Cyber security is a fast-growing industry – and it looks like this trend is going to continue for the foreseeable future. With more organizations operating online, it has never been more important for employers to make IT security a number one priority.
If you’ve gained either a Bachelor’s or Master’s degree in cyber security and want to advance your career further, then an online PhD in cyber security may be a promising route to take. Most senior cyber security positions won’t require a PhD (for some, a Master’s might be the minimum). However, the skills and knowledge you gain through a PhD can give you an upper hand in the job market. Moreover, a cyber security PhD opens you up to job opportunities in academia.
The main advantage of an online cyber security PhD is the flexibility and convenience it offers. You might be unsure, however, of which school or degree to choose.
In this guide, we highlight some of the best online PhDs in cyber security, as well as core aspects of these degrees you’ll want to know about, including tuition costs, PhD benefits, job prospects, and salary expectations.
Best cyber security PhD degrees online
If you study a cyber security PhD online, you’ll be able to enjoy much more flexibility than you would with an in-person course. An online degree will allow you to save on the various costs of in-person programs, such as travel and rent. Here are our top picks for online PhDs in cyber security:
1. Capitol Technology University
- Program: Doctorate (DSc) in Cybersecurity
- Tuition cost: $111,960 or $933 per credit
2. University of Fairfax
- Program: Doctorate of Information Assurance
- Tuition cost: $55,490 or $895 per credit
3. Dakota State University
- Tuition cost: $69,048 or $575.40 per credit
4. Capella University
- Tuition cost: $79,000 or $965 per credit
5. American Military University
- Program: Doctor of Global Security (DGS)
- Tuition cost: $50,054
6. Northcentral University
- Program: Doctor of Philosophy in Technology and Innovation Management with a Specialization in Cybersecurity
- Tuition cost: $68,365 or $1,094 per credit
7. Liberty University
- Program: DBA in Information Systems
- Tuition cost: $35,700 or $595 per credit
8. University of the Cumberlands
- Program: PhD in Information Technology
- Tuition cost: $30,000 or $500 per credit
9. New Jersey City University
- Tuition cost: $98,019 or $1,089.10 per credit
10. Purdue University Polytechnic Institute
- Program: Doctor of Technology
- Cost: $94,500 for Indiana residents (or $1,050 per credit) and $112,500 (or $1,250 per credit) for out-of-state residents
How to choose the right cyber security PhD
There is an abundance of cyber security PhD programs to choose from. This is a result of the fast pace at which the cyber security industry is growing and the demand for associated skills. The degrees above can give you an idea of what a PhD in cyber security degree will involve, but you still need to be aware of your priorities so you can make the right decision.
Here are the key factors you should keep in mind before opting for a particular school and degree.
First, you need to decide if you want to study online or in-person. Either avenue entails advantages and disadvantages. For instance, with an in-person degree, you get access to the school’s facilities, such as libraries and other amenities, which you would lack with an online degree. When you study in-person, you also have the opportunity to discuss topics with professors and other students face-to-face. You may feel this will help your learning in ways that are lost with online education.
You might also want to separate your studies from your home life. Some people find it easier to focus on lectures, seminars, and learning when it takes place at a location designated for them.
On the other hand, an online cyber security PhD appeals to prospective students for a variety of reasons. When studying online, there is simply no need to travel. You don’t have to use public transport or drive to school. You can work from the comfort of your home, which will save you a great deal of time.
Another upside of an online degree is that you may have the option to extend it. This will allow you to fit in a job and other aspects of your life around your degree. Sometimes, you can also opt for weekend or evening classes, which again will let you accommodate your other responsibilities with your education. If flexibility is a top priority for you, then an online degree will be the ideal choice.
Keep in mind that a PhD is generally a minimum of four years in duration. If you extend it (out of preference or necessity), then it could last up to seven years. You should ask yourself if you’d be happier studying for several years online or in-person.
2. School ranking
The ranking of the school is another important factor to consider. This can indicate the credibility and reputation of the institution, as well as the quality of education you will receive. After all, you want to make sure that the professors teaching you – and what they are teaching – will be of the highest standard. A school’s ranking will be determined by some or all of the following features:
- Graduation rates
- Retention rates
- Social mobility
- Faculty resources
- Financial resources per student
- Student satisfaction
- Teaching quality
- Research quality
- Staff to student ratio
- Average total debt upon graduation
By choosing a school that scores highly in these factors, you can feel confident that you will receive a high-quality education. Higher education – particularly a PhD – is a serious investment of time, money, and effort. You want to make sure that what you invest is matched by an enjoyable experience, valuable support, and good job prospects.
You will notice from the degrees above that the cost of a cyber security PhD can vary considerably. Price may, of course, be a major factor in determining your choice of program. It’s important to have an accurate picture of your degree costs and financing options beforehand, so you can ensure that you can comfortably cover the cost of your degree up until its completion. Bear in mind you should factor in costs besides tuition, including learning materials, as well as administration and admission fees.
Next, consider whether you can qualify for any of the school’s scholarship or bursary programs. These can significantly lower the price of your education. Loans are an option, too, if you require additional financial support.
In addition, if you are funding your PhD cyber security program through a job, you’ll need to create a realistic plan that will allow you to balance your studies with work.
While a PhD program may look expensive, it’s important to think of your degree as an investment. This means thinking about the career prospects for PhD graduates. A PhD in cyber security will open you up to the most senior positions in the field. According to PayScale, the average salary for those holding a PhD in cyber security is $165,000.
4. Course structure and content
No two degrees are designed alike. When researching degrees, you should have an idea of your passions, preferences, and goals. By aligning these with the structure and content of your PhD program, you can be confident that you will find the program both fulfilling and useful.
Do you want your degree to be broad or specific? This will matter, depending on the career path you have in mind. After all, some senior cyber security positions, such as chief information security officer (CISO) roles, involve broad responsibilities. Other roles, meanwhile, are much more specialized. A diverse program will give you more options when it comes to selecting a career path. However, for a specialized role, you will want to study a more relevant degree. This will give you a competitive edge when looking for work.
You will also want to think about the kind of course structure that appeals to you most. This includes the various ways that professors will assess your work. Would you prefer to be graded based on exams, individual assignments, or team projects? Courses will differ in how much weight is given to these forms of assessment. The degree structure should suit your personality and comfort levels. Do you thrive more when studying alone? Or do you feel more energized when collaborating with others? Do you find exams particularly stressful? These are all questions you should answer before committing to a particular PhD program.
5. Course requirements
PhD cyber security programs will have prerequisites. Make sure that you check these before moving forward so you don’t waste your time. PhD degrees will require a minimum of a Bachelor’s degree, usually with a certain grade as a prerequisite. Other cyber security PhD programs will ask that you already have a relevant Master’s degree. Again, you may need a minimum average grade in this degree to be accepted as a PhD candidate.
However, if you don’t meet every requirement, it’s always worth getting in touch with the admissions department of the school. They can sometimes give you some leeway. For example, perhaps you don’t meet the grade requirements, but you have professional experience that could act in your favor.
Benefits of an online PhD cyber security degree
Gaining a PhD qualification in cyber security will provide you with a range of benefits, including:
Improved job opportunities
A PhD in cyber security will lead to far more job opportunities than having a Bachelor’s or a Master’s. True, most cyber security positions don’t require – or even prefer – that you have a PhD qualification. This level of education isn’t necessary for success in senior positions. You can also work on your career development without it.
That said, a PhD will certainly make you stand out from the crowd. It positions you as an expert in the field. During your PhD studies, you will gain a knowledge base and skillset that goes beyond what is attainable with a Bachelor’s or Master’s program, increasing your employability.
Moreover, a PhD gives you the chance to focus on a very specific area of cyber security, as well as engage in original research and work. This kind of knowledge could make you well-suited to a senior cyber security role that requires a high level of expertise and specialization.
In addition, a PhD opens you up to work opportunities in academia. With your degree, you will be able to attain a research or teaching position. If you think an academic role would be more rewarding for you, then completing a PhD in cyber security will be the correct path to go down.
Since a PhD level qualification can give you expertise in a chosen area of cyber security, this will make you an authority on the subject. This can put you in a position to deliver sponsored talks, create articles for leading news and industry sites, and even write books on the subject.
Cyber security is one of the quickest growing industries in the US. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), computer and information systems manager jobs are predicted to grow 10 percent through 2029. The growth of this senior cyber security role is much faster than the national average job growth of four percent.
This trend means that you will find it relatively easy to land a senior job in this profession. By pursuing a cyber security PhD, you will increase your chances of securing a well-paid role.
Having either a Bachelor’s degree or Master’s degree in cyber security will allow you to earn a high salary. With these degrees and enough career development, you can end up in a company or position that pays extremely well. But a cyber security PhD is an additional qualification that can justify an even more attractive pay package. Cyber security experts with PhDs are often the highest earners in the industry. Check out the salary section below to see what cyber security experts earn, as well as how salaries tend to progress over time for these roles.
After completing your PhD in cyber security, you will have gained an impressive assortment of transferable skills. You will be able to apply the technical skills and knowledge you developed in your course to many other fields. For instance, a background in cyber security will prepare you for senior roles in software and web development. Transferable skills include:
- Computer forensic skills
- Technical IT knowledge
- Attention to detail
- Leadership and management skills
- Analytical and research skills
- A willingness to learn the latest developments in cyber security and IT technology
What jobs can you get with a PhD in cyber security?
Having a cyber security PhD, even with limited work experience, will make you a great candidate for academic positions. This will also allow you to apply for mid-level cyber security positions. With a PhD in cyber security and a solid level of experience in the industry, you will be able to aim for more advanced positions. Having a PhD under your belt can benefit you in your job applications and interviews for the following high-level jobs:
- Chief information security officer
- Cyber security consultant
- Penetration tester
- Cyber security analyst
- Security auditor
- Security architect
- Network administrator
- Cyber security consultant
It’s crucial to keep in mind that some employers might actually prefer specific certificates over or in addition to a PhD. In some cases, employers are willing to fund the training for these qualifications since it will enhance what you can bring to the table. Check whether this is a possibility before signing up for any additional courses.
Cyber security PhD degree salary
So, what salary can you expect to earn after obtaining your cyber security PhD? Based on a few of the roles mentioned above, PayScale has found the following average salaries:
|Role||Average||Entry level (<1 year)||Early career (1–4 years)||Mid-career (5–9 years)||Experienced (10–19 years)||Late career (20+ years)|
|Chief information security officer||$165,450||$106,000||$123,000||$128,000||$167,000||$178,000|
|Cyber security analyst||$76,469||$63,000||$71,000||$88,000||$101,000||$112,000|
We should underline here, though, that these salaries are likely to vary based on company, type of organization, location, level of experience, additional qualifications, and other factors.
Other qualifications to consider
If you are unsure about committing to a PhD program, that’s completely understandable. Although highly rewarding, this undertaking can be long, stressful, and taxing. You also don’t need to have a PhD for the top cyber security positions. So, if a cyber security PhD doesn’t personally appeal to you, you can always gain one or more certificates that will enhance your career path. These will be far less time-consuming, costly, and challenging compared to a PhD. Qualifications worth considering include:
- GIAC’s (Global Information Assurance Certification) GPEN certification
- CISSP – Certified Information Systems Security Professional
- ESCA – EC Council Certified Security Analyst
- CISM – Certified Information Security Manager
- CompTIA Security+
- SECO’s Certified Information Security Officer (S-CISO)
- EC-Council’s Certified Chief Information Security Officer
- CISA – Certified Information Security Auditor
Cyber security PhD FAQs
How much does a PhD cyber security degree cost?
The exact cost of your cyber security PhD will depend on certain factors, such as the school, whether the degree is in-person or online, and how long it takes you to complete the program. Based on the length of the course, you can expect tuition fees to be higher than both Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees. The cost range for a PhD in cyber security is about $30,000–$100,000.
Is a PhD in cyber security worth it?
A PhD in cyber security will give you an even better chance of obtaining a well-paid, secure position. Since a PhD can make you an attractive candidate for the highest-earning roles, your investment of time and money in your PhD studies will be well worth it. Nonetheless, if you want to enrol in a PhD program, you should be ready for several years of structured education. You will also have to study topics at a more complex level than in a Bachelor’s or Master’s program.
Is cyber security a good career?
The cyber security industry is predicted to grow rapidly over the next 10 years. We’re seeing comparatively high salaries for cyber security positions at every level, as well as ample room for career development. A cyber security job, especially a senior one, can involve a certain amount of stress. After all, in a top position, you will carry a lot of responsibility in terms of dealing with an organization’s IT security. You are being trusted to play a major role in preventing cyber attacks and keeping sensitive information safe. On the other hand, this level of responsibility means a senior role can make a significant, positive, and lasting impact on an organization. For this reason, such a role can feel deeply rewarding.