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Once upon a time, a degree was a passport to a decent career. In 1940, only 5% of the U.S. population had a degree. By 2011, that number had risen to 36%. Ten years later, 42% of the adult population in the country possesses some kind of degree — close to 100 million Americans, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
Why a master’s degree in cybersecurity?
Bachelor of Science and Bachelor of Arts degrees have become table stakes in the job market. It often takes a master’s degree to differentiate yourself with potential employers. About 13% of the adult population in the U.S. already has a master’s degree — nearly twice as many in the past 20 years.
While most cybersecurity job postings require at least a bachelor’s degree, nearly a quarter now ask for a master’s degree. Clearly, a regular degree is good enough in today’s market to get a decent position. But if you want to compete for the top jobs and get on the fast track to a great career, a master’s degree is the best option.
Admission requirements vary from a bachelor’s degree in computer science or IT to any degree providing the person meets other qualification, such as possessing appropriate cybersecurity certifications.
Also read: Top 10 cybersecurity colleges in the U.S. in 2022
The benefits of a master’s in cybersecurity
A master’s degree in cybersecurity provides graduate-coverage of IT. These cybersecurity certifications and credentials provide advanced skills and knowledge, and often include a more rounded education in areas such as cyber risk, governance and the business implications of security. As well as offering a competitive edge in the job market, a master’s opens up career vistas into lucrative C-level positions and security analyst roles. Instead of being one of the workers, master’s graduates can gain roles which involve the supervision of large security teams.
Some cybersecurity master’s programs take a year. Others take two years. And there are plenty available online that can be done by working professionals who wish to enhance their careers.
Master’s programs vary from mainline master of science in cybersecurity training to master’s in computer science with a cybersecurity concentration, a master’s in business with a cyber focus, or a criminal justice masters with a digital forensics concentration.
Courses cover areas such as data protection, ransomware, cryptography, internet security, governance, risk management, ethics and security policy. Depending on the program, there may be a focus on systems security, networking or infrastructure protection.
Also read: Career paths in cybersecurity: Key skills, salary expectations and job description
Top cybersecurity master’s degrees
Here are some of the top cybersecurity master’s degree available across the country:
By combining computer science and application, Stanford’s interdisciplinary approach gives vital skills needed for today’s cyber workforce. The program is a good option for existing information security managers, web developers, computer network architects, and professionals working in computer occupations and can typically be completed in one to two years. Before beginning, candidates should have a background in programming and basic probability theory.
University of California, Berkeley
The UC Berkeley Master of Information and Cybersecurity (MICS) MICS is an accredited online program that prepares students with the cybersecurity skills needed to assume leadership positions in private-sector technology companies as well as government and military organizations. This graduate degree has specializations in cryptography, software security, government security policy, user privacy, and others. UC Berkeley also has a partnership with McAfee. Courses such as MICS can be done wholly online if desired.
The goal is to develop student understanding of information security technologies as well as the economic, legal, behavioral, and ethical impacts of cybersecurity. Students graduate as competitive candidates in the job market with connections to UC Berkeley alumni and professionals in the San Francisco Bay Area technology hub. It includes hands-on practical experience with secure systems and applications. Graduates leave with a comprehensive understanding of secure coding, government and national security, network and web security, data privacy and security, cryptography, operating system security and privacy engineering. It can be completed in as little as 20 months.
The M.S. in Cybersecurity from Syracuse University can be earned in as little as 15 months. The program from Syracuse University’s College of Engineering and Computer Science prepares students to identify, prevent and counteract cybercrime through cutting-edge research, curricular innovations and multidisciplinary collaboration.
Syracuse University’s M.S. in Cybersecurity is considered a top program for veteran and military-connected students. Core cybersecurity courses focus on topics such as operating systems and algorithm analysis, while elective topics that cover machine learning and biometrics to expand understanding of a changing landscape. This online M.S. in Cybersecurity program is best suited for applicants that have prior demonstrated academic and/or work experience such as a bachelor’s degree in cybersecurity, computer science, or computer engineering, and have demonstrated core competencies in basic systems knowledge, data structures, discrete mathematics, and high-level programming (C and C++ are recommended).
George Washington University
George Washington University offers a program with a difference. It has a Master of Business Administration (MBA) program with a cybersecurity focus. Its School of Engineering and Applied Science has two online master’s in cybersecurity degree programs: cybersecurity analytics, and cybersecurity policy & compliance. Both blend engineering and computer science and are taught by industry experts with extensive experience in private sector, military, and government cybersecurity.
The Master of Engineering in Cybersecurity Policy and Compliance is designed to help IT workers, recent graduates, engineers, project management professionals and software developers. It provides an overview of information assurance policies and explores the intersection of technology, policy, and business. Elements include enterprise-specific strategies and policies, situational awareness procedure design, risk management, mobility solution development, forensic analysis and predictive analytics.
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) offers a Master of Networking with a Cybersecurity major, and research programs under the MIT Cybersecurity and Internet Policy Initiative. Additionally, the MITxPRO Post Graduate Certificate in Cybersecurity program focuses on the defensive and offensive aspects of security. There is an opportunity to create a capstone network development project for a job portfolio.
Further options: Organized by MIT Schwarzman College of Computing, the Post Graduate Program in Cybersecurity is spread across six months with weekend classes. It offers courses in protecting data, mitigation, and compliance, risk analysis, and cloud-based security. The online Post Graduate Program in Cyber Security includes six assessments and industry-based case studies. Teaching areas include engineering and computer science, computer security, applied cryptography and computer architecture.
Sacred Heart University
Sacred Heart University in Connecticut offers a Master of Science in Cybersecurity. The program provides the necessary theoretical and hands-on knowledge, networking opportunities, and real-world experiences to build a career in cybersecurity. Sacred Heart’s MS in cybersecurity provides a variety of options based on career goals. Students can complete the cybersecurity degree full or part-time in 12 to 18 months and may choose a thesis or non-thesis track.
Topics range from network security, digital signal processing, embedded systems, cloud computing, and cyber-physical systems. The graduate program is designed to provide individuals with an introduction to networking, risk and threat management, security architecture and ethical and security skills to effectively address the constantly changing threat landscape.
An on-site Cybersecurity Lab, isolated from the University network, is equipped with 40 work stations with contemporary technologies, security software, and a dedicated server room used to support education, research, training and community outreach in cybersecurity and privacy.
Drexel University in Philadelphia also offers a Master of Science in Cybersecurity that provides an interdisciplinary curriculum with coursework from both the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE) in the College of Engineering (CoE) and the College of Computing & Informatics.
The MS in Cybersecurity is a joint program with the Electrical & Computer Engineering (ECE) Department of Drexel’s College of Engineering. It has the flexibility to elect concentrations in computer science, electrical and computer engineering, and information systems. As such it weaves together computer science and engineering interdisciplinary coursework to deepen knowledge of the fundamentals through rigorous analysis and exploration. Students learn to pinpoint security vulnerabilities, identify attacks, and design methods for protecting data and computer systems. To accommodate working professionals, both on-campus and online programs are available.
Maryville University in Saint Louis offers a Masters in Cybersecurity online. It combines a Virtual Lab with coursework. Most faculty members work actively in cybersecurity. Six certifications are built into the course curriculum. About half the time is spent on core courses focused on IT management, cyber defense, and cybersecurity incident response. There is a choice of three focus areas: technical, leadership, and general. Students can choose to concentrate on one specialization track or take courses from all three.
Technical elective courses include network security, mobile device hacking and forensics, and security log management.
These courses also prepare students to pass cybersecurity certifications such as ECSA, ECES, and Splunk Core Certified Power User. Leadership elective courses cover the principles of cybersecurity auditing, data security and analysis, risk metrics and analysis, and cloud migration. These courses are good preparation for the CISA and CCSP exams. General elective courses cover security operations management and responsible information security operations, with the opportunity to apply learned concepts through projects with industry partners. In the course Domains of Cybersecurity, the skills are gained to take the CISSP certification exam.
Johns Hopkins University
Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore offers a Master of Science in Cybersecurity course and a master’s degree in cybersecurity informatics. Under the umbrella of the Whiting School of Engineering, students can choose from several programs such as Information Assurance, Networking, and Security Analysis. Programs can be completed online, on campus, or a combination of the two.
Students develop the skills needed to protect the confidentiality, availability, and integrity of data, preserve and restore systems, and develop risk management skills to anticipate and avoid cyber threats. Well-equipped computing facilities and virtual classrooms are used to teach the latest techniques in cybersecurity, including security engineering, applied machine learning, and reverse engineering and vulnerability analysis. Focus areas include analysis, assured autonomy, networks and systems.
North Arizona University
NAU’s cybersecurity master’s degree is available online from its School of Informatics, Computing, and Cyber Systems. Course electives range from cybersecurity-aware business administration to heavy-duty combinatorics and their role in secure hardware and software design. Specialization research areas include: full-stack security — the integration of software and hardware cryptographic features; secure memory chip design; and wireless network design and security.
Graduates learn the skills to work as a developer in software or artificial intelligence, as a systems analyst, a database administrator or a security specialist. They gain knowledge of the core skills of computer science, including security, all phases of software design from planning to implementation, and learn important skills in managing teams and projects.
Read next: Cybersecurity degrees: types, comparisons and best practices for selection