Master’s in Computer Science vs Cybersecurity: What’s the Difference?

With so many options for professional development available, computer and IT professionals may wonder which master’s degree would be better suited for their career goals: a master’s degree in computer science vs. cybersecurity. The best way to choose between the two is to understand the demands of each program and the career possibilities they bring.

To quickly summarize, computer science master’s degree programs are more generalized and cover a wide array of computing topics. They can be the right option for professionals who want to advance their current careers but may not provide enough depth for those interested in improving a specific skill set like game design or cybersecurity. Cybersecurity master’s degree programs tend to be more specialized with focus on threat prevention, recognition and response. These programs can prepare graduates for a variety of roles within cybersecurity, from the front lines to the C-suite.

Computer Science vs Cybersecurity

Computer Science Cybersecurity
Computer science is the general study of computers and computing systems, including theory, algorithms, and software. Cybersecurity is the practice of protecting information stored in digital environments and includes threat awareness and response.
Master’s Program Subject Material Includes …
  • Database management
  • Network architecture
  • Operating systems
  • Programming
  • System management
  • Structured query language (SQL)
  • Cloud security
  • Cryptography
  • Digital forensics
  • Intrusion detection
  • Network defense
  • Cybersecurity law
Career Opportunities
  • Computer scientist
  • Control system scientist
  • Research scientist
  • Scientific programmer analyst
  • Director of cybersecurity
  • Information security officer
  • Information security analyst
  • Network security analyst

What Is the Benefit of a Master’s Degree in Computer Science?

Computer science is the general field of study involving computers and computing systems. Using a foundation of mathematical, engineering and logical expertise, computer scientists work in areas such as software development, algorithms, machine learning and artificial intelligence.

A master’s degree in computer science prepares students to develop or maintain large networks and databases, lead new developments in AI, and design software that meets the ever-evolving needs of a complex society. Advanced study can prepare students to conduct technical research in some of the industry’s most groundbreaking areas, such as bioinformatics, optical networks, computer vision, and more.

Most computer science master’s programs can be completed within two or three years. Subjects covered in a computer science master’s program may include:

  • Database management
  • Network architecture
  • Operating systems
  • Programming
  • System management
  • Structured query language (SQL)

Some programs also offer cybersecurity classes, though these are often far less comprehensive than the full suite of cybersecurity coursework offered in a master’s program specific to this area.

Computer Science Career Outlook

Computer science is one of the world’s most vital fields, and demand is high for qualified applicants. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the industry is expected to grow much faster than other professions at a rate of 15 percent between 2019 and 2029.

A master’s in computer science can equip students with employer-desired skills such as:

  • Software and programming skills like C++, Java and SQL
  • Specialized skills such as physics, data science, machine learning and artificial intelligence
  • Baseline and soft skills like collaboration, organization and problem solving

Mastery of such skills prepares students for jobs like computer scientist, scientific programmer analyst, control system scientist and research scientist.

What Is the Benefit of a Master’s Degree in Cybersecurity?

Cybersecurity involves protecting digital information and managing risk. Professionals in this industry develop and maintain data protection strategies for organizations of all sizes, in addition to monitoring systems for indicators of an attack.

A master’s degree in cybersecurity prepares graduates with the industry’s latest techniques and best practices to defend businesses, governments, non-profit groups and the like against cybercriminals, especially as these groups evolve. As organizations shift from hosting their own data centers to utilizing the cloud, cybersecurity professionals have had to adjust their methods and strategies in the face of more sophisticated threats and increased vulnerabilities. These organizations will continue to change, and so too must security experts. Additionally, organizations that take cyber threats seriously will likely devote significant resources to protecting their data, including hiring for cybersecurity leadership positions up to and including the executive level. As such, a comprehensive master’s program should include management and business process knowledge as part of the curriculum.

Cybersecurity master’s programs last approximately two years, and general classes cover subjects like:

  • Cloud security
  • Cryptography
  • Digital forensics
  • Intrusion detection
  • Network defense
  • Law

Students may also find more opportunities to specialize in a cybersecurity program than they would in a computer science one. At the George Washington University, students can choose from three online options:

Cybersecurity Career Outlook

Cybersecurity graduates can enter a number of possible positions, including information security officer, network security analyst and IT specialist. Some may find themselves ready to lead interdisciplinary teams or enter the C-suite. The online cybersecurity master’s programs at GW prepare students for such leadership roles. They are also suited for individuals who wish to work in cybersecurity regulation and compliance as well as those who would rather be on the front lines, directly responding to threats and making critical security decisions.

Openings for cybersecurity professionals are expected to grow at a faster-than-average rate of 31 percent, with experts predicting an additional 40,900 information security analyst jobs will be added between 2019 and 2029, per the BLS. Labor market data from Burning Glass estimates the median salary for cybersecurity analysts and engineers with a bachelor’s degree at $98,200. Note that a STEM master’s degree can increase earning potential by 33 percent, according to the BLS.

Skills employers look for in cybersecurity job applicants include:

  • Software and programming skills like Python, Linux, Unix and Java
  • Specialized skills like cryptography, vulnerability assessment, intrusion detection and authentication
  • Baseline and soft skills like teamwork, troubleshooting and communication

It’s not surprising to see such high demand for cybersecurity professionals, especially as more of the world connects online. In fact, with recent coronavirus mitigation efforts, many professionals have expressed concern that their cybersecurity preparedness wasn’t enough, according to research from IT security company Netwrix. Businesses have suffered from an increased number of cyberattacks, leading to the discovery of new vulnerabilities within their organizations.

About the Master of Engineering in Cybersecurity Programs at GW

The George Washington University has developed two online cybersecurity master’s degrees as well as an online master’s degree in cloud computing management to prepare graduate students for addressing cybersecurity threats.

If you’re interested in learning more about opportunities in this rapidly growing field, explore the online Master of Engineering in Cybersecurity programs at GWU.

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