The demand for cyber security professionals has skyrocketed recently, due to numerous high-profile cyberattacks on corporations and government agencies. However, a major challenge to countering this national security threat is the lack of qualified candidates to fill open positions.
According to Cyberseek, there are 464,420 cyber security job openings in the private sector across the United States, with the supply of cyber security workers characterized as “very low” (the ratio of cyber security workers to jobs is 2:1; the national average for all jobs is 3:9). The problem is equally dire for federal, state, and local governments. The Washington Post reports that there are 36,248 open public sector cyber security positions in all levels of government.
If you’re thinking about entering this field—or currently are in it and want to move up to a more advanced role—now is the time to equip yourself with the credentials and expertise you’ll need to succeed in cyber security.
So, let’s look at how you can best position yourself to find a job or advance in this expanding and lucrative field.
As in many industries, a degree is not an absolute requirement for an entry-level cyber security job. Many professionals who have grown within the industry say that real-world experience is more valuable than anything else, though you’ll need to start out in a lower-paid position. However, with an advanced cyber security degree, it’s possible to gain entry at a higher position with a greater salary.
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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For an entry-level cyber security job, it’s advantageous to have a cyber security bachelor’s degree or a related STEM concentration. If your goal is to climb the ladder to leadership roles or the C-suite, then an advanced degree is necessary—and with the salaries you’ll command, the investment will be well worth it. If you choose to study online, you’ll be able to learn while you earn, working toward your master’s degree while continuing to gain valuable experience in the field.
With the alarming rise in cyber crime targeting industries from banking to healthcare to energy production and even meat suppliers, everyone is hiring. All of this demand has created numerous career opportunities and you’ll be well-compensated in whatever position you’re hired for.
According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the average median salary for an information security analyst is $103,590, while the average median salary for computer network cyber security architect is $116,780. The top job in the cyber security field is the chief information security officer (CISO), a position that commands, on average, an annual salary of $225,657.
A cyber security bachelor’s will provide you with an excellent foundation for future success in this field, and there are many excellent cyber security degree programs to choose from. For instance, the Stevens Institute of Technology offers a cyber security program in their computer science department, with a focus on problem solving and using technology as a creative tool. Should you intend to pursue a master’s in cyber security after earning your bachelor’s, Stevens also has an Accelerated Master’s Program (AMP) that permits high-achieving students begin earning credits toward a graduate degree during their undergraduate studies, enabling them to earn a master’s degree at an accelerated pace. Many of this program’s graduates are recruited and hired by Google, the National Security Agency (NSA), the Federal Reserve, and Lockheed Martin among others.
There isn’t a single BS degree in cyber security—different programs focus on specific aspects of the field. Some common degrees are:
Typically, it takes four years of full-time study to complete a cyber security bachelor’s. Many programs allow you to enroll on a part-time basis, which will take longer to complete—though some schools offer year-round and accelerated programs.
Admissions degree requirements will vary by school, but bachelor’s in cybery security programs have established minimum GPA, SAT or ACT scores, and will pay particular attention to your math and science grades and test results.
The course of study for a bachelor’s in cyber security will be math intensive, including differential and integral calculus, probability and statistics, and mathematical reasoning. Computer science classes will focus on data structures, software development, computer architecture and operating systems, principles of programming languages, and information security and the law. Elective coursework will include systems security, foundations of cryptography, and privacy.
Most programs will offer coursework in:
Depending on the program, you will have the option to focus on data management, cloud computing, programming and analytics or even prepare for the Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP) exam, which is regarded as one of the best global cyber security certifications.
A cyber security master’s is a STEM-based program that equips you with the knowledge and resources to identify and combat online security threats. This degree is for those who’ve already earned a BS in cyber security and want to continue their studies, or professionals with years of information technology experience who want to advance their career.
Typically, a cyber security degree will take two years of full-time study. Many schools will accept credits from an undergraduate degree in the same concentration and apply them toward your master’s, which can accelerate your course of study. With more schools offering the option to earn a degree online, students can design their course of study to accommodate their work and family obligations.
Each degree program will have their own specific admissions requirements, but most will expect you to have completed mathematics through calculus, plus a year or more of university-level science; and possess a high-level working knowledge of a general purpose programming language, as well as computer structure and architecture.
All master’s-level degrees in cyber security will cover the fundamentals, such as security technologies, security planning, risk assessment, and best practices, and offer electives that allow for specialization in your studies. Course titles might include biometrics, cryptography, digital forensics, intrusion detection, and recovery planning. NYU’s Tandon School of Engineering offers core courses and then electives called “Depth” and “Breadth” to expand study opportunities. Tulsa University’s online cyber security program includes the following core and elective coursework:
There are a number of specialized advanced degrees beyond the general cyber security master’s. Concentrations include security informatics, technology cyber security and policy, cyber security engineering, or in management. All of these specialized categories create opportunities for students to prepare for higher level management positions in targeted areas of concentration.
A Master of Business Administration (MBA) in cyber security couples business administration and management coursework with technical courses focused on information systems security. This degree is for professionals planning to work in management and who need expertise in computer systems and computer security.
Generally, a cyber security MBA takes two years to finish, with courses on weekends and evenings. There also are part-time programs available and options for accelerated MBA programs for students who might be working from a strong undergraduate base or with significant work experience in the field. American University offers online MBA programs with concentrations in seven focus areas, including cyber security as well as business analytics and entrepreneurship.
Most cyber security MBA programs require a minimum undergraduate GPA of 3.0 in computer science or engineering, information technology, or information systems. Some schools will offer programming and data structures courses for applicants without experience to complete along with their course of study. Rutgers University admits students who have related experience in criminal justice or law enforcement or in concentrations such as psychology, criminology, or forensics.
An cyber security MBA typically splits coursework between science courses (Data Privacy, Information Security Management, Ethical Hacking) and business classes (Principles of Finance and Accounting, Ethics, Market Assessment and Analysis). Students may be required to complete two industry certification courses like Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH) or CISSP before graduation.
There are many ways to specialize your course of study in order to meet your interests and career goals. Rutgers calls these Cyber Security Pathways, and offers specialization in Digital Forensics, Technical Cyber Security, Cyber Security Management, Computer Forensics and Big Data, and Cyber Security Management and Policy.
In addition to the schools mentioned above, the following offer online cyber security programs:
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