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How to get into cybersecurity: Degrees, careers and salaries

At a glance

What is cybersecurity?

Every time you swipe your credit card, download an app, fill out a medical form or run a software update on your computer, a cybersecurity expert works behind the scenes to keep that information safe.

In today’s connected world, cybersecurity is all around us and in almost every facet of our daily lives. But just what is cybersecurity?

According to the Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Agency, “Cybersecurity is the art of protecting networks, devices and data from unauthorized access or criminal use.”

Data breaches, threats and risks can come in the form of:

  • Hackers or attackers looking to steal or alter information
  • Malicious codes, also called malware
  • Vulnerabilities in software, firmware or hardware

For those who pursue a cybersecurity career, staying ahead of cyberattacks and cybercrime is just part of the job description. This information security field is fast paced, challenging and indispensable in the digital age.

Is cybersecurity a good career path? Read on to see if it’s for you.

How can I get into cybersecurity?

If you want to pursue a cybersecurity career path, you can work towards a college degree, a certificate or a certification. It’s important to know the distinctions of each.

How to get into cybersecurity

Credentials Path Requirement Advantage
Degree Path Cybersecurity programs at college or university Requirement 120 credits (bachelor’s) or 39 credits (master’s) Advantage 82% of cybersecurity job postings require a degree
Certificate Path Cybersecurity programs at college or university Requirement 18 credits Advantage
  • Can help you upskill quickly
  • May align to certification exam
  • Credits may apply toward a degree later
Certification Path Lessons, videos, classes Requirement
  • Passage of one or more exams
  • Possible continuing education
Advantage
  • Most employers look for IT certification when hiring
  • Tests validate your skills

Cybersecurity degrees

A degree program is the most time-intensive cybersecurity credential, and it also may offer the most solid foundation on which to build an cybersecurity career. According to CompTIA, a nonprofit IT trade association, 82% of cybersecurity job postings require a bachelor’s degree.

Most information security analyst positions require a bachelor’s degree in a computer-related field.

Source: BLS

At University of Phoenix (UOPX), there are three cybersecurity degrees: Associate of Science in Cybersecurity, Bachelor of Science in Cybersecurity and Master of Science in Cybersecurity.

Business and information technology curricula are intentionally housed in one college at UOPX. “This prepares students to work with agile, cross-functional business teams, which may set them apart educationally from their business-only or IT-only peers,” says Kevin Wilhelmsen, PhD, the dean of the College of Business and IT at UOPX.

This approach syncs with the advice of a cybersecurity consultant interviewed in a BLS article. She said cybersecurity analysts “need to understand business — the concepts of program management and teams — and not just technology.”

Certificates

Similar to degrees, certificates are earned through educational programs. These can happen at an undergraduate or graduate level, and they can take several weeks to several years to complete, according to CompTIA.

At UOPX, students can choose from a number of cybersecurity-related certificates. Certificates are a great option for professionals who want to upskill quickly and position themselves with credits that may transfer into UOPX bachelor’s degree programs.

Certificate options include:

Undergraduate

Graduate

Certification

Certifications are issued by independent organizations, and they evaluate a professional’s existing skills and abilities, according to CompTIA. Certifications, unlike certificates and degrees, are issued upon the completion of one or more exams. They also often require continuing education to remain active.

To make things interesting, sometimes certificate programs are aligned with certification exams. For example, at UOPX, the Cybersecurity Digital Forensics Certificate is aligned with the EC-Council Certified Incident Handler (ECIH) and Computer Hacking Forensics Investigator (CHFI) certification exams. The Cyber and Network Defense Certificate educationally prepares students to take the EC-Council Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH) exam.

Earning a certificate can help set you apart from other IT professionals. Additionally, certificates can also sometimes be applied toward certain degrees.

Is cybersecurity a good career path?

More and more companies are realizing they need cybersecurity experts to protect them from hackers and other threats. With billions of people accessing the internet every day, an increasing number of services are moving either partially or entirely online. This makes a cybersecurity career path an exciting prospect for those looking for work in a growing field. 

Not sure about the differences between information technology, computer science and cybersecurity? Check them out here.

Reasons cybersecurity jobs might be worth considering include:

  • High demand: Information security analyst roles are expected to grow by 33% between 2020 and 2030, which is much faster than the average for all occupations.
  • High investment in the field: A worldwide annual spend of nearly $134 billion is expected for 2022, according to a LegalJobs.io article.
  • High job satisfaction: Cybersecurity experts thwart cybercrime. This can be rewarding for problem-solvers who stay on top of tech innovations — and the threats that accompany them.
  • High pay: The 2020 salary range for information security analysts was $60,060 to $163,300, according to BLS.

What can I do with a cybersecurity degree?

With cybersecurity, there’s a new sheriff in town. Unlike the sun-weathered, leathery lawmen of old, this new breed is protecting a digital frontier from cybercrime, staying one step ahead of criminals intent on stealing, infecting or compromising personal or company data through ransomware and hacking.

Cybersecurity experts work in many different environments, including:

  • Software companies
  • Healthcare institutions
  • Government agencies (the FBI is the lead federal agency for investigating cyberattacks)
  • Law enforcement agencies
  • Business or financial companies
  • Consulting firms

In some companies, aspects of cybersecurity have even climbed up to the ranks of the C-suite with the newer chief privacy officer (CPO) position in executive management. According to job listings on Indeed.com, one role of a CPO is data privacy and protection.

What jobs are in cybersecurity?

According to BLS, reported job titles for those who graduate with a Bachelor of Science in Cybersecurity have the following average salary, education requirements and job outlooks.

Information security analysts

Overview: Information security analysts plan and carry out security measures to protect an organization’s computer networks and systems.

Salary range: The salary range in May 2020 was $60,060 to $163,300, according to BLS.*

Education requirements: Typical entry-level education is a bachelor’s degree, according to BLS.

Job outlook: 33% between 2020 and 2030, according to BLS.

Computer and information systems managers

Overview: Computer and information systems managers plan, coordinate and direct computer-related activities in an organization.

Salary range: The salary range in May 2020 was $90,430 to $208,000, according to BLS.*

Education requirements: Typical entry-level education is a bachelor’s degree, according to BLS.

Job outlook: 11% between 2020 and 2030, according to BLS.

Network and computer systems administrators

Overview: Network and computer systems administrators are responsible for the day-to-day operation of computer networks.

Salary range: The salary range in May 2020 was $52,830 to $134,970, according to BLS.*

Education requirements: Typical entry-level education is a bachelor’s degree, according to BLS.

Job outlook: 5% between 2020 and 2030, according to BLS.

While UOPX does not guarantee job or salary outcomes for our graduates — those hinge on geographic location, experience, competition and other individual factors — this much is clear: The demand for cybersecurity experts is high.

Fun fact: A 2020 report from (ISC)2 projected that employment in cybersecurity would need to grow by 41% in the U.S. and 89% globally to close the talent gap of skilled cybersecurity professionals.

Considering your master’s?

If you are thinking about going back to school to get a master’s degree in cybersecurity, UOPX offers a high-quality education on a flexible basis.

The online program requires 39 credits, which can be completed in approximately two years. Each class is taken consecutively so that students can focus on one 6-week course at a time.

In addition to six core courses, the master’s program at UOPX empowers students to select seven electives that align with CompTIA and EC-Council certifications in Leadership Auditing or Tactical Cyber.

Outcomes for this program include:

  • Network security analyst
  • Information security analyst/manager
  • Systems analyst
  • Security officer
  • Data processing manager
  • Application development director

Not sure how the online experience works? We break it down for you here.

FAQs

Is a cybersecurity degree worth it?

Asked if a degree is needed, this expert featured on BLS says: “Yes and no. … I know a bunch of people working in the field today who don’t have a degree. But should you get one? Yes, because it gives you the discipline to develop skills for lifelong learning.”

A bachelor’s in cybersecurity will help you learn:

  • How to apply math, science and engineering principles in the cyber domain
  • How to determine the computing requirements needed to solve technical problems

master’s in cybersecurity also offers numerous benefits, aside from giving you an edge in a highly competitive field. With a Master of Science in Cybersecurity, you will learn:

  • How to better spot security vulnerabilities hackers might exploit
  • How to develop an incident response
  • How to determine which preexisting security policies need to be updated
  • How to implement new security policies

How long does it take to get a degree in cybersecurity?

At UOPX, an online bachelor’s in cybersecurity can be completed in 120 credits in approximately four years. The online master’s degree in cybersecurity can be completed in 39 credits in approximately two years.

While many schools operate on a traditional semester basis, UOPX offers one 5- or 6-week class at a time. While both types of learning setups can lead to degrees in the approximate time frames above, the latter can be a more flexible option for working adults or parents.

Is cybersecurity hard?

Just like any postsecondary degree, the degree of difficulty will depend on the rigor of the coursework as well as your work and life demands. To pursue cybersecurity jobs, most candidates will need an aptitude for technology and a mastery of the skills outlined in the next section.

What skills do you need for cybersecurity?

According to the worldwide employment website Indeed.com, five skills that an information security analyst should have include:

  1. An understanding of information technology
  2. Attack-pattern and security-threat recognition
  3. Analytical skills
  4. Problem-solving/quick decision-making
  5. Communication

 

Wondering what an IT career looks like in real life? We break it down for you here.

Take the first step toward a career in cybersecurity with University of Phoenix’s Bachelor of Science in Cybersecurity!