Cybersecurity Degrees: PhD, Master's & Online Course Info

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What will you learn in a cybersecurity degree program? Read about degree requirements, the pros and cons of a master's and PhD degree and potential careers.
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Studying Cybersecurity: Degrees at a Glance

Cybersecurity is an evolving field where professionals create and examine the ways the electronic infrastructure facilitates modern life. From the computer networks we use at work to our smartphones to the Internet, we depend on secure electronic systems. This, in turn, means we depend on cybersecurity experts.

Degree candidates in one of these graduate programs will study the latest tools, tricks and techniques involved in keeping and maintaining a secure electronic environment. While these degrees may enable you to pursue a wide range of employment opportunities, you should be certain of your vocational goals before you start researching academic programs. Jobs like information security analyst or computer network architect often require at least a bachelor's degree.

Master's PhD
Who is this degree for? Individuals interested in leadership positions within the cybersecurity field Those who want to conduct research or teach at the university level
Common Career Paths (with approximate mean annual salary) - Information security analysts ($82,000)*
- Computer network architect ($82,000)*
- Computer science professor ($80,000)*
- Information research scientist ($103,000)*
Time to Completion Two years full-time although some programs can be completed in less 4-6 years full-time
Common Graduation Requirements Master's thesis or capstone project Doctoral thesis
Prerequisites Bachelor's degree (if your degree is not in a cybersecurity related field you may have to take preliminary computer science courses) Some programs require applicants have a bachelor's degree while other programs require both a bachelor's and master's degree
Online Availability Yes Rare; hybrid programs may be available

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2011 figures).

Master's Degree in Cybersecurity

Studying in this master's degree program can provide you with a thorough grounding in the relevant technologies needed to protect computer networks and infrastructure from attack. You'll study topics like continuity planning, digital evidence collection, biometrics, methods of electronic recovery and more.

Many of these programs are designed for working professionals who want to either enter the field of cybersecurity from another industry or increase their employment and advancement opportunities from within the computer field. Not all programs will require that you have a computer science background or degree. However, if you're approaching this program from an unrelated field, you'll most likely have to enroll in a number of prerequisite computer courses.

Pros and Cons


  • Computer occupations are among some of the fastest growing job markets in the nation
  • An advanced degree may make you eligible for more jobs
  • You'll likely work indoors in a climate-controlled environment and may have a set 9-5 schedule


  • Depending on your career goals, you may not need a master's degree to get the job you want
  • Graduate degree programs can be quite expensive and non-loan funding may be difficult to secure
  • For some jobs, you'll likely be competing with people who have only a bachelor's degree and experience

Courses and Requirements

In this type of program, you'll most likely enroll in core graduate-level cybersecurity courses. Generally, there are very few elective and general education courses needed that fall outside of the discipline. Many programs feature a degree requirement, such as a capstone project or master's thesis. Below are listed some sample course topics.

  • Digital forensics
  • Cryptography
  • Algorithm design
  • Operating systems

Online Degree Options

Online master's degree programs in cybersecurity are available. These programs may be completely online or hybrid programs. These online programs should afford degree candidates the same educational outcomes and career opportunities as the traditional classroom-based programs. Students will generally cover the same computer-related topics, including firewalls and advanced math.

Stand Out with This Degree

One way to stand out with this degree is to pursue an internship to gain experience in the field. Many of these programs do not feature an internship as a degree requirement. So while completing an internship will not get you course credit, it can also provide you with valuable work experience. The National Security Agency (NSA) is one governmental group that has an internship program. The 12-week summer internship program at NSA is for graduate students in computer science and related fields.

PhD Degree in Cybersecurity

Cybersecurity studies at this level are primarily offered through programs in related areas, such as civil security, computer science and information technology. Doctoral degree candidates study many of the same topics found at the master's degree level. These include how to protect computer infrastructure from attack and how to recover from an attack once it happens. You'll also receive instruction in topics such as access control, system and network architecture, algorithms, computer analysis, artificial intelligence and software construction.

In these programs, you may also choose a concentration from another related field, such as software security, information assurance or event response. Programs will culminate in a dissertation defense or research project on a cybersecurity topic.

Pros and Cons


  • Studying cybersecurity at the doctoral level can prepare you for advanced positions, such as lead researcher
  • As a cybersecurity professor, you'll be training the next generation of computer safety specialists
  • You can complete some of your studies online


  • Programs that focus solely on cybersecurity may be unavailable
  • A doctoral degree may be unnecessary for some cybersecurity positions
  • You may be competing for jobs against applicants with less education and more experience

Courses and Requirements

The curriculum of these programs is often divided between classroom lectures and lab courses. You will also receive course credit for working on your dissertation. Below are listed some sample course topics.

  • Computational theory
  • Information assurance
  • Incident response
  • Intrusion detection
  • National security

Online Degree Options

While someprograms offer a selection of their courses online, completely online doctoral programs in cybersecurity are difficult to find. One reason for this is that the research thesis component of your studies requires working with your academic adviser. However, it is not unusual for a program to offer the required cybersecurity courses online, while the other computer science courses are offered in the traditional classroom environment. You may also find programs require you to visit the campus for a residency or to meet any on-campus requirements.

Getting Ahead with This Degree

Pursuing a doctoral degree in cybersecurity can prepare you for academic and research careers. If working as a college professor is your goal, there are things you can do to enhance your job opportunities. Publishing articles in trade and professional magazines and journals may be on of your first priorities. You can begin thinking about this as you choose your doctoral concentration and topic. Having your original research published and recognized by your soon-to-be peers can open career doors and help get you on your way.

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