Online Degrees or Boot Camps: What’s the Best Way to Get Started in Cybersecurity?

There’s never been a better time to start a cybersecurity career. Cybersecurity was already one of the fastest-growing jobs. Now, with the COVID-19 pandemic triggering a rapid digital transformation across all sectors, the demand for cybersecurity experts far exceeds the supply. But how do you decide between a cybersecurity degree or a boot camp, and how do you select a reputable program? DTech Web Blog offers some advice:

Do you really need a college degree for a cybersecurity career?


It’s possible to start a cybersecurity career without a degree. A number of cybersecurity certifications are available online, including CompTIA Security+, Cisco Certified Network Professional Security (CCNP), Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP), and Certified Information Security Manager (CISM), among others. However, if you’re coming from a field other than IT, expect to work your way up from the bottom.

For those who want to pivot into cybersecurity without paying their dues at low-paid help desk jobs, formal education is a must. But should you choose a boot camp or a college degree?

Boot Camps vs. IT degrees

Boot camps are intensive, accelerated programs that train participants in a specific skill set. Generally, boot camps have a narrow focus such as cybersecurity or coding, and don’t teach IT fundamentals.

As an intensive program, boot camps demand a lot of your time. Expect to attend a boot camp full-time for 12–24 weeks. Unfortunately, this makes it difficult for people with a full-time job or other commitments to participate. With an average cost of nearly $13,000, boot camps also rival the cost of a college degree, despite the shorter timeframe.

Online degrees, on the other hand, let students learn at their own pace. This makes it easier to juggle work, family, and education. College degree programs also offer a broader scope of knowledge, making an IT degree the preferred choice for anyone transitioning from another industry.

Cybersecurity degree programs

Pursuing a degree doesn’t have to be a long slog. Many online degree programs are accelerated so students complete advanced degrees in under two years, often while holding down a job at the same time.

For those totally new to the field, a bachelor’s degree in computer science with a concentration in information assurance and cybersecurity is the best place to start. Some online universities also offer specialized bachelor’s degrees in cybersecurity, network operations, and cloud computing.

Degrees become particularly important as you move into more senior roles. At that point, most cybersecurity professionals need a degree of some kind, typically a master’s degree in IT with a cybersecurity emphasis.

What to look for in an online cybersecurity degree

If you’re wary of online colleges, it’s probably because you’ve heard horror stories about for-profit colleges with sky-high tuition and rock-bottom job placement. While there are unscrupulous organizations out there, there are also well-respected degree programs that exist entirely online. So how can you tell the difference?

  • Accreditation: A degree that isn’t accredited isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on. Make sure an online college is accredited by a recognized accreditation agency.
  • Certifications: Both a degree and certifications are important for advancing in a cybersecurity career. The best degree programs let students earn certifications as they learn.
  • Curriculum: It’s also important to pay attention to a degree program’s curriculum, especially if you have your sights set on a particular cybersecurity career path. A cybersecurity degree should include skills in:
  • Network and security fundamentals.
  • Programming.
  • Data management and analysis.
  • Cloud security.
  • Application security.
  • Vulnerability testing.
  • Digital forensics.
  • Cryptography.
  • Cybersecurity architecture.
  • Ethical hacking.

An online degree isn’t for everyone. If you’re coming from another IT career or don’t mind working your way up the ranks, boot camps and certifications could be enough to get started in cybersecurity. However, for anyone making a major career shift or who has their sights set on a senior role, an online degree is the clear winner for launching your cybersecurity career.

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