There are countless reasons why a degree in cyber degree is worth the investment. In fact, by one crucially important metric you could say there are 3.5 million reasons — that’s the estimated number of unfilled cyber security jobs worldwide by 2021, up from roughly 1 million unfilled positions today. Or, you could say there are 380,000 reasons why earning a cyber security master’s degree is well worth the investment ($380,000 is the upper end of the salary spectrum for a Chief Information Security Officer in San Francisco; overall average: $240,000, according to Forbes.com). And yes, you will need a master’s degree for that job.
Why are there so many unfilled cyber security jobs? And why is this fast-growing industry paying top dollar for top talent? Well, you could say there are 6 trillion reasons — CybersecurityVentures.com estimates that the cost of cyber crime worldwide will skyrocket to $6 trillion a year by 2021, with hackers working round the clock to hit such high-profile targets as Target, Uber, Equifax, the FBI and many, many more. Bottom line: The threat is urgent, the stakes are incredibly high and there aren’t nearly enough highly educated and qualified workers to meet the demand. That’s why companies are paying high salaries for well-trained cyber security professionals — and that’s also why earning a cyber security master’s degree could be the best investment you ever make.
The Value of a Master’s Degree in Cyber Security
With increasing awareness and concern over the growing cyber threats facing organizations, governments and individuals alike, many universities and colleges have created new graduate degree programs in cyber security. While many of these programs are still in their infancy, others have been thoughtfully designed with input from field practitioners, local and national stakeholders, and industry thought leaders with the goal of training cyber security professionals with lifelong learning skills and the ability to defeat adversaries from theoretical as well as tactical perspectives.
Today, many employers seek a combination of both experience and education, with the most career options available to those with a master’s degree or higher. Not all cyber security education is created equal, however, which is why it is important to be especially discerning when choosing a graduate program. Cyber security is a national priority and requires a team approach regarding education — meaning that close collaboration with the cyber security community is necessary for an effective program. When considering cyber security degree programs, look for curriculums that have been designed by a diverse group of industry leaders to specifically address lifelong learning and programming skills — skills not taught in the majority of cyber security programs.
10 Reasons to Get a Master’s Degree in Cyber Security
- A Degree in Cyber Security Equals Job Security
If there was ever a time to enter the cyber security field, it is now. With cyber threats and attacks increasing in both frequency and sophistication, the demand for cyber security professionals is far outpacing the supply. This means that for qualified cyber security specialists, job security is practically guaranteed.
In a report on the critical shortage of skilled cyber security professionals, CSOonline.com forecasts that by 2019 there will be 6 million information security job openings but only 4.5 million qualified professionals to fill those roles. “The cybersecurity job market is on fire” Veronica Mollica, founder and executive information security recruiter at Indigo Partners, told Forbes.com. “Our candidates are facing competing offers from multiple companies with salary increases averaging over 30%. Current employers are scrambling to retain talent with counter offers including 10% and higher salary increases for information security team members to remain on board.”
- Cyber Security Professionals Earn High Salaries
Due to the severe shortage of skilled workers, cyber security professionals are among the most highly compensated in the technology sector, posting a 9% salary premium over IT jobs in general.
- $90,450 is the average salary for an entry level Cyber Security Analyst [Ziprecruiter.com].
- $92,644 is the median salary for a Cyber Security Engineer [Payscale.com].
- $107,342 is the median salary for an IT Security Specialist [Indeed.com].
- $94,716 is the average annual salary for cyber security jobs across the U.S. [Ziprecruiter.com].
Once you climb further up the cyber security career ladder, for example to Chief Security Officer (CSO) or Chief Information Security Officer (CISO), your earning potential gets considerably higher.
- $380,000 is the upper end of the CISO salary spectrum in San Francisco (average: $240,000) [Forbes.com]
- $273,033 is the average salary for CISOs and CISO equivalents in the United States [SecurityCurrent.com]
- $217,768 is the median base salary for a Chief Information Security Officer in the U.S. [www.salary.com]
In an article in BusinessInsider.com (“Most American students are ignoring an entry-level job with an $80,000 salary”), University of San Diego cyber security professor Ashton Mozano reports that even entry-level jobs can start at $80,000. To sum things up, the cyber security job outlook is fantastic — salaries are high and demand is soaring. But in order to land the best jobs in cyber security with the best companies, you need a degree and when it comes to cyber security, the higher the degree, the better.
- Investment in Advanced Cyber Security Education Pays for Itself
Tuition for a master’s degree varies from school to school but the total cost of a degree in cyber security will typically run anywhere from $20,000-$70,000. While that is a significant investment, the payoff proves it is worth it. As Alec Ross, senior adviser for innovation at the State Department, said in a Washington Post article, “If any college student asked me what career would most assure 30 years of steady, well-paying employment, I would respond, ‘cybersecurity.’ ”
- Cyber Security Career Options Growing Faster Than Other Sectors
A report by Burning Glass Technologies showed that 84% of cyber security postings specify at least a bachelor’s degree and 23% require at least a master’s. While the opportunities and job openings in the cyber security field are many, the education level needed to land these jobs can be high. Yet, for those with the right education and experience, the opportunities are vast — with job openings in almost every state and across every sector, both private and public. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the cyber security job market is growing at a rate of 28%, which the BLS characterizes as “much faster than (the) average” for other lines of work.
- Flexible Cyber Security Degree Programs Are Available
Flexibility is of great importance for working adults. The option to obtain a degree online while balancing school with a full-time job and family obligations has proven to be a career game-changer for many cyber security professionals.Today, many colleges and universities offer online options, either hybrid programs or 100% online degrees. In addition to flexibility, online learning offers key benefits for students, including the ability to access the best cyber security programs, professors and universities no matter where you are located; pay less for materials (costly textbooks are often replaced with digital content that can be viewed online or printed); and interact with students from around the country and globe.
- Cyber Security Skills: You’ll Learn the Basics – Plus Leadership, Management and More
One of the most important benefits of earning a master’s degree in cyber security is the additional managerial and leadership training you will receive. In most technology undergraduate programs these type of business skills are not taught as a part of the curriculum. However, in order to advance in the field and land high-ranking leadership positions, you’ll need to possess the right qualities, including keen business acumen.
For example, in addition to cyber security leadership skills, students in the University of San Diego’s highly regarded Master of Science in Cyber Security Operations and Leadership are taught cyber security theory and how to turn that theory into practice, gaining specific knowledge and skills in the areas of technology, law, policy, compliance, governance, intelligence, incident response and management. The USD program places significant emphasis on immersive experiences, which gives students the real-world exposure they need to be truly effective in the field.
Courses in the USD curriculum range from Foundations of Cyber Security to Cyber Incident Response & Computer Network Forensics. Additional courses include:
- Applied Cryptography
- Secure Systems Architecture
- Cyber Security Risk Management
- Cyber Security Operational Policy
- Management and Cyber Security
- Secure Software Design and Development
- Cyber Intelligence
- Network Visualization and Vulnerability Detection
- Networking Opportunities Abound in Cyber Security Graduate Programs
For anyone looking to make the most out of their graduate program, networking is key. Because graduate school attracts groups of like-minded people with similar interests in specific areas, such as cyber security, it is the perfect place to connect with peers, alumni and faculty. The connections made in graduate school can not only help you while you are completing your degree, by offering additional knowledge, insight and diversity of opinion, but can also be immensely helpful upon graduation as you look to launch or advance your career.
Additionally, the University of San Diego online master’s degree is structured to emphasize maximum engagement with experienced faculty experts, as well as fellow cyber security professionals from around the country. This represents a valuable opportunity to engage with and learn from peers across all sectors of the cyber security industry.
- Financial Incentives are Abundant for Cyber Security Students
With cyber crime professionals in such high demand, both in the private and public sector, there are a number of financial incentives that are now being offered to those who wish to pursue a degree in cyber security. The Center for Cyber Security Safety and Education grants a number of scholarships to those entering the field. For females, various scholarships are available for women in cyber security. Two major scholarship programs are funded by the U.S. government — the Information Assurance Scholarship Program (IASP) and the National Science Foundation Scholarship for Service (SFS). Also, Yellow Ribbon schools, such as the University of San Diego, offer support to veterans through yearly scholarship money that is then matched dollar for dollar by the VA. At USD that equals roughly $17,000 per year.
- Cyber Security Offers Unique and Interesting Ways to Make a Difference
For example, some cyber security specialists are focused on using creative methods to attack the very systems they are aiming to protect, in order to discover vulnerabilities that could be exploited by hackers.
Today, there are more and more so-called “bug bounty programs” in which skilled white-hat hackers work to disrupt the illegal and destructive efforts of their black-hat counterparts by finding and fixing weak spots in cyber security defense systems. A cyber security executive at global defense, management and IT consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton talks about configuring fake computers in a phony, intentionally vulnerable network that functions as “a virtual mousetrap” to lure cyber adversaries, who take the bait and reveal valuable information about their identities, tactics and intentions.
10. Cyber Security Work is Meaningful and Vitally Important
Perhaps you’ve read recent reports in The New York Times or The Washington Post about America’s next generation of weapons systems being vulnerable to cyber attacks and hacking from our enemies. A career in cyber security can bring personal and professional fulfillment while helping to defend one’s country. Corporations in all industries need robust cyber security defenses to guard against inevitable intrusions from hackers that can cost companies millions, even billions of dollars. But the stakes are even higher when it comes to America’s future safety and security, which will increasingly depend our ability to combat high-tech warfare waged using advanced computer technology.
Many cyber security professionals, including military veterans seeking new challenges, are responding to the call. At the Department of Homeland Security, the National Institute for Cybersecurity Careers and Studies offers advice, support, toolkits and free training to veterans interested in cyber security — noting that the demand for cyber security experts is “growing 12 times faster than the current U.S. job market,” making the field “one of the most highly sought-after careers in the country.” With the right cyber security degree under your belt and a desire for continuous learning, you’ll be able to transform your professional trajectory, increase your earning potential and make a significant impact on society.