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What is a cybersecurity degree?

Thinking about pursuing cybersecurity training? A cybersecurity degree could boost your future career. Here's what to expect in cybersecurity school.
Written by Genevieve Carlton, Contributor

Cybersecurity schools train ethical hackers and information security analysts. A cybersecurity degree can help learners launch careers in this high-demand, lucrative field.

Degree-seekers study cybersecurity at the undergraduate and graduate levels. Each degree prepares graduates for specific career paths. 

Our guide walks through what you need to know before enrolling in a cybersecurity program.

Cybersecurity degree options

Associate degree in cybersecurity: A two-year associate degree introduces learners to fundamental concepts in cybersecurity. Students build core skills and pursue entry-level tech careers.

SEE: How much can you make with an associate degree in cybersecurity?

Bachelor's degree in cybersecurity: A four-year bachelor's degree strengthens key skills like intrusion detection and security incident response. Majors take computer science, programming, and information security courses. The degree meets the requirements for careers such as information security analyst.

Master's degree in cybersecurity: A two-year master's program provides advanced technical and leadership skills. Graduate students learn to create and implement information security plans. The degree leads to supervisory and leadership roles.

Doctoral degree in cybersecurity: A doctorate in cybersecurity typically takes three to five years and builds advanced research skills. After completing coursework and a dissertation, graduates pursue careers in research and academia.

What to expect in a cybersecurity program

Cybersecurity degree programs emphasize the theoretical and practical skills necessary for careers in tech

Degree-seekers complete coursework in computer programming, networking technology, and information security. Many cybersecurity programs incorporate experiential learning opportunities such as projects, practicums, and internships. 

While cybersecurity programs build technical skills, they also emphasize important people skills. The ability to solve problems, pay attention to details, and work effectively on a team help professionals in the cybersecurity field.

Hard skills

People (soft) skills

  • Problem-solving
  • Attention to detail
  • Collaboration and teamwork
  • Communication skills
  • Time management
  • Security incident response
  • Computer programming
  • Intrusion detection
  • Malware prevention
  • Security information and event management

Cybersecurity degree courses

Cybersecurity students learn fundamental principles and programming languages early in their education. As they gain more advanced skills, they study concepts like ethical hacking and vulnerability assessment. Below are a few classes commonly required in cybersecurity programs.

Certified ethical hacking

Ethical hackers, also known as white hat hackers, test a system's security procedures to improve them. In ethical hacking courses, learners explore penetration testing and ethical hacking techniques. They also learn how to implement security measures. The course prepares learners for the Certified Ethical Hacker certification.

Networking concepts

Diverse organizations rely on networks to connect their systems, interact with customers, and store and retrieve data. In networking concepts courses, learners explore common network configurations, network security, and vulnerabilities in computer networks. The course prepares learners for cybersecurity roles requiring strong networking skills.

Principles of programming languages

Like many other tech fields, cybersecurity jobs require programming skills. Courses in programming introduce learners to important programming languages and key concepts in computer programming. Theory-oriented courses cover topics like syntax, memory management, and control structures. 

Python programming

Many cybersecurity professionals use Python as their primary coding language. During an undergraduate cybersecurity program, learners build fluency in Python through project-based assignments and lessons. The course introduces students to Python tools and the language's applications in information assurance.

Vulnerability assessment

Cybersecurity professionals identify threats and system vulnerabilities. This course trains students to assess an organization's information security vulnerabilities. Students conduct penetration testing, evaluate infrastructure, and recommend improvements to the security system. The class prepares students for careers as cybersecurity analysts and consultants.

Cybersecurity degree jobs

Cybersecurity schools prepare learners for many top-paying tech careers. For example, as of May 2022, information security analysts earned a median annual salary of $102,600, according to the bureau of labor statistics.

The field also reports much faster-than-average projected job growth. While entry-level roles often offer starting salaries around $60,000 per year, top-paid information security analysts earn over $165,000 annually.

Many of the best careers with a cybersecurity degree offer advancement opportunities and salaries above the national median ($45,760 as of 2021).

What do people with a cybersecurity degree do?

Cybersecurity schools train graduates for careers in IT security, information assurance, penetration testing, and security architecture.

How much schooling do you need for cybersecurity?

Most cybersecurity jobs require at least a bachelor's degree in computer science, cybersecurity, or a related field. Professionals with cybersecurity training outside of a degree-granting program can also work in cybersecurity. 

This article was reviewed by Brian Nichols

Brian Nichols, a man with dark hair and facial hair, wears a suit and smiles at the camera.

Born and raised in upstate New York, Brian Nichols began his IT education through a vocational high school where he focused on computer science, IT fundamentals, and networking. Brian then went to his local community college and earned his associate of science in computer information science. He then received his bachelor of science in applied networking and system administration from a private college. Brian now lives in Kansas City, Kansas, where he works full-time as a DevOps engineer. Brian is also a part-time instructor in cybersecurity. He's passionate about cybersecurity and helping students succeed. 

Brian Nichols is a paid member of the Red Ventures Education Integrity Network.

Last reviewed Oct. 24, 2021.

Unless otherwise noted, salary and job growth data was drawn from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics as of May 20, 2022.

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