Associate degree in cybersecurity program guide

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What is cybersecurity?

Smart devices have graced modern culture with everything from smartphones to intelligent sinks. Automatic appliances linked to our devices make life more user-friendly. As we link more and more devices, however, we become increasingly vulnerable to cyber attacks.

Just as criminals rob banks and scam cards, savvy tech users are finding ways to breach your cyber information. For many Americans, a strong password is the only defense they have from the next cyber attack.

In the field of cybersecurity, you become the virtual soldier charged with protecting accounts, rescuing breached data and securing employees and employers alike from future attacks. Starting with an associate degree in the field, students can make their way into entry-level positions and work their way up the ladder as they increase their seniority. If you are interested in technology, have a knack for problem-solving, an eye for detail and are eager to join one of the fastest-growing occupations in America, then cybersecurity is suitable for you.

About the degree

An associate degree in cybersecurity can be earned quickly at a relatively low cost. Offered at participating community and online colleges, this degree takes about 2 years to earn and costs less than a degree at a 4-year institution. Some in-state programs may offer an associate degree for free, but specific pricing varies from school to school.

An associate in cybersecurity will see you into most entry-level positions but is considered a stepping stone into a bachelor’s degree. This degree can fall under various names, including cyber defense, cybersecurity, associate of applied science or information assurance.

Common admission requirements

  • high school transcript
  • SAT and ACT scores

Students can transfer into this degree with prerequisite courses like English or math. For more specialized courses, the specific institution’s approval is required. Moving from program to program can only be done through accredited programs, and it is not uncommon for students to transition from an online to in-person program or vice versa. Consult with your institution on what credits can transfer and if they meet their requirements.

Degree flexibility

  • Part-time, full-time, online and offline options are available
  • Asynchronous online courses vary by institution
  • Most commonly completed in 60 credits

Associate degrees are seen as more adaptable to their students, often offering less rigorous requirements and coursework for completion. These degrees are convenient for working students or those with familial or professional commitments. However, since this degree is earned primarily at community colleges, students may need to reside within a specified institution’s region to complete the degree.

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Cost of the degree

Education is an investment of both time and money, but 2-year institutions try to make education accessible and affordable. The average cost of an associate degree is $18,550.

Due to its technical nature, books and supplies for an associate in cybersecurity may be more expensive than in other programs. Certificate tests are also an additional cost, but are strongly encouraged as they are usually required for employment in this field.

Scholarships

There is always help for students in need, even in the cybersecurity field. The most common options include in-home institution scholarships and the Free Application for Federal Student Aid  (FAFSA). Another popular scholarship opportunity is the Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association program, which offers a maximum of $5,000 for students in need with a GPA of 3.0 or higher.

On average, 86% of college students receive some financial aid for college, but nearly $2 billion of funding for eligible students remains unclaimed each year. With the associate degree loans averaging $16,600 from public institutions, it is crucial to claim the financial aid available to you and your degree.

Typical coursework

Some of the courses that you may take in this program include:

pencil-alt Introduction to information systems

This is an introductory course that focuses on hardware, software, operating systems and more. This course will set you up with a basic understanding of the concepts you will see in later courses.

pencil-alt Linux operating system

This is a lecture and laboratory class that teaches the basics of the Linux operating system. Some institutions pair this class with the opportunity to earn a CompTIA Linux+ certification.

pencil-alt Computer operating systems

This lecture and laboratory introductory class goes into deeper details about popular operating systems. It prepares students for their CompTIA A+ certifications, which are entry-level certificates.

pencil-alt Networking

This is a lecture-based course focusing on networking basics like security, wireless networking and Ethernet. It prepares students for the opportunity to earn a CompTIA Network+ certification.

pencil-alt Ethical Hacking

Otherwise known as “white hat hacking,” this lecture and laboratory course brings students through the history and importance of ethical hacking. It prepares students with the skills needed to test information systems and is an introduction to the world of ethical and unethical hacking.

alt"light-bulb-1" Internships are not standard for this level of a cybersecurity degree, but many students earn this degree while working in the field. Still, the degree opens many opportunities to earn professional certifications from the Computing Technology Industry Association (CompTIA). CompTIA is the gold standard of certifications and is commonly required by employers for higher-level positions.

Specializations

Cybersecurity is considered an IT specialization. It can go by many names but is not broken down into further specializations at the associate level. Cybersecurity degrees are sometimes merged with other programs, such as computer forensics or computer engineering.

Accreditation

Accreditation is a confirmation for students that their degree program meets the minimum standard of excellence agreed upon by the U.S Department of Education. While some degrees have boards designated to accrediting a specific program country-wide, cybersecurity falls under generalized accreditation by region. Cybersecurity programs may be accredited by broader associations, such as the Higher Learning Commission or more specified ones, like the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology.

Due to the variety of possible accreditations, transferring your credits between institutions may be difficult. Make sure your desired institution will accept your credits before making a move.

Career options

This is the technological security problem solver of the company. Adhering to strict privacy policies, they focus on research, data collection, maximizing productivity and assessing logs and computer traffic for any potential threats.

This job offers excellent growth potential, with an immediate $10,000 difference between entry-level and mid-level positions.

These positions are in charge of all aspects of website creation. They oversee the performance, capacity, functionality and security of their website.

This job requires specialized cybersecurity and general IT skills, such as client management, coding languages, website monitoring and graphic design. This position is friendly to associate degree holders and can be a great way to get experience in the field.

A job in cybersecurity can earn an average salary of $90,000 per year with the proper education and experience. Higher education and certificates are worthy investments for this field, as they usually coincide with a sharp increase in salary.

Continuing education

A bachelor’s in cybersecurity is seen as the standard for the occupation, but a bachelor’s in computer engineering, information technology and information systems or computer science can also lead to a career in cybersecurity. Though you can earn any IT bachelor’s degree to succeed in the field, one in cybersecurity will better prepare you for the job field and give you preference among employers.

Should I get this degree?

Though not required for most entry-level positions, an associate degree is strongly encouraged. It shows your employer mastery in your field and dedication to the profession, and opens opportunities for better paying and more respectable positions. The degree can be earned while working in the field, meaning you can get on-the-job experience while studying for your degree.

The field of information security analysts is predicted to grow by 31% by 2029, so you might want to get a head start on your competition now by pursuing an associate degree in cybersecurity.

National Initiative for Cybersecurity Careers and Studies (NICCS)

The NICCS does training, seminars and educational information in the field. Though not an accrediting body, they join the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) to award special delegation to high-quality educational programs and excellence.

National Security Agency and Central Security Service (NSA CCS)

NSA CCS is a government-based site providing knowledge and support to the crypto community. They offer student training programs, seminars, publications and opportunities to connect with potential employers.

CompTIA

CompTIA is one of the most significant certification review and acquisition boards. They are known for a variety of IT certificates required by employers, including the CompTIA A+ exam. Their cybersecurity degrees include cybersecurity analyst, CASP+ and Pentest+.

Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association (AFCEA)

The AFCEA is a global professional association that provides networking and educational opportunities, including scholarships.