Is a Cybersecurity Degree Worth It?
How many times have you been notified that a company you do business with has been the target of an online attack? And how many times have you had to change your passwords and review your account data as a result? It’s beyond a hassle. Major companies are regularly in the headlines for just such attacks. From social media platforms to big credit card companies to Google, no one who engages online seems to be immune.
The growing and imperative need to protect sensitive personal and financial data from being shared widely online is why many career seekers consider pursuing a cybersecurity degree a worthwhile investment in their future. Cybersecurity analysts build strong digital defenses to keep company and customer data safe, monitor potential threats, perform routine security checks, develop software to identify and destroy malicious viruses, and advise companies on best practices to keep data safe.
Businesses of all sizes and in all industries need information security analysts to protect corporate data, as well as their customers’ personal information, in order to stay profitable—and trustworthy. With so much demand in the field, the answer to the question “Is a cybersecurity degree worth it?” is an overwhelming “Yes!”
Cybersecurity Jobs by the Numbers
A look at the numbers shows just what kind of prospects you can expect by pursuing a cybersecurity degree. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the job outlook for information security analysts is expected to grow much faster than the average rate of other occupations. Between 2016 and 2026, the number of cyber-related jobs is expected to grow by 28 percent. More than 28,000 jobs are estimated to be added during that time.
California ranks second as the state with the highest employment of information security analysts, behind only Virginia and ahead of other large states like Texas, New York, and Florida. Those who land jobs as information security analysts in California can expect to make a good salary. The mean annual salary for these professionals is $108,090 in California, with the mean annual salary nationally at around $95,510.
The BLS reports these jobs require only a bachelor’s degree and less than five years’ of work experience in a related occupation to be hired. This entry threshold makes it much easier for those who are looking to change careers to get their start. National University offers a bachelor degree in cybersecurity online, allowing students to pursue their education while they continue to work, raise a family, or balance other responsibilities. Students interested in beginning a cybersecurity career can expect to realize a good return on their educational investment — fairly quickly.
Is a Cybersecurity Degree Worth It? One Student’s Perspective
For Denise Darling of San Diego, getting her online cybersecurity degree was definitely worth it. Growing up in a small, western Pennsylvania town that didn’t offer a lot of options, Darling entered the Navy right after high school. Besides, she says, “I wanted to see things.”
Over the course of her 13 years in the Navy, Darling acquired a lot of experience in information technology, such as managing ship controls, encrypting messages to send out, systems administration, and helping people create accounts. She also performed plenty of help desk work, such as diagnosing problems with computers, which she discovered was not her main interest.
Since she didn’t want to get stuck in an IT career that would likely include a lot of help desk work, Darling says she started looking around for other options. Some of the people she was stationed with mentioned cybersecurity as a good field, so she decided to look into it. She liked what she found.
“I did this because I wanted to open more doors,” she says of going back to school. “I had done the same thing for three years straight, and I couldn’t go any higher.”
Specifically, she says, “Cybersecurity is where everything is. You hear about the data breaches, and that’s a lot of what you learn with a cybersecurity degree. This field is definitely going to blow up more, and I don’t think they actually have enough people to do cybersecurity.”
Before she got into IT, and during her time in the service, Darling had completed an associate’s degree and a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice. She initially wanted to be a profiler for the FBI. She even worked for the agency for a time, but she had to leave when she was called back by the Navy and relocated. When she started thinking about what to do after her IT career was feeling stale, she realized combining her IT experience and her criminal justice education made cybersecurity seem like a natural fit.
Getting an Online Cybersecurity Degree
Darling’s path to getting her cybersecurity degree wasn’t a direct one. Her last post with the Navy was in Hawaii and, although she loved living there, she thought that she would have a better chance of getting a job in California, so she moved there.
However, after arriving in California, she found that jobs were not so easy to come by. She didn’t have any official certifications for the IT work she had done in the Navy, so she immediately went to work to acquire them.
After getting her A+ and security certifications, she decided that it was finally time for that career change. That’s when she started exploring options for her online cybersecurity degree.
Darling looked into a few schools before she settled on National. She found some program requirements at other schools to be too restrictive, and she was turned off by schools that seemed to put profits ahead of student needs.
“National seemed to care more about the students and not just the money,” she says.
In addition, Darling knew some people who had earned their degree at National and liked it. She also appreciated that the program offered four-week classes, which would expedite the time needed to complete the program.
“The idea of taking courses that would last three or four months seemed really intimidating to me,” Darling says of traditional semesters. “A four-week course seemed much more manageable.”
Darling started her master’s degree in cybersecurity at National University in 2012 and she finished it a year later.
The Cybersecurity Degree at National University
National University offers a number of benefits for anyone seeking an on-site or online cybersecurity degree. The Bachelor of Science in Cybersecurity program prepares students to become top security analysts, network defenders, and computer incident responders with coursework that gives them a comprehensive understanding of information technology management and security processes. Each course is only four weeks long, so the program can be completed in a shorter time frame.
“You have that opportunity to talk to your teachers and get the help you need,” Darling says. “You can get your classes done faster, and you don’t have to spend two to three years to get your degree.”
Once students finish their core cybersecurity classes, they have the option to pursue a concentration in digital forensics or computer network defense. Adding a specialization to the degree can make graduates marketable for certain career positions.
Students who complete the on-site or online degree program are able to:
- Design and implement measures to solve cybersecurity problems.
- Identify and apply best practices for cybersecurity management.
- Be an authority on the ethical challenges of cybersecurity work.
- Display authoritative knowledge of operating systems, networks, and cloud computing systems.
- Securely administer both Windows and Linux systems.
In addition, students who complete the program will find themselves in a competitive position to land well-paying jobs in cybersecurity at companies throughout the country.
Those who finish the bachelor’s degree have the option to, like Darling, pursue the Master of Science in Cybersecurity.
The Flexibility of Earning an Online Degree
Whether they are considering a career change like Darling did, or they are just handling the normal responsibilities of life like working or raising a family, many students opt for an online degree because of the flexibility it offers.
National allows students to take classes online or at one of its more than 20 locations. Darling took a mix of both.
“Every class is different,” she says. “There are some classes where I felt overwhelmed because they were giving us so much homework.”
Others felt easier, but she says all of her classes helped her to become the successful cybersecurity professional she wanted to be. In particular, Darling enjoyed the hands-on classroom experiences.
“That was the major takeaway I got from National — you actually get to do the work and you don’t just learn from books,” she says.
National’s flexibility, for Darling, was more than just convenient class schedules. Tragically, a month after starting the program, her husband passed away. She had to plan his service and cope with her own grief while she juggled all her other responsibilities, such as supporting her daughter.
Yet, even during one of the most challenging periods of her life, she was able to complete her schoolwork and move closer to her degree. Darling was able to adapt the program to fit her schedule. For example, she paused taking classes when she needed the time, allowing her to complete schoolwork during the times that made the most sense for her.
Also, after working many years in jobs that required her to sit for 12 and 13 hours a day, Darling developed some disability issues. She found the representatives at National, as well as her professors, accommodated her needs throughout her time in the program.
Darling, now in her fifties with a daughter in college, says she felt very supported by the faculty, staff, and her fellow students at National, and, in fact, she’s still friends with some of her classmates.
“You’re not just a number. National genuinely cares about you as a student, and that’s a big thing,” she says.
Options Beyond Degree Completion
Many students graduate with an online cybersecurity degree from National University and go directly into a successful career. Others, like Darling, find they need to do a little more to reach their specific goals. While she used her new skills to find new work, she also soon found herself wanting to learn more.
Darling works as a cybersecurity analyst at the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command (SPAWAR). She decided that additional training in digital forensics would help her perform her job better and also create more opportunities for advancement. She returned to National University to complete classes needed for the digital forensics concentration in the undergraduate program. But this time her employer is paying for her to take the courses.
In addition to those looking to earn an on-site or online cybersecurity degree, other students are interested in expanding their skill set. These students may take individual courses they need to fill in any skills gaps as well as make themselves more competitive for the job market.
Other degree options and courses at National pair well with the cybersecurity degree, giving students the ultimate flexibility to get the education and training they need for the specific career track they aim to achieve. Some students opt for the general cybersecurity education, while others want more specialized or advanced training for specific areas of interest or for management positions.
Darling says she’d ultimately like to work for the FBI again, since working for the agency as an intelligence specialist was her “dream job.” She says she’d also love to move back to Hawaii if she finds the right position to afford the high cost of living the island life. For now, she’s happy to be doing what she’s doing and her cybersecurity education gives her the option of working in a variety of locations and settings.
Looking to the Future: Is a Cybersecurity Degree Worth It?
If you are interested in a job with potential for growth, long-term security, and a good salary, a career in cybersecurity could be a good option.
As Darling says, “It’s where everybody’s going. You need to protect your systems, and organizations don’t have a lot of people who understand what’s needed.”
If anything, she says, the challenge is to get some companies to understand how essential cybersecurity jobs are to their overall health and profitability. “The hard part is getting leaders to see because it’s costly,” she says. But, she counters, “Think of the risk you’re going to take if you decide not to protect your system.”
From Paypal to Amazon to Chase, large corporations are regularly in the news for data breaches, making customers worry that hackers will have access to login credentials, account information, and social security numbers. These breaches give cybercriminals the potential to use that data to create false identities, and often, to steal money. In other cases, the information is used to embarrass a company or its users, such as when hackers expose the real names associated with online usernames and the comments published under those accounts.
As more companies come to understand how important it is to protect their systems, Darling — and the BLS — say the demand for cybersecurity analysts will only grow. Not only will that contribute to greater job security in the field, but it also will create more opportunities for career advancement and increased salaries.
“There are definitely jobs out there because they need qualified people,” she says, reiterating the high demand and the wide variety of opportunities within cybersecurity. There are options for just about anyone who is interested in the field. For instance, students who enjoy coding or more technical subjects could pursue jobs to create software solutions or analyze code.
She advises anyone who is interested in pursuing a cybersecurity degree to not allow themselves to be limited by preconceptions. For example, Darling says she has never been good at math, so she worried about having to take a lot of math courses. Instead, she found a specialty that didn’t require advanced math courses and a position that didn’t require advanced math knowledge. Her job primarily requires that she find information and route it to the appropriate source — something she is good at.
By pursuing an education at National University, students also have the flexibility to earn their degree while still working or taking care of personal responsibilities such as caring for children or parents. Students who are veterans, like Darling, could even be able to get the courses paid for through their veteran benefits.
For more information about the online and on-campus Bachelor of Science in Cybersecurity program at National University and the four-class concentration in either computer network defense or digital forensics, please visit our program page. There, you’ll also find information about specific classes and a link to download our Technology Career Guide. Get started on the education that will lead to a promising new career and a bright future!