Online Master's in Cybersecurity

What to Expect from an Online Master's in Cybersecurity

A Fairfield University cyber security student is working at identifying threats and vulnerabilities in a computer system.

With concerns related to cybercrime increasing rapidly across industries, the need for strong teams of cybersecurity professionals has never been more prominent. The number of unfilled positions grew by 350 percent from 2013 to 2021 — and that gap is expected to widen significantly as cyber-attacks become more sophisticated.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), computer and information technology (IT) occupations currently rank among the highest-paying and most in-demand careers in the U.S.

If you’re planning for a rewarding and lucrative career in cybersecurity, you’ll need to build a strong foundation of the knowledge and skills employers are looking for. A Master of Science in Cybersecurity can help you do just that, and you can even benefit from the flexibility of learning online.

Keep reading to get a closer look at what to expect from an online master’s in cybersecurity.

4 features of a high-quality online cybersecurity program

The opportunity to pursue your graduate degree online can open the door to several exciting possibilities. But if you want to start your cybersecurity career out on the right foot, you’ll need to be sure you’re enrolling in a master’s program that utilizes state-of-the-art remote learning tools to provide its students with an immersive, well-rounded experience.

“An increasing number of schools are beginning to offer cybersecurity programs, but not all of them provide graduates with the hands-on experience they need,” says Dr. Mirco Speretta, program director of Cybersecurity, Computer Science, and Engineering at Fairfield University. “That has become a main focus of the MS in cybersecurity at Fairfield.”

If you hope to make an immediate impact on your cybersecurity career, Dr. Speretta explains, it’s critical to take the time to find a high-quality, interdisciplinary program that prioritizes your needs and goals while providing you with opportunities for experiential learning.  

As you compare different institutions, be on the lookout for these characteristics of a high-quality online cybersecurity program:

1. Courses are taught by industry experts

For those looking to solidify their cybersecurity expertise, it’s important to find a program with faculty who are leaders in the industry. When you’re learning from experts with ample real-world experience under their belts, your takeaways as a student will be that much more impactful.

The faculty in Fairfield University’s Master of Science in Cybersecurity program, for example, have extensive experience in the field. The program’s professors have achieved some notable accomplishments in the industry, from leading corporate information security teams to engineering web-based and native applications, and even investigating international technology information crimes.

“Many of our instructors actively work in the field of cybersecurity, and they provide their real-life experience to the class,” Dr. Speretta explains.

If you can find an online cybersecurity program with instructors who share a similar breadth of diverse experiences, you’ll be able to benefit from their industry-specific insights and guidance, developing a versatile skill set as you work toward your master’s degree.

2. Students can tailor the experience to fit their goals

One of the primary benefits of learning online is the flexibility it affords. But opportunities for flexibility in an online master’s in cybersecurity program don’t have to stop there. With such a wide range of careers students can pursue upon graduating, it can be beneficial to seek out a program that allows you to customize your experience to help you more effectively reach your goals.

In addition to learning the fundamentals of cybersecurity, graduate students at Fairfield University, for example, have the opportunity to tailor their learning experience by selecting one of two concentrations.

  • Management: Students interested in the administration of cybersecurity can learn more about important elements related to mitigating risk, detecting vulnerabilities, and understanding policies—everything needed to create and maintain a sound security program. Professionals focused on the management side of cybersecurity may pursue roles like information security officer, data protection/privacy officer, technology risk and controls analyst, cybersecurity governance officer, chief information security officer, and more.
  • Technical: Students who are more drawn to the technical aspects of cybersecurity can pursue specialized courses related to specific job functions. From studying various security systems and exploring the basics of forensic investigations to learning how to apply security to a cloud-based infrastructure, this concentration is designed with a skills-based, interdisciplinary approach. The curriculum prepares graduates for roles like cybersecurity analyst, cybersecurity engineer, application security professional, and more.

Students also have the option of earning a graduate certificate in cybersecurity. Through courses such as cloud computing, network security, and data protection, students can strengthen their professional IT qualifications in as few as four months. The 12-credits earned through completion of the graduate certificate can be transferred to the full master’s degree.

Finally, it’s worth a little extra research to find programs that offer additional flexible learning options to better fit the needs of your busy life, such as both full- and part-time opportunities, and multiple start dates.

3. Online learners can still gain hands-on cybersecurity experience

In a field like cybersecurity, the prospect of learning online may be somewhat intimidating. You may wonder if the lack of hands-on opportunities might hinder your educational experience.

If you choose the right online master’s in cybersecurity program, however, you won’t have to sacrifice those experiential learning opportunities. You’ll find that high-quality programs employ innovative solutions to provide these experiences when learning online.

Students in the master’s in cybersecurity program at Fairfield gain immersive, hands-on experience through the institution’s fully remote Cybersecurity Lab. They are taught to investigate and remediate threats, learning to address real-world cybersecurity challenges with confidence and skill.

“The architecture of the lab allows the students to experience various security scenarios both within a private network and, if required, with virtual machines that are open to the internet,” Dr. Speretta explains. “Examples of scenarios include ethical hacking, digital forensic analysis, honeypots. Students can access the lab through Virtual Private Network connections.”

If you can find a program that emphasizes these types of opportunities for experiential learning, you’ll be better prepared to take what you learn in graduate school and apply it to one of the many in-demand cybersecurity careers that await.

“Our Master of Science in Cybersecurity provides students with a strong background that can be immediately applied in either a technical or a managerial cybersecurity role,” Dr. Speretta says. “The immersive, hands-on curriculum allows students to directly apply what they learn as soon as they learn it.”

4. A dynamic courseload featuring both hard and soft skills

A recent report from the Information Systems Audit and Control Association (ISACA) revealed that 55 percent of surveyed hiring managers have unfilled cybersecurity positions. And just 27 percent said that recent university graduates are well-prepared for the cybersecurity challenges their organization is facing.

Unfilled cybersecurity roles present potential risks, so most organizations are eager to offer competitive opportunities to professionals who can meet their needs. In addition to a university degree and some hands-on cybersecurity experience (the “hard skills”), they’re also looking for candidates with proficient “soft skills,” such as interpersonal communication.

You may want to examine the curriculum of any potential program with this in mind. Courses that provide you with the technical skills you’ll need to be successful in a cybersecurity job are important. But when you combine that knowledge with classes and training that can help you solidify your soft skills, you’ll have an opportunity to really stand out to future employers.



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