Earning a Master's in Network Security Online

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Over the last 20 years, the demand for network security specialists has steadily increased. As an example, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), information security analysts are projected to experience 28% growth in employment from 2016-2026. As this field continues to grow, more and more employers may look to hire employees with master's degrees. A master's in network security provides increased specialization and can lead to careers with greater responsibility and higher earning potential.

Learners seeking increased affordability and flexibility can pursue this degree online. Read on to learn what to expect from your online master's degree in network security in terms of cost, timeline, career options, earning potential, and available resources.

Student Profile: Who Earns an Online Master's Degree in Network Security?

Earning an online master's degree in network security can be beneficial to many students, depending on their academic and career goals. Some students earn a master's degree in an effort to quickly assume higher-level positions in the field, while others target an advanced degree so they can pursue a specific concentration, such as information assurance. Professional certification may be sufficient to accomplish your career goals, although earning a full network security master's degree online typically provides greater advantages in terms of employment opportunities and salary.

Why Get a Master's Degree in Network Security?

Pursuing Specialization

A master's degree in network security allows learners to specialize within the computer and mathematical occupations industry or branch out into other areas. An advanced network security degree may let graduates transition directly into a specialized position, such as working as an information assurance specialist. Additionally, some concentrations, like medical data protection, allow graduates to pursue employments in another industry, such as medical and healthcare environments.

Career Advancement Opportunities

Earning a master's degree often leads to higher-level employment and more lucrative compensation. For instance, a computer support specialist or information security analyst who earns a master's in network security may get promoted to work in a managerial position more quickly than someone with only a bachelor's or associate degree. A master's degree may prove appealing to a working professional who already holds an undergraduate degree but wants to advance to a position of greater responsibility.

Online Learning Technology

Real-time interactivity with instructors and peers through synchronous lectures, chat applications, and discussion boards augment learning tools such as online labs, thereby fostering a sense of community and networking. The best online programs are regularly updated to integrate nascent trends and learning tools, such as computer simulations, which can later be applied to practical situations and problems on the job.

Prerequisites for Online Network Security Programs

Students pursuing online master's degrees in network security must meet different prerequisites, depending on their school. The following list represents common requirements you can expect to encounter when applying to graduate school.

    • Work Experience: Most online master's degrees in network security do not require applicants to hold work experience. However, some programs may require some relevant professional experience in an IT field. Some schools may also award credit based on prior work experience.
    • Exams and Test Scores: Master's programs may require students to submit GMAT or GRE standardized test results, and applicants generally need to score in the 40th percentile overall. Scores remain valid for five years. Many programs allow students with sufficient GPAs or work experience to waive any GMAT/GRE requirements.
    • Coursework: Coursework prerequisites vary according to the program. Some expect applicants to have completed coursework in statistics, Python, or introductory information technology concepts. Many graduate programs require applicants to hold a 3.0 minimum GPA, although some admit students with lower GPAs on a probationary basis.
    • Recommendations: Most master's in network security programs require 2-3 letters of recommendation. These documents are generally 300-400 words long and should be written by professors or professional supervisors. Letter writers should be able to speak to an applicant's work ethic and ability to succeed academically. Make sure to give your recommenders at least a month to write your letters.
    • Essays: Your master's in network security program will probably ask for a personal essay. These documents are typically 500-2,000-words long. Essay prompts may ask for a series of short responses, summarizing your professional background and postgraduation plans, along with any unique qualities you can contribute to a program.
    • Interviews: Depending on the school, a program may require a phone or internet-based interview. If the program contains residency requirements, you may need to attend an in-person interview at the school. Brushing up on interview skills with friends and family beforehand can help you feel more comfortable.
    • International Students: In addition to fulfilling the same requirements as U.S. students, international students may need to prove their English competency by submitting their TESOL/TOEFL standardized test scores.

How Much Can I Make with a Master's Degree in Network Security?

Accumulating professional experience and earning a more advanced degree typically boost your earning potential. According to the BLS, the mean annual salary for workers in the computer and mathematical occupations industry is more than $91,000. Although many types of work related to network security only require a bachelor's degree, such as information security analysis, a master's degree can increase your earning potential and set you apart from others on the job market.

Traditional Careers for Master's in Network Security Graduates

Careers Stats Description

Information Security Analyst

Median Salary: $98,350

Job Growth: 28%

Information security analysts plan and implement precautionary measures to detect and prevent cyberattacks on computer networks and systems. Their duties may include installing firewalls and data encryption programs, monitoring computer networks for security issues, and investigating cyberattacks. This position requires strong data analysis and scripting skills.

Computer Network Administrator

Median Salary: $82,050

Job Growth: 6%

A computer network administrator oversees the day-to-day functioning of an organization's computer networks and systems. Their duties relate to organizing, installing, and maintaining hardware and software. This job requires strong project management skills to juggle various responsibilities, like updating systems, training workers about new software and hardware, and assigning and updating security permissions.

Computer Network Architect

Median Salary: $109,020

Job Growth: 6%

Computer network architects design and build different computer networks. This position suits workers with strong organization and project management skills who can draft detailed blueprints to connect the computer systems of an organization according to its unique needs. These professionals must also be able to present their plans effectively.

Computer Support Specialist

Median Salary: $54,470

Job Growth: 11%

Computer support specialists troubleshoot and solve computer system-related issues for consumers and organizations. They may work with an entire computer network or provide support to individual users. These specialists need strong soft skills in customer service in order to help clients with frustrating issues that can be caused by viruses and cyberattacks.

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Nontraditional Careers for Network Security Graduates

Several nontraditional career options also exist for network security graduates who can draw upon overlapping skills. Graduates who pursue these positions often take advantage of their strong computer literacy, project management, and verbal and written communication skills.

Careers Stats Description

Technical Writer

Median Salary: $71,850

Job Growth: 11%

Skills Overlapped: General computer literacy, project management

Technical writers create written materials to help users understand complex technical information. They often write instructional manuals, how-to-guides, and journal articles, and they may disseminate these materials throughout an organization. A graduate with an online master's in network security might apply their knowledge to writing an instructional manual for firewall or data encryption software.

Software Developer

Median Salary: $105,590

Job Growth: 24%

Skills Overlapped: Scripting, running and installing software and hardware

Software developers design and create applications and systems that run computers. An individual with a background in network security might find specialized work as a programmer developing applications meant to protect computer systems and networks from cyberattacks, such as firewalls and data encryption applications.

Web Developer

Median Salary: $69,430

Job Growth: 15%

Skills Overlapped: Scripting, general computer literacy

Web developers design and create webpages for consumers and organizations. Network security skills can help a web developer create a website that is better prepared to withstand cyberattacks. Tools such as data hashing make websites less vulnerable, and some employers prefer developers with this knowledge base.

Source: PayScale/BLS

Paying for an Online Master's in Network Security

Funding your online master's degree in network security may seem daunting, but many resources are available to help you pay for tuition and other costs. Some distance programs feature lower tuition rates for online courses, while others offer accelerated programs to help you graduate faster. You can also access subject-specific financial aid for additional assistance.

Scholarships for Online Network Security Master's Students

Many scholarships target master's students majoring in network security, and some may cater specifically to women, minorities, or returning students. When applying to scholarships, pay attention to specific requirements to make sure you are eligible.

What to Expect from a Master's-level Online Network Security Program

The length, requirements, and general format of an online master's program in network security may vary, but some general parameters apply to most schools. Master's degrees usually take 1-4 years to complete and culminate with a practically-minded capstone project or a thesis. Virtual classrooms generally follow an asynchronous format and use online learning labs and case studies to simulate practical problems in cyberdefense.

Major Milestones

  1. Announcing a Concentration

    Many programs allow learners to pursue a specialization or a concentration. Choosing this earlier in your program allows you to communicate your needs more effectively with academic advisers and department heads.

  2. Internships/Apprenticeships/Job Shadowing

    Programs often encourage students to seek out internships or apprenticeships to complement their course of study. Your school may allow you to incorporate these experiences into capstone coursework or a thesis.

  3. Intent-to-Graduate Confirmation

    Most schools require students to announce their intent to graduate within two semesters of their planned graduation; this is done by submitting a special application. It is important to be mindful of deadlines to avoid unnecessary complications.

  4. Capstone Coursework

    Programs may require students to complete a capstone project as a culminating assignment. A capstone may take the form of a project, literature review, or report on a practical issue in the field.

  5. Thesis Preparation and Defense

    Many programs ask students to complete a thesis as a culminating assignment. This requires learners to create and defend a work of original scholarship on an issue in cyberdefense.

Coursework

The exact coursework offered by an online master's in network security program varies from school to school. However, the following list describes a handful of typical class offerings.

Computer Networks

This course introduces learners to networking technologies and data communication, including networking operating systems, local and wide area networks, and voice and wireless networks. Faculty may use case studies to illustrate solutions to common issues.

Information Systems Security

Students investigate how to analyze system vulnerabilities and defend networks and infrastructures against security threats. Topics include contemporary security issues, such as risk analysis and management, business continuity and disaster recovery planning, and compliance and investigations.

Network Management and Security

This class overviews essential knowledge and skills used to facilitate, manage, and secure data communications and applications. Students leave the course prepared to identify security threats and prevent data breaches. Specific topics may include intrusion detection, application hardening, and cryptography.

Digital Forensics

Students learn about the emerging field of computer forensics and the tools examiners use to gather and safeguard evidence for prosecuting digital crimes. Coursework typically covers various forensics techniques, including acquiring digital evidence, bookmarking data, and file signature analysis.

Ethical Hacking

Students explore the practice of penetration testing, which is as a way companies use to test the vulnerabilities of a computer or network. The course may qualify students to sit for the EC-Council certified ethical hacker certification.

Degree Timelines

Online students may have the ability to pursue their studies on a part-time, full-time, or accelerated basis. Choose the degree plan that best matches your needs as a distance learner.

Enrollment Status Time to Complete Description

Part-Time

3-4 years

A part-time schedule typically suits the needs of working professionals and returning students who need to juggle personal and work-related responsibilities with school. This pace extends the graduation timeline, but it gives learners a greater degree of flexibility. Students usually take one or two classes per term, exploring their interests at their own pace.

Full-Time

2 years

A full-time schedule best accommodates learners who recently graduated from a bachelor's program. Students usually take 9-12 credits per term and have a good idea about their target concentration and/or career.

Accelerated

16-20 months

An accelerated program caters to students who can deal with an especially high-stress, fast-paced learning environment. This track may make sense for returning students who plan on transferring a large amount of previously earned credits.

Licenses and Certifications

Graduates should consider pursuing professional credentials in one or more areas of cyberdefense. Certifications for cybersecurity are usually mandatory, but they signal mastery of a specific area of the field -- such as ethical hacking -- to employers. The amount of coursework, work experience, and training required to sit for certification varies. Check with your school if you're unsure whether your program will prepare you to earn a certain type of certification.

    • SSCP Security Administration Certification: (ISC)2 offers a globally recognized certification for IT security administration professionals. Candidates must pass the SSCP exam after completing at least one year of paid work experience in a relevant competency area. Individuals often take advantage of training resources offered by the (ISC)2, which include seminars, study aids, and courseware.
    • CISSP Certified Information Systems Security Professional: (ISC)2 also offers a certification in information systems security. Most candidates for this certification work as network security analysts, network architects, or security systems engineers. Individuals must pass the CISSP exam and accrue at least five years of paid experience in a relevant competency area.
    • Certified Ethical Hacker: The EC Council's numerous professional certifications include its core credential for professionals skilled in penetration testing. Candidates need to pass a 125-question, multiple-choice exam. While studying for the test, individuals can access online, self-directed, or in-person training programs through the EC council.

Professional Organizations and Resources

While earning an online master's degree in network security, you should think about joining a professional organization. These organizations offer vital resources to current students, recent graduates, and seasoned professionals. Members can access opportunities for continuing education courses, networking, and workforce development within a community of like-minded peers and mentors.

  • Information Systems Security Association A nonprofit founded in 1984, ISSA advocates for the professional development of cybersecurity professionals and hosts webinars, journals, and an international conference. The organization offers scholarships, including one tailored specifically for graduate students.
  • International Information System Security Certification Consortium (ISC)2 trains and provides certifications for cybersecurity professionals, including its SSCP security administration certification. Members can take in-person or online classes from official providers. This nonprofit also offers numerous scholarships, including the Women's Information Security scholarship.
  • Center for Internet Security Established in 2000, CIS develops solutions to contemporary cyberdefense issues and sets standards for securing IT systems for corporate entities. Members can access free or discounted seminars, webinars, and workforce development training.
  • Information Systems Audit and Control Association Founded in 1969, ISACA promotes excellence among IT governance, control, auditing, and security professionals. ISACA's certified information risk manager certification represents the gold standard for IT security professionals. The organization also offers members industry publications, training, and webinars.
  • Association of Information Technology Professionals With over 4,500 members, AITP's chapters support IT professionals by providing continuing education opportunities; awards; conferences; and career assistance services that cater to women, minorities, and youth.
  • Forum of Incident Response and Security Teams FIRST is an organization that supports computer incident response teams. This nonprofit functions as a forum for teams to share their experiences, and it helps organize in-person conferences and meetings.
  • SANS Institute Established in 1989, SANS features online, in-person, and private training programs and certifications for cybersecurity professionals. Other resources for professionals include blogs, webcasts, and an online reading room containing contemporary literature related to cyberdefense.
  • Computing Research Association CRA, which advocates for computing professionals internationally, offers a scholarship for women in computing-related disciplines. It also oversees networking events.
  • National Initiative for Cybersecurity Careers and Studies NICCS provides an extensive index of scholarships for learners in cyberdefense-related majors, along with training and workforce development programs.
  • Science of Security Virtual Organization SOS VO was founded to formalize the study of system security. The organization provides access to contemporary literature and an online forum where users can share information related to job and research opportunities.