A graduate certificate program in cybersecurity will prepare you for a cybersecurity career by providing you with specialized knowledge in information security and offering the foundational knowledge you need to further your academic pursuits such as a master's in cyber security.

Benefits of Cyber Security Graduate Certificate

Salary and ROI

Earning a cybersecurity graduate certificate could provide you with a competitive edge over your peers. While the salary earnings potential is not as high as that of a master’s degree holder, the time and money investment you make is worth the salary increase you earn with a graduate certificate. It takes a shorter time to complete a graduate certificate than it does a master’s degree. Depending on the institution, you can often complete your certification in a year or less.

Level up to keep up

The IT industry is ever-evolving, meaning that you also have to evolve to remain competitive and have job security. Advancing your education helps you meet changing job requirements and expand your knowledge in cybersecurity. With such education, you also have opportunities to transition to managerial positions.

Prepare for a master’s or doctoral degree

People with a graduate certificate in cybersecurity could bridge to a master’s degree. A master’s degree can be expensive, time-consuming, and demanding; you could use a graduate certificate program to test your readiness for the demands of a master’s degree. And if you are coming from a related field, the program allows an easier transition into a cybersecurity career. Additionally, many certificate programs can be used to reduce the credit requirements for a master’s degree. This however will vary depending on the institution.

Why Get a Cybersecurity Graduate Certificate?

For most people, the next logical step after their undergraduate studies is a master’s degree. So, why would you pursue a cybersecurity graduate certificate instead?

A graduate certificate is the best choice if you seek to advance your education to reach your career and personal goals without tremendous sacrifice of time and money. A certificate can offer an accelerated educational experience, increase your attractiveness as a job candidate, and depending on the institution and certificate specialization; increase your earning potential. The payoff from this certificate is often more immediate and helps you prepare for a graduate degree in the future.

Cybersecurity is a growing concern in the IT industry as more institutions build an online presence. These institutions need professionals to prevent and mitigate cyberattacks that might interfere with their services or products. This growth in the demand for cybersecurity experts makes a graduate certificate in cybersecurity an excellent certification to have so you can tap into the ever-evolving field. Here are the top reasons these certifications are valuable in the IT industry:

  • can be the distinguishing factor between you and your competition during a job application.

  • demonstrate your dedication to the field.

  • are an added advantage as most employers value certifications.

  • may allow you to negotiate higher pay.

  • are more credible than on-the-job training.

  • enjoy wide acceptance by IT industry accrediting institutions.

  • may have more career opportunities when combined with other programs or certificates such as a data mining certificate.

Cybersecurity jobs are in high demand. A graduate certificate with a cybersecurity specialization may allow you to work in IT careers as:

  • A cybersecurity specialist

  • A cyber defense analyst

  • A vulnerability assessment analyst

  • A malware analyst

  • A cybersecurity forensics analyst

Cybersecurity Graduate Certificate Requirements

A cybersecurity graduate certificate is ideal for professionals who want to venture into the IT industry or wish to expand their knowledge without committing to a full master’s degree. Since these programs are meant for working professionals, you can pursue the degree purely online at a time and pace that suits you.

Educational Requirements

The basic educational requirement is a bachelor’s degree in a related field. You are an ideal candidate for a cybersecurity graduate certificate if you have an undergraduate in cyber security, cybersecurity risk management, computer science, information technology, information systems, and related majors such as artificial intelligence, data visualization or business analytics.

Once you enroll in a program that interests you, we recommend that you register and complete one or more courses every semester based on your pace and the institution’s requirements. Often you must also meet the minimum grade requirements to receive a certificate upon completion.

Cybersecurity Graduate Certificate vs. Cybersecurity Master’s Degree?

A cybersecurity graduate certificate supplements the knowledge you have, offering additional insights into cybersecurity. With a graduate certificate in cybersecurity, you can demonstrate an advanced understanding of concepts such as network security, cyber operations, and ethical hacking. A master’s degree in cybersecurity involves a more in-depth study into cybersecurity theory. Master’s programs often require students to conduct research and practical studies in order to graduate.

These graduate certificates take a shorter time and have fewer credit hours than master's programs, with most learners completing their coursework in a year. Before pursuing a master’s degree, applicants must show proof of standardized test scores (such as the GRE) and work experience in some cases. However, with a cybersecurity graduate certificate, all you need is a bachelor’s in an IT-related field.

Which path should you choose to pursue? The program you will select depends on:

The time and money you have to dedicate to either program.

A graduate certificate takes a shorter time, and the results are often more immediately applicable. Within a year, you could have completed the program. A master’s degree is more costly and takes a longer time to complete. Starting with a cybersecurity graduate certificate prepares you for a master’s degree; you get a glimpse of what a master’s entails without the time and tuition commitment required when pursuing a master's. Credits from a graduate certificate are also often transferable to a master’s program in cybersecurity.

Your current job and work history.

If you are looking to apply for cybersecurity jobs, a graduate certificate allows you to apply for entry-level jobs while advancing your skills and education for higher-paying jobs. If you are looking to work with federal cybersecurity organizations, then you have to check their applicant educational requirements when choosing the program to study.

The key to choosing the most appropriate education to pursue lies with the career path you wish to follow in cybersecurity. You can find cybersecurity certifications in various areas, including digital forensics.

The Common Features To Look For When Evaluating The Best Cybersecurity Graduate Certificates

Institutions offer varying types of cybersecurity graduate certificates, and the experiences you will have will differ based on the institution. However, the best graduate certificate programs have several features in common:

  1. Accreditation status. You do not want to enroll in an institution without the necessary accreditation. An accredited institution has met the quality standards of different regional and federal accrediting bodies. An NSA CAE AI/CD designation for a cybersecurity graduate program indicates that the course meets the National Security Agency and the Department of Defense standards. Completing an NSA CAE accredited program means you can work with the cybersecurity departments of the National Security Agency and the Department of Defense.

  2. Proven academic excellence. The best institutions offering graduate certificates have a history of graduating successful students, having an expert faculty, high student retention, and graduation rate.

  3. Strong reputation. Evaluate reputation based on admissions rates, graduate rates, average earnings of graduates, and the number of alumni who find gainful employment within the cyber security field.

  4. Affordability. Renowned institutions offer affordable tuition rates for in-state and out-of-state students.

  5. Flexibility. Those pursuing graduate certificates in cybersecurity are often working and need an online experience that allows them to study and meet other life commitments. The best programs for students offer a 100% online or a hybrid solution.

  6. Preparation for management. The programs from the best institutions prepare for different career paths, including in management, for instance.

Exploring the Best Online Graduate Certificates in Cybersecurity

As we’ve discussed, a graduate certificate can provide a faster path to achieving your goals when you want to advance your cybersecurity knowledge or transition into a cybersecurity career. Fortunately you can discover robust online graduate certificate programs in cybersecurity from leading institutions across the country.

Below is a list of reputable universities and colleges offering high-quality graduate certificates in cybersecurity to help you choose the program that best meets your needs and current life situation. Note, these costs and requirements are current as of the Summer 2021 when we researched these programs.

California State University, San Bernardino

California State University, San Bernardino has an affordable cybersecurity graduate certificate that costs $1,595. While most of its students take the course on-campus, approximately 9% of students are enrolled in an online hybrid program. The CSU Systems Security Certified Practitioner Certificate program is NSA CAE IA/CD certified. The program needs 80 hours, and you can complete it in six months.

Some of the topics covered in the cybersecurity program include:

  • Introduction

  • Risk, response, and recovery

  • Cryptography

  • Authentication and access control

  • Networking

  • Malware

  • Monitoring and security protocol

Kennesaw State University

Kennesaw State University is the second-largest university in Atlanta, with more than 41,000 students and more than 250 academic programs. Kennesaw State University offers a graduate certificate in cybersecurity focusing on information security and assurance. Learners in the program can build practical and theoretical knowledge and use it to examine and protect systems. Additional skills learners gain from the course include programming, client systems security, problem-solving, network security, and cybersecurity principles.

The certificate program is NSA CAE designated and costs $2,985 for all students. Students can access the program 100% online.

Dakota State University

Dakota State University is known for offering excellent academic programs in technology. The university offers a graduate certificate in ethical hacking for people working in the IT field or who have a computer science degree.

Their graduate certificate in cybersecurity has the NSA CAE AI/CD designation for its excellence in information assurance and cyber defense. The program costs $3,996.

Bellevue University

The private university based in Nebraska offers an NSA CAE IA/CD endorsed cybersecurity graduate certificate. The program is 100% online and costs $6,780 for in-state and out-of-state students. Through the program, students learn strategies for protecting network programs, data, and computers. Other courses within the certificate program include security architecture and design, ethical hacking, information warfare, cloud computing, computer forensics, and more.

Linfield College

Linfield College offers a graduate certificate in cybersecurity and digital forensics to students with computer science experience. The program teaches different classes, including:

  • Fundamentals of information systems technology

  • Systems administration and networking

  • Digital forensics, computer forensics, and a capstone project

The graduate certificate allows you to pursue a career as a forensic analyst, cybersecurity engineer, security investigator, cybersecurity analyst, and computer forensics analyst. Classes are primarily online for $8,430. However, the program does not have an NSA CAE designation.

Excelsior College

The Albany-based Excelsior College is an excellent choice for working professionals with a cybersecurity bachelor’s degree looking to pursue their graduate certificate in cybersecurity through a flexible program that accommodates their schedule. Their graduate cybersecurity certificate covers information assurance, the legal side of cybersecurity, IT risk analysis, among others.

The program is 100% online and has an NSA CAE IA/CD certification. The program costs $10,320 for all students, regardless of their location.

Boston University

Boston University offers a graduate certificate in cybersecurity focusing on cybercrime investigation. Their program is ideal for law enforcement, business personnel, and computer science experts intending to develop their knowledge in cybersecurity risk assessment, digital forensics and investigations, and cyber criminology, among others.

You can choose to pursue your graduate certificate 100% online, on-campus, part-time, or full-time, depending on your schedule and needs. Subject matter experts with deep knowledge in criminal justice, the judicial system, and cybercrime teach the graduate certificate program, which helps you advance through different areas of cybersecurity. Their program costs $13,760.

Popular Cybersecurity Certificate Specialization

Most graduate certificate programs focus on different tracks or specializations in their programs. Within these programs, the institutions set elective courses as well as mandatory courses that you are required to take in order to graduate. Here are some of the popular cybersecurity specializations:

  1. Network security teaches you the tools and infrastructure used in safeguarding networks. Network security teaches you important skills to prepare you to manage, build and navigate network systems and keep them safe from breaches and threats.

  2. Cyber threats and security provides you with a basic understanding of important cybersecurity threats and would introduce you to principles of ethical hacking.

  3. Cyber investigation and forensics focuses on a criminal investigation in data and software. The specialization teaches you methods and scientific processes to conduct investigations for computers, cloud servers, and mobile devices.

  4. Governance and compliance teaches you the current policies for cybersecurity investigations, handling threats and compromised data, intellectual property, and other protections for internet users and businesses.

  5. Cloud privacy and security introduce students to cloud computing and storage. This specialization focuses on cloud security and threats to cloud-based data and the security frameworks and policy requirements for safeguarding cloud data.

Choosing Your Cybersecurity Graduate Certificate Program

Earning a cybersecurity graduate certificate can be the next step in your cyber security career. With such an important decision to make, people intending to pursue a graduate certificate may not know how to choose the best program that works for their present and future career goals. Here are tips to keep in mind when making the final decision about which cybersecurity graduate certificate program.

Your Future Career Plans

Before pursuing a program, it is valuable to think about what you want in the short- and long-term. As cybersecurity is a fast-changing industry, professionals need to meet additional work requirements to deal with emerging cyber threats, which sometimes mean advancing your education.

Therefore, programs that open up the chance for further education should be preferred. For example, if you intend to pursue a master’s degree in cybersecurity, then a graduate certificate program with transferable credits is ideal. Even if you do not intend to take a master’s degree, evaluate the option that allows you the most flexibility if you change your mind in the future or your career growth demands you pursue further studies.

Another consideration is whether the program allows you to apply your current skills to the career. For example, if you already have a data science certificate, evaluate whether the cyber security program teaches you how to apply data science principles to cybersecurity?

The Institution’s Reputation

Employers are often biased towards reputable institutions when hiring new employees. Therefore, closely evaluate the reputation of different universities and colleges of those programs you identified to determine the best fit.

One way to determine an institution’s reputation is to investigate the reputation in the specific specialization or track within cybersecurity. Consider the following:

  • Ask peers, coworkers, and your managers for their recommendations

  • Glance at the publisher rankings such as U.S. News and trade publications such as Cyber Defense Magazine but don’t be fooled by phony or faux publishers who only provide rankings without a published methodology

  • Research the background, teaching, and professional experience of professors and teaching assistants who oversee the cybersecurity department

  • Browse LinkedIn to determine which programs are most frequently referenced or included within social media profiles of professionals within professions or specializations that you are interested in

Admission Requirements

Look for an institution that offers quality education and whose requirements you meet. In most cases, cybersecurity graduate certificates require a bachelor's degree in an IT-related field or experience working in the cybersecurity industry. Some institutions offer prerequisite courses to help you meet the entry requirements for the certificate.

The flexibility of the program

If you are employed and plan to work part-time or full-time during the program, make sure to narrow your list of programs that fit your lifestyle and schedule. An online cybersecurity graduate certificate program offers the most flexibility as you can cover the coursework at a time when you are free if the program is 100% asynchronous. These programs may often be less expensive if there is no synchronous or live teaching experience. An online graduate certificate program may also offer a more in depth dive a specialization or track.

Before you commit to any program, ensure that you understand exactly what percentage of the program is offered online; some programs offer a hybrid certificate where some of the courses are online and in-person. The program’s graduation requirements also differ by program. For example, you might have a set number of courses that you must complete within a semester or within a calendar year. In other cases, the institution may set the maximum time you can remain enrolled to complete the program.

The Length of the Program

It would be best if you considered how long or how accelerated you prefer to complete a graduate certificate program. Some programs have shorter completion dates compared to others. Understanding the length of the program will help you determine the best time to start the program and plan it into your schedule. Some schools have fixed start dates, so you want to know that before you commit to a program or schedule it into your calendar.

Closing Thoughts

Cybersecurity is a fast-changing field, with the demand for highly skilled professionals rising every day. A graduate certificate in cybersecurity will help you kick start your career or expand your existing knowledge and earning potential by meeting the expertise governments and businesses require to keep themselves safe in the online space.

Connect with the best cyber security graduate certificate programs for you.

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