You may be considering pursuing a cybersecurity degree and now need to figure out how to pay for the program’s costs. This amount includes tuition and any student fees, textbooks, and supplies. You might be a high school student looking to take advantage of a rapidly expanding career field—but in many cases, you’re an adult who has some college, if not a completed bachelor’s degree, and you’re looking to return to school to shift your career.
As an adult looking to earn a bachelor’s or master’s degree in cybersecurity, you’re not alone. Based on figures from the National Center of Education Statistics and US Education Department, students ages 25 and older make up 40 percent of US colleges and universities, and by 2024, schools will have to think about the needs of 9 million adult learners. Going back to school to study cybersecurity as an adult has its benefits: you’re more confident about your major, you’ve spent some time in the workforce, and as information technology (IT) professional, you might even have experiences that translate to earned college credits.
On the other hand, financing strategies for degree programs are almost entirely aimed at high school students, leaving you with limited, if not incorrect, information about obtaining grants and scholarships and finding alternative sources for covering the cost of tuition. As you think about how to pay for your cybersecurity degree, we have compiled a comprehensive guide of key financing information for traditional and adult students.
Take a Less-Traditional Path Toward Your Cybersecurity Degree
The typical student is often a high schooler who immediately made the jump to a four-year college. Perhaps he or she is starting undeclared or has already selected a major. Still, while schools cater to this theoretical individual, the corresponding educational journey doesn’t suit everyone, especially if you are hoping to work while attending school.
Alternative educational paths, in this vein, do not just fit around your schedule; they may also be more cost effective in the long run:
Begin at Community College
Although community colleges themselves may offer certificates and associate degrees in cybersecurity, this path is just as beneficial if you plan to pursue a bachelor’s in the field. Students of all ages can eliminate their general education requirements at community college before transferring to a four-year university or starting an online degree program, like Norwich Online’s Bachelor of Science in Cybersecurity.
This approach can significantly keep costs down. Based on figures from The College Board, the cost of attending a public two-year school was $3,660 for the 2018–2019 school year. Compare this to attending a traditional or online university: according to a study from ValuePenguin, the cost of attending an in-state public university was $20,770 for the 2017–2018 school year and $46,950 per year for a nonprofit private school, including fees and room and board.
Long term, starting your cybersecurity degree from a community college has another added financial benefit. Based on a study by the Association of Community College Trustees, just 17 percent of community college students take out federal loans, compared to 48 percent of students at four-year public colleges, 60 percent at private colleges, and 71 percent at for-profit schools.
Accelerated Degree Formats
Common for many cybersecurity programs, accelerated degrees help students—particularly adults looking to earn a credential and apply their knowledge on the job—complete their bachelor’s in three or fewer years. Programs may have short yet rigorous sessions or be scheduled throughout the year—including during summer. Students in full-time programs may also accelerate their degree timeline by taking the maximum amount of credit hours per semester and taking advantage of summer sessions and concurrent online classes.
Flexible Online and Hybrid Formats
Attending school in person on a fixed schedule may be a roadblock for working adults juggling a full-time job and other obligations. Suiting this demographic, online degree programs have proliferated over the past two decades for the simple fact that an adult can work and gain an advanced, career-enhancing credential at the same time.
As another benefit, online degrees, including for cybersecurity, are often offered in per-credit, course-by-course formats, allowing adults to pay as they go along, and cut out the costs of room and board and commuting. As such, costs may be lower, depending upon where you study and how you structure your degree. Based on a recent study from US News & World Report, a student may pay between $38,496 and $60,593 for an online degree versus $60,593 for a private college on-campus program. Per credit, online education comes out the winner: an average online credit costs $316, versus $311 for an in-state on-campus program or $488 at a private college. Norwich Online’s BS in Cybersecurity has a per-credit rate of $375, or $250 for active-duty military members.
Life Experience and Prior Learning Credits
Colleges and universities, including Norwich University, have started seeing the value of work experience in an educational environment. Students considering their bachelor’s in cybersecurity may be able to get credit through previous experiences through the following methods:
College Level Exam Program (CLEP)
Close to 3,000 accredited colleges, including Norwich, accept CLEP results. These “life experiences” tests encompass 33 single-subject and five general exams that cover common college-level materials across writing, the humanities, the sciences, and mathematics. Passing the five general exams may eliminate a significant portion of a degree’s general education requirements.
Prior Learning Assessments (PLAs)
Prior learning assessments, also sometimes called prior learning credits, encompass military experience, previous undergraduate education, and certifications gained on the job or through educational programs. Acknowledging this, Norwich Online has several community college and business partnerships, in which credits are assigned for prior learning or training.
If you are an adult student looking to take advantage of PLAs, you may be able to get credit for:
- Corporate training programs, military training, and industry certifications that meet the American Council on Education’s Program on Non-Collegiate Sponsored Instruction (ACE/PONSI) standards, which, for cybersecurity and IT, may cover management subjects to programming languages;
- Previously completed college credits from a two- or four-year accredited school;
- Professional certifications that meet ACE recommendations, which, for a cybersecurity degree, could include Certified Novell Engineer (CNE) and Certified Computer Programmer certifications; and
- ACE military credits, which, based on the Guide to the Evaluation of Educational Experiences in the Armed Services, could assist with completing general education, elective, and even major requirements.
Explore Financial Aid
On a general level, two factors increase a student’s chances of being awarded financial aid in any form. One, the school must be accredited, ideally from one of six regionally accrediting organizations. Norwich, for instance, has received accreditation from the New England Commission of Higher Education (NECHE).
Two, all students must submit a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form with their application. Although federal aid eligibility for traditional students is likely based on their parents’ income, students ages 25 and older are considered independent. Therefore, your eligibility for loans, grants, and scholarships is based solely on your own income—or your and your spouse’s combined income, if you are married.
Upon reviewing your application and level of financial need, your school may award you a mix of loans, grants, and scholarships, or you may decide to seek out similar opportunities on your own accord.
More and more students are taking out loans to fund their education. In fact, based on figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of Americans with student loans grew from seven percent in 2003 to fifteen percent in 2012.
Not all student loans are equal, in terms of conditions and interest. From your school, loans tend to be part of the William D. Ford Federal Direct Loan Program, the US Department of Education’s federal student loan program. These include Direct Subsidized Loans, which are based on a student’s financial need; Direct Unsubsidized Loans, which are not granted on need; and Direct PLUS Loans for additional educational expenses.
In terms of financing your cybersecurity degree, several federal loan limits exist:
- Direct Subsidized Loans and Direct Unsubsidized Loans are capped at specific amounts each year, based on dependency status and how long you have been in school.
- Federal loans have fixed interest rates.
- Most federal loans do not require a credit check, and you will nott need to find a cosigner.
- Students will not need to begin repayment until after they have finished school and may be able to postpone payments based on financial hardship.
- Federal student loans may be forgiven under certain conditions or if a student pursues a specific occupation.
- Federal student loans have a lifetime limit for bachelor’s degrees, which may mean you will receive a smaller award if you decide to pursue a second bachelor’s degree; however, if you decide to work toward a master’s in cybersecurity, your lifetime limits start over.
Students may also want to think about private student loans, in which a bank, credit union, or state organization serves as the lender. Private student loans differ from their federal counterparts in multiple regards:
- Interest rates tend to be higher and may even be variable, meaning you may have to pay more long term.
- Payments typically start while you are still attending school.
- Private loans are rarely subsidized, meaning you’re responsible for the loan’s full interest.
- You will have to undergo a credit check and find a cosigner.
- While federal programs may be rolled into a Direct Consolidation Loan with a single originator, private programs remain separate; however, you may be able to refinance private student loans.
Regardless of which loans you take out, you are advised to calculate how much you can afford before making a formal commitment. Determine, based on the federal and private programs and their interest rates, how much you can pay per month, factoring in your current and future earnings and any additional living expenses, and plan to pay the total amount off in ten years or less.
Understand, too, that the total loan should be less than your annual starting salary after graduation.
Schools may award various merit-based scholarships—even to adult students—based on grades, standardized test scores, or extracurricular activities. However, a school’s award isn’t your only option for obtaining a scholarship:
- Outside programs, like the National Merit Scholarship, may award amounts to high school students based on the above factors plus leadership roles and letters of recommendation.
- Colleges and universities may have additional scholarship programs that require you to write an essay, submit grades and test scores, and include letters of recommendation.
- Private scholarships—offered through outside organizations and often related to interests, membership, military status, or demographic—may be a more realistic option for adult students. Each scholarship typically has a separate application with individual, often specific, requirements.
If you have your eye on this method for financing your cybersecurity degree, you are recommended to treat scholarship applications like a full-time job. As a solid starting spot, students are encouraged to go through their school and organizations to which they belong or begin browsing the listings on FastWeb.com.
Understand that, in some circumstances, your financial aid award may decrease or change if you have received outside scholarships.
Based on figures from the National Center for Education Statistics, grants are the most common financial aid award for first-time, full-time undergraduate students, with the Pell Grant Program being the largest source. Much like scholarships, need and merit play a role in grant awards, and students may have to maintain a specific GPA, take certain classes to retain their award year to year, or pursue specific post-graduation plans.
Also like scholarships, students may apply for outside grant programs—available at the school or through outside organizations—but the process typically starts a year before the student receives the award. The US Department of Education lists common federal grant programs and terms for eligibility and repayment.
Keep in mind that certain federal grant programs, such as Pell Grants, the Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant (FSEOG), and the Teacher Education Assistance and Higher Education Grant (TEACH Grant), may only be applicable to first-time degree earners. Adult students must disclose this information on their FAFSA form.
Additional Financing Solutions for Adult Students
While many of the financing solutions above apply to all students to some degree, additional strategies may further assist adults returning to school to earn a degree in cybersecurity.
Employer Tuition Reimbursement
According to the Society for Human Resource Management’s 2018 Employee Benefits Survey, 51 percent of employers offer tuition reimbursement for undergraduate courses and 49 percent for graduate-level courses. Such programs pay for all or part of the employee’s classes and training. To participate, employees may need to have worked for the company for a certain period of time; need to prove the coursework’s relevancy to their current and future position; and may need to supply GPA information each term, showing they have completed all courses with at least a B or C average. Should the employee receive their employer’s approval and abide by all conditions, the company issues a check to reimburse the employee for the expenses paid at the start of the semester.
GI Bill® and Military Service
Adult students who previously completed military service may be eligible to use one of two GI Bills®. The Post-9/11 GI Bill® offers up to $24,475.79 for annual tuition, housing, and books for your own or a family member’s education if you were on active duty after the Sept. 11 attacks and were honorably discharged. The Montgomery GI Bill® Active Duty and Montgomery GI Bill® Selected Reserve, designed for servicemen and women who finished their tours before 9/11, allot up to $72,000 for tuition, which can be utilized over eight semesters. Both programs have specific requirements, including years served and previously completed educational requirements.
Norwich further offers dedicated scholarships and aid to military personnel and veterans wanting to earn a degree in cybersecurity.
Adults who decide to pursue a degree may be eligible for a few tax credits, if they meet certain income limits. Anticipating qualified educational expenses, the American Opportunity Tax Credit offers a value of $2,500 per year for four years; individuals who make $80,000 or less per year can take advantage of the full tax credit.
The Lifetime Learning Credit provides another opportunity, offering up to $2,000 for individuals with adjusted gross incomes of $64,000 or less. Students may use this credit for undergraduate, graduate, and certification courses without any set timeframe.
Implement Lifestyle Changes
Certain lifestyle adjustments, intended to be temporary, may help you better amass the funds to finance your cybersecurity degree:
- Develop a budget for food, transportation, and living costs, cutting out any unnecessary expenses, and stick with it.
- Work while attending school, either full or part time, and contribute part of your earnings toward your degree.
- Pick a school within commuting distance to reduce living and transportation costs, or seek out a cybersecurity degree that’s entirely online, like the bachelor’s degree offered at Norwich.
- Look for digital textbooks, used textbooks, or textbooks you can rent for the semester.
- Open a 529 college-savings plan for yourself, which allows for contributions from family members and may offer further tax benefits.
Norwich accommodates all stages of learning with our cybersecurity degree programs: earn a Bachelor of Science in Cybersecurity on campus or entirely online, or return to school to pursue a master’s degree in the field. We also provide our traditional and adult students with a range of financing options to pursue this and many more programs. To learn more before committing to a particular pathway, fill out a request for information form today.