This article is about the factors that can enable you to get into cybersecurity without having a degree.  You can also check out our complete guide on how to get into cybersecurity, our advice on how to learn cybersecurity on your own, and how computer science degrees play into cybersecurity.

A lot of people wonder if they can get a cybersecurity job without having a degree. That’s probably because there are so many people out there that haven’t gone to college, but would be interested in getting into the cybersecurity field.  Plus the fact that college is a lot of work and a lot of money (see our guide on how much cybersecurity training and education costs for proof). Whether you can get a job in cybersecurity without having a degree depends on a number of factors, which we will take a look at here.

Can you get a cybersecurity job without a degree?  You can get a job in cybersecurity with no degree if you 1) have prior IT or military experience, or 2) have a security-related certification such as CompTIA Security+, and 3) are looking for an entry-level job.  If one or more of those things don’t apply to you, you may be very limited in your ability to find a cybersecurity-related job.

Keep in mind that even with this possibility, the lack of a college degree does not work well in your favor as far as your cybersecurity career options go.  Let’s take a look at what a degree in cybersecurity does for us, and just as importantly, what cybersecurity employers think about candidates with and without college degrees.

Which cybersecurity jobs require a degree?

A study a few years ago by Burning Glass showed that more than 80% of cybersecurity related job postings requested a college degree at the bachelor’s level or higher (many of these jobs were higher level positions such as Cybersecurity Analysts, Engineers or Penetration Testers).  This was a higher number than the positions that requested a certification or clearance.  Also, more than 80% of these postings requested a minimum of three years of experience.

So, does that mean that you must have a college degree to get a job or that you can’t get into the field until you have a bachelor’s degree?  I don’t think so. You’ll notice I said that 80% of the jobs requested a degree or experience.  I have seen many jobs get filled by people that did not meet the minimum education requirements of a job posting.  This happens for several reasons.

Reasons why you can get a cybersecurity job without a degree

Reason #1:  The market is in the employee’s favor.  First, keep in mind that what an employer wants doesn’t exactly mean what an employer gets. The cybersecurity job market is growing so quickly that employers are having trouble filling positions, so they are in a situation where they have to consider hiring candidates with less college or work experience and training them up in house.  Again, I have seen many cases where employers have been willing, or forced to do just that.

Reason #2:  A degree isn’t a regulated requirement.  Cybersecurity is a field that by nature doesn’t have a regulating body or structure.  Consider for example that in the field of medicine you must have a medical degree. This of course is not the case with technical fields like cyber security.  Employers are free to hire whomever they want, including those without a degree.

Reason #3:  Certifications can fill in as a substitute for a degree.  The field of cybersecurity is blessed with lots of alternative qualification options, namely certifications.  Because of certifications, you and I in the cybersecurity field aren’t stuck in a situation where only a degree can serve as an option to prove our knowledge.  This fact has helped thousands of technology professionals over the years build a career without the college commitment.  See our article on the best certifications for beginners here.

Reason #4:  College isn’t the only way to learn.  There are a lot of alternative learning options for cybersecurity professionals.  Going back to the medical school example, I’m pretty sure the only way to legitimately learn medicine is through a university program. But that’s not true for cybersecurity.  Cybersecurity offers many learning options outside of a college setting including trade schools, technical schools and online learning programs. Online programs, such as O’Reilly’s Safari Books Online, Cybrary, Udemy and Pluralsight are great examples.  And these options are cheaper than college for the most part and more convenient.

Reason #5:  Many existing cyber professionals and hiring managers don’t have a degree.  You may find when you get into the cybersecurity field that a lot of the professionals, team leaders, and managers that are well established in the field don’t have a degree themselves.  This is often more common than in other professions, because those professionals that have been in the tech field for 15 or 20 years came into the field when degree programs related to information technology or cybersecurity were few and far between.  I have seen may successful senior level professionals, managers, and business owners who don’t have a cybersecurity-related degree or even any degree at all.

Why you should enroll in a college cybersecurity program anyway

Just because we can get a job in cyber-security without a degree, doesn’t mean we should avoid pursuing a degree completely.  Attending a college security program offers a number of other benefits that are guaranteed to help you at some point in your career moving forward. College programs are usually very good at helping us build up our writing skills and communication ability because they often require written assignments or writing and speech classes.  Soft skills like written and verbal communication are highly prized by cybersecurity employers because it’s often a challenge to find an employee that knows technology and can communicate well with customers.  See our review about how hard completing a cybersecurity degree can be here.

Enrolling in college also provides the benefit of networking and being around other people who are trying to learn the field as well.  The value of being in a positive environment like a college classroom cannot be understated. One thing that I have always enjoyed about college is that, for the most part, everyone on campus is there to better themselves.  That can be powerful, especially when you’re just getting started on your cybersecurity journey and doubt creeps in about whether you can be stay the course and find success.

Another important benefit of enrolling in a college cybersecurity program is that it is an indication to employers that you are actively working to better yourself. Employers know that graduating from college takes time, and because of the current job market employers are more likely to bring someone on that is currently enrolled in college and moving toward a degree than someone who is not attending college at all. When you don’t have a degree and you’re not actively enrolled in college, it can make it seem to employers that you lack motivation to pursue your education.

Perhaps most important though is that learning cybersecurity, through college or not, takes a lot of time and it’s not easy.  The learning effort necessary to be successful in cybersecurity is immense. So if you’re going to have to learn all of this cybersecurity knowledge anyway, you might as well get college credit for your effort, right?

The cybersecurity associate degree alternative

Even though we discussed earlier that more than 80% of cybersecurity postings requested a bachelor’s degree or higher, an associate’s degree will probably fill the void for many of those jobs, especially given the job market and immense need that employers have.  The great news is that an associate’s degree is a relatively short college program, which in most cases can be done in the evenings, online or part time. And an associate’s degree means to an employer “some college”, which is better than “no college.” So if a bachelor’s degree is beyond your time or cost commitment ability, an associate’s degree may end up being a good fit.  In fact, in many ways an associate’s degree may be your best option.

Related Questions

What things should I look for in a college cybersecurity program?  Any college cybersecurity program that offers a feasible schedule at a reasonable price and provide hands on lab practice opportunities where you can learn the skills is worth looking into.  Overly expensive exam cram programs or boot camps, or those programs that only accept full-time enrollment may not be the best option for most people.

Can I get into a college program if I haven’t been in school for a long time?  Going back to school when you haven’t been in a classroom in a long time can be intimidating and challenging.  Always keep in mind that you are not the only person in that situation. Colleges, and community colleges in particular, have transitional coursework options that can get you back up to speed on the academic skills that you haven’t used in a while.  These programs often have substantial transitional options in place to assist people returning to the classroom after a hiatus.

About the author 

Matt Day

Matt Day is a cybersecurity professional with over twenty years of experience in the IT, cybersecurity, and technology training fields. He has a degree in Computer Information Science and CompTIA A+, Network+, Security+, Server+, CySA+, and Cisco CCNA certifications.