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Anyone with a degree in cybersecurity is likely to be in high demand. There are millions of job vacancies for cybersecurity specialists as organizations face a general shortage of talent in this area. Thus, it is a very good time to enter the field.
As a result, salaries are high and getting higher. Entry-level positions for cybersecurity begin above $50,000. But it isn’t unusual for people to be headhunted right out of college for six figure sums. After a couple of years of good work inside an organization and earning an advanced cybersecurity degree or certification, the pay range can average $150,000 and even higher for those ascending to C-level positions. Chief Information Security Officers (CISOs) in New York, for example, command an approximate salary of $250,000.
The Foote Partners IT Skills and Certifications Pay Index lists the top in demand cyber skills as: threat intelligence, DevSecOps, identity and access management, security testing, management of a security infrastructure, security architecture and encryption. Further, cybersecurity specialists who know how to secure data warehouses, business intelligence (BI), ERP and web applications won’t have to spend long looking for gainful employment. These applications are critical to many organizations and need strong protection.
“These IT skills are among those earning the highest pay premiums,” said David Foote, an analyst at Foote Partners. “Risk analytics exploits internal and external structured and unstructured data to model scenarios and outcomes, providing insights into areas such as fraud risk, market risk, IT risk and financial risk. The resulting insights provide an organization with a plethora of benefits to security, operational continuity, and competitive advantage.”
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Plenty of college cybersecurity degrees available
The good news is that there are plenty of colleges offering excellent cybersecurity training programs. The best ones provide a firm foundation in cybersecurity combined with hands-on training, lab work and knowledge of high-level security concepts such as risk, governance and privacy.
Those considering different college cybersecurity training options are advised to pay attention to the amount of practical work that is given to students. A four-year program consisting largely of theory is not going to serve you well in the workplace. Give preference to programs that emphasize real-world problem-solving, drills that involve troubleshooting cybersecurity challenges, lab work, programming and writing scripts to operate security software and other invaluable skills. When you start a career, your boss wants to see that you know your subject and can perform functions on day one.
Pay attention, too, to the computer languages taught. In cybersecurity, Python and C tend to dominate. Some courses expect you to know them already, but many teach them as part of the curriculum.
[Related: Cybersecurity degrees: types, comparisons and best practices for selection]
Top cybersecurity degree colleges
Here are our picks for the top cybersecurity training available from colleges across the U.S.
Carnegie Mellon University
Located In Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) is a private institution with a campus that spans more than 150 acres. Founded by Scottish steel magnate Andrew Carnegie, it is consistently ranked among the top educational institutions and has a strong cybersecurity degree program. With Google, Uber, Disney and Facebook now operating in the vicinity, career opportunities are not far away.
CMU’s Information Networking Institute offers a variety of cybersecurity training programs. Courses are generally taken in a classroom setting. Most students live on campus, although that is only mandatory for freshmen. CMU’s CERT Coordination Center is a Centers for Combating Terrorism Technical Support (CTTSO) and is used to protect critical infrastructure in Pittsburgh. In addition to teaching defense against threats, the course covers how to build secure networks. Hands-on workshops are used to solve computer science problems. As a testament to its credentials, the campus houses an ARM-based supercomputer known as THOR.
University of Maryland
The University of Maryland has several physical sites such as College Park as well as many online options via the Maryland Global Campus. It offers cybersecurity degree programs ranging from master’s and bachelor’s degrees as well as certification courses. As it is a state-run institution, fees are generally lower than for some others on this list, particularly for those living in Maryland. But competition for places is fierce.
As it’s located close to Washington, D.C., many from this college find themselves on the short list for government cybersecurity jobs. The Virginia tech corridor isn’t far away either and it offers a wide range of IT and business career options.
Within its computer science and computer engineering majors, undergraduates have the option to pursue a specialized track in cybersecurity, providing the theoretical and technical foundations necessary to succeed in the field after graduation. Courses include a two-year, optional four-year, honors program for undergraduate students at the University of Maryland. Known as the ACES program, it emphasizes an interdisciplinary approach to cybersecurity education, offering academic, research and networking opportunities that train students to be future leaders in the field. There is also a cybersecurity club run by students that organizes competitions, tech-talks, and periodic meetings to spread awareness and interest in the field.
George Washington University
Located in the heart of the nation’s capital, George Washington University cyber grads also benefit by being in the vicinity of a great many federal government and Virginia tech corridor opportunities. George Washington University is designated a Centre of Academic Excellence for Information Assurance by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the NSA.
GWU provides many learning tracks for undergraduate, graduate and professional cybersecurity studies. The cybersecurity bachelor’s degree completion program combines a technical, hands-on curriculum in labs and virtual environments with collaboration with government agencies, private companies, and military cybercrime experts. There’s even a Master of Business Administration (MBA) program that has a cybersecurity focus. Other options include courses on cybersecurity policy and compliance as well as computer science. A Doctor of Law degree that specializes in national security, cybersecurity law and foreign relations law. Cybersecurity training is primarily done in person; however, online options are available, too.
Georgia Institute of Technology
Georgia Tech has a 400-acre campus in the heart of Atlanta. Being a state institution, fees are lower. As well as in Atlanta, it has additional campuses in Savannah, and overseas in France, Ireland, Costa Rica, Singapore and China.
While not so well known as Silicon Valley and the Northern Virginia Tech Corridor, Atlanta has a thriving tech scene. It is also home to the headquarters of a great many Fortune 50 companies. The Georgia Tech Research Institute is funded by both government and industry. In addition, the area’s film industry now competes with Hollywood. Job opportunities are becoming more frequent in movie and TV companies as well as entertainment startups.
The Georgia Tech School of Cybersecurity and Privacy offers specialties such as cloud security, cryptography, cyber-physical systems, forensics, and malware. These are paired with learning about regulatory requirements, including those in public policy and law. Application specific classes cover election systems, social media, internet infrastructure and web security, cyber warfare, hardware security, network and communications system security, and machine-to-machine trust.
Purdue University is another public institution based in West Lafayette, Indiana. It is set within a 2,500-acre campus and in-state fees are low. It has another four campuses throughout the state.
The West Lafayette site has 13 schools and colleges, including a College of Engineering with a School of Aeronautics and Astronautics that is known as the “Cradle of Astronauts.” A major in Computer and Information Technology teaches the skills to create and maintain secure networks as well as track down hackers and potential incursions. Secure coding, cryptography, digital forensics, UNIX fundamentals, analytical thinking and criminology are all part of the program.
Hands-on learning includes testing for vulnerabilities, creating new security protocols and other skills. Industry partnerships open up access to internships including some within the State of Indiana’s computer network.
George Mason University
As a public institution, George Mason University has relatively low annual fees. It has three suburban campus locations in northern Virginia, as well as one in Korea. The Fairfax, Virginia campus is the primary site.
A Bachelor of Applied Science program is offered with a cybersecurity concentration. It also covers defense information systems for those seeking a military or government contractor position. Further a BS program provides a foundation in cybersecurity engineering for those with a strong mathematics and science background. The program prepares graduates either for direct entry into a career in engineering or for graduate study. And a general IT BS degree can be given with a cybersecurity focus.
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) is private with a campus in the Boston area. As one of the top academic institutions in the world, it has a wide range of cybersecurity programs. Undergraduate training doesn’t particularly specialize in cybersecurity.
However, there are multiple other opportunities. These include Applied Cybersecurity for working professionals, a Graduate Certificate in Cybersecurity and Networking, a Master of Networking with a cybersecurity major, and research programs under the MIT Cybersecurity and Internet Policy Initiative. The Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) also covers cybersecurity research initiatives. Additionally, the MIT xPRO Post Graduate Certificate in Cybersecurity program focuses on the defensive and offensive aspects of security. There is an opportunity to create a capstone network development project for a job portfolio.
University of California, Berkeley
University of California (UC) has a number of campuses around the state that offer cybersecurity degrees. These include LA, San Diego, Davis and Berkeley. All are public institutions with large numbers of enrollments and stiff competition for places in the nation’s most populous state.
Most UC sites feature large campuses. Berkeley, for example, is 1,232 acres. Its School of Information offers courses on information management, data science, and cybersecurity. Further options include Master of Information and cybersecurity (MICS), a doctorate program in Information Management and Systems, a cybersecurity boot camp, and graduate degree specializations in cryptography, software security, and privacy. MICS has specializations such as government security policy, user privacy and others. UC Berkeley also has a partnership with McAfee. Courses such MICS can be done wholly online if desired.
Like MIT, undergraduate programs are largely general computer science oriented. They include cybersecurity without having a specific specialization. Its computer science program includes the theory of computation, the design and analysis of algorithms, the architecture and logic design of computers, programming languages, compilers, operating systems, scientific computation, computer graphics, databases, artificial intelligence and natural language processing. The idea is to prepare students either for a research career or technical leadership position in industry.
Stanford University is private with a setting in the middle of Silicon Valley within an 8,180-acre campus. Various bachelor programs include some cybersecurity training elements. In addition, an online introduction to cybersecurity program covers fundamentals and practical applications in both cybersecurity and executive strategy.
University of Indiana – Bloomington
University of Indiana – Bloomington’s B.S. in cybersecurity and Global Policy provides an understanding of the technology behind cyber and networked systems, and its global social policy implications. This course attacks cybersecurity from several different perspectives. As such, it is a collaborative partnership between the Luddy School of Informatics, Computing, and Engineering, the College of Arts and Sciences, and the Hamilton Lugar School of Global and International Studies. It arms students with the technical and policy expertise needed in business and government cybersecurity positions.
Cybersecurity training programs cover programming, data structures, networked systems and security protocols as well as privacy, cultural, economic, legal, security and diplomacy issues surrounding the field of cybersecurity.
University of Illinois – Champagne-Urbana
University of Illinois – Champagne-Urbana is a public college with a campus size of 1,783 acres. Located in east-central Illinois, its Information Systems (IS) major prepares students in areas such as computer infrastructure design, hardware and software implementation, and the protection of systems and technology to address the cybersecurity needs of an organization. It also delves into data and information for managerial decision-making.
Students take both technology and business courses to equip them with the required skill set to be able to design, develop and deploy secure computer and software-based solutions that help organizations attain tactical and strategic objectives. Courses taken by IS majors include information technology for networked organizations, systems analysis and design, and database management. IS majors may choose additional courses in data analytics, information security/cybersecurity, project management, human-computer interaction, programming, and social media. Graduates gain the knowledge to make decisions about the selection and implementation of information systems/information technology, liaise with non-technical managers, computer programmers, and technical managers, and keep systems secure.
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