Computer Science

Computer Science vs. Cyber Security Master’s Degrees [What’s the Difference?]

Computer Science vs. Cyber Security Master’s Degrees [What’s the Difference?]
If you're looking for a lucrative job in a growing field, it's hard to go wrong with a master's in either computer science or cyber security. Image from Unsplash
Lucien Formichella profile
Lucien Formichella January 19, 2021

If you have a head for algorithms, computer systems, and software development, you may benefit from a computer science or cyber security master's program. How to choose? This guide lays out the similarities and differences.

Computer Science and Cybersecurity Programs You Should Consider

Advertisement
Article continues here

All cyber security professionals are computer scientists, but not all computer scientists work in cyber security.

Students in both degree tracks need excellent problem-solving skills and fluency in multiple programming languages. Both programs lead to high-paying jobs in a market where talent is scarce. Organizations struggle to fill computer science roles, and those who find work are frequently unprepared to tackle even basic security risks, according to the Harvard Business Review.

There are distinctions as well. For example, cyber security is just one computer science specialization—meaning it can be offered as a concentration in Master of Science in Computer Science programs, as well as a stand-alone degree.

Both tracks offer considerable career benefits, but which should you pick? Those who like investigating data breaches, identifying malware, and improving network security usually choose cyber security. In contrast, those who want to develop software or maintain databases pursue a general computer science degree or a different specialization. But, because these two paths are so interconnected, you don’t necessarily need to pick one.

For a more in-depth analysis about computer science vs. cyber security master’s degrees and the way these degrees complement each other, read on. This article covers:

  • Computer science vs. cyber security: curriculum
  • Computer science vs. cyber security: how long does it take?
  • Computer science vs. cyber security: top programs
  • Computer science vs. cyber security: cost
  • Computer science vs. cyber security: job outlook
  • Master’s in computer science vs. master’s in cyber security: which is for you?
Advertisement

Computer science vs. cyber security: curriculum

Similar degrees can have different focuses; looking at degree titles can be revealing. For instance, within the cyber security designation you can earn a Master of Science in:

  • Applied Information Technology with a cyber security concentration
  • Computer Information Systems & Cyber Security
  • Computer Science with a cyber security concentration
  • Cyber Security Engineering

Conversely, Case Western Reserve University calls its computer science degree an MS in Computing and Information Science. When in doubt about what a program is, it’s best to compare curricula.

Overview of a typical master’s in computer science curriculum

Computer science curricula can vary widely between schools, but there is lots of common ground—including among online programs. A typical master’s in computer science curriculum, like the one at Stevens Institute of Technology, covers:

  • Cloud computing
  • Enterprise software design
  • Human-computer interaction
  • Mobile systems and applications
  • Software development
  • Web programming

Programs that candidates lacking a comp sci background also cover such bachelor’s-degree-level subjects as basic programming and data analysis. Alternatively, students may self-study equivalent undergraduate coursework, or complete a bridge program.

Overview of a typical master’s in cyber security curriculum

Computer science programs offer cyber security classes, but obviously, a master’s in cyber security goes deeper. Students in the University of Tulsa program “master the theory, concepts and techniques of information assurance and network defense in real-world environments.”

Typical master’s in cyber security degree coursework includes:

  • Algorithm analysis
  • Biometrics
  • Cryptography
  • Cyber security architecture
  • Digital forensics/computer forensics
  • Information security strategy and policy

Additionally, while there are bachelor’s degrees in cyber security, applicants commonly have a general computer science background.

Advertisement

“I’M INTERESTED IN CYBER SECURITY!”

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

Computer science vs. cyber security: how long does it take?

Most master’s programs take two years of full-time study to complete. Part-time programs take longer, up to five years. Students can also complete accelerated CS master’s programs, which can last about a year. Most accelerated CS and cyber security programs are what’s known as 4+1 degrees. Students in these programs complete a four-year undergraduate degree, then remain an additional year to complete the master’s program.

Computer science vs. cyber security: top programs

Earning a master’s degree from a top school can help improve your job prospects. Top institutions have strong alumni networks, and name recognition can be beneficial in the job search. These schools also attract prestigious professors and can dedicate more resources to unique learning opportunities and experiences. Still, where you complete your degree isn’t the only factor in earning potential.

Top programs look for students with relevant work experience. Experience with digital forensics or penetration testing may bolster a cyber security master’s application the way a software engineering or data analytics background can help for computer science.

Overview of the top master’s in computer science programs

Schools with top master’s in computer science programs include:

Overview of the top cyber security master’s programs

Schools with top master’s in cyber security programs include:

Computer science vs. cyber security: cost

Master’s degrees require an investment. If you study full-time, you will likely have little or no time to earn money while you attend the program. Fortunately, it’s possible to cut costs. Certain employers are willing to cover part or all of a graduate degree, usually in exchange for a postgraduate commitment with the company. Additionally, scholarships and fellowships can help reduce or eliminate costs. Public universities sometimes offer residents a tuition break, and attending one can also help alleviate the burden.

Overview of how much a master’s in computer science will cost

Tuition (not including additional fees) for the most costly computer science master’s degrees can exceed $100,000, though most charge between $15,000 and $75,000, according to US News and World Report. Online and in-person programs typically charge similar rates.

Overview of how much a master’s in cyber security will cost

Most cyber security degrees are offered through the computer science department and cost the same as a master’s in computer science.

Computer science vs. cyber security: job outlook

According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the computer and information technology field is expected to grow by 15 percent from 2021 to 2031. This figure encompasses all computer science careers, including cyber security.

Computer science job outlook

The BLS expects computer and information research scientist employment to grow by 21 percent from 2021 to 2031.

Cyber security job outlook

The BLS projects information security analyst employment to grow by a staggering 35 percent from 2021 to 2031.

Computer science vs. cyber security: career paths and earning potential

Examining job outlook numbers is an excellent way to identify trends, but looking at career paths provides a more detailed picture. These are some top jobs you can get with a master’s degree.

Overview of jobs with a master’s in computer science and salary with a master’s in computer science

PayScale says the average salary for someone with a master’s in computer science is $109,000. The best jobs pay considerably more.

Master’s in computer science vs. master’s in cyber security: which is for you?

Ultimately, you can’t go wrong with either degree, assuming you have technical skills and enjoy working with computers.

Is a master’s in computer science worth it?

A master’s in computer science is worth it if you have the time and resources to dedicate to it. While master’s in computer science programs exist for professionals at every level, those who use their degrees to advance or develop specific expertise typically benefit the most.

Advertisement

Is a master’s in cyber security worth it?

You can make a case that a master’s in cyber security is more valuable than a master’s in computer science. Even though professionals with a master’s in cyber security earn less, on average, than their computer science counterparts, they usually have a more focused skill set and get to work in a field that is growing even faster than the rest of computer science. As attacks like the Sunburst hack and Russian interference with the US government become more common, a master’s in cyber security may gain even more long-term value than a traditional computer science degree.

Questions or feedback? Email editor@noodle.com

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.

To learn more about our editorial standards, you can click here.


Share

Computer Science and Cybersecurity Programs You Should Consider

Advertisement