Cyber Security Graduate Programs

Cyber Security Graduate Programs

Cyber security graduate programs aim to give students with a passion for cyber the option to delve deeper into what they love. Cybersecurity graduate programs go beyond the basics in a Bachelor’s degree, explore cybersecurity policy more deeply.

What is a Master’s Degree in Cyber Security?

A Master’s degree in cyber security is a graduate program that is designed to give students a closer look at the topics of cyber. It may give students a deeper understanding of this complex field. These programs may be research focused on giving hands-on experience in tracking cyber criminals.

For many roles in cyber, a Master’s degree is the entry level degree. It aims to give students with computer science or info tech backgrounds a chance to focus in cyber, so they may work in cyber forensics with confidence. Though the main focus of a Master’s degree is not research, many programs may  have a capstone project that students use to showcase their knowledge.

What is a Ph.D. in Cyber Security?

A Ph.D. is a doctorate degree in cyber sec. This degree program is often the terminal degree in the field. It focuses on research and collaboration.

Students who earn a Ph.D. in Cyber Security may often do research into cyber as well as the risks associated with computers, and the people behind those risk. Students who already have a graduate degree in computers or computer sec but want added credentials and knowledge may choose this route.

A Ph.D. degree in cyber security often ends with a capstone research project. This project typically puts together all that the student learned about computer systems, cryptology, and cybersecurity and performs research in the field for publication.

Comparing Cyber Security Graduate Programs

Cyber security graduate programs typically cover similar topics, but various schools use different terms for these programs. Knowing what names to look for may help you as you research your options. These terms all describe different cyber security grad programs or programs with that potential focus:

MS in Cyber Security

This grad program in cyber typically focuses on helping computer professionals to be cyber pros. These degrees often assume the student has basic skills in computers.

MS in Computer Science

This is typically a broad overview of computers on the graduate level. Because most computer grad students tend to have computer knowledge or  a degree Master’s Degrees in Computer Science typically have concentrations. A cyber security concentration may be  common.

MS in Computer Engineering

Computer engineering aims to focus on the hardware and software that makes computers and their networks tick. Grad programming in this may focus on info sec when it looks at the vulnerabilities that hardware and software design creates.

MS in Information Technology

Info Tech is a broad category of the computer sciences. Many masters programs in information technology typically carry a computer forensics or cyber sec focus or concentration.

MS in Information Assurance

Information assurance refers to the risks connected to the data stored on computers and their networks. Since data is a common target of cyber crime, info assurance is a common focus of graduate programs in this field.

MS in Information Security

This degree is very similar to the Master’s of Science in Information Assurance. It aims to focus on keeping the data stored on computers safe from attack and theft.

Ph.D. Cyber Security

This research focused degree gives students the chance to study a particular aspect of cyber security more deeply.

Ph.D. in Computer Science

This program typically aims to build on prior knowledge and education in computers to help students focus their efforts on a research program. Computer science is broad, and it allows for research into security.

Ph.D. in Information Assurance

This is similar to the Ph.D. in Cyber Security, but with a focus on data and protecting data.

Master’s Degree vs Ph.D. in Cyber Security

If you are considering graduate education in cyber, choosing the perfect path is important. This chart breaks down the differences between master’s programs and Ph.D. programs, so you may make an informed decision.

Master’s Degree in Cyber SecurityPh.D. in Cyber Security
Perfect forPerfect for students who may be ready to branch into grad program in cyber for the first time or who may be looking to make a career change to focus on cyber.Designed for for students who already carry a Master’s degree in tech and who may want to spend their time researching cyber topics.
Focus onDeeper knowledge of cyber with some hands-on educationResearch in cyber
Admission RequirementsBachelor’s degree, sometimes in computers. Minimum 3.0 GPA for many. GRE or GMAT scores.Master’s degree in tech. Some programs require work experience. 3.0 GPA in computer and math courses. Letters of recommendation and Statement of Purpose. Published research work.
Program Length1 to 3 years3 to 7 years
CoursesCourses include cyber security courses, hardware and software training, and computer engineering. Students prepare for cyber certs.Courses cover the technical side of cyber as well as the theory behind it. Strong research focus.
Career Path OptionsCyber Crime Analyst, Incident Analyst, IT Auditor, Cyber Analyst, Cyber Consultant, Penetration TestingSenior Cyber Sec Engineer, Cyber Vulnerability Scientist, Cyber Security Scientist, Cyber Sec Professor, System Architect

Which degree is perfect for you?

Is a Ph.D. or Master’s degree perfect for your needs? To answer this, you may need to take a closer look at each one.

A Master of Science in Cybersecurity typically works well for those interested in cyber defense who have not yet pursued graduate level education in the field. If you’re interested in taking a leadership role in cyber, or want to change the focus of your career from general computer science to risk management and security for computer networks, then a cybersecurity Master’s degree may help get you there.

Many Master Degree programs in cyber typically have a strong hands on component. Students may participate in labs, either on campus or virtual, to get practical education in the theory they learn in the classroom.

Many Ph.D. programs in Cyber are relatively new. Many are typically computer science degrees with a focus on cyber. Ph.D. programs are almost entirely research focused. After some classroom learning, students may take on research projects. These are usually hands-on learning experiences in real world, not virtual, problems. Presenting and publishing findings is typically the final result of a successful PhD program.

A Ph.D. in Cyber works well for students who already have a Master’s in a computer or IT field, but may want to further focus their understanding of cyber threats and cyber attacks.

Program Length in a Master’s vs Ph.D. Program

Master’s Degrees in cyber take approximately 2 to 3 years to complete. Some schools offer an accelerated master’s program that may work well if the student has undergrad or work experience in computers. A Ph.D. is more self directed, so the length varies. A typical program requires a year or two of classroom education, followed by the research project. This may take five to seven years to finish.

Courses for a Master’s vs Ph.D. Program

The types of courses for a Master’s program and a Ph.D. program in cyber do vary. Here is a closer look at what you might be studying.

In a Master’s Degree in Cybersecurity, you may expect to study:

Cyberlaw and Ethics. This course typically explores the ethical and legal issues connected to privacy, cyber crimes, and fraud. Students may look at public policy implications of tech and the laws surrounding it. They may also explore the ways the government has tried to address this problem.

Network Sec. This course typically covers a wide range of topics connected to networks, risk, and defense. Students may learn how to control access to networks, detect hackers, and hide information. Real world case studies are a common method for introducing these topics in a practical way.

Human Factors in Sec. Humans create problems and solutions when it comes to cyber issues. This course aims to explore how humans in an organization impact its security. It may also discuss what businesses may do to minimize negative human behaviors and improve compliance with security rules.

Foundations of Info Assurance. This is typically a basic overview of the skills and concepts that are studied later in the degree. Students may look at the threats, network sec, vulnerabilities, and operating system risks that are common in the computer world. Though it is an intro course, this one is full of rich information students may use in the rest of their master’s education.

For Ph.D. programs in Cyber, these are common courses:

Theory of Computation. This course typically explores the theory behind computers. It is the foundation for further research and education. Students may use the theory they learn to direct their research projects.

Applied Cryptography. Cryptography refers to the codes used in computers. Codes form the basic language of computers, so understanding them is usually vital. In this course, students typically learn how to apply the theories of cryptography to their work.

Cyber Law. Because much of the cyber sec world is focused on crime,  understanding the laws that protect computers and networks is vital. This course of study explores the current legalities surrounding the cyber world. Students who may decide to work in cyber forensics find this a vital part of their education.

Artificial Intelligence. AI is a fascinating part of the modern computer world, and it raises many questions about security and privacy. These doctoral level classes explore those. They also explore the technical aspects of AI so students typically gain the skills needed for future work in this field.

Software Engineering. In software engineering courses, students typically learn how to build software. In cyber sec programs, much of the focus is on building secure software. These skills may help students create their own programming to address cyber risk.

Career Path Options for a Master’s vs Ph.D. Program

Graduate education in cyber has the potential to open a number of career paths. Students may find themselves actively working to stop cyber crimes or working behind the scenes to set up better defenses for companies.

These are some career paths common with a Master’s in Cybersecurity:

Sec Engineer. These pros typically use the tools of computer engineering to make systems more secure. Instead of looking for weaknesses, they generally build systems to avoid them. A bachelor’s degree may be acceptable for an entry level position, but advanced or higher pay positions may benefit form a master’s degree. The 2019 estimated annual median pay from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) was $117,220 a year.

Chief Information Sec Officer (CISO). A CISO is typically responsible for all data protection within a company. These senior leaders may work with C level executives to help an organization succeed. Because this is an executive level position, it may require a grad degree and work experience in cyber. The BLS estimates chief officers, including CISOs, earn an annual median wage of $183,270.

Information Sec Analyst. Info sec analysts hold the line to prevent cyber crimes. They are typically at the forefront of creating policies and hardware or software fixes. They may also monitor systems for breaches. Entry level jobs are available for bachelor degree holders, but master’s degree holders have the potential to land higher paying leadership roles. The BLS estimates this field to have a $99,730 median annual pay ry.

Computer Sec Architect. Security architects generally find risks and build networks that help stop them. They tend to bridge the gap between the IT department and the management of a company. Though a bachelor’s degree is considered foundational for this field, master’s education creates greater potential income and opportunity. These pros earn an annual median wage of $112,690 a year according to the BLS. 

Students who earn a Ph.D. in cyber may consider:

Cyber Sec University Professor. Many universities likely require a Ph.D. for their professors, particularly if they will teach on the graduate level. This career lets you impart your knowledge on the next generation of cyber professionals. The BLS estimates the annual median wage for post secondary computer teachers to be $82,220.

Computer and Information Research Scientists. Though an MS degree is considered the entry degree, a Ph.D. may open the door to more corporate positions as a computer research scientist. The BLS estimates an annual median wage of $122,840 per year in this field and a 15% job growth through 2029. These pros typically design and invent new approaches to computing tech. In the cyber field, this means finding new solutions to stop risk.

Information Security Analyst. Info Sec analysts typically work for consulting firms and businesses to protect their networks and computers. They may also protect data. Though a Bachelor’s is considered an entry degree for this field and many stop at a Master’s, those seeking work in this field in larger companies may benefit from doctoral education. The BLS expects job growth of 31% in this field and a median income of $99,730.

Computer Security Engineer. Computer engineers typically build hardware and computer components. With a PhD in security, computer engineers may focus their efforts on testing and building the systems that protect networks. The annual median projected salary from the BLS for this field is $117,220. Those who work in research and development after earning a Ph.D. earn an annual median wage of $132,450 a year.

Accreditation for Cyber Security Graduate Programs

With the anticipated growth in cyber security degree programs, including graduate degrees, demand for accreditation has also grown. As you consider your options for grad education, you may  want to look for a program that carries accreditation.

The National Security Agency (NSA) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) have joined forces to create an accreditation program. They designate schools as National Centers of Academic Excellence in Cyber Defense (CAE CD) or Cyber Operations (CAE CO). In order to earn this title, the school must have a high standard for cyber sec degree programs. The Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology, Inc., (ABET) also certifies cyber sec degree programs. ABET accreditation is not cyber specific but usually focuses on the computer program as a whole. However, ABET is working on a cyber specific cert. ABET certification does show that the  school has a robust computer program.

Professional Organizations for Cyber Security

Joining a professional organization in cyber may help jumpstart a career in the field. These organizations give their members networking opportunities. They may also provide the chance to learn about job openings before the general public. Some to consider include:

Women in Cyber Security. WiCyS focuses on women in the field. It gives members the chance to share knowledge, mentor each other, and network.

The SANS Institute. SANS is the largest source of info sec training and certs available. It provides access to research in the field as well. It operates the Internet Storm Center.

The Open Web Application Security Project. OWASP strives to improve security in the software world. Members work together to find and fix risks.

Information Systems Security Association. ISSA strives to develop connections between leaders in cyber. It also helps promote the growth of individual cyber pros.

Forum of Incident Response and Security Teams. This group is one of the oldest. FIRST coordinates responses to known security threats as they emerge.

Center for Internet Security. This nonprofit group helps train security pros to be ready for new risks. It works with those in both public and private sector organizations.

Selecting Your Cyber Security Graduate Program

When choosing a degree program and a school, there are many factors to consider. Some things to look into include these:

School Size

Do you want a small school environment or to work with a large nationally recognized school? Both have merit, so you may need to decide which works best for your learning style.


Many schools may have computer degrees, but not all have the concentrations you might want in cyber. Make sure you find a school that does.

Staff Credentials

You may want a school that has highly qualified computer and cyber staff. Professors that hold a Ph.D. in not just computers, but cyber, may be ideal. 

Program Length

Do you need an accelerated program, or do you need something with more flexible options that you could take slowly? Are you in a hurry to complete your degree, or could you benefit from a program that takes a bit more time to finish?


Look at the type of work you may be doing in the program. Cyber pros benefit from a lot of hands on, real world education. Is that going to be part of the program, or are you going to be learning primarily from books?

School Prestige

If you add that school to your credentials list, could it impress your potential employers? School prestige may be an important part of cyber degrees. Schools known for strong cyber programs are going to be more impressive on your future resume.


A school that is a CAE may have a more robust, effective cyber program. In addition, consider regional accreditation as a perk to your education.

Online vs. In Person Education

Do you need the flexibility that an online Master of Science in Cyber can provide? If so, then make sure the school you’re considering offers it. Hybrid programs may also be beneficial, giving you the benefit of classroom education combined with the flexibility of an online program.

Financial Aid

Are there any financial aid options specific to cyber or computers? Financial aid may be available to those who qualify. This may help you make your decision between the various schools offering graduate programs in the information sciences.

Which Cyber Security Graduate Program Should You Choose?

So what’s the bottom line? Which degree program is perfect for you?

When making the decision between cyber security graduate programs, you may first need to consider your current level of education. If you have little education in cyber or are not working in the field, then a Master’s degree program is going to fit better. On the other hand, if you’ve been working in cyber and have a grad degree in computers, a doctoral program might be a better fit.

Second, consider the career opportunities. While there are few degrees that require a doctoral level degree to start, executive level positions, like CISO, are highly competitive. Having a Ph.D. may potentially position you for these better than a master’s degree. It may also open the door to higher income in this type of field. The BLS estimates that chief executives earn an annual median wage of $183,270 a year.

Similarly, the role of computer and information research scientist requires a minimum of a Master’s degree. The annual median wage for these professionals is $122,840.

Cybersecurity and information assurance are typically highly profitable fields for those with skills in tech. Prospective students should take the time to weigh their options carefully. A Master’s degree and a doctoral degree both have merit, giving students the tools to fight malware and learn the basics of intrusion detection. If this is an area you are passionate about, but you need more technical skills to land the perfect job, consider the Master of Science or Ph.D. program as an option.