecurity programs. Accreditation verifies a school's academic rigor and those of the programs it offers. Employers feel confident knowing the graduates of an accredited institution fulfilled robust requirements to earn their degrees, making them attractive candidates for hire.
The Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology accredits online cybersecurity degree programs based on student outcomes and curriculums. Not all cybersecurity programs boast accreditation, so make certain of your school's status. Most U.S. colleges maintain accreditation from one of six regional agencies, e.g., the Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools and the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools. Others may hold national accreditation from agencies like the Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges and the Distance Education and Training Council, but regional accreditation is held in higher regard.
You can search for regionally accredited institutions by school name on the U.S. Department of Education website. Similarly, the Council for Higher Education Accreditation website lists the names of its accrediting organization on its website.
Cybersecurity Professional Organizations
Join a professional organization for cybersecurity experts to complement your college studies and bolster your career opportunities. In addition to helping you network with colleagues in the field, membership offers conferences, symposia, and training opportunities to support your continuing education. Furthermore, most professional organizations post job announcements for those looking to either transition to other jobs or advance their careers. Membership can benefit students, recent graduates, and working professionals by helping them stay abreast of the latest research and trends in the field.
Information Security Research Association
Members of this organization benefit from its information security awareness seminars and participate in its international hacking and information security conference. In addition, the organization honors professionals' outstanding contributions to the field. It also recognizes the first Thursday in August as Information Security Day and engages those still enrolled in school through student chapters.
Federal Information Systems Security Educators' Association
For more than 30 years, this organization has helped professionals who ensure federal agency safety fulfill their systems security training by raising visibility for its importance. Members can attend an annual conference and participate in an online community with colleagues to broaden their professional networks.
Information Systems Security Association
Members of this professional association appreciate its support of experts who manage organizations' technological risks and protect their computing infrastructure. The organization offers a range of networking and educational opportunities for them, in addition to hosting forums and publishing information relevant to those in the field.