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Cybersecurity experts protect data and networks from hackers and malicious actors in an increasingly digital and globally connected world. The profession offers some of today's most lucrative jobs, with a median salary of $102,600 reported as of May 2022, though these roles typically require bachelor's degrees.
The field continues to add jobs at near-record rates. Bureau of Labor Statistics projections indicate that information security analyst employment will grow by 33% from 2020-2030, making this profession one of the country's fastest-growing careers.
A cybersecurity associate degree can provide the perfect jumping-off point for tech-minded students looking to begin careers in the field. Aspiring professionals can use this guide to research available roles and explore education requirements for cybersecurity associate degrees.
What Is Cybersecurity?
Cybersecurity originated in the 1970s when humans began storing valuable data on computers. In the early days, most security breaches extended to people accessing physical documents without the proper clearance.
Then countries began to weaponize computer hacking, and individuals started experimenting with illegal data breaches. Cybersecurity evolved into a burgeoning and critical professional field. Cybersecurity specialists work for corporations, government agencies, nonprofit organizations, and educational institutions.
These professionals serve on the front lines of national security, protect corporate data, and establish safeguards for healthcare records. New technologies related to the internet of things and the accumulation of big data suggest that cybersecurity will continue to grow into the future.
Cybersecurity specialists work for corporations, government agencies, nonprofit organizations, and educational institutions.
This field attracts professionals driven by their love for technology and a passion for making a difference for companies, governments, and individual consumers. The best associate degrees in cybersecurity can lead to entry-level jobs. A two-year degree provides the foundation to earn valuable certifications and advanced degrees in the field.
Community colleges typically offer associate degrees. In general, these institutions set a lower entry standard than four-year colleges and universities. Most community colleges require each applicant to hold a high school diploma or its equivalent. Usually, prospective students should demonstrate strong math and science skills through their high school GPAs.
An associate program typically requires 60 credits or two years of full-time study at 15 credits per semester.
Community colleges do not require SAT or ACT scores. Most two-year programs accept all applicants, with placement exams determining their math and English coursework. While prospective enrollees do not need experience in cybersecurity, applicants with certificates in the field may have a leg up in the program.
Degree and Concentration Options
Aspiring candidates encounter cybersecurity associate degrees in several forms, including the associate of science (AS), the associate of applied science (AAS), associate of arts (AA), and the associate of applied business (AAB).
- Associate of Science: AS degrees prepare students to transfer to bachelor of science in cybersecurity degrees at four-year institutions.
- Associate of Applied Science: This degree introduces learners to the fundamentals and practices of information security, readying them for entry-level roles in the field. Upon graduation, learners should feel prepared to take exams for cybersecurity certifications.
- Associate of Arts: AA degrees emphasize social studies and humanities, generally preparing enrollees to transfer to four-year programs. Consequently, learners can take more courses in criminal justice, sociology, public policy, and business to explore the broad implications of security studies.
- Associate of Applied Business: This degree prepares students for entry-level careers in business. A cybersecurity major typically takes a blend of courses in business and technology, culminating in a field experience integrating the two disciplines.
Top Online Associate Programs
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Popular Cybersecurity Courses
Most cybersecurity associate degree programs require 60 credits to complete. Students usually take general education core classes, several courses in the major, and electives.
If the program emphasizes business, criminal justice, or information technology, then the general education courses should reflect that emphasis. In addition to traditional coursework, some schools may require internships or capstone projects. Common courses include:
- Cybersecurity Fundamentals: Businesses conduct sensitive negotiations and transactions online. Consequently, the need for security and its role in business and society have grown in prominence. This course covers access controls, malicious attacks, threats, vulnerabilities, and common risk responses.
- Database Management Systems: This course considers database modeling and design to cover the basics of designing, implementing, and managing database systems. Students explore the facilities and languages surrounding database management systems, along with implementation and administration techniques. Learners may investigate case studies and problems in database management to propose alternative solutions.
- Problem-Solving With Computing: Modern organizations employ computers to store, sort, and analyze the data they use to solve problems. In this introductory course, enrollees learn algorithm fundamentals, including expressions, variables, and array processing.
- Communication and Network Security: Networks serve as the major entry point for most systems. Students learn to prevent intrusion, abuse, or flooding of communication channels. Topics include VPNs, network access controls, packet filtering, intrusion detection, and network resource preservation.
How Much Will an Associate in Cybersecurity Cost?
Many factors determine how much a student pays for a cybersecurity associate degree. In some states, community colleges charge no tuition to residents, and in all states, community college tuition costs run much lower than the price of most nearby four-year schools.
State colleges typically cost less than private schools, and nonprofit institutions usually carry a lighter price tag than for-profit schools. Even if a student receives a tuition-free education, pursuing an education still includes costs for books and other learning materials.
Fortunately, most students do not have to pay for degrees on their own. Federal financial aid programs can provide grants, private foundations offer scholarships, and schools maintain work-study programs to help learners cover costs.
In addition, earning an associate degree before starting a bachelor's program can help learners save. The low price of most associate programs often yields significant savings for students.
Why Get an Associate Degree in Cybersecurity?
As one of the most exciting career fields, cybersecurity combines technology, public policy, and investigative work to help protect individuals and companies. Jobs in the field can pay lucrative salaries, and employment continues to grow.
Associate degrees in cybersecurity can help young professionals and individuals looking to change their professional focus. At the associate level, students learn networking technology, cybersecurity law, criminal justice, and intrusion detection. Benefits include:
Secure Employment: Recent high school graduates or individuals looking to shift careers can consider cybersecurity associate degrees as the perfect entry point for new professions.
Advance in the Field: An individual who already holds a degree in another field or who already completed a cybersecurity certification may view an associate degree as the next logical career move.
Transfer to a Bachelor's Program: Cybersecurity associate degree programs typically make up the first half of a bachelor's degree. Some students earn two-year degrees and work in the field to gain experience and income before completing four-year programs.
Jobs for Associate in Cybersecurity Graduates
As one of the world's fastest-growing and highest-paying fields, cybersecurity offers opportunities for tech-minded people who enjoy using problem-solving skills. An AS in cybersecurity can help new professionals join the field as network administrators, network support specialists, or system administrators.
To advance to more lucrative cybersecurity jobs, experienced professionals may need to earn bachelor's degrees, certifications, or even graduate degrees in the field. Advanced positions in cybersecurity include ethical hacker, information security analyst, and security software developer. For cybersecurity professionals with management expertise, chief information security officers are at the top of the field.
Network and computer systems administrators oversee the day-to-day operations of their organizations' computer networks. They organize, install, and support computer systems; upgrade and repair computer networks; train users to properly use hardware and software; and provide technical support.
These professionals work with individuals and organizations to provide help and advice. This role often splits into two different focuses: computer network support and computer user support. Computer network support specialists analyze, evaluate, and troubleshoot problems with computer networks. User support specialists, also referred to as help desk technicians, provide technical support to computer users who do not work in IT.
Continuing Your Education Past an Associate Degree
Earning a cybersecurity associate degree can help degree-holders launch new careers, but professionals who aspire to top jobs need more than a fundamental educational background. Advanced education or certification can help cybersecurity experts earn more money, engage in more challenging work, and assume leadership positions in the field.
Cybersecurity Certifications: Third-party organizations offer cybersecurity certifications like certified ethical hacker, certified information systems security professional, and CompTIA Security+. These certifications indicate skill and knowledge in a particular area, unlike academic certificates, which demonstrate completion of specific courses.
Most certifications require 3-9 months to earn, and final exams can cost $300-$900. Many employers insist that applicants hold certification for consideration.
Bachelor's Degree: A bachelor's degree typically requires 120 credits, amounting to 60 semester hours beyond the associate program. Full-time students with associate degrees usually need two years to finish their bachelor's degrees.
Enrollees can often specialize in network forensics, cybercrime, information assurance, and cyberoperations. As perhaps the best cybersecurity degree for professionals with 1-2 years of experience, a bachelor's degree can lead to higher-paying jobs in the field.
Master's Degree: A prospective student who holds a bachelor's degree and 1-5 years of professional experience in cybersecurity can apply to a master's program. This degree usually requires 33-36 credits and takes 18-24 months to complete.
Specializations vary by school but may include information technology and project management. Along with increased job security and higher salaries, a graduate degree in cybersecurity can prepare students to influence information security policy.
Some jobs that favor applicants with more than a two-year degree include:
Sometimes called "ethical hackers," penetration testers use cybercriminals' tools to test network and data security. These professionals simulate cyberattacks to identify weaknesses and vulnerabilities. Penetration testers work in government agencies, corporate offices, healthcare facilities, and educational institutions. While certification may help candidates qualify for entry-level testing positions, advanced posts often require academic degrees.
Required Education: Bachelor's degree preferred | Average Salary as of May 2022: $88,129
Charged with protecting organizations' data and networks, information security analysts serve as front-line soldiers in the war against cyberthreats. These professionals research trends, conduct penetration tests, monitor their employers' systems, and develop security standards and best practices for their companies.
Choosing the Right Cybersecurity Program
While rankings lists provide a strong entry point for research, degree-seekers should consider many factors when selecting cybersecurity degrees. Several key factors include accreditation, cost, career services, reputation, and alumni network strength.
Accreditation: Accreditation comes in institutional and programmatic forms. To maximize degree benefits, students should select institutionally accredited schools. The best institutions also hold programmatic accreditation with groups like ABET. Many top cybersecurity programs have earned the National Center of Academic Excellence in Cybersecurity designation from the National Security Agency.
Cost and Financial Aid: Each prospective enrollee should weigh a degree's total cost against their available financial aid. The school with the highest price tag may cost significantly less after factoring in a generous aid package.
Career Services: Does the school maintain a robust career services program for cybersecurity students? Can online learners easily access and benefit from this program?
Reputation: Prospective learners should consider how potential employers view a school's cybersecurity program.
Alumni Network: Does the school maintain a large, organized, and influential alumni base with cybersecurity professionals?
What to Look for in Online Associate in Cybersecurity Programs
Schools offer some of their best associate degrees through distance learning programs. Students often prefer to earn two-year degrees online for the added flexibility and convenience.
Prospective enrollees should consider the following factors when researching programs:
Transferable Credits: Students who want to pursue bachelor's degrees should ensure credit transferability from their two-year degrees to four-year programs.
Program Format: Some of the best technical degrees offer asynchronous learning, where students do not need to attend class at specific times. Synchronous two-year degree programs feature required live sessions.
Career Placement Help: The best programs provide support for students to find careers with two-year degrees. Assistance may include access to job boards, mock interviews, resume-building opportunities, and networking events.
Online Tuition Rate: If you want to attend a program in a different state, research tuition rates for online students. Some affordable distance degrees offer in-state tuition to out-of-state online learners.
Student Support Services: Online schools with the top associate degrees provide student support services like access to library resources, tutoring, and IT help.
Questions About Cybersecurity Associate Degrees
What is a two-year degree?
Two-year programs award associate degrees. Many students complete two-year degrees as the first step toward pursuing bachelor's programs. Good associate degrees can also prepare graduates for entry-level jobs in less time than it takes to earn a bachelor's.
What are the best technical degree program concentrations in cybersecurity?
Top concentrations in cybersecurity include digital forensics, cloud computing, network security, and cybersecurity analysis. Some of the best two-year degrees also offer concentrations in project management, programming, and business administration.
Can you get cybersecurity associate degrees online?
Yes. Schools offer some of the best associate degrees in cybersecurity online. Distance programs in cybersecurity sometimes include accelerated options and take fewer than two years to complete.
What are cybersecurity careers you can get with a two-year degree?
Graduates can qualify for several entry-level cybersecurity careers with two-year degrees. Potential jobs include computer support specialist and network analyst. Employers often prefer applicants with bachelor's degrees for positions like information security analyst and penetration tester.
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