If a career in cyber security is your goal, you're in luck: according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment in this field is projected to grow by 28% in the next decade, which is very high compared to all other industries.
However, if you're already plugged into or even working in the field, you may be wondering whether a college degree will be worth your time and effort. As with most degrees, there are both good and bad points to consider, and with cyber security there are many careers in the field that you may not have considered. Associate degrees, even an online degree program, can give you insight and access to many of the various entry-level careers available. These online or on-campus degree programs may be offered by a local community college near you and some are even provided by well-known universities. Students who graduate from an associate degree program in this field can work as information security analysts and other security specialists and cyber security professionals who make sure that security policies are strong and followed by employees. No matter what college you attend, or if you wish to attend online, if you're considering two-year programs in the field you can expect to complete general education courses and cyber security classes on some of the following subjects:
- Information Technology
- Computer Systems and Operating Systems
- Networking and Computer Network Systems Security
- Information Systems Security
- Security Procedures
- Security Risks
- Disaster Recovery and digital forensics
- And More
Here's a look at the pros and cons of an associate degree in cyber security, as well as many more aspects of this growing career field.
- On average, someone who holds a degree earns more than a person in the same position with the same amount of experience and none. This holds true for a cyber security degree and through the various levels: if you continue your online education to earn a cyber security bachelor’s, you will most likely earn more than someone with an associate's.
- An associate's doesn't take too long to earn and it's a good return on your investment of time and money, though if you attend part-time online, the degree will naturally take longer.
- Employers prefer to hire people who have completed degree programs because it shows you are willing to learn and invest time in yourself.
- If your high school grade point average (GPA) isn't too great you may not qualify for entry into a cyber security bachelor’s program and earning an associate's is an excellent way to raise your GPA.
- An associate's will give you access to cyber and information security technology you probably can't learn on your own as well as the general education students will complete during their college career.
- If you're already working in the cyber security field, it may be hard for prospective students to find the time to attend school, even if they choose to attend online and even if only for certification.
- Many certifications offered in the field of cyber security require you to hold at least a bachelor’s.
- You must be good in math, as cyber security courses require you to learn skills in analytics and statistical analysis as well as operating systems and advanced network security.
- Associate degree programs take longer than certificate programs (not to be confused with certification in a specialized area).
- College is expensive and it may be a financial hardship for you to pay for tuition, books, and other costs of attending an associate's program in information technology or computer network security risks, even if you attend online.
Certificate vs. Associate's
Some colleges and high schools offer a cyber security certificate program and you might be considering this instead of a degree. Most online and in-person certificate programs take around one year and also have both positive and negative points. While you will learn practical cyber security skills and knowledge, your credits may not transfer to a new program, so if you're considering a certificate you should make sure it is transferable. That being said, it's an excellent way to quickly enter the field of online security.
A certificate program is usually between 12 and 18 credit hours as opposed to 60 credit hours for an associate degree, so you'll only have half the credits you would earn in the first year of your program. This is important because, if you want to advance in your career, you'll probably eventually want to earn a higher degree, such as a cyber security bachelor's. Also, online programs are less likely to have full accreditation, so you should thoroughly check out online programs before signing on.
What Cyber Security Associate Degrees are Available?
Cyber security degrees fall under the umbrella of computer science fields, which means it’s considered a science degree. There are two types you can earn: an Associate of Science (AS) or an Associate of Applied Science (AAS). An Applied Science degree is considered a "career" degree, meaning the overall goal is to prepare you to enter the employment market directly after graduation. On the other hand, an AS is designed to prepare you to continue your education to the bachelor's level and are more likely to be found in online programs.
If you choose an AAS program, you should first make sure it is transferable to a four-year degree, even if you don't currently plan to continue your education. If you wish to enroll in a AS program but also want to enter the job market immediately after graduation, you can compare the curriculum offered in the two degree types and use your elective classes to fill in what's missing as compared to the AAS program. That way, you'll be halfway through your bachelor’s degree by the time you earn your associate's.
Here's a look at some examples of Associate Cyber Degree types:
- Associate in Applied Science in Information Security and Assurance (AAS)
- AAS in Cyber and Information Security Technology
- AAS in Network Administration and Cybersecurity (AAS)
- Associate of Applied Science degree in Cybersecurity-Information Assurance (AAS)
- Associate of Applied Science in Information Technology – Network Management (AAS)
- AS in Cybersecurity
- AS in Computer and Information Science – Cyber and Network Security Concentration
Many people choose to begin their higher education with an associate degree instead of a bachelor’s program because the admission requirements are minimal. All you need is a high school diploma or GED to qualify for an associate degree program, so if your high school GPA wasn't great, this is the perfect way to start fresh. However, be aware that online students will have the same admission requirements as those who attend in-person.
Most schools do require you have lived in the state for at least six months in order to qualify for in-state tuition rates and online programs may choose to charge out-of-state tuition, meaning you might not save much money by choosing to attend online. You will also have to fill out an admission applications and may have to pay an application fee when you submit it.
How long does it take to earn a Cyber Security Associates?
An associate degree is considered a two-year degree because it takes an average of two years to complete if you take a full class load. If you're attending part-time it may take twice as long, and there are a few ways you can shorten the time.
If you're still in high school, you can opt to take college level courses which can fulfill your college core class requirements such as English, math, and science. Many high school students who choose this option can earn one or two semesters worth of credits by the time they graduate from high school, basically earning a free year of college.
If you're proficient in one or more subjects you could also choose to use the College Level Examination Program (CLEP) and test out of courses for a minimal fee. This is most likely to work for general education courses rather than your core courses, such as networking or computer systems.
Potential Careers in Cyber Security with an Associate's
Because the field of cyber security is growing so fast, there are a lot of job openings. It's important to note that the demand for skilled workers is so great many employers who list a bachelor’s degree as a requirement may accept a candidate who only holds an associate for the simple reason there are many open positions and not enough trained workers. Because of this, when you look at job descriptions that say a four-year degree is required as entry-level criteria, you should take that with a grain of salt. By the same token, it's an excellent reason to earn your bachelor's degree as soon as possible because you'll be a top candidate once you graduate. Here's a look at some entry-level positions in the field of cyber security:
- Information Security Associate:
This position typically works a nine-to- five schedule in an office setting. They act as a liaison between departments to coordinate security efforts and are charged with looking at the current system to determine the weak areas that might be prone to a security breach.
The average information security associate salary is $60,700.
- Cyber Security Penetration Tester:
If you have any skills in hacking and would like to be paid to use them, then this is the job for you. The cybersecurity penetration tester tries their best to gain entry into a company's system and identifies security holes and weaknesses.
The average penetration tester salary is $85,500.
- Network Security Analyst:
This type of position is responsible for analyzing, monitoring, and resolving the online security incidents within a company. You might also be tasked with implementing policies and procedures to prevent future security incidents.
The average network security analyst salary is $72,400.
- Cyber Security Analyst:
The analyst is in charge of developing internal policies and procedures that will prevent and thwart cyber-attacks and, when an apparent break occurs, the analyst determines whether it was a false alarm or an actual attack.
The average cybersecurity analyst salary is $76,600.
- Information System Security Officer:
This position is in charge of data security within a company and may install hardware to ensure password credentials are assigned and working properly.
The average information security officer earns a salary of $92,300.
Options to Advance
You should plan to earn your online bachelor's degree and then a master's degree as soon as possible if you wish to advance within the field of cyber security or computer science. By continuing to learn while you gain experience in the field, you will soon be able to advance as far as you'd like in your chosen area of cyber security. Luckily, there are plenty of programs available in this field, both online and traditional.
While an online bachelor’s degree will qualify you for positions such as Cyber Threat Analyst and Senior Cyber Security Engineer, a master's degree will put you at the top of the field. Your graduate degree means you can apply for the highest paying positions such as Global Security Operations Manager, Security Consultant, and Chief Executive IT Security Officer for companies and corporations of all sizes.
Best AS in Cyber Security Programs
Beaufort County Community College
Washington, North Carolina
This program prepares students for entry-level positions within the realm of network security; students can also choose an area of focus such as healthcare systems or database services.
- A.A.S. in Information Technology – Network Management Security Specialty
Central Texas College
Central Texas offers an internship option for students who wish to gain experience as they learn and also has an integrated military program that is offered at over 150 bases around the country.
- Associate of Applied Science in Information Security
Florida State College at Jacksonville
Florida State focuses on the skills needed to investigate cyber, computer, and electronic crimes with special courses on digital forensic procedures and techniques.
- Associate of Science in IT Security
Forsyth Technical Community College
Winston Salem, North Carolina
Here they prepare students for a wide range of positions within the field of cybersecurity, with specialties in the security aspects of business intelligence, database services, and healthcare informatics.
- Associate of Applied Science in IT-Cybersecurity
Ivy Tech Community College
Ivy Tech offers two degrees in cyber security: an AS for those who plan to continue their education and an AAS for those who wish to enter the workforce sooner. These programs are offered at over 20 locations throughout Indiana.
- Associate of Applied Science (AAS) degree in Cybersecurity-Information Assurance
- Associate of Science degree in Cybersecurity/Information Assurance
Traditional Schools Offering an AS in Cyber Security
Bismarck State College
Bismarck, North Dakota
This program prepares students for positions in either a data security role or as a system administrator; upon completion graduates will qualify for several industry-recognized certifications in cybersecurity. Courses are offered in a live or recorded conference setting.
- Associate of Applied Science in Cybersecurity & Computer Networks
California Institute of Arts & Technology
San Diego, California
The California Institute of Arts and Technology offers an AAS degree with a specialty in cyber security, so the student is prepared to enter the workforce upon graduation. Applicants may be required to take a Scholastic Level Exam to determine whether they are a good fit for online class learning.
- Associate of Applied Science in Computer Information Systems – Networking Concentration
Community College of Rhode Island
Warwick, Rhode Island
This program is certified to meet or exceed NSA and Centers of Academic Excellence core foundational content and standards for easy transfer of credits to a four-year degree program. The well-rounded curriculum also allows graduates to enter the workforce immediately if they choose to wait on entering a bachelor degree program.
- Associate of Science in Computer Studies and Information Processing – Cybersecurity
Virginia Beach, Virginia
This online program also offers hands-on experience and will prepare the student to take several certifications that are industry-recognized as proficiency achievements in the field of cybersecurity. This degree can be earned in as little as 18 months.
- Associate of Science in Computer and Information Science – Cyber and Network Security Concentration
Massachusetts Bay Community College
Wellesley Hills, Massachusetts
Mass Bay CC has a curriculum approved by the National Centers of Academic Excellence in Information Assurance/Cyber Defense, and prepares graduates to earn several proficiency certifications such as Cisco and CompTIA.
- Associate of Science – Cybersecurity
Criminal Justice & Law Degrees & Career Paths