This article is about the typical cost of a degree in cybersecurity and ways to reduce that cost. To learn more about the advantages of community college cybersecurity degrees, see our article here. To learn about the general difficulty level of a cyber degree, go here.
If you’re serious about getting into cybersecurity, probably one of the first things you ask yourself is how important is it to have a degree. One of the biggest concerns about getting a degree is expense. The cost of an education can be daunting, but with financial aid, co-op programs, and other ways to pay for tuition, it’s not a showstopper.
Ready to Start Your Cybersecurity Career?
Get my FREE 5-part series "Strategies for New Cyber Careers". These strategies can help you get your cyber career started. I'll also send you my weekly newsletter every Wednesday with resources that every cyber professional needs to know.
So, how much does a cybersecurity degree cost? Cybersecurity degrees can cost anywhere from $4,000 to $50,000 per year, depending on the type of college you attend. Prospective students should be aware of the many financial aid and grant programs that can reduce or even eliminate the cost of a cybersecurity degree.
First, let’s consider the benefits of getting a degree in cybersecurity.
Benefits of Cybersecurity Degrees
- Frequently, education counts as experience to employers – Experience is one of those pivotal additions to every resume that can make the difference between being hired or not. Frequently, employers consider a degree equivalent to hands-on experience, giving graduates an edge on the job market.
- A degree means better pay. – As a general rule, if you have a degree you’ll start off at a better salary. This may be because education counts towards experience and employers considered educated employees to have a solid understanding of their field. The higher your degree, the better the starting salary.
- The United States federal government only hires cybersecurity personnel with degrees. – If you want a government position, you need to have a degree in a related field. If you want a cybersecurity position, computer science and cybersecurity are the two fields you should seriously consider earning a degree in.
- A degree opens up job opportunities for you. – While some employers will hire people who only have certificates and experience, no one is going to say no to a degree. Meaning, it may not be essential for you to have one, but if you do graduate with at least a bachelor’s your opportunities for employment increase exponentially.
- A degree puts you at an advantage to those that do not have one. Another benefit of earning a degree at any level is that it can differentiate you from other colleagues and applicants that do not have a degree or do not have a degree at that level. And earning each new higher-level degree, such as a masters instead of a bachelors, increases this benefit.
- A degree means you have some proven communication experience. Soft skills such as teamwork, leadership, and communication are in high demand, and communication specifically ranks as one of the most in-demand requirements for cybersecurity positions. Completing a degree means that in nearly any case you’ve completed coursework in writing, and probably public speaking and communication too. Many employers find that college graduates write and communicate more effectively than their non-college educated peers.
Generally, most employers will ask for at least a bachelor’s in Cybersecurity or a related field. If you go on to a Master’s degree or a Doctorate, you have a better chance of being employed in a managerial or other top-level position, such as a CISO.
Disadvantages of Cybersecurity Degrees
Now that we’ve considered the benefits of a degree in cybersecurity, let’s quickly consider some cons.
- Cybersecurity is a broad field and no degree can cover everything you need to know. – If you think have a degree is going to set you up with a lifetime supply of knowledge, think again. In the cybersecurity field, you’re always learning, and depending on what type of cyber job you want you will have to specialize your skillset. A cyber degree can provide a useful foundation, but it doesn’t include everything you need to know.
- Degrees take time. Pursuing a degree is a huge time commitment, and it is important to consider how that time could be spent elsewhere. This is one of the reasons that many people go to college part-time while maintaining a job as well.
- Degrees can be expensive. – This brings us to our main topic. One of the worst things about higher education is how expensive it can be.
There are all kinds of horror stories about students graduating only to discover they have a $200,000 debt that it’s going to take the rest of their working lives to pay off. While these stories are sometimes exaggerated, the seriousness of how much a degree costs shouldn’t be ignored.
Thankfully, you can earn a cyber degree without having to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars, and a cyber degree’s value is worth its weight in gold whether you go to an ivy league school or not. Let’s take a look at some of our options.
If you’re uncertain whether or not you can handle classes, community college is a great place to try. The classes are much cheaper than they are for state and private universities, they are usually much closer to home, and their course schedules are often flexible and designed for working professionals. Generally, you can be a full-time student at a community college with about a $4,000 yearly tuition rate, depending on your course load each semester.
The only real downside to community college is that their programs generally only offer two-year Associate degrees with an eye towards encouraging students to transfer to a four-year college, and therefore many are just the first steppingstone on your education journey. Whether or not you intend to go on to a four-year degree, community colleges offer solid training for anyone new to cybersecurity.
A good strategy is to try out cybersecurity courses to see if it’s a good fit for you, or begin your educational career there in order to save money in the long run.
You can see our full article on the advantages of community college cybersecurity programs here.
While they vary in expense, online degrees are a great way for full-time employed students to earn a degree at their own pace. Not only is it possible to earn a Bachelor’s, Master’s, or Ph.D. in cyber, but online degrees allow you the convenience of completing schoolwork from home. You don’t have to worry about squeezing a class around your day job.
Generally, an online degree can cost anywhere between $10,000 to $20,000 for tuition per year, with exceptions above and below that price range. They’re frequently less expensive than on-site university education.
When considering online degrees, especially in technical fields such as cybersecurity, be sure to look into how labs and hands-on activities are handled.
Then there’s the more traditional, four-year classroom approach. One thing to keep in mind when applying to state-funded universities is that out-of-state tuition is often ten times worse than in-state tuition. For instance (and I’m not naming names), one state university charges about $40,000 per academic year for out-of-state students. In-state only pays about $10,000.
State universities are great options because their names are well known and they have financial support from tax dollars as well as tuition and alumni support. The education at many state-funded universities in a variety of programs is often world-class and internationally recognized.
You can learn more about bachelor’s degrees in cyber in our article here.
Private universities (especially Ivy League) are generally more expensive than state universities and most other educational options. This is because the entire cost of running the institution falls on the students and what support the university can draw from the public, supporters and alumni. Expenses for yearly tuition whether you’re in-state or out-of-state usually hovers around the $50,000 range, and can often run much higher.
You may find in some cases that even though the tuition is higher at a private college or university, they may not have invested in the latest technology as it applies to the classroom. While it may or may not be common, it does occur in some cases that private institutions will place a great deal of their resources on the aspects that help their recruiting, such as investments in the campus, buildings and the freshman experience, while leaving other aspects less funded.
A good option when applying to a cybersecurity program is to talk with the faculty in the program to get a feel for what they do and how their students succeed.
How to Afford an Education
Okay, don’t panic. I have to admit, a lot of those numbers are really scary, but there are ways to earn a degree without suffering under the weight of eternal debt.
When choosing the path that’s best for you, your best friend is awareness and a willingness to ask questions. Don’t rush into anything without considering the resources that can help you if you take the time to apply for them (and understand the extra expenses that it may be possible to avoid).
- Financial Aid – There all kinds of options for financial aid. If you live in the United States, the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) can determine what loans you are qualified for. These loans generally have low-interest rates.
- Scholarships – Nearly all universities and colleges offer their students scholarships. Some are merit-based and others are need-based. You should apply for all the scholarships you qualify for because the more you apply for the higher your chances of receiving aid. Scholarships are a great way to get interest-free aid.
- Work-Study Programs – Sometimes financial aid is offered as a work=study program. These programs offer part-time employment to students and your salary helps cover the expense of tuition. These programs are especially useful for bolstering your resume with work experience.
- Student Employment – Like work-study programs, many colleges and universities offer students part-time employment that helps fund their education. The types of employment range from student assistantships to help desk jobs.
- Co-Op Programs – Since you’re in cyber, you have the advantage of co-op programs that are offered by various agencies to help train you for future employment. For instance, if you were accepted into the National Security Agency’s co-op program for undergrads, you’d work full-time one semester and return to school the next semester. It stretches out your graduation, but the experience is more than worth it.
Keep in mind also that sometimes you can combine financial opportunities—you don’t have to apply for just one. For instance, you can apply for scholarships, financial aid, and student employment at the same time.
You can also enroll as a part-time student, cutting down on costs per semester. Like a co-op program, fewer classes means it will take longer for you to graduate, but that’s not a big deal. All that matters is that you succeed in your program.
Finally, there are a few perks in universities that you can avoid. The cost of on-campus housing is usually brutal. It might serve you best if you enroll at a school close to you so you can avoid the housing expense. Some expenses there’s just no avoiding, but you may be able to cut back in certain areas.
But hey, you’re in cybersecurity. You’re studying one of the most in-demand professions in the world. If you do end up with a little student debt, it’s not a big problem. Cyber jobs are up there with the top-paying professions, and a degree will give you a lot of freedom of choice on the job market.