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Across all industries, ransomware attacks and threats are creating growing demand for cybersecurity talent. Companies, governments, and organizations need more experts to keep their systems and data safe from bad actors. For those people seeking a flexible way to enter the cybersecurity space, Fortune has ranked the best online master’s in cybersecurity programs in 2023. A master’s degree in cybersecurity can help prepare students for certifications like CISSP, CISA, Security+, CEH, and more. In total, we included 20 programs in this year’s ranking.
“The definition of cybersecurity is the protection of internet-connected systems such as hardware, software, and data from cyberthreats,” as Mary McHale, a UC Berkeley career advisor for the university’s online master’s in cybersecurity program, told Fortune. As the world becomes increasingly digital, professionals in this fast-growing field are looking to protect threats in all aspects of life, from companies to government to healthcare.
The industry moves fast and is always changing, but a master’s degree in cybersecurity can help people get their foot in the door and prepare them for leadership opportunities. With hundreds of thousands of unfilled positions globally, the demand is very high for cybersecurity professionals—and that means they’re also fetching high-paying salaries. Cybersecurity jobs often pay over six-figures, and although a master’s degree isn’t always needed, some experts agree that it definitely helps people advance their careers in this field. Finally, since most students in online master’s degree programs in cybersecurity are also working part- or full-time, they have the ability to apply what they’re learning immediately, in real-life workplace scenarios.
Students who pursue a master’s degree in cybersecurity are prepared for a wide range of roles after graduating from one of these programs. The cybersecurity field includes nearly 40 specialty areas and more than 50 work roles, according to the National Initiative for Cybersecurity Careers & Studies. Some of the more common paths include: Network security engineers, analysts within IT departments, and computer and information systems managers. There are also niche areas within cybersecurity, like cloud security, cryptography, and digital forensics.
Earning a master’s degree in cybersecurity is more difficult than a bachelor’s degree, so it will be challenging. Students in a master’s degree program are often working while attending school, which requires the time management skills to balance various professional, academic, and personal demands. Most importantly, however, students who succeed in a master’s degree program must have an interest and enthusiasm for cybersecurity and the protections it provides.
While computer science programs may also teach some aspects of cybersecurity, a dedicated degree program is best for people interested in a career in this field. In addition to three Ivy League schools that offer online cybersecurity graduate programs—Harvard University, Brown University, and Columbia University—multiple universities have dedicated cybersecurity programs at the undergraduate, graduate, and even doctorate level. Choosing the best degree program depends on the person, and what you hope to achieve post-graduate.
The short answer—yes. In 2017, the global cybersecurity industry was worth approximately $86.4 billion, according to research conducted by Gartner. In 2027 just a decade later, BrandEssance says it’s projected to be worth $403 billion. The industry grows as cyber attacks do, so there is a need for those people who are trained to provide cybersecurity expertise—and a master’s degree program can help expand your career opportunities and salary potential.
Cybersecurity master’s programs typically take up to two years to complete because most universities require students to complete 30 to 36 units. Depending on the program and student, a master’s degree program can be completed in less time. For example, UC Berkeley’s online master’s in cybersecurity program can be completed in 20 months, so a bit less than two years.
Yes, employers do take these programs seriously, as many top universities now offer an option to earn a master’s degree in cybersecurity online—and this is evident by the outcomes for graduates. Graduates with an online master’s in cybersecurity from the University of California–Berkeley are securing salaries in excess of $200,000—almost double the $104,000 salaries that their peers entering the program self-reported. As of late 2022, the median salary for cybersecurity professionals in the U.S. was $135,000.