Is a master’s degree in cybersecurity worth it?

BY Meghan MalasJuly 13, 2022, 2:19 PM
Graduates during commencement ceremonies for Cal State University Northridge, as seen in May 2022.(Photo by Hans Gutknecht—MediaNews Group/Los Angeles Daily News/Getty Images)

The cybersecurity world is rapidly expanding as cyber intelligence and protection experts are needed across all industries. Right now, there are more than 714,000 jobs for cyber security professionals open in the U.S., according to Cyberseek. As Greg Simco, chair of the department of computing at Nova Southeastern University puts it—he’s never met a company that has enough computer science and cybersecurity talent.

Master’s degree programs in cybersecurity are one way into this red-hot job market, but does that mean they are worth it?

When Levi Gundert decided to pursue his degree online through Indiana University, he already had 20 years of cybersecurity experience and was serving in an executive leadership position at a prominent cybersecurity and intelligence company. Meanwhile, Alexandra Reibel decided to pursue her master’s in cybersecurity at Indiana University right after completing her bachelor’s degree program in finance and technology management. But Reibel, who is now an information security analyst at DISH Network, knew the degree program was the right path for her. 

What makes a master’s degree in cybersecurity worth pursuing for both a seasoned professional like Gundert and a newcomer like Reibel? Fortune asked both cybersecurity experts about their experiences to find out more about the value of this degree program. 

A master’s degree in cybersecurity gives you options

Strategic time management is required to balance work, school, and family—but it’s possible, and it pays off, says Gundert, who is the senior vice president of global intelligence at Recorded Future, a cybersecurity company.

When Gundert graduated with a master’s degree in December 2021, he didn’t get a raise, he didn’t get a promotion and he didn’t switch companies. Although these benefits are common for people who pursue a master’s degree in cybersecurity, they weren’t the main motivators for Gundert, who already oversees a team of more than 200 employees. 

“More than anything, I think the biggest advantage of the degree is optionality,” he says. “If you’re going to go work for a Fortune 500 enterprise, just getting through the gates typically requires you have a master’s degree.” 

Gundert has been aware of this requirement for a while. He started his program during the onset of the pandemic, as restricted travel gave him time to finally conquer a long-time goal. Although he already serves in a high-level position, he figured if he ever does want to move up in the cybersecurity industry, he will have to earn a graduate degree in a related field.

For top positions, the bar continues to move up, Gundert explains. “If you want to be a CIO, you not only need a master’s degree in something related to cybersecurity or risk management but also probably an MBA.”

By the end of his master’s degree program, Gundert felt more equipped than ever to face future cybersecurity challenges and the shifting nature of his role. “Now businesses realize how important information security is to the long-term health and viability of the business—they don’t just see it as a drain on profitability,” Gundert says. “They actually see it as a business enabler.”

A master’s degree in cybersecurity helps you keep up with a fast-moving industry

Gundert jumped into the workforce 20 years ago with a bachelor’s degree in information science—a time when there were few, if any, cybersecurity programs. In the past decade, more programs have been developed, especially ones offering graduate degrees in cybersecurity. 

“Our industry moves so fast and things change so quickly, that if you’re not constantly learning, you’re sort of falling behind,” Gundert says. 

Workers with a master’s degree in cybersecurity have more than just theoretical knowledge about computer science, they have the specific, applied skills that are in high demand. That’s why someone like Reibel may choose to pursue a master’s degree right after graduating undergrad.

“I actually paid a deposit for my spot in the 2019 class for Indiana University’s master of science in information systems program,” Reibel recalls. “But once I learned of the cybersecurity program, I immediately switched before the term started.”

Despite the hundreds of thousands of job openings nationwide, getting a foot in the door can be difficult in the cybersecurity space. Still, a master’s degree can help show employers you have updated skills and experience. 

“Earning a master’s degree led me to be picked up by DISH Network via university recruiting,” says Reibel, who graduated from the program in August 2021. Eight months after getting hired, Reibel earned a 10% raise based on her job performance.

A master’s degree in cybersecurity is not entirely necessary to enter the field, but it certainly helps open doors. As many of these programs are still pretty new, every company and organization can’t require cybersecurity workers to have a master’s degree and still expect to close the demand gap. Gundert says his team of 200 includes a mix of educational and work experience backgrounds, but his company does tend to hire professionals with degrees in cybersecurity or a related field.

“A lot of the value in these programs is happening as schools realize they graduate people who just have a basic understanding of theory—they have to understand practically how things work in these businesses,” Gundert says. “I think the graduate degree helps organizations feel a little bit more comfortable when they’re hiring somebody.”

See how the schools you’re considering fared in Fortune’s rankings of the best master’s in computer science programspsychology programs, public health programsbusiness analytics programsdata science programs, and part-timeexecutive, full-time, and online MBA programs.