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Is a Master's degree or certifications better to have in the long run?

In the long run, is it better to have a Master's degree in security from a Center of Academic Excellence or a whole list of security certifications?

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Like beauty is in the eye of the beholder, so also is the value of degrees versus certifications in the eye of the person(s) making hiring or promotion decisions. My gut feeling is that if you want to make a career in information security, a Master's degree in the field is a great place to start (and is probably worth as much or more than any two certifications, except for their on-the-job experience requirements, which of course, are also pretty valuable). But if you've got the time, energy and money to pursue a Master's I'd urge you to do so. Also, unless you plan to work for the U.S. government or a DoD (Department of Defense) contractor (with government requirements to meet), it's probably not necessary to restrict your school choices only to those on the NSA National Centers of Excellence list. In fact, some of those schools don't really have infosec programs, per se, anyway so you'd have to work something up with a graduate advisor anyway.

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This was first published in June 2004

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