With the demand for qualified cybersecurity professionals soaring, the number of degree programs that can arm students with the skills needed to defend vulnerable networks is also increasing. How do you find the one that's right for you?

It comes as no surprise that cybersecurity jobs are growing at 12 times the overall job market.

As technology evolves, so does the cybercrime landscape, making cybersecurity professionals in demand more than ever before. By 2020, the need for cybersecurity workers in the United States will reach 6 million – a demand that will far exceed workforce projections of 4.5 million.

At the same time, evolving technology impacts the skills and knowledge that cybersecurity specialists need to prevent, detect and defend against cybercrime.

Consequently, cybersecurity education and training is also continually evolving.

But do you really need a degree in cybersecurity to get a job? And if so, how do you choose the right program?

Saint Leo graduate admissions counselors Rhet Rheinlander and Cameron Gilliam talk every day with working professionals who are interested in either transitioning to a new career in cybersecurity or advancing in their current IT, information security, or cybersecurity careers.

Here are some of the most common questions prospective students have.

What is a cybersecurity degree?

It's a technical degree program that provides the skills and knowledge for professionals who want to be on the front line of defense in preventing, detecting, and resolving cyber attacks.

Do you need a degree in cybersecurity to find a cybersecurity job?

To be perfectly honest, you could probably find a job in cybersecurity without a degree specifically in cybersecurity. However, it would be imperative that you have other qualifications. You would need a strong IT knowledge base, a bachelor's degree in computer science or computer information systems, and experience in areas such as networking, systems administration, database management or operating systems.

Is an MS in cybersecurity worth the time and money?

Clearly, there's no single path to a rewarding cybersecurity position, but being able to include a valuable credential on your resume like a master's degree gives you a competitive edge. If you want to advance into the upper levels of an organization, have an impact on strategy and policy, lead teams of IT professionals and affect change, a master's program is a smart investment.

When is the right time to pursue a master's degree in cybersecurity?

The answer to that question varies from student to student based on career demands, one's personal life and financial situation. Keep in mind that for working adults with families, there will always be reasons to delay starting a graduate program. You just have to bite the bullet and do it!

How do I choose the right program?

You choose the right program by asking the right questions about the curriculum. First and foremost, you want to make sure that courses are based on industry needs and your degree is obtained from a regionally accredited institution.

The National Security Administration (NSA) provides industry recommendations for graduate programs, so you can ask if the curriculum follows those criteria.

And since industry certifications are critical in the cybersecurity field, ask if the curriculum integrates the technical skills and knowledge from leading certifications, such as the CISSP, to help you prepare to earn those certifications. Our program, in fact, covers all 10 domains for the CISSP certification.

Also, ask about faculty. Verify that they have practical experience in the industry as well as the educational background to teach students.

What else should I look for?

In addition to making sure that the curriculum is highly technical and that each course is relevant, ask if the program provides opportunities for hands-on experiences. Nothing can prepare you better than practical, rigorous exercises that simulate real-world situations.

What are the entrance requirements for Saint Leo's master's in cybersecurity program?

Since the program does not cover any foundational computer science concepts, it will be beneficial if you have numerous courses in computer science. Ideally, prospective students should have a computer science, computer information systems, IT, engineering, or related degree prior to applying for the program. If not, there are three prerequisite courses candidates must take first.

Can I complete the entire MS degree online, or will I be required to attend classes on campus?

The program can be taken 100 percent online; however, it is also available at University Campus, so local students may also take on-ground classes if they prefer.

My bachelor's degree is not in computer science. Can I still apply?

Yes, you can. But you will be required to pass three prerequisite courses before you are eligible to apply to the program. The prerequisites are designed to provide you with a foundation in networking, programming and computer systems and are all offered online for easy completion.

What courses are required, and do I need to take them in a particular order?

The 36-credit program consists of 12 courses, and their descriptions can be found here on our website. There is some flexibility in your sequence of classes as long as you have taken the necessary prerequisite course.

How long will it take to complete the program?

Saint Leo offers six 8-week terms every calendar year. You may take up to two classes a term; therefore, you could finish the program in one to two years depending on the number of classes you take.

Are any of the courses I took to earn industry certifications transferable into the master's program? Or vice versa?

Unfortunately, not. The courses you take at Saint Leo will help increase your knowledge in the cybersecurity field. You should consult the organization that offers your desired certification regarding their educational requirements.

What is the difference between the cybersecurity program and an MBA in information security management?

The MBA program with a concentration in information security management is designed for individuals who want to be in a managerial business role and obtain foundational knowledge in cybersecurity. The program gives individuals the ability to make strategic business decisions.

The cybersecurity program is highly technical and specialized. It's for individuals who are looking for careers as analysts for the operation and oversight of operating systems and networks – people who want to focus on the technical aspects of information security.

Does Saint Leo's program provide hands-on experience?

We have a new, state-of-the-art, cybersecurity lab on campus that provides online students with practical, real-life exercises through secure, remote access.

Are there any specific hardware or software requirements for the program?

You will need to have Microsoft Office. Students may also need to obtain additional software programs depending on the course you are currently enrolled in.

Where are Saint Leo cybersecurity students or alumni now?

Many of our current students are already working in cybersecurity or IT fields within military, government, and private sector organizations. Others are in totally unrelated fields such as education and want to move into a new career. You will find a diverse and engaging student population. Cybersecurity jobs are in high demand and growing at 12 times the overall job market, so the opportunities are limitless.

Do you have any other questions about Saint Leo's cybersecurity program? Reach out to Rhet or Cameron at rhet.rheinlander@saintleo.edu or cameron.gilliam@saintleo.edu or call them at 800.707.8846.

National Cyber Security Awareness Month

Department of Homeland DefenseNational Cyber Security AllianceStaySafeOnline.org

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