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What to Consider When Choosing a Cybersecurity Degree Program

Jesse Varsalone
By Jesse Varsalone

Updated on October 23, 2023

How do you choose a cybersecurity degree program that is right for you? First, determine whether cybersecurity is the field for you. I considered several key factors when I was thinking about a future career in cybersecurity. Benefits include good salaries, abundant career options, opportunities to advance, and the ability, in many cases, to work remotely. However, a career in cybersecurity can also come with challenges, like the need to be in a perpetual learning mode, the pressure that comes with defending against constant and evolving threats, and potentially long work hours.

Once you decide to pursue a career in cybersecurity, one of the most important decisions you face is where to get your education. You’ll want to find an institution that meets your personal needs and provides skills and experience employers are seeking.

Online Cybersecurity Degrees

Your personal needs may be best served by an online cybersecurity degree program. Online learning offers flexibility and self-paced learning. Balancing life and school can be a challenge, and the time management skills you learn while managing life’s demands will be a valued asset to employers. Online learning also offers the opportunity to study and network with people around the world. The online environment gives institutions an opportunity to be more selective in obtaining expert faculty regardless of where they live.

You should also consider what level of degree you’ll need to meet your career goals and the cost and time it will take to earn that degree. An online bachelor’s degree in cybersecurity can be a solid foundation on which you can build your cybersecurity career. A master’s degree in cybersecurity can set you up to earn significantly more in your lifetime than a bachelor’s degree. If you already have an undergraduate degree in cybersecurity technology from UMGC, it only takes 24 credits to complete your cyber technology master’s degree.

Cybersecurity Faculty Should Be Working in the Field

You need to have the most relevant information about working in the field and learn how the concepts covered in your classes are relevant to today’s cybersecurity workplace. To ensure this, you want a top cybersecurity program taught by faculty currently working in the field, and for leaders in the cybersecurity industry. Employers like Microsoft, Google, Cisco, and the Department of Defense (DoD) seek highly skilled individuals who are experts in the varying fields of cybersecurity. This means that they will hire candidates familiar with the latest industry changes, advances, and responses to internal and external threats.

Cybersecurity Certifications

Having classes that are mapped to relevant industry certifications is also a key factor to consider when choosing a cybersecurity degree program. You should seek computer network and cybersecurity classes that are mapped to a specific industry certification, including Cisco CCNA, EC-Council Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH), CompTIA A+, CompTIA Net+, CompTIA Pentest+, CompTIA CYSA+, and CompTIA Security+. Every professor who teaches these classes should have the required certification (along with their valuable industry experience). You may have the opportunity to obtain one or more certifications while you take your undergraduate classes. Being certified makes you much more marketable to an employer. Some employers may require a certification, such as a CompTIA Security+, as a condition of employment.

Hands-On Cybersecurity Experience

Programs that tend to be theoretical in nature may not give you the necessary hands-on skills that employers are seeking. So, the cybersecurity program you choose should have a virtual environment where classes have significant hands-on components, like labs. This experience is critical to fully grasp concepts and have experience with commonly used tools in the industry to prepare you for the workplace.

Being Competitive in Cybersecurity

A cyber competition team is an important part of a good cybersecurity program because it tests your knowledge at a specific moment in time. It also teaches you intangible skills such as problem-solving, teamwork, communication, and leadership. Participation in cybersecurity competitions will allow you to learn more from practical application than you would from theories or in a classroom setting.

Is a Cybersecurity Degree Worth It?

Unfortunately, cybercrime is on the rise, but that means that cybersecurity jobs are, too. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, computer and information technology jobs are set to grow at 15 percent from 2021 to 2031, much faster than the average for all occupations.

Choosing the right cybersecurity program is essential to ensuring you have translatable, on-the-job skills that are marketable to employers seeking cybersecurity talent. I have had a chance to work with a variety of Windows programs as well as Linux and Mac OS. Earning 10 cybersecurity certifications including my CISSP has allowed me to get interviews with many top companies that required certifications and experience. Check out today’s supply and demand in the cyber job market, including by state.

Whether a cyber degree is worth it also depends on whether it’s something you will enjoy. I chose a career in cybersecurity because of my love of computers at an early age. From writing or coding a video game, to networking your XBOX or other household devices, I have found fulfillment in always learning something new.

UMGC Could Be the Right Cybersecurity Program for You

University of Maryland Global Campus (UMGC) is an excellent option to consider when choosing your cybersecurity program. UMGC has been designated as a National Center of Academic Excellence in Information Assurance and Cyber Defense Education by the National Security Agency and the Department of Homeland Security. They offer cybersecurity bachelor’s degrees, master’s degrees and certificates, and cover subjects ranging from cloud computing to cyber policy.

UMGC’s virtual lab for some cybersecurity courses, the MARS environment, provides students with a state-of-the-art cybersecurity experience. Students using the MARS environment will have access to the latest industry tools with which companies want their employees to have experience. Some of the tools used in UMGC’s cybersecurity classes include Wireshark, Nessus, and OpenVas. In addition, several UMGC cybersecurity classes have incorporated gamification and exercises like “Capture the Flag” (CTF) projects, where students get to collaborate and learn methodologies for solving real-world relevant problems, giving them relevant, practical, and immediately applicable skills that set them apart from other job candidates.

UMGC also has a competitive team that has placed in the top three in local, national, and even international competitions. UMGC’s Cyber Competition Team is composed of graduate and undergraduate students, alumni, and faculty. Team members study in a variety of cybersecurity programs at UMGC. The team competes in digital forensics, penetration testing, and computer network defense. This competition helps build in-demand skills, teaches collaboration among cybersecurity students and faculty, creates a network with employers, and helps advance students’ cybersecurity careers.

Reference on this webpage to any third-party entity or product does not constitute or imply endorsement by UMGC nor does it constitute or imply endorsement of UMGC by the third party.