These Are the Top Universities That Have Master’s in Cyber Security Programs

These Are the Top Universities That Have Master’s in Cyber Security Programs
Cyber security jobs are recession-proof because anything stored on networked devices or connected to the internet is vulnerable to attack. Image from Unsplash
Christa Terry profile
Christa Terry August 10, 2020

As the world generates more and more data, it takes more and more cyber security experts to keep it secure. These are the schools to check out if you want to become one of them.

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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), 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:

  • Are there different kinds of master’s in cyber security programs?
  • What do master’s in cyber security programs typically cover?
  • How important is accreditation when it comes to cyber security master’s degrees?
  • What are the best universities for a master’s in cyber security?
  • What makes these schools better than other institutions offering cyber security degrees?
  • Do you need a degree from one of the best cyber security colleges to get a job?

Are there different kinds of master’s in cyber security programs?

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:

  • Master of Information and Cyber Security: This program focuses on equipping students with advanced skills in protecting data and managing security risks. It covers areas like network security, information assurance, ethical hacking, and cryptography.
  • Master of Public Administration with a Cyber Security Concentration: This degree blends public administration with cyber security. It’s designed for those looking to work in government or public sector roles, focusing on policy, management, and the application of cyber security in the public domain.
  • Master of Science in Applied Information Technology with a Cyber Security Concentration: This program emphasizes the application of information technology with a special focus on cyber security. It covers topics like system administration, network security, and the implementation of security solutions in IT environments.
  • Master of Science in Computer and Information System Security: This degree offers a comprehensive study of computer and network security, including areas like cyber defense, secure system design, and vulnerability assessment.
  • Master of Science in Computer Engineering with a Cyber Security Concentration: This program combines computer engineering principles with cyber security. It covers hardware and software aspects of cyber security, including designing secure computer systems and networks.
  • Master of Science in Computer Information Systems & Cyber Security: This degree focuses on the development and management of computer information systems with an emphasis on security. Topics include data management, secure coding, and cyber risk management.
  • Master of Science in Computer Science with a Cyber Security Concentration: This program integrates advanced computer science concepts with cyber security. It covers algorithmic foundations, software development, and specialized topics in cyber security like cryptography and network security.
  • Master of Science in Cyber Security: This degree offers an in-depth study of cyber security, covering areas such as threat analysis, cyber incident response, and security policy. It prepares students for various roles in the cyber security field.
  • Master of Science in Cyber Security and Information Assurance: This program focuses on protecting and securing information assets and systems. It covers risk management, legal issues, and policies alongside technical security strategies.
  • Master of Science in Cyber Security Engineering: This degree emphasizes the engineering aspects of cyber security. It covers the design and development of secure systems and the integration of security into system development processes.
  • Master of Science in Cyber Security Management: This program combines cyber security with management principles. It is designed for those looking to lead cyber security teams and manage security strategies in organizations.
  • Master of Science in Information Security: This degree focuses on protecting information and information systems from unauthorized access and attacks. It covers encryption, digital forensics, and compliance with information security standards.
  • Master of Science in Information Systems and Security Management: This program blends information systems management with security aspects. It covers managing IT projects, developing secure information systems, and understanding the strategic role of information security in organizations.
  • Master of Science in Security Informatics: This degree focuses on the application of informatics to security challenges. It includes studying data analytics, system security, and the use of information technology in crime prevention and response.
  • Master of Science in Technology, Cyber Security and Policy: This program combines technology, cyber security, and policy. It is designed for those looking to understand the technological and policy aspects of cyber security and how they interact.
  • MBA with a Cyber Security Concentration: This is a Master of Business Administration program with a focus on cyber security. It combines business management skills with knowledge of cyber security strategies and risk management, ideal for those looking to take on leadership roles in the field of cyber security.

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). (source)

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. (source)

University and Program Name Learn More

What do master’s in cyber security programs typically cover?

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:

  • Cyber Security Law and Policy: This course likely covers legal and policy aspects of cyber security, including laws related to privacy, data protection, and cybercrime. It might also explore the development and implementation of security policies in organizations.
  • Defensive Cyber Security Technologies: This course probably focuses on technologies and strategies used to defend against cyber attacks. This could include firewalls, intrusion detection systems, anti-virus software, and other defensive mechanisms.
  • Foundations of Cyber Security: A foundational course that likely introduces the basic concepts of cyber security. It might cover topics like threat landscapes, basic security principles, risk management, and the importance of cyber security in various sectors.
  • Hardware Security: This course is likely about securing physical devices and hardware components of computer systems. Topics might include hardware vulnerabilities, secure hardware design, and protection against physical attacks.
  • Information Systems Assurance: This course probably covers methods and practices to ensure the integrity, availability, and confidentiality of information systems. It might include topics like compliance, auditing, and risk assessment.
  • Network Security Concepts and Applications: Likely focuses on the principles of securing computer networks. Topics might include network vulnerabilities, security protocols, and secure network architecture and design.
  • Organizational Cyber Security: This course probably examines cyber security from an organizational perspective. It might cover topics like creating a security-aware culture, policy development, and the role of cyber security in business strategy.
  • Secure System Administration: Likely focuses on best practices in administering and securing information systems. Topics might include system hardening, user and access management, and the administration of secure networks and servers.
  • Security Audit and Penetration Testing: This course likely covers the techniques used to assess and improve the security of information systems, including how to conduct security audits and penetration tests to identify vulnerabilities.
  • Systems Security and Cryptography: Probably focuses on securing system-level software and using cryptography. Topics might include operating system security, cryptographic algorithms, and the application of cryptography in securing data and communications.

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:

  • Biometrics: Biometrics refers to the identification and verification of individuals based on physical or behavioral characteristics. In cybersecurity, it’s used for authentication purposes, such as fingerprint scanning, facial recognition, or iris scans, to enhance security measures.
  • Cyber Attacks in Terrorism: This topic deals with the use of cyber attacks by terrorist groups. It involves understanding how terrorists exploit digital networks and technologies to carry out attacks, spread propaganda, or disrupt critical infrastructure.
  • Cyber Intelligence and Cyber Operations: Cyber intelligence involves gathering, analyzing, and using information about potential cyber threats. Cyber operations refer to the strategic deployment of cyber capabilities for defense, offense, or espionage purposes.
  • Cyber Security Policy: This is about the development and implementation of policies aimed at protecting information and IT infrastructure. It includes setting standards, guidelines, and procedures to manage and mitigate cyber risks and ensure compliance with legal and regulatory requirements.
  • Cybercrime in the Criminal Justice System: This topic explores how cybercrimes are treated within the criminal justice system. It covers the legal aspects, law enforcement strategies, and judicial processes related to cybercrimes like hacking, identity theft, and online fraud.
  • Digital Forensics: Digital forensics involves the investigation of digital devices and networks to uncover and analyze evidence of cybercrimes. It’s used to recover and investigate material found in digital devices, often in the context of computer crime.
  • Discrete Probability in Security Analysis: This involves using discrete probability – the study of probability in discrete outcomes – to analyze and predict security incidents. It’s useful in risk assessment and in developing models to understand and mitigate potential cyber threats.
  • E-commerce Security: E-commerce security focuses on protecting online transactions and customer data in e-commerce operations. It includes securing payment systems, protecting customer privacy, and preventing fraud in online transactions.
  • Homeland Security: In the context of cybersecurity, homeland security pertains to protecting a nation’s cyberspace against domestic and foreign threats. It involves strategies to safeguard critical infrastructure, prevent cyber terrorism, and handle national-level cyber emergencies.
  • Information Systems Security: This is about safeguarding information systems from unauthorized access, use, disclosure, disruption, modification, or destruction. It includes a range of practices to protect electronic data and ensure the integrity, confidentiality, and availability of information.
  • Intrusion Detection: Intrusion detection involves monitoring networks and systems for suspicious activity that could indicate a security breach. It includes the use of software tools and techniques to detect unauthorized access or attacks.
  • Recovery Planning: Recovery planning in cybersecurity refers to the strategies and plans developed to restore IT operations following a cyberattack or disaster. This includes data backup, disaster recovery procedures, and business continuity planning.
  • Secure Code Development: This topic focuses on the practices and methodologies for writing computer software in a way that guards against the introduction of security vulnerabilities. It includes secure coding standards, code review practices, and software testing techniques to prevent security flaws.

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.

How important is accreditation when it comes to cyber security master’s degrees?

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.

What are the best universities for a master’s in cyber security?

Schools with strong cyber security programs that offer master’s degrees include:

  • Boston University
  • George Mason University
  • Georgia Institute of Technology (Main Campus)
  • Johns Hopkins University
  • New York University (NYU)
  • Purdue University (Main Campus)
  • Rochester Institute of Technology
  • Stevens Institute of Technology
  • Texas A & M University – College Station
  • University-of-California – Berkeley
  • University of Illinois at Urbana – Champaign
  • University of Maryland – College Park
  • University of Washington – Seattle Campus
  • Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University

What makes these schools better than other institutions offering cyber security degrees?

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:

  • Address both technical and theoretical issues in cyber security in the curriculum and in research projects
  • Are overseen by leading practitioners and researchers in the field of cyber security
  • Attract a diverse student body that includes women and members of the military
  • Emphasize and support career growth and professional advancement
  • Foster a learning environment in which students and faculty work together on projects that address real-life cyber security threats
  • Offer interdisciplinary classes that cut across related fields like computer science, engineering, and management
  • Meet or exceed CAE-CD standards
  • Teach not only cyber security fundamentals but also the effective governance of secure information systems

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.

Do you need a degree from one of the best cyber security colleges to get a job?

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.

(Updated on January 5, 2024)

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About the Editor

Tom Meltzer spent over 20 years writing and teaching for The Princeton Review, where he was lead author of the company's popular guide to colleges, before joining Noodle.

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