Cybersecurity master’s grads are landing $200K-plus pay packages

BY Sydney LakeNovember 21, 2022, 5:16 PM
Students on the University of California, Berkeley campus in Berkeley, California, US, as seen in August 2022. (Photographer: David Paul Morris—Bloomberg/Getty Images)

As the number of cybersecurity attacks continues to rise, so does the demand for the talent to protect against them. In fact, there are more than 700,000 open cybersecurity positions in the U.S. alone—and the occupation is growing more than twice as fast as the overall rate across the country’s economy, data from CyberSeek shows.

These positions are tough to fill for a variety of reasons, including a lack of understanding among corporate leadership about the type of talent that’s needed to protect their assets—plus a lack of education and awareness about the threats that exist today. What’s preventing cybersecurity professionals from landing these jobs, on the other hand, is inadequate training, certifications, or skill sets. 

While cybersecurity professionals have multiple ways to enter the industry—like taking upskilling courses, doing self-study, or even taking the time to learn new skills on the job—earning a master’s degree is a charted path to take to land high starting salaries in the field. Graduates from top-ranked cybersecurity programs can expect to make six-figure starting salaries between $100,000 and $200,000.

“Security has always been well-paying and it really comes down to scarcity—both in the number of professionals and in the required skills,” Mike Hendrickson, Skillsoft’s vice president of tech and development, previously told Fortune. “With today’s limited pool of security professionals, organizations need to make their offers quite attractive, both in compensation and opportunities for professional development.”

Salary outcomes for master’s grads from the No. 1 cybersecurity program

Students from the top cybersecurity master’s program in the nation, as ranked by Fortune, often see their salaries double after graduation. The University of California—Berkeley saw students entering the program during the 2020–21 school year self-report salaries of $104,100 while their peers who were graduating during that same period reported salaries of $200,000—almost twice as much.

“Our UC Berkeley online master’s in cybersecurity allows students to not only develop technical expertise in cybersecurity, but also essential skills in communications, product development, customer success, and business,” Rebecca Andersen, UC Berkeley senior director of student and alumni career development, previously told Fortune. “This allows our students to step into leadership roles within the cybersecurity field and attain significant salary increases as they make these career shifts.”

UC Berkeley grads also go into cybersecurity leadership roles. Graduates with a master’s degree in cybersecurity earn an average salary of $214,000, not including bonuses; the median salary is $200,000, according to a UC Berkeley salary survey of alumni. Some graduates who are now executives, such as chief information security officers (CISOs), chief information officers (CIOs), and chief technology officers (CTOs), make more than $300,000.

“The CISO roles are going to be more over the $250,000, $300,000 [salary mark], closer to $400,000, depending on the company and the size of the organization,” McHale says.

How much grads from other top cybersecurity schools make

At Yeshiva University (Katz), which Fortune ranks as having the No. 2 online cybersecurity master’s program, graduates make $112,000 median base salaries right after graduation, and $126,000 one year post-graduation. Yeshiva’s cybersecurity curriculum aligns with high-paying industry certifications, like Certified Information Security Manager (CISM) and Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP), which can help professionals land $150,000-plus salary packages, according to Skillsoft’s 2022 list of the top-paying IT certifications.

“There are lots of great programs around the country,” Paul Russo, dean of the Katz School of Science and Health, tells Fortune. “I just happen to think we have the right combination of tech and teaching talent to help students rise to the top in the job market.” The program also focuses on real-world threat modeling, and practice with ransomware, endpoint detection and response, Amazon Web Services, and Splunk.

Western Governors University, which Fortune ranks as having the No. 3 cybersecurity master’s program in the U.S., also reports six-figure salaries for its graduates. The master’s degree allow graduates to take on cybersecurity leadership roles with potential earning power of $135,000, Mike Morris, WGU’s College of IT associate dean and director of academic programs in cybersecurity, tells Fortune. Plus, more than 16% of tech grads from WGU report starting salaries of $150,000 and up.

“Graduates are ready to assume cybersecurity leadership positions with major companies, government agencies, consultancies, and start-ups,” he adds. “In terms of salary impact, a master’s degree has been proven to help the earning potential of cybersecurity professionals.”

Some top graduate programs don’t report six-figure salaries, but still show a jump in base salaries after earning a master’s degree. Indiana University–Bloomington, for example, reports mean base salaries for its cybersecurity grads at $77,400, which is a 44% increase over what they earned prior to enrollment. Fortune ranks Indiana as having the No. 4 cybersecurity master’s program in the U.S.

Indiana’s cybersecurity risk management program takes a more broad approach to the field, and students in this program take core courses in computing, law, and business. They also get help studying for the CISSP certification, which has the potential for higher income earnings. 

“This broad exposure and career assistance helps students chart their own unique paths in the field of cybersecurity,” Apu Kapadia, director and chair of the Cybersecurity Risk Management Program at Indiana, tells Fortune. 

Check out all of Fortune’rankings of degree programs, and learn more about specific career paths.