Is a Cybersecurity Certificate Worth It?
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If you want to play a key role in the online protection of private data or help keep organizations safe from digital attacks, a career in cybersecurity could be right for you. As you explore what it takes to get started in the field, you may consider a cybersecurity certificate program and wonder: Is it worth it?
"A certificate in cybersecurity is designed to equip students with the practical skills and knowledge needed to address real-world cybersecurity challenges,” said Dr. Dennis Backherms, technical program facilitator for cybersecurity at Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU) and a cybersecurity professional with decades of IT experience in government and private industry sectors.
As government agencies, businesses and nonprofit organizations respond to growing rates of cybercrime, the cybersecurity field is expanding, said Backherms. According to a 2022 report from Cybersecurity Ventures, the cost of cybercrime is expected to reach $10.5 trillion by 2025, up from a predicted $8 trillion in 2023.
As a result, demand for cybersecurity professionals is also climbing.* According to CyberSeek, while an estimated 1.1 million people work in cybersecurity jobs across the U.S. in 2023, approximately 572,392 more workers are needed to fill open positions.*
Whether you’re already working in the computer science field or you’re looking to completely change your career, earning a cybersecurity certificate can help you build the sought-after skills of this expanding industry and land an entry-level role in cybersecurity.
What is a Cybersecurity Certificate?
A certificate in cybersecurity is an undergraduate education credential that can help prepare you for entry-level roles in the field. Unlike a typical degree program, certificates do not include general education requirements and can be completed in as little as a few terms.
“Certificates are designed to provide focused and specialized training in a particular field or skill set,” said Backherms. “If someone is looking to gain expertise in a specific area without the broader education requirements of a degree, a certificate is a more targeted option.”
At SNHU, for example, the online certificate in cybersecurity program covers a wide range of cybersecurity topics and skills, including:
- IT roles, tech tools and software basics
- Legal, ethical and defense strategies
- Operating system fundamentals
- Problem-solving through systems thinking
- Tactics and strategies of cyber attackers
Backherms said that a cybersecurity certificate can be a good choice for many professionals, whether you’re already working in the computer science or IT industry or not.
“While an IT or computer science background can be beneficial, it's not always a strict requirement,” he said. “Cybersecurity certificates often cater to individuals at various skill levels. So someone with a beginner's understanding can still benefit.”
Find Your Program
Why Earn a Cybersecurity Certificate
Opting to pursue a cybersecurity certificate instead of a full degree program can be a great fit for many individuals.
Backherms said it’s important to consider your career goals and the time you can commit to your education before choosing which path to take.
If you do decide to earn a cybersecurity certificate, there can be many benefits. According to Backherms, a certificate program can help you:
Save Time and Money
Certificates take less time to complete than a full degree program, so you can gain key skills and enter the workforce sooner, said Backherms. Certificates are also typically more cost-effective than traditional degree programs since they require fewer courses.
At SNHU, for example, earning a cybersecurity certificate requires 18 credit hours billed at $330 per credit.
Change Technology Careers Confidently
If you’re already working in the computer science or IT field but want to find work within cybersecurity, a certificate can build upon the skills you already have and make finding a new role easier.
“For individuals already in the workforce, a cybersecurity certificate can be a stepping stone for career advancement,” said Backherms. “It demonstrates a commitment to staying current in the field and acquiring specialized skills.”
Balance Education with Other Responsibilities
Many certificate programs are available online or as part-time programs, said Backherms. This means that students can balance their learning with a full-time job or any other commitments they have, improving accessibility.
Earn a Key Credential on Your Way to a Degree Program
Even if your ultimate goal is to earn an associate or bachelor’s degree in cybersecurity, getting a certificate can be beneficial.
The courses you take in your certificate program may transfer toward a degree, getting you one step closer to your diploma. At SNHU, for example, the cybersecurity certificate includes a seamless transfer pathway to a 2-year or 4-year degree program.
“The cybersecurity field is dynamic and ever-evolving,” said Backherms. “Continuous learning is crucial. While a certificate may get someone started, pursuing additional education, such as a degree or advanced certifications, can help professionals stay abreast of emerging threats and technologies.”
Earning an online certificate before completing a degree program can help you land entry-level jobs in cybersecurity sooner, so you can get real-world, hands-on experience while also advancing your education.
“Ultimately, the choice between a certificate and a full degree depends on individual goals, preferences, and the specific requirements of the desired career path,” said Backherms.
What Can You Learn in a Cybersecurity Certificate Program?
If you enroll in a cybersecurity certificate program, you can build critical skills that can help you get entry-level roles in this growing field.
Topics covered in a cybersecurity certificate program may include:
- Adversarial thinking to help you understand the tactics and strategies of cyber criminals and proactively defend against attacks
- An overview of information technology (IT) job roles, technology tools, software and computer operating systems
- Computer network basics, including hardware-software interactions and how to design a simple network
- Key cybersecurity principles you’ll use on the job, including legal, ethical, privacy and defense strategies
You’ll also get the opportunity to apply these skills to real-world scenarios, helping you prepare for the challenges of work in the evolving cybersecurity field.
How Long Does it Take to Get a Cybersecurity Certificate?
The length of your cybersecurity studies will depend on how many courses you take at a time.
At SNHU, a cybersecurity certificate includes six courses. If you work through your certificate as a full-time student taking two courses per term, then you can complete your certificate in as little as three terms, or about six months. If you enroll as a part-time student, earning a certificate will take longer.
What is the Difference Between a Cybersecurity Certificate and a Cybersecurity Certification?
A cybersecurity certificate is an educational credential that demonstrates your knowledge and skill in the field. It can help you start or change careers and help you stand out when applying for jobs.
It is not, however, the same thing as a cybersecurity certification, which is a professional credential that demonstrates proficiency in a particular set of technical skills in the cybersecurity field.
Backherms said that while cybersecurity education is key to landing a job in the industry, professional certifications are also highly recommended. In some cases, job postings in cybersecurity specifically require certain certifications.
Some well-recognized cybersecurity certifications include:
- Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP)
- Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH)
- CompTIA Security+
“Certifications can open doors to career advancement and potentially higher salaries,” Backherms said.* “They validate your skills and provide a standardized benchmark that employers can use to assess candidates … So, while not strictly required, cybersecurity certifications are highly beneficial and often essential for a successful and competitive career.”
Is a Cybersecurity Certificate Enough to Get a Job?
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), while some cybersecurity careers require a bachelor’s degree or higher, you can enter the field with a high school diploma and relevant industry training, like a cybersecurity certificate.
“Working in cybersecurity with just a certificate is possible, especially for entry-level roles and positions prioritizing hands-on skills,” said Backherms.
And because cybersecurity professionals are in high demand, there are many opportunities for certificate holders to find work.* CyberSeek data shows that an average of 18% of online job listings for entry-level cybersecurity positions don't require a bachelor’s degree.
According to CyberSeek, some of the entry-level positions available to certificate holders include:
- Cybersecurity Specialist: These professionals lead security-related technical projects, monitor and analyze key security metrics, help with incident response and maintain security infrastructure.
- Cyber Crime Analyst: As a cybercrime analyst, you could analyze security logs to detect and defend against potential security threats, help with incident response procedures and help design and implement security safeguards for online infrastructure.
- Incident and Intrusion Analyst: These professionals aid in incident response procedures, provide input into incident response policy and assist with system security, patch management and vulnerability testing of key infrastructure.
No matter what kind of job you get with a cybersecurity certificate, there are many opportunities for strong earning potential and career advancement within the field.*
According to BLS, cybersecurity jobs like information security analysts are projected to grow 32% from 2022 to 2032, much faster than the national average.* The median annual wage for these workers was $112,000 in 2022.*
Is It Worth Getting a Cybersecurity Certificate?
Deciding whether to get a cybersecurity certificate versus a degree is a personal choice based on many factors, said Backherms. It's important to consider your career goals, the specific cybersecurity job you want and the requirements of your ideal employers.
If you decide to pursue a certificate, it can help you build in-demand technical skills and prepare you for valuable professional certifications. Earning a certificate can also help you find work in the field faster than a traditional degree program, so you can get real-world experience before deciding how to advance your career.
But no matter which path you take into cybersecurity, don’t expect your learning to stop when your educational program is complete.
“Continuous learning and staying updated on industry trends are essential in cybersecurity,” said Backherms. “A combination of education, certifications and practical experience makes a cybersecurity professional well-rounded and competitive in the job market.”
*Cited job growth projections may not reflect local and/or short-term economic or job conditions and do not guarantee actual job growth. Actual salaries and/or earning potential may be the result of a combination of factors including, but not limited to: years of experience, industry of employment, geographic location, and worker skill.
Danielle Gagnon is a freelance writer focused on higher education. Connect with her on LinkedIn.
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