Earning a Cyber Security Certificate: Pros and Cons

The need for highly skilled cyber security professionals is not slowing down. As cyber crime continues to plague both the public and private sectors, demand is soaring for experts with the skills to help protect businesses and combat ever-evolving threats.

If you’re looking to pursue or advance your career in cyber security, you may be wondering how much education you’ll need to qualify for certain jobs. As cyber crime has intensified over the past decade, new educational programs have emerged to help train aspiring cyber security experts. There are now undergraduate and graduate degrees, along with certificates and certifications focused on cyber security.

In this article we’ll examine the certificate option. Careers in cyber security tend to pay well and — because a certificate requires a significantly smaller investment in time and money than an undergraduate or graduate degree — it can be an appealing option to those looking to get their start in cyber security or make a career switch. But because cyber security is a particularly complex field, a certificate on its own may not be enough. Depending on your goals and your situation, a certificate may or may not offer the return on investment you are seeking. Here’s a related blog on whether certificates are worth your time.

Is a Cyber Security Certificate Right for You?

If you are looking to launch a career in cyber security, it’s very possible that you’ll need more than a certificate to get your foot in the door. In fact, although there is an abundance of job openings, many of these openings exist because employers can’t find candidates with the right level of education and experience.

A certificate may be a good option if you are just looking to learn more about the field and are still considering your career options but are not ready to commit to more than that. On the other hand, if you are more advanced in your career and are looking into pursuing a certificate with the possibility of moving into a degree program, you should make sure to find a certificate program that will allow you to transfer your courses.

A certificate could also be a good option for those working in human resources, information security, web development, computer network architecture or similar tech-related fields who need to brush up their cyber skills but don’t need or want to commit to more.

Since most certificate programs include high-level introductory classes that cover the basics of cyber security, such programs can be a great way to get a taste for what working in the field might be like. However, if you’re hoping to pursue a career in cyber security, a certificate on its own likely won’t suffice to get you where you want to go.

What to Consider When Pursuing a Cyber Security Certificate

  1. If you decide that a certificate program is right for you, be sure to find a university that offers graduate programs in cyber security and will allow you to transfer your credits should you decide to advance your education even further.
  2. Be wary of for-profit programs. If you are going to pursue a certificate, there are many well-regarded institutions that offer certificate programs and will likely deliver a stronger education coupled with a better reputation.
  3. Remember that there is a big difference between a certificate and a certification. While both can be valuable depending on your goals, they are quite different. A certification is typically looked at as the more significant achievement of the two, as a certification is a specialized credential focused on a targeted topic. Certifications are usually offered by professional organizations or companies and typically require recertification after a certain time period. Certificates, on the other hand, are more often geared toward entry-level professionals and are usually offered by a college or university. Certifications are typically geared toward professionals already in the field or with experience and/or education in cyber security.

Final Considerations

If you are looking for a way to learn the basics of cyber security and to determine if the field is the right fit for you, a certificate could be a great choice. However, if you determine that you need more than what a certificate program can offer, you may want to consider the many benefits of a graduate degree in cyber security. With a graduate degree, your earning potential increases significantly and your career options expand dramatically.

Although it takes a more committed investment to pursue a graduate degree vs. a certificate, the return on your investment will almost always be higher as employers continue to seek highly educated experts who are able to adapt and evolve with changing cyber-crime tactics. Ensuring that you have a strong foundation and the right level of education is the first step to building a successful career in cyber security.

Patricia De Saracho works for the University of San Diego where she supports their innovative, 100% online Master of Science in Cyber Security Operations and Leadership and on-campus Master of Science in Cyber Security Engineering. Her blog is courtesy of AT&T Cybersecurity. Read more AT&T Cybersecurity blogs here.