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Cybersecurity training options: What's right for you?

From free courses to advanced degrees, here's everything you need to know to choose the cybersecurity training program that works for you.
Written by Melissa Sartore, Contributor

In the broadest sense, cybersecurity involves keeping digital information and systems safe from threats and attacks. Cybersecurity professionals work across industries as security testers, incident responders, auditors and investigators, and software and hardware developers. 

Individuals who want to or currently work in cybersecurity have numerous options for cybersecurity training programs to help them achieve their career goals. Academic degrees build fundamental understanding and skills for entry-level and advanced roles alike. Certificates and bootcamps can serve as introductory programs or add to existing knowledge. 

Certificates in cybersecurity

Cybersecurity certificates open the door to a career in cybersecurity by introducing students to principles and practices of the field. Unlike certifications offered through professional organizations and agencies, a cybersecurity certificate earned from a college or university also serves as a pathway to earning a degree in the discipline.

Earning a cybersecurity certificate takes less than two years. Common roles for individuals with a cybersecurity certificate include junior penetration tester, security technician, and computer systems analyst.

Cybersecurity bootcamps

Cybersecurity bootcamps provide an accelerated option for individuals looking to enter the field. Bootcamps may provide comprehensive training in cybersecurity or emphasize a specific aspect of the field. 

Bootcamps vary in length and intensity, but may last just a few weeks. Many bootcamps offer part-time or full-time options, can be completed entirely online, or provide one-on-one instruction. 

With their speed, flexibility, and convenience, cybersecurity bootcamps give students the chance to take part in hands-on learning experiences. By completing a cybersecurity bootcamp, individuals are equipped to work as cybersecurity analysts, junior penetration testers, and security compliance technicians. 

Associate in cybersecurity

An associate degree in cybersecurity prepares students for positions as information technology analysts, cybersecurity technicians, and penetration testers. This degree takes two years or less to complete.

General education classes accompany coursework in the foundations, principles, and practices of cybersecurity. Students explore application, network, and operating systems security while learning strategies and tactics to protect electronic data. 

Bachelor's in cybersecurity

Most bachelor's degrees in cybersecurity include four years of coursework. Students complete introductory classes in principles and practices of cybersecurity to prepare for advanced classes in aspects of cybersecurity. 

Common classes in a cybersecurity bachelor's degree include information assurance, risk management, wireless and mobile technologies, and ethics and cyber law. As part of a bachelor's degree, students often complete a culminating capstone project or complete a comprehensive assessment. 

Some employers in the public and private sectors prefer job candidates who hold a bachelor's degree in cybersecurity. With a cybersecurity bachelor's degree, individuals can work as cybercrime investigators, information security managers, and information assurance security specialists. 

Advanced degrees in cybersecurity

To move toward an advanced cybersecurity role, individuals may need a graduate degree. Most master's degrees last two years, while earning a doctorate may take five years or more. 

Master's degrees in cybersecurity often include options to concentrate on a specific aspect or application of cybersecurity. Specializations include ethical hacking and penetration testing, information assurance and security policy, and healthcare information technology security. 

With a master's degree, students can work as cybersecurity consultants, security auditors, and security engineers. A doctorate emphasizes research, ideal for individuals who want to work as cybersecurity analysts, chief information security officers, and university instructors. 

What cybersecurity training option is right for me?

Numerous factors influence the choice of a cybersecurity training program. Cybersecurity certificates offer a shorter pathway to a career in the field, but are limited in the types of positions available. The same is true for bootcamps and associate degrees. 

When looking at any college or university degree, students should consider accreditation status, specialization options, and their overall career goals. Bachelor's and master's degrees open more doors for cybersecurity careers but are more intense and require a bigger time commitment.

Costs associated with cybersecurity programs vary significantly. Shorter certificates and degrees may be more affordable, but bootcamps have a one-time cost without months or years of expenses. Additional considerations include options for full- and part-time study, online and in-classroom coursework, and opportunities for self-paced formats.

How can I learn cybersecurity for free?

You can learn cybersecurity for free online. Numerous online courses exist that allow for self-study, as do tutorials, books, and printed materials. 

How much does cybersecurity training cost?

The cost of cybersecurity varies by program. Degrees and certificates include tuition, fees, and textbooks expenses that span months or years. An associate degree may cost roughly $3,000-$10,000, while a bootcamp usually includes a one-time cost between $100 and $1,000. Certificates range from $100 to $2,000. 

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, where he received 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, 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 freelance review network. 

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