Best PhD in Cyber Security Degree Programs

Oct 20, 2021

Cyber Security Doctorate Overview

Professionals who are interested in moving into the highest levels of the security field pursuing teaching positions may take on doctoral studies in cyber security or information security. These programs are most commonly offered as Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) programs in areas such as cyber security, cyber security management, or technology management with a concentration in cyber security. Graduates of the field are prepared for several advanced positions, including those in research and cyber security.

While a PhD in Cyber Security is the most relevant to a career in the field, other degrees may get you there, too. For instance, there are many doctorates available in computer science, including those in, information security, information systems, and information technology. There are also a range of online doctorates in computer science available, including those in information systems and information technology.

Here, we explore these doctoral programs in greater detail.

Admissions Requirements for Cyber Security Doctoral Programs

The admissions process for cyber security doctoral degree programs is often similar, but students should be sure and check the details for their school(s) of interest. For instance, most of these programs require students to fill out the correct admissions application and include all transcripts from their college-level education. Typically, these applications also require a range of supplemental material that allows the admissions committee to make an informed decision. Depending on the school, students could be required to include items such as a resume or CV, letters of recommendation, and a statement of purpose or essay(s). Often, the statement of purpose or essay needs to address specific pieces of information, such as students' career goals and the benefits of the particular program they are applying to. Finally, many schools have an application fee that needs to be included.

Educational & Professional Prerequisites for Cyber Security Doctorate Students

Most schools require that applicants to these programs hold at least a master's degree from a regionally accredited institution. Some schools may require that this master's degree be in an appropriate major, such as something related to computer science or information technology. Other schools may have additional requirements, such as meeting a minimum GPA. For example, at least one doctoral program in cyber security requires applicants to have a master's degree with a 3.25 GPA or higher. Work experience in the field is not usually a formal requirement, but many of the programs are designed for working professionals.

Accreditation for Cyber Security Doctorate Programs

Doctoral programs in cyber security are usually offered by regionally accredited institutions. These schools may meet accreditation standards set by organizations approved by the Department of Education and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA), to demonstrate academic quality.

Some degree programs at various levels also hold subject-specific accreditation. However, most doctoral programs in cyber security do not have this program-level accreditation. Instead, some doctoral programs in cyber security are recognized as part of the Center for Information

Protection, Education, and Research (CIPhER) from the U.S. National Security Agency and the

Department of Homeland Security. This designation is not the same as accreditation, but it may stand out to potential employers and means that programs help prepare students for careers in the field.

How Long Does It Take to Earn a Doctorate in Cyber Security?

PhD in Cyber Security degree programs most commonly take 4 to 5 years to complete. However, the time to degree completion depends on several factors, including course load and how long students take to complete their dissertation. Some doctoral programs may allow students to finish their degree in just a little more than 3 years. Many programs also require students to be done with their program after a certain amount of time, such as 7 years.

Cyber Security Doctoral Coursework

PhD programs in cyber security usually require between 48 and 67 credits of coursework. Depending on the setup of the program, students commonly take required cyber security courses, dissertation credits, and/or electives. Required courses for these doctoral programs generally cover key issues and concepts in cyber security, as well as advanced research methods.

Students may take courses in areas such as:

  • Statistics

Technology policy

  • Information protection
  • Information privacy
  • Cyberlaw
  • Software vulnerabilities and security

Programs that offer electives may vary in how they allow students to choose courses. For instance, some programs offer different tracks and allow students to choose a couple of courses from a given list of options. Other programs have a list of selected electives or specialization courses that students can choose from. Courses that students choose are often dependent on their areas of interest, dissertation research, and/or suggestion of their dissertation committee or advisor. The final credits of the program are dedicated to dissertation research.

Preparing Your Cyber Security Dissertation

The last year or so of a PhD program in cyber security is usually designed for students to focus on their dissertation. Typically, doctoral students must pass comprehensive exams after finishing their coursework to move into candidacy. Some of their coursework likely included topics in research methods and statistics that they will use throughout their dissertation. Some programs may even include a course on the dissertation process to help students step-by-step.

After they have passed their exams, students begin formulating their dissertation and commonly need to prepare a dissertation proposal. This proposal informs the student's dissertation committee about their plans for collecting research and addressing their chosen hypothesis. The committee must approve their proposal for students to move into the data collection and writing phase. Then, students work to write their dissertation after analyzing the data and resources they have collected. The last step involves students preparing an oral defense of their dissertation before their dissertation committee.

Cyber Security Doctorate Concentrations

Most PhD programs in cyber security do not have traditional concentrations. There are some programs in the field that offer cyber security as its own concentration, such as a PhD in Technology Management. Some programs offer specialization courses that give students a chance to choose from a list of electives and explore different topics of interest. Some programs may provide different tracks that include various course options, but these are unique to the institution. Examples of track options could include machine learning, systems security, network security, hardware security, cyber security policy, and more.

What Other Types of Cyber Security Degrees Are There?

Degree programs in cyber security are available at the undergraduate and graduate degree levels. Each degree level helps students further advance their career and knowledge in cyber security. Many of these degree programs are available in an online format, but still provide students with plenty of hands-on learning experience with tools and technologies used in the field. Below is an overview of different cyber security degree programs available at each degree level.

Cyber Security Associate Degrees

There are several different associate degree programs in cyber security available, including Associate of Science (AS) and Associate of Applied Science (AAS) degrees. These programs can easily be transferred to 4-year schools for those wishing to earn their bachelor's degree in cyber security or prepare students for entry-level IT jobs. Students can complete their associate degree in about 2 years and coursework includes topics in network security, cyber security foundations, and web page construction.

Cyber Security Bachelor's Degrees

Bachelor's degree programs in cyber security are most commonly offered as Bachelor of Science (BS) degrees, but some Bachelor of Arts (BA) degrees are available. These 4-year programs can help prepare students for industry certifications and can include coursework in cybersecurity, operating systems, cyber ethics, and systems analysis. Some programs may conclude with a capstone experience and/or offer hands-on learning opportunities, such as internships. Some programs give students specialization options in areas like data science, information technology, or information systems.

Cyber Security Master's Degrees

Most cyber security master's degree programs are Master of Science (MS) degrees, but there are also Master of Business Administration (MBA) programs with a concentration in the field. Some of these MS degree programs provide additional areas of specialization, such as policy, technology, or cyber-physical and energy systems. These degree programs also prepare students for professional certifications in the field and/or doctoral study. Most master's degree programs are designed to take 2 years or less to finish.

Cyber Security Graduate Certificates

Graduate certificate programs in cyber security are usually designed for students with a bachelor's degree who are not ready to commit to a 2-year master's program. Many of these programs require around 12 credits and can be applied later to a master's degree in cyber security. Some of these programs may have required courses, while others may allow students to choose a couple of electives. Students with their graduate certificate will likely be prepared to sit for professional certification exams, such as the Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP) designation.

Career Options & Salary Outlook for Cyber Security Doctoral Graduates

Many graduates with a PhD in Cyber Security go on to become cyber security experts. They may hold titles such as cybercrime agents or chief information security officers.

Many students who earn their PhD in the field may have already begun their cyber security careers in positions such as cyber forensics technicians and work their way up to management positions. Other students may be more interested in working as consultants, researchers, or educators for the field. Explore a few possible career options for cyber security graduates below.

Become an Information Security Analyst

Graduates interested in working to protect against cyberattacks and other issues may pursue a career as an information security analyst. These analysts usually have to have at least a bachelor's degree, but some positions or employers may require or prefer those with a master's degree. Information security analysts typically have some prior work experience and may work their way up from other positions, such as network administrators. There are many different information security-related certifications available to help make these analysts stand out from the competition.

Information security analysts are primarily responsible for ensuring there are no security breaches in their organization's data and computer systems. This requires them to stay updated on the latest tools and issues in the field, as well as to apply security measures and train users.

According to 2020 numbers from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), information security analysts make a median salary of $103,590 per year and are projected to see a job outlook of 31% between 2019 and 2029. This is much higher than the average for all occupations, which stands at 4%.

Become a Computer and Information Systems Manager

Computer and information systems managers include titles such as CIOs, chief technology officers (CTOs), and IT security managers. Usually, these management positions require at least a bachelor's degree, but a graduate degree is common. These managers are also typically required to have some prior work experience. Some positions may require between 5 and 15 years of experience, depending on the position.

Computer and information systems managers' job duties vary by position, but in general, they need to identify and meet the computer-related needs of their organization. This requires them to oversee new technology projects, consider security issues, and help install new hardware and software. New projects often require a cost and benefit analysis, as well as approval from other top executives. As managers, they also oversee the work of other IT professionals.

The BLS reports that computer and information systems managers bring home a median annual salary of $151,150. These professionals are predicted to see a job outlook of 10% between 2019 and 2029.

Become a Postsecondary Teacher

Some graduates in cyber security may be interested in conducting research and teaching new cyber security professionals in the field. These graduates may go on to become postsecondary educators at a college or university. This typically requires holding a doctoral degree, but some positions may only require a master's. It is also important for these teachers to have some prior work experience in their field and/or hold any industry-related certifications that are common for the field.

One of the primary responsibilities of a postsecondary teacher is teaching undergraduate and/or graduate courses in their field of expertise. Due to the well-rounded background that cyber security students receive, graduates may be qualified to teach additional courses in different areas of computer science, in addition to cyber security-focused courses. This requires them to develop their curriculum and assignments, as well as assist students in their classes. They may also have research responsibilities or other administrative duties.

BLS data put the annual salary for postsecondary computer science teachers at $85,540 per year. The job outlook for these teachers is 3% between 2019 and 2029.

Cyber Security Professional Organizations

Due to the constant evolution of the field, cyber security professionals need to stay updated on current news and issues. A great way to do this is to join a professional organization related to the field. These organizations help cyber security professionals connect, share ideas and knowledge, and take advantage of training and other professional development opportunities. Many professional organizations in the field of technology and cyber security also provide their own professional certifications and other designations. A couple of examples of groups for cyber security professionals include:

  • Information Systems Security Association International- ISSA is an international group that offers membership and chapters to connect professionals. The group also provides career information and news for the field. Professionals can also participate in web conferences and forums.
  • Information Systems Audit and Control Association- The ISACA is also an international group that offers different levels of membership. Professionals can pursue one or more of the group's various certifications, such as the Certified Information Security Manager (CISM) designation.

How Much Does a Doctorate in Cyber Security Cost?

Most institutions charge per credit hour but may have various rates for students in different programs, undergraduate vs. graduate, or in-state vs. out-of-state residency. For example, some students may expect to pay between $1000 and $1,500 per credit hour for their PhD program. Many schools also charge several fees, such as recreation, activities, and student center fees. Finally, students need to consider the cost of books and materials and their living expenses when calculating the total cost of earning their degree.

Scholarships & Funding Opportunities for a Cyber Security Doctorate

While the total cost of earning a PhD may be expensive, many schools provide different forms of financial aid to help students earn their degrees at a lower out-of-pocket expense. Doctoral students are still eligible to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to explore their loan options, but many institutions also work to help students find funding. For instance, some schools provide fellowship opportunities for doctoral students. Students must meet the criteria for these fellowships, such as demonstrating financial need, being interested in a research- or teaching-based career, and providing evidence of academic excellence, and usually have to apply.

Other students may decide to pursue one or more scholarship opportunities. Many scholarships are available for a wide range of reasons, including subject-specific awards in the area of cyber security. For example, the CyberCorps Scholarship for Service (SFS) Program is open to undergraduate and graduate students in a cyber security-related degree program who are committed to working for government organizations. This award gives up to $34,000 each year for graduate students.

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