Information security and assurance is the act of safeguarding personal information, assets, and other sensitive data from unauthorized use. This technical, behind-the-scenes discipline is crucial to the efficiency and success of various organizations. Information security professionals help organizations identify their business goals, develop information security policies, and implement them to create a safe IT environment. Those who are interested in working in competitive industries or holding management jobs should strongly consider earning their master’s degree. At this education level, students will acquire advanced knowledge and higher-order skills in troubleshooting and securing networks, applications and databases.

Why a Master’s Degree?

Although it’s not the highest attainable degree in this subject, the master’s degree is an impressive addition to your information security education. In general, graduate degrees give students a new level of expertise in their field and make them stronger candidates for competitive jobs. Depending on your preferred job or industry, most middle-level information security professionals have at least a bachelor’s degree and many also have a graduate degree. Even if a graduate degree is not the norm for your current or potential job, it is still a valuable and worthwhile investment in your future.

Getting Into a Master’s Degree Program

Before you can enroll in the information security online master’s degree, you need to make sure you meet the minimum educational requirements. Although the admissions criteria vary from school to school, most graduate programs require applicants to have the following:

  • Bachelor’s degree from an accredited institution
  • Desired score on the GMAT or GRE
  • Minimum required undergraduate GPA
  • Completion of prerequisite coursework

Inside an Information Security and Assurance Master’s Degree Program

Your course load, pace, and prior knowledge are important factors that determine program completion time. Most distance learners take about two years to complete the online information security master’s degree. Some common courses students can expect to take include: introduction to computer systems, information security risk analysis, computer networks, telecommunications, operating system design and implementation, distributed systems, and more. Keep in mind that most graduate programs include prerequisite courses that must be taken in sequential order to prepare you for advanced courses.

Some graduate programs give students the option of choosing a professional or research track to customize their practicums and cater to their interest areas. Toward the end of the program, students will typically complete a thesis, project, internship, or another research-based assignment that measures their comprehension, demonstrates their skills, and provides real-world experience. This is also a good time to self-evaluate and address your learning needs before you enter the workforce.

What’s Next for Information Security and Assurance Master’s Degree Holders?

Master’s degree holders are qualified to do many entry-level or middle-level jobs. Some popular professions include information security analyst and computer and information systems manager. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, information security analysts and computer and information systems managers are expected to have positive job outlooks throughout the next few years. Employment of information security analysts is projected to increase 22% by 2020 because of the growing threat of cyber attacks and more sophisticated hackers. Employment of computer and information systems managers is expected to grow 18% by the same year because more organizations are upgrading their IT systems and security to prevent cyber threats. In addition to having good employment projections, both occupations also have very favorable salaries. According to the BLS report, information security analysts made an average annual salary of $89,290 in 2012, and computer and information systems managers made an average annual salary of $129,130 in the same year. Earnings vary based on employer, industry, location, education, experience, and other factors.

Although job prospects are generally good for graduates with master’s degrees, there are some employers and positions in this industry that require more education and training beyond the graduate level. Those who fit into this category and even those who don’t may decide to take the next education step by earning a doctorate in information security and assurance or a post-master’s certificate in this discipline. Earning either the doctorate or the graduate-level certificate will expand your knowledge and skills in information security and could potentially increase your job opportunities and earning potential.