Best Online Master’s in Homeland Security Programs

Homeland security is a relatively new term referring to the systems, resources and personnel in place to respond to terrorist attacks, natural disasters, and other large-scale emergency situations that threaten people and property in the United States. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) was launched in 2002 (largely in response to the 9/11 attacks), and has since grown into one of the largest federal agencies; DHS currently employs more than 240,000 full- and part-time staff working in areas like airport and border security, cyberterrorism, emergency response, and public health.

The academic discipline of homeland security is concentrated in the laws, ethics, protocols, and processes that guide various federal and nonprofit agencies. Coursework will cover a wide array of topics related to different branches of homeland security like terrorism, health, and resource protection. Most careers in homeland security are attainable with a bachelor’s degree ― or less, in some cases ― but a master’s degree in homeland security is the ideal pathway for students who plan to assume leadership positions after graduation. Master’s in homeland security programs often culminate in a capstone course, during which students must use the skills and knowledge they have gained to address real-world concerns related to public safety and security. Internships may be required, as well. Many of today’s students are choosing to earn their master’s degree in homeland security online, rather than in a classroom. Web-based students follow the same rigorous curriculum as their brick-and-mortar counterparts, often leading to the same number of post-degree job opportunities. The flexible, study-from-home schedule are ideal for students with part-time jobs, childcare duties and other important commitments.

Learn more about what you can do with an online master’s degree in homeland security and what kind of career opportunities you can look forward to with this comprehensive guide.

WILL AN ONLINE MASTER’S IN HOMELAND SECURITY PROGRAM PROVIDE ME WITH THE SKILLS I NEED TO ADVANCE MY CAREER?

A master’s degree in homeland security will prepare students for the challenges of this demanding ― yet often rewarding ― career path. Many programs allow students to concentrate their studies on specific areas of homeland security, such as cybersecurity, chemical warfare, narcotics, and public health. Those who follow a specialized track will be especially well-positioned for job opportunities in their chosen niche field. Capstone experiences and internships further boost a student’s career prospects by exposing them to real-world problems and conditions they can expect to encounter upon entering the workforce.

WILL AN ONLINE MASTER’S IN HOMELAND SECURITY PROGRAM WORK WITH MY SCHEDULE?

Online master’s degree programs offer a flexible, easily accessible alternative to traditional higher education. Students are able to download course lectures and readings, participate in virtual discussions with other students, submit written assignments, take exams and communicate with their professors from their home with minimal (if any) required campus visits. Current technology also enables them to study on the go using a laptop, tablet, smartphone and other portable Wi-Fi devices. For added convenience, students can usually coordinate internships at locations that are reasonably close to their current residence.

WHAT JOBS CAN I GET WITH MY MASTER’S DEGREE IN HOMELAND SECURITY?

Job eligibility for online master’s in homeland security degree recipients will largely depend on their chosen specialization. Those who concentrate their studies on cybersecurity and digital forensics will be well-positioned for careers in IT, while a specialization in epidemiology or disease prevention will be the ideal track for a career in public health. Other common roles for these degree-holders include emergency management directors, information security analysts, logisticians, and security consultants. Doctoral degrees in homeland security are quite rare, so the master’s is considered a terminal degree path.

WHAT ARE THE BEST ONLINE MASTER’S IN HOMELAND SECURITY PROGRAMS?

Choosing a program is an incredibly personal decision, and only you can properly evaluate whether a target school’s strengths match your educational needs. The following ranked list of schools should serve as a helpful starting point in your search for the best online master’s degree in homeland security programs in the United States. Our ranking is based on the courses schools offer, available specializations, student outcomes, career support services, and other criteria used to determine academic excellence. If you are considering an online master’s in homeland security, be sure to contact admissions specialists at different colleges and universities to learn more their about specific requirements and offerings.

Rank School Name Ranking Score Relative Cost % Enrolled Online Location Description
1 Nova Southeastern University 71.34 4/5 49% Fort Lauderdale, FL

For those who are unable to make it to NSU's campus located just minutes from Florida's South Beach, the school's online program offerings may be the perfect choice. NSU offers a 33-credit master's of science in national security affairs in an asynchronous format, allowing students to pursue one of the fastest-growing careers in the country on their own schedule. This program features a required set of core courses along with available concentrations in cyber terrorism and security, criminal justice, homeland security, and international relations and global affairs.

Both the online master's in homeland security track and the international relations and global affairs track feature an optional field research project where students can earn credit for practical experience. In order to graduate, students must complete the program with a minimum 3.0 GPA and pass the final tabletop exam. The requirements for entry into NSU's competitive MS program include a minimum 3.0 GPA in applicants' last 60 semester hours of undergraduate studies.

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2 Monmouth University 63.70 4/5 3% West Long Branch, NJ

Located on New Jersey’s northern coast, Monmouth is one of the nation's most innovative schools and delivers more than 50 online courses each semester. Within each program, the university gives students the opportunity to focus their learning in a dedicated area of their choice. Students in Monmouth's master's of arts in criminal justice program, for example, can choose a fully online master's in homeland security option. This 30-credit track focuses on intelligence analysis, strategic planning, and collaborative partnerships with anti-terror entities. Additionally, students have the choice between a thesis and a non-thesis track within this program.

Monmouth's curriculum is based on the Center for Homeland Defense and Security's program at the Naval Postgraduate School and provides students access to the Homeland Security Digital Library. The program balances theory and practice, ensuring that graduates leave with a comprehensive understanding of core homeland security competencies along with the ability to apply that knowledge in the real world. Admission requirements include a minimum 2.5 GPA overall and a minimum 3.0 GPA in the applicant's undergraduate major courses.

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3 Pennsylvania State University-World Campus 59.90 4/5 100% University Park, PA

For more than 100 years, Penn State has been a worldwide leader in distance education. Nearly two decades ago, the university founded Penn State-World Campus to bring its programs online. Today featuring more than 120 degrees, Penn State-World Campus is accessible to everyone. Many programs that Penn State offers are now exclusively available on the web, such as its 33-credit master's in homeland security online. The program's flexible, asynchronous delivery allows working professionals to upgrade their skills and pursue education on their own time. Within the homeland security track, students have the option to focus their learning even more by choosing among four concentrations: information security and forensics, public health preparedness, geospatial intelligence, and agricultural biosecurity and food defense. The homeland security master's degree also features an international track that prepares students for a global career in the field.

Penn State-World Campus does grant transfer credits on a case-by-case basis for graduate-level degrees, allowing a maximum of 10 transfer credits from another accredited institution and 15 credits from another Penn State program. In order to be eligible, all transfer credits must have been earned with a grade of "B" or higher.

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4 Wilmington University 58.39 3/5 52% New Castle, DE

Although its main campus and six additional sites are located in Delaware, WilmU is a global university. The school delivers more than 90 degrees, concentrations, and certificates fully online. WilmU's master's of science in homeland security, available exclusively online, allows working professionals to advance their careers while earning a living. This homeland security master's degree online features concentrations in organizational leadership, safety and security, military leadership, and information assurance.

The curriculum, designed in consultation with professional practitioners in the field, combines instruction on theory and learning with real-world experience. In total, students must complete 33 credits to graduate: six courses, or 18 credits, are required core courses, four courses, or 12 credits, are selected from within the student's chosen concentration, and a three-credit capstone project. Students must complete the program within five years and maintain a minimum 3.0 GPA. WilmU allows graduate students to transfer up to six credits toward their degree.

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5 LIU Riverhead 57.56 5/5 N/A Riverhead, NY

Located in New York, LIU-Riverhead features the Homeland Security and Terrorism Institute, the only Department of Homeland Security Center of Excellence to offer a graduate degree in the field of homeland security. LIU-Riverhead's delivers its 36-credit online master's degree in homeland security management in an asynchronous format through the Blackboard Learning Management System, giving students the flexibility they need to earn their degree. Boasting an average class size of 12 students, the program provides students with the choice between two concentrations: homeland security or cyber security.

To earn their degree, students must complete 15 credits within their concentration along with nine credits of required courses and six credits of electives. The program features thesis and non-thesis options, as well as a three-credit final practicum that is mandatory for all students. Application requirements include transcripts, a personal statement, and two letters of recommendation.

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6 Excelsior College 57.49 3/5 100% Albany, NY

Excelsior has long been known for accommodating working professionals, and online learning functions as an integral component of its programs. The school delivers a master's of science in criminal justice with a concentration in homeland security and emergency management as one of its many fully online, asynchronous programs that allow working professionals to advance their careers and improve their earning potential.

Excelsior's online master's in homeland security requires students to complete 30 credits, including 18 credits in the core criminal justice program and nine credits in the homeland security and emergency management concentration. Through the concentration, students develop an in-depth understanding of risk assessment, terrorism and counterterrorism, international relations, disaster operations, and emergency management. Excelsior structures its academic year in eight-week trimesters, which allows students to finish their degree in less than two years. Additionally, the school features a generous transfer policy, allowing students to transfer up to 15 credits from an accredited institution toward their degree. Resources for distance learners include 24/7 technical support and online writing and tutoring services. Furthermore, all Excelsior students have online access to the Sheridan Libraries of John Hopkins University.

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7 Northwestern State University of Louisiana 57.11 3/5 63% Natchitoches, LA

For over 130 years, NSU has provided higher learning opportunities to the people of Louisiana. Offering degrees through its eNSU Global Campus, the university has expanded its reach to students all over the world. Using the Moodle LMS, NSU delivers an online master's in homeland security that features a 26-credit thesis option and a 42-credit non-thesis option. The latter option requires students to complete a practicum or transformational learning project where they apply what they've learned to the real world.

While the university delivers its fall and spring courses as eight-week sessions that enable students to pour all their focus into one or two courses, NSU offers its summer courses in three-, five-, and six-week sessions that give students greater schedule flexibility as well as the opportunity to accelerate their progression through the curriculum. Some out-of-state students enrolled in this online master's in homeland security may be exempt from paying out-of-state fees. NSU encourages all students to speak with a financial advisor.

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8 Thomas Edison State University 50.52 3/5 100% Trenton, NJ

Located in New Jersey, TESU is known as one of the earliest adopters of online education. The university's 36-credit master's of science in homeland security, available entirely online, focuses on domestic and global issues in security and molds future leaders of international security. Students can transfer up to 12 credits earned with a grade of "B" or better, and typically complete the program in six 12-week terms. TESU's homeland security curriculum, designed to give students a well-rounded education in advanced theory, also provides them with practical experience in the field. In addition to 24 required core credits, students can choose to enroll in courses covering topics like psychology and sociology of disaster, legal and ethical issues, and bioterrorism and biosecurity. To earn their online master's in homeland security from TESU, students must also complete a final capstone project in public service.

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9 National University 48.92 4/5 73% La Jolla, CA

Founded in 1971 with its main campus located in La Jolla, California, National is a private, nonprofit university that has offered online programs since 1996. Among the school's distance learning degrees is a master's of science in homeland security and emergency management degree that helps prepare students for careers in dealing with both man-made and natural disasters. Courses in the program cover concepts of terrorism, disaster response and recovery, and immigration issues, among other subjects. To graduate with their master's in homeland security online from National, students must complete 12 courses, each typically four weeks long, in addition to a final capstone project. Courses generally begin every month, providing students with several flexible start dates to fit their schedule. National reviews transfer credits on a case-by-case basis, and requires that all transfer credits were earned with a grade of "C" or higher.

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10 Pace University-New York 47.95 4/5 24% New York, NY

Since 1906, Pace-New York has been providing students with a private source of high-quality education. In an effort to spread its offerings around the world, the university has developed online programs, including a master's of arts in management for public safety and homeland security professionals. This homeland security master's degree online, delivered in an asynchronous format through the Blackboard LMS, is a 33-credit (or 36-credit, if students choose to complete an optional thesis) program created in collaboration with the Center for Homeland Defense and Security. This partnership also allows Pace-New York students access to the Center's vast digital library.

The homeland security program's curriculum consists of 18 credits in core courses and 15 credits in electives, with choices including courses in human rights, comparative government, intelligence-gathering strategies, technology protection, and public health. Both the thesis and non-thesis options feature a mandatory final capstone seminar that synthesizes course content. Additionally, the online master's in homeland security requires students to attend a one-day, eight-hour residency each trimester, which can be done on campus or through teleconferencing.

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From concentrations to curriculum and program structure, the options a program offers for earning a homeland security master’s degree online will help you determine which program is right for you. As you explore the best homeland security degrees online, keep in mind that the details of these programs will vary from school to school.

CONCENTRATIONS OFFERED FOR AN ONLINE MASTER’S DEGREE IN HOMELAND SECURITY

Concentration Description Careers this concentration prepares for
Emergency Management Learn how to develop and execute contingency plans for emergencies, from natural disasters to terrorist attacks. You’ll learn how to complete Geographic Information Systems analysis, develop a strategic plan, and budget for disaster relief and humanitarian aid. Emergency management specialist, Peace Corps member
Port Security Examine ways to keep U.S. ports safe and secure. You’ll learn about the policies, laws, and international agreements that govern our ports, including maritime security and aviation security, and which federal agencies play a role in port security. FEMA research analyst, maritime security manager
Cyber Intelligence Learn about the history of cyber intelligence and the impact it has on U.S. safety and policy today. The topics you’ll focus on include computer crimes, the ethics of cyber security, intellectual property and privacy issues, and signals intelligence. Information security analyst, CIA cyber threat analyst

CURRICULUM FOR AN ONLINE MASTER’S DEGREE IN HOMELAND SECURITY

The courses you choose to take while you earn your online master’s in homeland security will influence what kind of careers you’ll be eligible for upon graduation. While courses vary between schools and programs, you’ll find a sample curriculum below:

  • Crisis Communication: Examine how to communicate within organizations and with the public during a crisis, from natural disasters to sexual harassment accusations. This course often includes analysis of case studies from real life crises, allowing students to determine where an organization may have gone wrong in their own crisis communication efforts. Taking this course prepares you for a variety of careers with organizations like the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
  • Critical Infrastructure: Developing a plan to detect the vulnerabilities of critical infrastructure — and how to protect it during a crisis — is a cornerstone of homeland security studies. In this course, you’ll learn how to conduct model-based vulnerability analysis, assess risk within systems, and apply risk-reduction techniques. Taking a course on critical infrastructure is a must for those who want to work at the Department of Homeland Security.
  • Terrorism: Learn about how to detect and monitor threats of terrorism, both foreign and domestic. This course covers the history and ideology of terrorism and helps you identify major terrorist groups operating today and the role homeland security plays in diminishing the threat of terrorism in the U.S. Courses on terrorism are a good foundation for careers in federal agencies like the DHS, FBI, and CIA.

HOW LONG DOES IT TAKE TO GET AN ONLINE MASTER’S IN HOMELAND SECURITY?

Full-time students can typically earn an online homeland security degree in two years. Programs often require you to complete 30 to 40 credit hours. How long it takes you to complete your online master’s in homeland security will depend on how many credits you take and whether you have any transfer credits.

As you develop your shortlist of the best homeland security degrees online, consider whether a program follows a cohort model or allows you to study at your own pace. In a cohort model, you will start your online graduate program at a set time and work through the program at a predetermined pace with your peers. Some homeland security online degrees allow you to work through the program at your own pace. That means you may be able to take more credits per semester or complete coursework during summer semesters, allowing you to earn your degree quicker.

CERTIFICATIONS AND LICENSES A MASTER’S IN HOMELAND SECURITY PREPARES FOR

  • Geographic Information Systems Professional Certification: Many careers in homeland security require thorough knowledge of GIS analysis. GIS users choose to receive certification from the GIS Certification Institute. Before professionals can apply for the GISP certification exam, they must have at least four years of experience in a geospatial career.
  • Certified Information Systems Security Professional: Designed for professionals in the information security field, this certification is granted by the International Information System Security Certification Consortium. It certifies that a professional is competent in their field and capable of designing systems that protect against cyber attacks.

Online master’s in homeland security programs vary widely, and it’s important to make sure that the programs you’re interested in are accredited. Accreditation indicates that a school has met certain standards. The schools you encounter will most likely have one of two types of accreditation: national accreditation or regional accreditation. National accreditation is usually reserved for institutions of higher learning that focus on a specific type of education, like distance learning or vocational training. Regional accreditation is given to an institution that has met the standards of a regionally accredited association. There are six regional accreditation associations throughout the U.S. covering different regions, and a degree from a regionally accredited institution is valid in any state.

There is no one organization that’s specifically designed to accredit schools within the field of homeland security, but FEMA does keep a list of masters programs for homeland security. You can find FEMA’s college list here.

Accreditation associations work in tandem with other organizations to establish the standards that institutions of higher learning must meet. Those organizations include the Department of Education (DOE) and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA). DOE, a cabinet-level department in the U.S. government, approves accreditors deemed reliable by the Secretary of Education. This is important because the DOE can only provide financial aid to students who attend accredited institutions. The CHEA advocates for self-regulation among accredited institutions of higher learning to maintain high standards. To learn whether a school you’re interested in is accredited, you can check the list of schools on the websites of the DOE and CHEA.

JOB PLACEMENT: MASTER’S DEGREE IN Homeland Security

Due to an increased demand for qualified homeland security professionals in recent years, the job outlook is fairly strong for master’s degree recipients in this field and healthy growth has been projected in the coming years ― although these trends vary by specific professional title. Using data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the following table has a detailed breakdown of five common career paths in homeland security.

Occupation Current Number of Jobs Projected Job Growth (2014-24) Projected Job Increase (2014-24)
Emergency Management Directors 10,500 6% +700
Information Security Analysts 82,900 18% +14,800
Network and Computer Systems Administrators 382,600 8% +30,200
Financial Analysts 277,600 12% +32,300
Epidemiologists 5,800 6% +400
Logisticians 130,400 2% +2,500

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)

Comparatively, the BLS estimates that the average job growth projection for all industries between 2014 and 2024 is 6%.

EARNING A LIVING

Earning potential in the homeland security profession is largely tied to one’s master’s degree field and area(s) of specialization. Using data from the 2016-17 PayScale College Salary Report, the following table features earning estimates for four different homeland security-related master’s fields during their first decade in the workforce. Please note that data for the master’s in homeland security was not included in the 2016-17 report.

Master’s Degree Field Median Annual Salary for Entry-Level Employees (0-5 Years) Median Annual Salary for Mid-Career Employees (10+ Years)
Information Security $74,100 $108,000
Information Technology $66,000 $102,000
Information Security and Assurance $71,300 $98,300
Epidemiology $55,500 $86,700
Public Health $52,400 $81,100

Source: 2016-17 PayScale College Salary Report

Of the five degree fields listed, the average wage premium (or increase) between the entry-level and mid-career stages is 49.82%. In addition to academic studies, specific job titles also determine how much a master’s-holding homeland security employee can expect to make. Other factors include employer size and city/state of employment. The next table looks at 20-year salary growth projections for five popular careers among homeland security professionals with master’s degrees.

Occupation Median Annual Salary for Entry-Level Employees (0-5 Years) Median Annual Salary for Mid-Career Employees (10+ Years) Median Annual Salary for Experienced Employees (10-20 Years) Median Annual Salary for Late-Career Employees (20+ Years)
Emergency Management Specialist $49,680 $57,744 $63,074 $77,713
Emergency Response Coordinator $47,000 $56,000 $61,000 $61,000
Disaster Recovery Coordinator $68,000 $80,000 $97,000 $105,000
Intelligence Analyst $55,738 $66,979 $79,966 $87,510
Logistics Manager $51,554 $61,668 $68,490 $75,567

Source: PayScale

All four occupations experience a salary growth rate of at least 29% after 20 years on the job. Intelligence analysts reported the highest growth rate: a 57% increase in earnings between the entry-level and late-career stages. Emergency management specialists ranked second with 56.4% salary growth, followed by disaster recovery coordinators with 54.4% growth.

Career Opportunities

Those who graduate with a master’s degree in homeland security will be qualified for dozens of positions ― including some managerial roles ― although their eligibility will depend on their areas of expertise. Four common career routes for employees with a master’s in homeland security are outlined below.

Emergency Management Directors: Emergency management directors oversee teams that coordinate response and relief efforts when disasters, attacks and other critical situations arise. They strive to create safe, efficient contingency plans for a wide range of emergency scenarios, many of which depend on support from federal agencies, nonprofits and other peripheral organizations. Nearly two-thirds of emergency management directors work for state or local government agencies.

Project Coordinators: Also known as project managers, project coordinators are responsible for the development and execution of short- and long-term projects; in the homeland security sector, these projects often revolve around emergency and disaster response, relief and reconstruction models, as well as optimizing communications between different organizations and agencies with shared homeland security goals.

Information Security Analysts: Information security analysts are responsible for safeguarding sensitive organizational data from different hackers, cyberterrorists and other online criminals, as well as technical problems like equipment malfunctions and viruses. They rely on an array of tools and platforms to do their jobs ― and in some cases, they may be responsible for developing new programs that address the shortcomings of current ones.

Epidemiologists: Epidemiologists study patterns and trends pertaining to diseases and injuries that impact human health. They publish their findings in medical journals, give speeches at seminars and conferences on behalf of their organizations, and often have a hand in policy-writing.

Occupation Median Annual Salary
Emergency Management Directors $67,330
Information Security Analysts $90,120
Project Coordinators $67,280
Epidemiologists $69,450

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)

Professional Organizations

Making professional connections and learning about different approaches to homeland security is crucial to your success. Professional organizations offer a great entry point for students who want to learn more about their chosen career path. Below you’ll find three of the country’s most prominent organizations established for homeland security professionals. These organizations host networking events, provide online trainings, maintain active job boards, and offer other services for career-ready college graduates. Resources like these often prove invaluable as you complete your degree requirements and prepare to enter the job market.

  • National Homeland Security Association: The NHSA sponsors a national homeland security personnel conference, which was first held in 2005. The association’s website also features an extensive blog network, career tools and archived transcripts from the most recent conferences.
  • International Association for Counterterrorism and Security Professionals: The IACSP’s mission is centered around two overarching goals: the development and dissemination of tools and resources used to minimize the threat of terrorism, and promotion of legal and ethical behavior within the counterterrorism field. Member benefits include online journal and newsletter subscriptions, discounts on entrance fees to IACSP events and access to additional resources on the organization’s website.
  • SEARCH: SEARCH is a national nonprofit organization that seeks to connect and improve communication between various state, local and tribal law enforcement and public safety agencies. SEARCH’s website is a compendium of resources; visitors will find information about cyber-crime, data analysis, public safety and other niche areas of law enforcement and homeland security, as well as podcasts, blog posts and other multimedia resources.

Despite the relative affordability of online master’s degree programs, most students still need financial assistance. Students should complete a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form to learn more about loans, grants, and other opportunities offered through the U.S. government. Additionally, private grants and scholarships are widely available through nonprofit organizations, companies, and other sources. Check out our collection of resources below to learn more about financial aid options.

AN OVERVIEW OF FINANCIAL AID

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UNDERSTANDING THE FAFSA

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SCHOLARSHIPS FOR WOMEN

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