Most Affordable Online Master’s in Cyber Security Programs

Most Affordable Online Master’s in Cyber Security Programs
Admissions committees typically require candidates to have a computer science background, or at least advanced programming and math skills. Image from Unsplash
Lucien Formichella profile
Lucien Formichella July 31, 2020

Are you interested in earning a Master of Science in Cyber Security without sacrificing your wallet or lowering your education standards? Many affordable online master's programs meet strict accreditation requirements, so you needn't empty your bank account to enroll in an excellent cyber security program.

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A Master of Science in Cyber Security is among the safest degrees you can earn. Why? The unemployment rate for cyber security professionals is close to zero, for one. Demand figures only to increase going forward. There is no future scenario in which cyber security becomes obsolete.

Also, the pay is good. Salaries for those with the requisite education and experience regularly surpass the six-figure benchmark.

So, if earning a graduate degree in cyber security is so great, why isn’t everybody doing it?

For starters, cyber security is challenging. Admissions committees typically require candidates to have a computer science background, or at least advanced programming and math skills. Additionally, completing a master’s degree can be costly. The average graduate leaves school $64,800 in debt, and that’s not including debt accrued earning a bachelor’s degree. Compounding the cost factor: if you attend a full-time on-campus program, you’ll likely need to leave work for two or more years, thus forgoing several years’ income.

You have alternatives. Online programs can be completed part-time, allowing you to continue working while you study. And while a school’s online master’s programs are rarely less expensive than its on-campus counterparts, online study should broaden your choices considerably. That’s because the program’s location will no longer be a factor; no matter where it is, you’ll be studying from the comfort of your own home. Among your additional choices will be many affordable options.

What are the most affordable online master’s in cyber security programs? We answer that question, along with a few others:

  • What do you learn during a master’s in cyber security?
  • What should you look for in an online master’s in cyber security program?
  • Why complete an online master’s in cyber security?
  • Should you attend an accredited online master’s in cyber security program?
  • What are the most affordable online master’s in cyber security programs?

What do you learn during a master’s in cyber security?

This degree provides students with the skills and knowledge needed to maintain information systems security, carry out adequate incident response measures to cyberattacks, and maintain computer security through processes like cyber intelligence collection and intrusion detection.

Coursework differs among online Master of Science in Cyber Security programs, as different schools focus on different subtopics of the discipline. The University of Tulsa‘s degree centers around developing the hard skills required to maintain information security. Students learn things like:

  • Cryptography: how to establish secure communication lines with coding
  • Cyber security architecture: how to design and build secure computer systems
  • Cyber security and information assurance: how to analyze and assess systems for security and reliability
  • Cyber security management: how to oversee a cyber security team
  • Cyber security technology: which frameworks provide the most robust, up-to-date protection?
  • Penetration testing and ethical hacking: how to defend against a real-time cyberattack through simulations and role-play exercises

The Master of Science in Cybersecurity at the University of Arizona has two tracks. One focuses on information systems, which means completing courses with titles like:

  • Information Security Risk Management
  • Data Mining for Business Intelligence
  • Cyber Threat Intelligence
  • Project Management

The other track (physical systems) includes courses on machine learning, data analytics, information systems, and network security.

Other potential course titles for a master’s in cyber security include:

  • Advanced Algorithms
  • Advanced Computer Architecture
  • Cloud Computing and Cyber Security
  • Computer and Network Security
  • Computer Forensics
  • Cyber Security Policy
  • Digital Forensics
  • Information Security and Assurance
  • Network and Operating System Administration
  • Software Process
  • Software Re‐Engineering

Finally, some schools provide the option to specialize your curriculum. You might take a cluster of classes on geopolitics and the legal issues of cyber security as part of the Tufts University Master’s of Science in Cybersecurity and Policy. You could combine your cyber security training with a background in homeland security at Virginia Commonwealth University‘s Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs Master’s in Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness program.

No matter what you study, most master’s programs require students to finish a capstone or thesis course before graduating. The capstone frequently involves completing a final project that demonstrates your understanding of the material.



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What admissions requirements master’s in cyber security programs have?

Because most programs focus on augmenting a student’s existing education, they look for students with a bachelor’s degree in computer science or a related field. Popular undergraduate degree paths include:

  • Business information systems
  • Information technology
  • Mathematics
  • Physical sciences
  • Software engineering

Schools—especially the most prestigious—look for students likely to excel in their program, and, even more importantly, afterward. Many applicants have existing work experience in cyber security or a related field, such as information technology, electrical engineering, or database management.

Those without the necessary background are typically required to complete remedial courses before beginning their graduate cyber security education. For example, those without adequate computer programming experience may be tasked with learning Java or C++.

Is an online master’s in cyber security different from an in-person one?

From a course list standpoint, the online master’s in cyber security does not differ all that much from an in-person one. Online course offerings may be more limited than on-campus options; likewise, online concentration options may be fewer. That’s not universally true, however. Check each program you’re considering to see how it handles such matters. Most master’s programs—both online and on-campus—require 30 to 36 credit hours and take about two years for full-time students to complete.

The most significant difference is that online master’s programs are almost always more flexible than traditional programs. Many do not have set class times and allow students to work lectures around their schedules, which is why online degrees appeal to working professionals. The downside is this flexibility can mean taking longer to complete a program—sometimes more than five years.

Should you attend an accredited online master’s in cyber security program?

You absolutely should attend an accredited program. Employers frequently seek graduates from certified programs during the hiring process. Attending one helps you keep pace with your peers. Remember, accreditation is a standard, not a bonus. If you find a cyber security master’s program that costs $50 and guarantees a job protecting an oil baron’s personal computing network after graduation, it’s probably too good to be true.

The best credential for cyber security graduate programs is the National Centers of Academic Excellence in Cyber Defense (CAE-CD), which is jointly backed by the National Security Agency (NSA) and Department of Homeland Security (DHS). According to the NSA website, “the goal of the program is to reduce vulnerability in our national information infrastructure by promoting higher education and research in cyber defense and producing professionals with cyber defense expertise.” For a program to receive the designation, it needs to be housed at a regionally accredited school and meet high curricular and performance standards.

What are the most affordable online master’s in cyber security programs?

Accreditation and education standards are fine, but what about affordability? Here is a list of the most affordable CAE accredited online master’s in cyber security degree programs. In this case, affordable means under $1,000 per credit.

Many of the schools on this list are public universities, meaning tuition rates can differ for in-state and out-of-state students. This list references in-state tuition only. Finally, these calculations only account for the online course tuition; they do not include extra expenses, such as a technology fee, that you’ll likely pay.

Affordable online master’s in cyber security programs include:

Are online master’s programs cheaper than in-person ones? Unfortunately, no (with the notable exception of Georgia Tech). Tuition is usually the same no matter where the program is housed. You will realize savings by not having to relocate and further savings by not having to commute.

(Last Updated on February 26, 2024)

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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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