The Best Master’s in Cyber Security Programs in the US

As the past couple of years have made abundantly clear, the internet is at the center of our lives. We do everything online, from visiting the doctor to learning from teachers to shopping for groceries. The more we bring our everyday lives onto the web, the more we’re potentially exposed. 

For that reason, it’s hard to think of a field of study more important than Cyber Security. Cyber security experts do precisely what their name implies: they make the internet safer to use. 

That commitment to safety includes addressing threats that we know about, such as hackers, ransomware programs, and computer viruses. But it also includes looking toward the future, helping users keep themselves safe from attacks that haven’t even been devised yet. 

Cyber security graduates go on to work in a number of fields. Some get jobs in the U.S. government, serving in all branches of the military and intelligence services. Others work at companies and nonprofits of every size, making sure that their clients’ private data stays safe. 

To study cyber security, students need access to both cutting-edge technology and qualified experts. That might sound like a tall order, but more and more schools are working to meet those demands. This list covers some of the best schools in the nation. 

Every school listed here has all the resources and success records one would expect of an excellent master’s program in cyber security. 

More importantly, each one has been awarded by the National Security Agency membership in the Center of Academic Excellent in Cyber Operations.

Auburn University (Auburn, AL)

Auburn University
Public domain photo by Carol M. Highsmith Via Wikimedia Commons

Formed with the full support of the Department of Homeland Security, the Cyber Security Program at Auburn University’s Ginn College of Engineering trains students to spot weaknesses in systems before the bad guys can see them. 

With a heavy research focus, the program emphasizes innovation and creative thinking. Students work in conjunction with several resources on and off-campus. 

But the program isn’t just about academics. Instead, it combines research with a practical approach, giving students skills they can take directly into the job market. 

To demonstrate the mastery of those skills, students complete the program with a Capstone Project

Auburn allows students to brainstorm and develop those skills with its several training workshops

Working alongside other students in the College of Engineering, students can participate in events such as the Android Study Jam or the Cloud Fundamentals Series. 

In these presentations, students learn about important elements of modern computer usage, helping them better visualize the systems they need to protect. 

Carnegie Mellon University (Pittsburgh, PA)

Carnegie Mellon School of Computer Science
Dllu, Gates-Hillman Complex at Carnegie Mellon University, CC BY-SA 4.0

At Carnegie Mellon University, cybersecurity is a crucial part of the school’s Masters of Science degree in Information Security (MSIS). 

As that name suggests, CMU approaches cybersecurity as the protection of information, information that increasingly affects every part of our lives. 

From companies within the university’s home city of Pittsburgh to multinational companies worldwide, CMU’s MSIS degree gives students everything they need to keep information channels running. 

While there is undoubtedly a practical, hands-on component, the MSIS degree focuses on research. Information technology is a rapidly expanding field that constantly presents users new opportunities and new challenges. To be successful, cybersecurity experts need to not only keep up to date on the latest changes but also know how to innovate and look to the future. 

Students begin developing this mindset by pursuing their own research projects while in school. The CyLab, based in CMU’s Security and Privacy Institute, brings together experts in the field with up-and-coming learners to exchange ideas. 

Within the CyLab, the Biometrics Center gives students a front-row seat to developing technology that will become the future of information systems. 

By staying on the vanguard of information sciences, CMU prepares cyber security experts ready for the next generation and beyond. 

Mississippi State University (Starkville, MS)

Mississippi State University
Traicovn, Old Main Academic Center – Mississippi State University, CC BY 4.0

The 31-credit hour MS in cybersecurity and operations offered by Mississippi State University allows students to choose between two tracks. 

The thesis option puts research first. Working closely with their faculty mentors, students on the thesis option decide upon a research topic early in their studies. All their coursework and individual study focuses upon that topic, building to a thesis document that advances research on the issue. 

On the non-thesis option, students prioritize practical skills. These students train to immediately enter the job market by developing the competencies and abilities that employers like to see. To that end, students work with a governing committee to pass a qualifying exam and obtain certification. 

No matter which track they choose, students at MSU enjoy the full support of the school’s faculty and resources. Teachers in the program not only include academics who have been studying trends and effects of modern information sciences, but also practitioners with years of experience. 

By blending the practical and the theoretical, MSU covers all the bases, training cybersecurity experts to handle every type of information technology need. 

Naval Postgraduate School (Monterey, CA)

Most cybersecurity experts learn how to defend information systems for businesses and non-profits. 

But at the Naval Postgraduate School (NPS), students learn how to protect information as a matter of national defense. The NPS trains future soldiers by looking at how data has become an aspect of modern international conflict. 

Because of its great importance, the NPS houses its cybersecurity degree in the Center for Cybersecurity and Cyber Operations. The Center gives students unprecedented resources, making for an advanced learning experience. 

One of those advanced offerings is the video game CyberCIEGE. Building from the computer game models established by the popular SimCity franchise, CyberCIEGE tests students’ understanding of the information assurance chain. The game challenges players to create and defend information networks from attack, offering a safe way to prepare for real-world scenarios. 

To bring in the best students, NPS offers many scholarships for those going into cybersecurity. One of the most compelling is the STEM scholarship, which not only provides a full ride but also a stipend for master’s students. Those who receive the award will go on to civilian roles in government agencies such as the CIA and the FBI. 

NYU Tandon School of Engineering (Brooklyn, NY)

Based in the Tandon School of Engineering, the cyber security MS from New York University approaches information technologies as a matter of public good. 

In this program, defending information isn’t just a matter of protecting companies, but a way to ensure transparency and accountability among some of the nation’s most influential institutions. 

That’s the perspective held by Nasir Memon, one of the lead professors in the program. Professor Memon founded the program in 1999, one of the first of its kind in the country. 

In addition to teaching, Professor Memon works with many influential research operations, including the OSIRIS Lab and editing the journal IEEE Transactions on Information Security and Forensics. 

Students in the program also benefit from the NYU Center for Cyber Security (CCS), one of the premier information think tanks in the United States. The CCS takes an interdisciplinary approach to bring together experts in various fields and equips them to tackle the most pressing security needs. 

Projects include identifying spyware employed by stalkers, finding weaknesses in programming code, and testing vulnerabilities in automobile computers. 

As all of these examples demonstrate, NYU cyber security students help keep everyone safe. 

University of Cincinnati (Cincinnati, OH)

If you want to keep your options open when choosing the best cybersecurity career for you, then the University of Cincinnati is an excellent choice. 

The MS in information technology offered by U Cincinnati’s College of Education, Criminal Justice, and Human Services prepares students to take several jobs, from IT manager and chief information officer to web developer and software engineer. 

Given this emphasis on student choice, it’s no surprise that U Cincinnati offers both online and face-to-face options for students. 

Each version of the class has the same level of rigor and depth. But by giving students more opportunities to take the classes, the school empowers learners to take charge of their education. 

Both online and face-to-face classes are taught by U Cincinnati’s outstanding faculty. Instructors include Bekah Marie Michael, who serves as executive staff director of the Ohio Cyber Range Institute. Michael has been at the head of many impressive research projects, earning grants of over $1 million to the most pressing issues in the field.  

Professor Jess Kropczynski researches the role of community networks in collective action. She has put her knowledge to practical use, working alongside state and local governments to diagnose systems and address their needs. 

University of Texas at Dallas (Dallas, TX)

University of Texas at Dallas
Public domain photo via Wikimedia Commons

Housed in the School of Economic, Political, and Policy Sciences, the Master of Science degree in cyber security, technology, and policy from the University of Texas at Dallas isn’t just about the science. Instead, it approaches information technology as a part of larger systems and philosophies. 

That unique approach can be found in students’ participation in research initiatives such as the Texas Schools Project. Drawing from the latest in academic research, the Project strives to ensure that all students in the state receive the best possible education. 

For cybersecurity students, that means protecting the information systems of these schools and enhancing instruction delivery. 

The academic aspect of information technology is also a focus of the school’s faculty. Students in the cyber security program study under excellent teachers such as Fang Qiu, Professor of Geospatial Information Sciences

Professor Qiu’s research has won grants from institutions such as the Centers for Disease Control and the National Science Foundation. 

University of Tulsa (Tulsa, OK)

Where most of the institutions on this list simply have a degree or a certificate for cybersecurity, the University of Tulsa has an entire school devoted to the subject. 

The University of Tulsa is building on its long history of excellence in computer science and cyber security by establishing a School of Cyber Studies to house undergraduate and graduate programs in this rapidly evolving field. 

The School of Cyber Studies brings together experts from various disciplines to examine the issue of cyber security from multiple perspectives. 

The School is an extension of the work done by the Institute for Information Security (iSec) housed at U Tulsa. For over ten years, iSec has recruited the brightest minds in the country to put their talents toward advancing our understanding of information technologies. 

The research they produce goes on to shape the course of government departments, private corporations, not-for-profit organizations, and more. The advances done by iSec are further enhanced by the teaching of the School’s excellent faculty. Students study under experts such as John Hale, a faculty research scholar at iSec.

Research produced by Hale has been funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the National Security Agency, the US Air Force, and more.