You can earn your online master’s in cybersecurity at these Ivy League schools

BY Sydney LakeJuly 01, 2022, 1:36 PM

The Stephen Robert ’62 Campus Center at Brown University in Providence, RI, as seen in April 2019. (Photo by Lane Turner—The Boston Globe/Getty Images)

Cybersecurity is becoming one of the most in-demand industries in the U.S. Indeed, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that the number of cybersecurity jobs will grow 33% in the next decade—more than four times faster than the average for all occupations.

While it’s not always necessary to earn a master’s degree in cybersecurity to enter the field, it can certainly pay off. The average base salary for workers with a master’s degree in cybersecurity is about $91,000, according to Payscale. But many top programs see graduates nab $200,000 base salaries, like the University of California—Berkeley, for instance.

If you’re looking for an East Coast-based program or have always dreamed of earning a degree from an Ivy League school, you have a few options. Three Ivy League schools offer online master’s degree programs in cybersecurity: Harvard University, Brown University, and Columbia University.

“Cybersecurity threats are constantly evolving,” Ernesto Zaldivar, adjunct associate professor of the practice of computer science and deputy director of graduate studies for Brown’s master of science in cybersecurity program, tells Fortune. “Something that’s considered an innovative threat today will likely not be as problematic a few years from now. Brown gives its students the intellectual tools and framework to approach the problems that adversaries haven’t created yet.”

Fortune rounded up the details of these three online master’s programs including curriculum information, class profiles, and application details.

Brown University

Brown’s online master’s degree program in cybersecurity is offered through the school’s cybersecurity department and is taught by the same faculty that instructs on-campus students. Some required courses are also offered exclusively online, including Cybersecurity Law and Policy and Human Factors in Cybersecurity. Students choose one of two tracks within the master’s degree program: computer science or policy, each of which have required courses.

One of the most important skills that cybersecurity students should leave the program with is the ability to defend against unknown threats, Zaldivar says. To practice this, he conducts an exercise with students in which he provides them with limited information about a Fortune 500 company and then asks students to work in teams to discover specifics about a new business strategy.

“This in-class exercise is designed to give them experience conducting open source intelligence gathering, but it also teaches them to operate under a quick deadline and to fill in major information gaps,” he says. “Exercises like this help students build comfort encountering and deciphering new information.”

Brown first offered its online master’s degree program in cybersecurity in fall 2021, so the school doesn’t have any career outcome statistics yet available. The program takes four semesters to complete.

To apply, candidates must submit a transcript, personal statement, and two letters of recommendation. Brown offers three deadlines for entrance in fall 2022 and one deadline for spring 2022. 

“Curiosity and interest in collaboration are two very important qualities for success in cybersecurity,” Zaldivar says. “We also look for students that are strong writers because we believe that cybersecurity practitioners need to be able to articulate challenges and solutions to both technical and non-technical audiences.”

Harvard University

Harvard Extension School, which hosts many of the university’s continuing education degree programs, offers an online master’s degree program in cybersecurity to professionals who already know how to use object-oriented programming languages like C++, Python, or Java. The school also requires that applicants enroll in and earn at least a “B” in two courses: Systems Programming and Machine Organization and Communication Protocols and Internet Architectures.

The program was designed by an advisory board that includes chief information security officers from large publicly traded companies, Bruce Huang, director of Harvard Extension School’s cybersecurity graduate program in information technology, tells Fortune.

“Our goal is to create a cybersecurity talent pool to address the tactical need and the long-term strategic need in cybersecurity,” Huang says. “By strategic need, we mean the need to have subject matter leaders who can think strategically and proactively when crafting cybersecurity plans and strategies for their organizations.”

At Harvard Extension School, future students have to “earn” their way in—only students who are enrolled in their second prerequisite course can apply to the cybersecurity master’s program. 

“Why? Because we know that standardized test scores and previous transcripts don’t always accurately reflect our adult learners’ current academic capabilities and drive to succeed,” Harvard Extension School’s admissions website reads.

Registration opens for students interested in enrolling in fall 2022 on July 18. The degree program includes 12 courses; a three-week, on-campus precapstone experience at Harvard; and a final cybersecurity capstone project. Students work with an industry partner on either an innovation or improvement cybersecurity project.

“Since we introduced this offering, our cybersecurity program continues to meet the increased demand from both employers looking for skilled talent, as well as the expectations of our students who want an excellent education and learning experience,” Nancy Coleman, dean of the Harvard Division of Continuing Education and University Extension, tells Fortune.

Columbia University

Columbia University’s online master’s degree in computer security is offered through the engineering school, the Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science. Some of the core curriculum for the program includes operating systems, computer security, and an introduction to cryptography or intrusion detection.

Students also have to take what are called “breadth courses,” which include topics like engineering software as a service, algorithms, and machine learning theory.  

To apply to Columbia’s online master’s in computer security, you must have an undergraduate GPA of at least 3.3 and GRE scores are required. Three letters of recommendation, transcripts, a resume, and a personal statement are also needed to apply. 

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