Cyber Security Associate’s Degree
Right now, there are few fields more in demand than cyber security. From banking and financial industries to government agencies worldwide, all need to be protected from thieves and cyber criminals who create chaos and cyber terror by hacking personal and privileged information. If you want to launch a career in cyber security, there are a number of avenues to take, but one of the quickest routes is a cyber security associate’s degree. This degree will only take two years to complete if you go to school full time. You can even take classes online if you have life obligations to maintain. You can then jump right into an entry-level career in an IT department.
Who Earns an Associate’s in Cyber Security?
If you want to prevent cyber crime and keep companies safe from hackers and cyber terrorists, you’re likely the type of person the field urgently needs. If you have a passion for technology or a desire to have a positive impact on society in general, you’ll want to consider cyber security as a career.
“more than 80 percent of U.S. companies have been hacked at some point in time”
It’s a startling reality that more than 80 percent of U.S. companies have been hacked at some point in time, and that number is growing to include news and government agencies. Global cyber terrorism is a very real threat and information security as a career field is expected to increase over time.
The types of people who succeed in cyber and information security roles possess the following traits and skills:
- You have great analytical skills
- You’re detail oriented
- You have ingenuity and can find new ways to thwart ever more sophisticated threats
- You have great problem-solving skills
Prepare for School
To start on your path toward an associate’s degree, you will need a strong background in math or computer science. Try to gain as much familiarity with computer coding and technology as you can. There are many online resources available and your local bookstore very likely has lots of books, too. With very little investment, you can learn the languages that make applications and networks function.
This independent learning will help you in a few ways. It will give you a head start so that the concepts you encounter in class are familiar, and it will help you understand whether or not a career in high tech is for you. Or, you might be able to determine that you enjoy technology, but that your optimal role might be in management or as a salesperson of high tech products.
Once you have established that you want to pursue cyber security, find the very best program available. One feature of the very best cyber security programs is that they are interdisciplinary. That is, they feature elements of computer engineering, computer science and management. Make sure that you also are trained in softer areas of the field like the relevant ethical and legal issues. Technical writing and even public speaking are likely to be a large part of your career requirements, as you’ll need to be able to communicate very complicated technical information to those who are not as tech-savvy.
Besides laying the groundwork with basic tech courses, your associate’s degree program should be heavy with cyber security courses. Most associate’s programs limit the number of general liberal arts classes you’ll take and get right to the gist of the topic you’re pursuing. Your time is limited after all, and you’ll need to learn everything you can about cyber security in order to prepare you for entry level roles in the field.
Financial Aid and Scholarships
To be considered for federal financial aid for your school program you’ll need to be aware of a couple of facts prior to enrolling in school.
First, make sure your program is accredited by either a regional accreditation agency or a professional agency who keeps watch over the quality of programs available to students. Why? Without accreditation, you won’t be eligible for federal financial aid, and once you complete your associate’s degree program and start researching your bachelor’s opportunities, you may find your hard earned credits don’t transfer because you didn’t earn them from an accredited school or program.
Step one for any financial aid assistance is filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid—commonly known as the FAFSA. You’ll need to be diligent, however, as there are deadlines for applying and the application requires entering a lot of information, especially if you’re financially dependent upon your parents.
Here are some of the types of financial aid available:
- Federal Financial Aid, such as the FAFSA and Pell Grants, which are awarded on a need basis. These are generally reserved for undergraduate students.
- State Financial Aid, which is usually need-based and generally has an earlier deadline than federal financial aid. Check with your state’s Department of Education for information.
- Scholarships, which often are merit-based. There are also many scholarships available for minorities and women.
- Work Study is another form of federal financial aid, wherein you’ll work—perhaps on campus—to earn some money toward school costs.
Online Associate’s Degrees
For those who are already working, you might look into completing an associate’s degree online. An online program will likely offer you the flexibility you need to get both your school and professional work done simultaneously. You should also be able to schedule time for your family, if that is a responsibility you need to tend. However, make sure that your online program is an accredited program, as this ensures a quality program as well as being able to apply for federal financial aid and transference of credits later on.
Some online colleges and universities are structured with asynchronous courses. This type of course structure will allow you to log in at any time to retrieve classroom materials, and you can submit work at any time before the final deadline. Such lack of structured time is a great boon to many students, but there is a requisite layer of responsibility and time management that comes with that benefit. Make sure that you can schedule your time to provide enough for your school work. Keep in mind that school is a necessary part of getting ahead in your career and that every test and assignment is a small step towards achieving what you really want.
Coursework and Curriculum
Some of the things you’ll learn in an associate’s degree cyber security program will lay the foundation for more advanced degrees later on.
You’ll receive a concentrated education that focuses on these areas of development:
- Safe software development
- Cyber security
- IT administration and support services
- Network security and cloud technology
- Organization and project management
- Problem solving
Jobs You Can Do with a Cyber Security Associate’s Degree
With an associate’s degree, you can begin your career. Having academic credentials is a great way to land your first job. Even if you are already working in a technical job, your degree may help you land promotions, earn a raise—or get the esteem you seek as a professional.
While many jobs in cyber security do state that a bachelor’s degree is required, your associate’s degree may open the door to an entry-level position. If you have already been working in an IT department, you might speak with the security experts to see if you can work with them as you complete your courses. With this potent combination of real-world and academic experience, you might be able to go a little farther than a student with only a bachelor’s degree and no experience.
Entry-Level Cyber Security Positions
- Information Security Engineer
- Data Scientist
- Information Assurance Specialist
- Security Specialist
Entry-Level IT Roles
- Application Analyst
- Database Analyst
- Systems Administrator
- Network Administrator
If your department does not have any solid framework for handling security issues, your two-year degree will likely give you the knowledge and skills needed to begin to create protocols that will help ensure the safety of the company’s digital resources. For instance, you can work with employees to overhaul how they handle passwords. You might also look at who has access to databases and allocate access as needed. Your fellow co-workers might not pose any threat at all, but if someone with criminal intent were to gain access to their passwords, the company may face damaging repercussions.
Grow with the Field
From your entry level work alongside security auditors, you will be able to look for promotions based on your experience, or perhaps you could work on professional certifications to expand on your security acumen. Some people opt to return to an academic institution where they can achieve a bachelor’s degree or even a master’s degree. However, the IT industry is growing so fast and skilled workers are in such demand that it is possible for a strong, knowledgeable worker to create a career without any degree higher than the initial two-year credential.
No matter what form your learning takes, you will need to stay abreast of new advances in the cyber security field. New technologies and malware threats are constantly cropping up, so it is imperative that you stay involved in the overall security discussion. If you make sure you are on the pulse of the new advancements, you will be a valuable asset to any client or employer.
A Welcoming Space for Women
In 2016, Forbes called out the cyber security industry for its gender problem, saying only 11 percent of the world’s information security workforce is female. This presents a huge opportunity for women because the field is suffering overall from a huge labor shortage.
There were one million jobs in cyber security in 2016 and 209,000 of them are unfilled in the U.S.
To help fill these roles and make way for women, there are a large number of resources to help women and girls learn about cyber security and gain hands on experience through summer internships and programs.
Here are some resources for female students who want to learn more or get support while entering the field:
Job Outlook and Salaries
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics says those in information security roles can expect a job growth rate of 28 percent through at least 2026. Given that all other computer-related occupations are projecting a 12 percent job growth rate, and all industries in general have a national average of seven percent, these experts can anticipate a much faster than average expansion in job opportunities. This is in line with projections that Forbes asserts in its 2016 article, “Calling All Women: The Cybersecurity Field Needs Your and There’s a Million Jobs Waiting.” The BLS says those with some related work experience may have better job prospects than those without, so if you’re currently working in a related field of technology, you may be in luck.
Salaries for information security and cybersecurity experts are also positive. The BLS says the median annual salary for these professionals is $92,600, with the top 10 percent earning over $147,290. Here’s a breakdown of median annual salaries based on industries where cybersecurity and information security analysts work:
|Finance and insurance||$94,050|
|Computer systems design and related services||$93,490|
|Administrative and support services||$92,890|
|Management of companies and enterprises||$87,510|
With everything pointing to career growth and stability, and an abundance of career openings in the cybersecurity field, it’s the perfect time to get started researching programs that fit your needs. If you want to help ensure a more secure future on a national or global scale, why not begin your quest to find the right accredited cyber security associate’s degree program today?
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