So you’re considering a career in cybersecurity. Congratulations! You’re making a great choice - in a world that increasingly depends on cyber infrastructure, the demand for people to safeguard it against potential attackers and exploiters is growing every year.
With well over 700,000 jobs in cybersecurity ripe for the taking right now, and with that number growing every year, the possibilities for a new entrant into the cybersecurity job market are (figuratively) endless.
With so many open positions, it follows that there are many paths to a career in cybersecurity that don’t necessarily start with a college degree. But in a job market that requires candidates to be highly qualified and knowledgeable, a college degree will absolutely give you a leg up over the competition. Most jobs will include a bachelor’s degree in their list of prerequisites.
That said, a college degree is not an absolute requirement to get a job in cybersecurity. What college offers is a place where one can learn the skills necessary to perform a cybersecurity-related job in a relatively pressure-free environment. It also provides a convenient way for employers to assess one’s proficiency in an often crowded market.
But a college degree is not the only way to make it into a cybersecurity career. As long as you have the relevant skills, you’ll be able to find a position for you. Certifications, like those from CompTIA (see below for more info), can help provide institutional validation of those skills in the absence of a university degree.
But be warned: without a college degree, developing those skills will take years of grinding on your own time. What a college degree offers is time and space to build fundamental knowledge related to cybersecurity in a controlled yet challenging context.
So, what degree should you get? Depending on your college, there may be any number of differently named majors that could lead to a career in cybersecurity. Here, I’ve compiled a few sample majors that may be useful, along with short explanations of how they might help you develop a career. However, this is by no means an exhaustive list, and there are plenty of other degree programs with different focuses–even ones that specialize exclusively in cybersecurity.
The goal of a typical computer science course is to give students a rock-solid understanding of how computers work. Unlike certain other computer-related majors, computer science courses often cover not only the purely mechanical aspects of working with programming languages and operating systems but also topics in theoretical computer science and mathematics.
Ultimately, a computer science degree will leave you with a degree of professional flexibility that certain other majors on this list will not. Computer science graduates will be prepared to not only step into cybersecurity-related roles but also software engineering roles and others.
While any cybersecurity-related role will generally be happy to hire a candidate with a B.S. or a B.A. in computer science, a computer science role may leave a graduate slightly less prepared to jump straight into a role in cybersecurity than some of the more specialized majors on this list. Still, we recommend looking into computer science as a major for those interested in cybersecurity.
Compared to computer science, a degree in Information Technology (IT) is a step less theoretical and a step more specialized. Often, these degrees are not awarded by an engineering department but rather by a department specializing in business administration.
Thus, students who decide to specialize in IT during their undergraduate studies should expect a course load that’s lighter on mathematics and other theoretical frameworks and heavier on practical solutions to practical problems. Often, these programs will include courses on accounting, statistics, data science, communication, and other business-related topics.
As a result, while an IT degree will overlap with a CS degree in many areas relevant to cybersecurity, there are certain differences as well, which may lead graduates to find different entry points to the field.
The application of the lessons of computer science and information technology studies to the field of cybersecurity is immediately obvious. But why do so many cybersecurity job postings reference data science as a relevant field of study?
Data science is the study of the use of algorithms, statistics, or automatic systems such as machine learning to extract meaningful conclusions from noisy or otherwise difficult-to-interpret collections of data. In some ways, data science makes sense as a field of study because it allows cybersecurity specialists to understand the data they’re assigned to protect from attack, so to better understand how it might be attacked.
Therefore, an education in data science can give graduates a general knowledge of mathematics and scientific methods that may be generally applied in a cybersecurity job. But it should be noted that data science specialists are also increasingly in demand in a cybersecurity context, as data analysis of cyber attacks can provide meaningful conclusions to help prevent similar attacks from happening in the future (though this is a very oversimplified explanation, it should be noted).
In other words, a data science degree can be applied in a number of different ways to find a job in cybersecurity.
Like data science, accounting is an example of a major where the primary relation to cybersecurity is knowledge of the information being protected. In this case, a strong familiarity with accounting systems and the storage of financial information can be an invaluable asset when it comes to designing strategies to protect said systems and information.
A degree in accounting can ultimately help graduates to get a job in any field of cybersecurity–it is considered by most employers to be relevant to the field of cybersecurity–but it can especially help if you’re interested in applying cybersecurity to an accounting context, as it can help you become more conversant in accounting terminology for use in your interview and beyond.
While the above majors are broad programs offered at a variety of large universities, there are a number of more specialized programs offered at specific places. While some universities offer a degree in Digital Forensics or Computer Forensics, other universities may include the same coursework in a specialization within a broader forensics major. It depends on your university.
A digital forensics course intends to lead students down the path of detecting cybercrime; the relevance to cybersecurity here should be obvious. It will include some of the same information as other majors on this list, but also some information on legal issues surrounding cybercrime. However, even if your chosen career doesn’t ultimately end up involving the prosecution of digital crimes, it’ll still include a bevy of cybersecurity-related information.
In general, some of the most helpful majors for potential entrants into cybersecurity-adjacent jobs are those that leave graduates with a strong foundation in computer software and hardware. And for the purposes of understanding the hardware architecture of a computer, fewer majors are more helpful than electrical engineering.
Many of the pieces of knowledge required to be conversant in cybersecurity are highly specialized, but can be picked up relatively quickly given the right fundamental training. An electrical engineering major will leave students with a deft understanding of circuit design and digital logic. This kind of knowledge takes a long time to build, but once you have it, it’ll make your life a lot easier when you’re attempting to pick up specialized cybersecurity knowledge.
For that reason, even though electrical engineering may not seem directly related to cybersecurity, it’ll be considered relevant by most employers, and it’ll make your life a lot easier if you want to pursue a cybersecurity career. It doesn’t hurt that it also gives you the flexibility to pursue other career options if you change your mind.
No degree? No problem!
Realistically, of course, not having a degree will seriously limit your options, as most of the best cybersecurity jobs require a bachelor’s degree, or at least an associate’s degree. Cybersecurity jobs require a high level of knowledge of computers, and many employers believe that only a focused 4-year education can provide candidates with the necessary depth of knowledge.
But if you don’t have a degree, there’s good news: it may still be possible to land an entry-level cybersecurity position solely off the back of certifications, like CompTIA A+, CompTIA Network+, and CompTIA Security+, among others. You should be prepared to invest a lot of time and effort on obtaining these certifications, of course.
Luckily, of course, Cybrary is here to help, with courses in all major cybersecurity certifications, and plenty of courses in the basics as well. It’s not all peaches and rainbows–there’s a lot to learn if you’re going to try to transition into cybersecurity from scratch–but we can help to give you a realistic idea of what you’re going to need to accomplish.
While a bachelor’s degree may not be an absolute prerequisite to a career in cybersecurity, it’s a pretty firm expectation from most employers. It’s possible to gain the knowledge required to be a cybersecurity expert without a college degree, but a degree will give you much of the knowledge required to be competitive in cybersecurity in a highly structured framework inaccessible outside of higher education.
There are many majors that are tangentially relevant to cybersecurity, but the most relevant ones will give students a ready grasp of computer architecture and/or the information frameworks graduates will be protecting as professionals.