If you’re looking for a career in which demand outstrips supply, seek no further. Cyber security may be the strongest demand market in the world today. According to (ISC)2, the 4.7 million working professionals in this field fall 3.4 million workers short of meeting the international market’s need. Nearly three in four employers report a lack of sufficient cyber security personnel.
Why are so many institutions looking for cyber security experts? Because anything stored on networked devices or connected to the internet is vulnerable to attack. That includes bank accounts, smart devices, electronic medical records management systems, and databases maintained by the National Security Agency (NSA). A motivated cyber criminal might be content to hijack your Alexa or might aim higher and try to start a war. At that point, cyber security isn’t just about protecting people’s sensitive information or industry secrets. It’s about protecting society.
Cyber security encompasses numerous technologies, practices, and processes. That’s why a master’s in cyber security can lead you down many career paths. Maybe you’ll spend your days keeping hackers out of computer networks, blocking their efforts to break in at every turn. Perhaps your work will involve keeping data anonymous so people feel safer banking online. Maybe you’ll ensure that should an attack happen, information is recoverable and the perpetrators can be traced.
In this article about the best universities for a master’s in cyber security, we cover:
The answer to this question is a confusing yes and no. It may be more helpful to think of the master’s in cyber security as a category of advanced degrees that are usually (but not always) designed for professionals who already work in IT, computer science, or cyber security.
All cyber security master’s programs are designed to prepare students to, as University of Tulsa puts it in its online master’s in cyber security program guide, “master the theory, concepts and techniques of information assurance and network defense in real-world environments.”
Different cyber security master’s degree programs may cover the same or similar coursework (more on this below), but they go by many names. After completing a program at one of the top universities for a master’s in cyber security, you might have a:
At some schools, cyber security degrees are offered as computer science degree concentrations, like the MSCS in cyber security offered by University of Virginia (Main Campus). Don’t make the mistake of assuming that a CS program won’t dig as deep into the processes and technologies people use to test network security, build robust safeguards, detect potential intrusions, monitor computer security systems, and mitigate the risks associated with emerging cyber threats. The MSCS in Cyber Security at one school may be virtually identical to the Master of Science in Cyber Security at another. Reading course lists carefully is the only way to discern a program’s focus.
In its 2022 Cybersecurity Workforce Study, (ISC) estimates the size of the the global cyber security workforce at 4.7 million. It also indicates that the current workforce is 3.4 million workers short. That’s over 3 million positions waiting to be filled by qualified cyber security experts (nearly half a million of them in North America alone). (
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, top-paying employers in cyber security analytics include those in:
- Information services: $149,500
- Securities, commodity contracts, and other financial instruments: $142,000
- Research and development in the physical, engineering, and life sciences: $129,000
- Scientific research and development services: $128,500
- Software publishers: $126,000
- Publishing: $125,700
The average salaries of professionals with a Master's degree are between $91,000 and $109,000, respectively. About half of all professionals in this field hold a graduate degree. ( )
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The curricula in full-time and part-time cyber security master’s programs typically cover topics related to security hardware and software, best practices in network security, security planning, cyber forensics, risk management, and risk assessment. At the University of Tulsa, for instance, core classes in the 30-credit hour program include:
Every school approaches this graduate degree discipline differently, however. Some master’s-level cyber security education programs offer concentration tracks, devote more coursework to programming, and branch out to include topics like:
As you research the colleges and universities in the curated list you’ll find a few headings down, keep in mind that ‘best’ is subjective. The best school for a master’s in cyber security will offer core courses, electives, concentrations, and career support services that support your unique goals.
An accredited program is one that meets specific standards set by an accrediting agency. In most cases, accrediting agencies are regional organizations that oversee institutional operations, including all the degree programs at a particular school.
Other accrediting agencies specialize in vetting certain types of academic programs. This type of accreditation is much more critical when it comes to science and technology programs. When you’re looking at cyber security degree accreditation, be aware that the NSA and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) jointly sponsor the National Centers of Academic Excellence in Cyber Security initiative, which vets associate’s degree, bachelor’s degree, master’s degree, and doctoral degree programs in cyber security. The NSA maintains a list of colleges and universities that have earned the National Center of Academic Excellence in Cyber Security designation organized by state. It’s worth looking at those schools first.
Schools with strong cyber security programs that offer master’s degrees include:
In 2014, the Ponemon Institute and HP Enterprise Security conducted a study of colleges and universities in the US to find the best cyber security universities and determine what traits set them apart. While the list of schools they put together is out-of-date by now, their list of the characteristics shared by top schools is still fresh. According to the report, programs at the top universities for cyber security:
In the cyber security master’s programs offered by the schools above, students receive ample opportunities to get hands-on experience in real-world settings and to work with top experts in the field. That’s because those colleges and universities have valuable connections to government agencies and security firms that lead to high-value internships and post-graduation placements. Chances are good that if you graduate with a master’s degree in cyber security from one of these schools, you’ll get recruited soon after—or even before—graduation.
You can still find work in cyber security with a bachelor’s degree or, in some cases, with no degree at all, which suggests that you don’t need a degree from a top cyber security school. It wasn’t that long ago that there was a zero percent unemployment rate in the field and cyber security degree programs were relatively rare. That’s no longer the case, although there’s still a significant shortage of cyber security professionals in the US. There are plenty of cyber security jobs out there—many of which will go unfilled—so the cyber security field isn’t particularly competitive.
That said, there’s a big difference between handling IT security for a small local business and becoming the cyber security manager or cyber security director for a large enterprise-level firm. If you want to rise through the ranks in the cyber security world faster, work for bigger and better companies, and earn an average cyber security salary that’s well over $100,000, a master’s degree from one of the top universities for cyber security will definitely pay off.
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