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Online Certificate Programs in Cybersecurity

The world of information technology (IT) requires more than writing code. An IT environment is like a music festival: when artists, fans, and security coexist, everyone stays safe and enjoys themselves. Cybersecurity professionals may not look the part of a security guard, but their presence in an IT organization ensures the safety and productivity of employees, customers, and stakeholders.

Cybersecurity is a specialized IT discipline focused on protecting entire networks and sensitive information. Cybersecurity professionals learn to design, implement, and maintain security protocols that protect an organization’s IT systems, such as databases, email, and other services, from hacker attacks and security vulnerabilities. In addition, they may work with human resources to train employees on best practices and with senior-level leadership to assess potential security threats.

Any industry with an online presence needs cybersecurity professionals, and the occupational demand reflects this. For example, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS 2021) shows that openings for information security analysts are projected to grow 33 percent from 2020 to 2030, creating 47,100 new positions. The top-employing industries for cybersecurity professionals were computer systems design and related services, and finance and insurance.

While most computer programmers are hired by proving coding expertise or having a degree in computer science, cybersecurity professionals arrive in this career from various disciplines related to computer science. Cybersecurity through a graduate-level certificate program or a professional certification. Some certificate programs include courses that lead to professional examinations.

Online certificate programs in cybersecurity teach IT professionals to protect sensitive data and stay up-to-date with the latest protocols and trends in information security.

Read on to learn more about online certificate programs in cybersecurity.

Online Cybersecurity Certificates: Admission Requirements

The majority of cybersecurity certificate programs featured here are considered graduate-level, meaning they are open to students with a bachelor’s degree or a minimum number of college credits. Graduate-level certificate programs allow bachelor’s degree holders to specialize in a specific area and learn skills related to their field of study or explore an entirely new field without committing to a master’s degree or doctoral program.

Here is a list of common admissions requirements for online certificate programs in cybersecurity:

  • Application
  • Application fee
  • Bachelor’s degree in computer science or a related field (some programs may accept two-year associate’s degrees or students with some college credit)
  • Completed application
  • Letters of recommendation
  • Minimum GPA
  • Official transcripts
  • Personal or professional statement of interest
  • TOEFL or IELTS test scores (for non-native English speakers)

Online Cybersecurity Certificates: Common Courses

Every cybersecurity program offers a unique sequence of courses and there’s some overlap in the topics covered. Here’s a list of typical courses offered in online graduate certificate programs:

  • Applied Information Security
  • Digital Forensics and Investigations
  • Enterprise Risk Management
  • Ethical Hacking and Penetration Testing
  • Information Security Policy
  • Information Systems and Security
  • Introduction to Cybersecurity
  • Introduction to Cybersecurity and Digital Crime
  • Introduction to Information Security
  • Introduction to Networks
  • Leading Issues in Information Security
  • Principles of Cybersecurity
  • Security Architecture and Design

Given that some graduate-level certificate programs cover prerequisites for master’s programs, students can expect coursework that matches the rigor found in upper-division undergraduate and lower-division graduate courses.

Featured Online Certificate Programs in Cybersecurity

Here are seven featured online certificate programs in cybersecurity and related IT-security disciplines.

Boston University Metropolitan College offers a certificate in cybercrime investigation and cybersecurity program, which students can complete on-campus or online. This graduate-level certificate is offered full- or part-time and GRE or GMAT scores are required for admission. Students in this program take four courses in computer science and two courses in related disciplines certified by the Committee on National Security Systems (CNSS).

This program is designed for law enforcement officers, computer science, and business professionals wanting to expand their skills in cybersecurity investigation. Upon completing this program, graduates are eligible to sit for forensic examiner certification exams.

  • Location: Boston, MA
  • Duration: One year
  • Accreditation: New England Commission of Higher Education (NECHE)
  • Tuition: $505 per credit

Colorado State University offers an entirely online undergraduate certificate in cybersecurity. This 18-credit program teaches students how to protect data and information and recognize security models and network vulnerabilities over six, three-credit courses.

Applicants to this program should have basic information technology (IT) and information security knowledge to keep up with the coursework, including an introduction to cybersecurity and digital crime, principles of cybersecurity, and ethical hacking and penetration testing. Students can start anytime and accelerated course timelines are available.

  • Location: Pueblo, CO
  • Duration: 1.5 to two years
  • Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission (HLC)
  • Tuition: $12,874 per year (in-state); $32,734 per year (out-of-state)

George Washington University offers a gateway to computer science online certificate through its Department of Computer Science. This 12-credit program is designed for those with zero background in computer science and teaches basic programming and coding skills.

In addition, courses related to cybersecurity include an introduction to data structures and their applications and an introduction to web development. Students who complete this program with a GPA of 3.0 or higher may be granted admission to the master of science in applied computer science at George Washington University.

  • Location: Washington, D.C.
  • Duration: One year
  • Accreditation: Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE)
  • Tuition: $1,995 per credit

Harvard University offers an online cybersecurity certificate at the graduate level. Students in this program complete four courses, two required and two elective courses in governance, threats, conflict, privacy, identity, and commerce with a B grade or higher.

In addition, students in his program are expected to be technically proficient with technology and technological terms and be able to read and write technical documents. Most students in this program work full-time and complete it in approximately 1.5 years.

  • Location: Cambridge, MA
  • Duration: 1.5 to three years
  • Accreditation: New England Commission of Higher Education (NECHE)
  • Tuition: $11,920 total

Syracuse University offers a fully online cybersecurity administration certificate for IT professionals wanting to learn more about how to protect computer networks. This 15-credit program includes five courses delivered in eight-week sessions. Students and faculty members meet synchronously for 90-minutes per week.

Classes include information security policy, enterprise risk management, and leading issues in information security. To qualify for admission to this program, applicants must have 60 or more college credits.

  • Location: Syracuse, NY
  • Duration: One year
  • Accreditation: Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE)
  • Tuition: 55,920 per year

The University of California Irvine’s Division of Continuing Education offers a 15-credit cybersecurity certificate program that can be completed online, or on-campus.

Designed for IT security professionals seeking Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP®) certification, this program teaches principles of designing, building, and managing secure IR environments. Courses include host and OS security, network security: concepts and technologies, and security architecture and design.

  • Location: Irvine, CA
  • Duration: Nine to 15 months
  • Accreditation: Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC)
  • Tuition: $5,495 total

The University of Maryland Global Campus (UMGC) offers four online cybersecurity certificates at the graduate level: cyber operations, cybersecurity management and policy, cybersecurity technology, and digital forensics and cyber investigation.

Students in these programs learn from industry leaders in information security and gain real-world experience and networking opportunities through the UMGC cyber competitions. UMGC’s cybersecurity programs are designated as National Centers of Academic Excellence and affiliated with the Department of Homeland Security.

  • Location: Largo, MD
  • Duration: One year
  • Accreditation: Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE)
  • Tuition: $694 per credit

To learn more about online and on-campus bachelor’s and master’s degree programs in cybersecurity, please visit our Accredited Cybersecurity Degree Programs page.

State Authorization for Online Cybersecurity Programs

While online programs undoubtedly increase access to education for more students, state authorization is an important factor to research when applying to an online program. Simply put, some schools cannot confer degrees or certificates to students living in certain states. This is known as a state authorization reciprocity agreement or a SARA.

For example, a college in New York may be able to confer certificates or degrees to students living in surrounding eastern states but not to students residing in other states, such as California.

Before applying to a program, applicants should contact a school and ask if there are state authorization limits. Prospective students can find more information about state authorization on the National Council for State Authorization Reciprocity Agreements (NC-SARA) website.

Cybersecurity Certifications & Professional Credentialing

A cybersecurity certificate from an accredited university program is a great way to show commitment and skills to the profession. An undergraduate or graduate-level cybersecurity certificate may meet minimum qualifications for some positions. Other positions may require industry-level certifications. Business News Daily (2021) compiled a list of in-demand certifications:

  • GIAC Certified Forensic Analyst (GCFA)
  • GIAC Certified Forensic Examiner (GCFE)
  • EC-Council Certified Hacking Forensic Investigator (CHFI)
  • IACIS Certified Forensic Computer Examiner (CFCE)

Employers and programs may also offer vendor-specific or include coursework that prepares graduates to sit for professional cybersecurity certification exams. For example, the University of California Irvine (see profile above) contains courses that prepare students to sit for the Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP®) exam.

  • Other professional cybersecurity certifications include:
  • Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH)
  • CompTIA Security+

Accreditation for Online Cybersecurity Certificate Programs

A critical consideration when choosing any educational program is determining accreditation status. Accreditation is awarded at the programmatic and institutional levels and indicates the highest levels of academic quality.

At present, there is no specific organization that awards programmatic accreditation for cybersecurity degree and certificate programs. However, the six institutional accrediting bodies in the list below are approved by the U.S. Department of Education and award accreditation to colleges and universities:

  • Higher Learning Commission (HLC)
  • Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE)
  • Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC)
  • Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (NWCCU)
  • New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC), or
  • Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC)

Rachel Drummond, MEd

Rachel Drummond has given her writing expertise to since 2019, where she provides a unique perspective on the intersection of education, mindfulness, and the forensic sciences. Her work encourages those in the field to consider the role of mental and physical well-being in their professional success.

Rachel is a writer, educator, and coach from Oregon. She has a master’s degree in education (MEd) and has over 15 years of experience teaching English, public speaking, and mindfulness to international audiences in the United States, Japan, and Spain. She writes about the mind-body benefits of contemplative movement practices like yoga on her blog, inviting people to prioritize their unique version of well-being and empowering everyone to live healthier and more balanced lives.