This article highlights important things to know before enrolling in a college cybersecurity program. To learn about the most important classes in cybersecurity, see our article here. You can also see information on college cyber program costs here.
So you’ve decided to major in cybersecurity? Good for you! With today’s need for cybersecurity professionals, you’re making the right choice if you’re looking for job security and flexibility. There are jobs worldwide for cybersecurity professionals and the pay is up there with the best professional occupations.
If you’re new to cybersecurity and are considering enrolling in a college program, you may be wondering what’s in store for you. Cybersecurity degrees are fairly new but growing in popularity. They differ from computer science in that they have less of an in-depth focus on programming and theory. Cybersecurity places a much stronger emphasis on not just understanding security tools and features but also knowing how to use them in practical, hands-on situations.
Ready to Start Your Cybersecurity Career?
If you're serious about starting your cybersecurity career, enroll in my FREE 5-part series "Strategies for New Cyber Careers". These strategies can help you determine your best path forward. I'll also send you my weekly cyber career newsletter with resources that every cyber professional needs to know.
Depending on where you go to school, your cybersecurity degree will differ in its approach to giving you the groundwork for future success. In nearly every program, however, there are common elements. In this article, I’ll cover seven of the things you need to know about college cybersecurity program.s
Technical Requirements for Your Computer
If you’re going into any tech-related field, you need to have the tools to do the work. While you can generally rely on your school to provide rentable laptops or computers in a library or lab environment, if you plan on working at home you need a computer that will support your assignments.
In cybersecurity, you’re going to be spending time with a Linux distro. You’ll need to be able to run simulation programs like Packet Tracer (heads up, it works better on a Windows system than Mac even though there is a Mac-supported version). Unless you’re prepared to be patient, you need a computer system that has enough memory to support virtualization as well.
Bottom line, you don’t need to spend a lot of money, but you should use hardware that will help you meet your classes’ goals without spending all of your time in the computer lab.
Suggestion: Ask your college what kind of computer you will need, or what they recommend, for students in their cybersecurity program.
Coding Knowledge Is Helpful, But Not Required
No, you don’t need prior coding experience. Generally, the coding requirements in a cybersecurity degree are pretty minimal, though as a professional you should have a working knowledge of Python, Java, and other popular languages.
Even a little on-your-own study will prep you for coding. A lot of students are caught off guard by how tough the subject can be, and with even a little dabbling you’ll have a great advantage. Since you are serious about cybersecurity (and you are, otherwise you wouldn’t be here), consider a little extracurricular research just to acclimatize. You won’t regret it when that first coding class comes along.
Suggestion: For cybersecurity, the most useful language to learn that will help with your classes is Python.
Lab Fees May Be Required
This goes for pretty much all tech courses, not just cybersecurity. If you’re going to be using university hardware during class, you’re going to need to pay a little extra. The cost is usually added to your tuition fee. It’s not a big deal, just an expense to keep in mind.
Suggestion: Lab fees are just one cost of attending a college cybersecurity program. It’s important to be aware of other fees as well so that you can budget your expenses.
Cybersecurity Student Clubs Are Helpful
Depending on your university, you may be able to join a student cybersecurity club. Cybersecurity clubs are a great way to practice the skills you learn in class and familiarize yourself with the tools you’ll be using.
Beginning students are usually nervous about joining a cybersecurity club because they’re just starting out—that’s exactly the time you should join! In an environment where students are helping each other and passionate about their subject, you can learn both inside and outside of class. It’s a great way to socialize while honing your knowledge.
If your university doesn’t have a cybersecurity club, consider starting one yourself. Again, it’s a great way to learn, practice, and meet people just like you.
Suggestion: Join the college’s cybersecurity student club in your first semester.
Student Internship Opportunities are Worth It
Besides student clubs, there are other opportunities for cybersecurity students to learn. In cybersecurity, hands-on experience is just as important as basic knowledge. You should definitely look for internships that you can take advantage of during the summer (or during a semester if they allow part-time work). Cybersecurity internships are good about paying students and can help fund your education.
There are co-op opportunities for cybersecurity students as well that allow you to study full-time during one semester and work full-time the next. NSA has a very generous co-op program that you should definitely check out if you’re interested.
Suggestion: Internship opportunities are plentiful for students enrolled in a cybersecurity program. Don’t wait until you graduate to look into these. Get started now!
Tutoring Is Available
It happens in every program. At some point during your studies, you’re going to need help on a subject that’s driving you crazy. It could be networking, it could be that one mandatory programming class. Whatever it is, every school has tutors ready to help. Be sure that you familiarize yourself with all the resources open to you that will help you through your degree.
Many schools will have learning resource centers on campus, which is where the tutors often work. One thing to keep in mind is that tutors do have schedules, so don’t wait until the last minute when you need help before a test to find out if they are available.
Suggestion: Know where you can access tutoring on campus.
Study Habits Determine Success.
Again, this isn’t specific to cybersecurity, but it is universal to all college programs. There is no degree on planet Earth that you don’t need to work for.
If you’re going to succeed in cybersecurity, you need to have good study habits. That means you need to be prepared to sit down and work for a specific period of time. Knowing when to work and when to rest is key to your success as a cybersecurity student.
Keep in mind that a lot of the lab assignments that you’ll have to complete simply cannot be finished overnight. It’s just not possible. If you wait until the last minute to finish an assignment, you’re going to end up with a cut grade.
So get started a week ahead of time! You don’t have to be crazy about it, but staying on top of your coursework will actually take a lot of the pressure off all the deadlines headed your way.
Suggestion: Be prepared to study.
Seriously. You’re in cybersecurity. What’s not to love? It’s a wonderful program full of opportunities, and it’s all yours. At this point in history, there is no field more exciting than cybersecurity. It’s a pivotal, exciting profession ideal for anyone looking for a challenge, and one where you can provide a positive impact on your community and your country.
You’ve already taken the first step towards a professional cybersecurity career. That’s the hardest part. You’re ready to go and you’re going to do great. So get ready for a crazy and rewarding ride when you enroll.