The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects strong employment growth in homeland security careers. Demand for information security analysts, the professionals tasked with preventing and responding to cyberattacks, should increase by 32% from 2018 to 2028, or more than six times the projected rate of growth for the rest of the economy. Related occupations, such as fire inspector, forensic science technician, and emergency management director, should experience significant growth as well.
Jobs in homeland security can also be quite lucrative. In 2018, emergency management directors earned a median salary of $74,420, roughly $36,000 more than the median pay for all other occupations. Information security analysts enjoyed a median salary of $98,350 that same year.
This page provides a wealth of homeland security career information, including an overview of educational and licensure requirements, your earning potential in various professional roles, and advice on finding a job after graduation.
Skills Gained in a Homeland Security Program
The skills that homeland security professionals need depend on their chosen career path. For example, information security analysts need strong computer and technical skills, while fire inspectors must know how to interview witnesses and collect evidence from possible crime scenes. Emergency management directors, by contrast, may benefit more from training in personnel management and crisis communications.
Homeland security programs help equip students with diverse skills through classroom instruction and field-based experiences, such as internships and cooperative education programs. Many positions also require extensive on-the-job training.
Regardless of their role, homeland security professionals must be able to communicate with law enforcement officers, government officials, terrorism and defense experts, and members of the public. Students in these programs hone their communication skills through class discussions, group projects, and presentations.
Critical thinking plays an integral role in homeland security. An emergency management director, for instance, needs to anticipate the possible issues that might arise from natural or human-made disasters in order to shape an emergency response plan. Police officers must similarly think critically about suspicious persons or activities that may pose a risk to life or property. Learners gain critical thinking skills throughout their major coursework.
To prevent future threats, homeland security personnel must investigate past incidents. For example, a fire investigator collects evidence and interviews witnesses to determine whether a fire was started accidentally or as the result of criminal arson. Undergraduate and graduate programs equip students with these skills through case studies, job shadowing, and field-based practice.
Homeland security professionals need technical skills that match their job function. Information security analysts must know how to uncover the source of phishing and malware attacks, while individuals in charge of securing infrastructure need, at a minimum, a basic understanding of structural engineering. Many programs offer concentrations that prepare learners for specific careers in homeland security and emergency management.
Most senior homeland security officials supervise teams of investigators, enforcement officers, and administrative personnel. Coursework in leadership theory and practice can help you better understand how to create goals, motivate your employees, monitor progress, and resolve conflicts.
Why Pursue a Career in Homeland Security?
Working in homeland security gives you the opportunity to serve your community and country by investigating internal and external threats, responding to emergencies and disasters, and safeguarding human life and critical infrastructure.
The field also offers above-average compensation and ample opportunity for advancement. For example, in 2018, police and detectives earned a median salary of $63,380, nearly $25,000 more than the median pay for all other occupations. In addition to their base pay, police officers typically enjoy excellent benefits, the possibility of paid overtime, and the option to retire earlier than those in most other professions.
After gaining several years of experience in local and state law enforcement, some police officers and detectives advance into careers within the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the FBI, or another federal agency. In 2018, federal law enforcement officials earned a median salary of $87,130.
How Much Do Homeland Security Majors Make?
Your salary as a homeland security professional depends on a variety of factors, such as the type of degree you hold. According to Georgetown University's Center on Education and the Workforce, criminal justice and fire protection officials with a graduate degree make, on average, about $16,000 more per year than those with just a bachelor's.
The industry in which you work also affects your pay. College and university emergency management directors, for example, earn nearly $23,000 more per year than those serving in local government. Fire inspectors working for private companies tend to make considerably more than their government counterparts.
How to Succeed in Homeland Security
High school graduates can sometimes find work as local police officers or firefighters though most states require candidates for these positions to graduate from a training academy and complete significant on-the-job training. Some municipalities may require their public safety employees to hold an associate degree in a field like criminal justice or homeland security.
Working in state or federal law enforcement generally requires a bachelor's degree, as does serving as an emergency management director or information security analyst.
While it is rarely required, an advanced degree can give you a competitive edge over other candidates when applying for leadership or highly specialized roles in the field.
Different roles in homeland security require different levels of experience. As mentioned above, to become a firefighter or police officer, you must graduate from a training academy and perform on-the-job training.
Emergency management directors typically need several years of professional experience in the military, law enforcement, fire protection, public administration, or another relevant field. Information security analysts may also need prior experience as a network administrator, systems analyst, or similar professional in information technology.
Licensure and Certification
While few jobs in homeland security specifically require a license, many professionals seek voluntary certification through one of the organizations listed below to demonstrate expertise in a specific discipline.
- Global Society of Homeland and National Security Professionals: GSHSP offers five levels of certification to homeland protection professionals. To qualify for level 1 certification, you must be 20 years old, hold at least a high school diploma, and pass a 75-question test on subjects like national preparedness, emergency management, and domestic terrorism.
- International Association of Emergency Managers: IAEM administers both the associate emergency manager and certified emergency manager credentials. To earn the associate certification, you must complete 200 hours of training in emergency management, submit an essay and letter of reference, and pass a multiple-choice exam. The full manager credential requires an additional three years of professional experience and a bachelor's degree.
- Disaster Recovery Institute International: DRI helps professionals signal expertise in business continuity management through certification in fields such as cyber resilience, healthcare continuity, and risk management. Requirements vary, but most levels of certification require on-the-job experience, prerequisite coursework, and an exam.
Information and Cybersecurity
- (ISC)²: Cybersecurity professionals can seek one of 10 certifications through (ISC)2, including credentials in cloud security, healthcare information security, and information systems security engineering. Candidates generally must possess at least five years of relevant experience, though they can substitute education for up to one year of experience.
- EC-Council: EC-Council offers professional certification in disciplines like ethical hacking, forensic investigation, network defense architecture, and encryption. To earn a credential, you must have at least two years of professional experience and pass a 100-question exam.
- CompTIA: CompTIA's Security+ credential demonstrates that you possess skills and expertise in risk management, risk mitigation, and intrusion detection. Certification requires passing an exam on topics like cryptography, penetration testing, and organizational security technologies. The exam includes multiple-choice questions and a performance-based assessment.
What Can You Do With a Homeland Security Degree?
Your professional opportunities within the field of homeland security largely depend on the type of degree you hold. For example, with a high school diploma or associate degree, you may serve as a police officer, firefighter, or correctional officer. More advanced roles, such as federal law enforcement official, emergency management director, or forensic science technician, typically require a bachelor's degree.
Few roles specifically require a master's in homeland security, though earning an advanced degree can help you stand out from other candidates when applying for supervisory roles such as police chief or fire chief. Graduate-level coursework may also help prepare you for leadership positions in the private sector, such as director of cybersecurity.
Finally, while you may be able to teach criminal justice and homeland security at a community college with just a master's, most four-year colleges and universities require instructors to hold a doctoral degree.
Associate Degree in Homeland Security
An associate degree qualifies you for most entry-level roles in homeland security. Most full-time students graduate in just two years, though part-time students may need up to four years to earn their degree.
In addition to general education coursework in subjects such as English composition and psychology, associate programs in homeland security provide foundational instruction in areas like terrorism response operations, crisis communications, and organizational and facility security. Many community colleges hold transfer agreements with public colleges and universities in their state, making it easy to transfer credits if you plan to continue your education and earn a bachelor's degree.
- Police Officer
Police officers protect lives and property. They may respond to emergency calls, patrol neighborhoods, or conduct traffic stops. Police officers with an associate degree and several years of experience may also earn promotion to ranks like corporal or sergeant, with more supervisory or investigatory responsibilities.
Firefighters extinguish fires and respond to other emergencies, such as auto accidents. They must also maintain firefighting equipment, draft reports on emergency incidents, and participate in ongoing readiness training. While generally not required for entry-level positions, an associate degree can help you advance in rank.
- Correctional Officer
Correctional officers supervise inmates in jails and prisons, enforce rules, and conduct safety and security inspections. They may also oversee the transportation of inmates to court appearances or to other facilities. Some states allow aspiring correctional officers with an associate degree to complete an abbreviated period of on-the-job training.
Bachelor's Degree in Homeland Security
Earning a bachelor's degree in homeland security enables you to take on jobs such as emergency management director and information security analyst. Most bachelor's programs consist of 120 credits, and full-time students typically earn their degree in four years.
Undergraduate students majoring in homeland security often explore topics like emergency and disaster incident command; law enforcement intelligence applications; and chemical, biological, and radiological hazards. Students may also choose a concentration, such as immigration security, to prepare for specific careers.
Finally, most programs require or strongly encourage learners to complete an internship to develop practical experience in a real-world homeland security setting.
- Probation Officer or Correctional Treatment Specialist
Probation officers supervise individuals convicted of a crime but not sent to prison. Correctional treatment specialists provide former inmates with resources and support for successfully re-entering society. Both of these roles require a bachelor's degree, along with a criminal background check and completion of a training program.
- Fire Inspector or Fire Investigator
Fire inspectors search for fire hazards or violations of fire safety codes. Fire investigators collect and analyze evidence to determine the cause of fires and other explosions. While you do not need a bachelor's degree to qualify for these positions, some employers may prefer to hire candidates with a four-year degree in fire science, homeland security, or a related major.
- Emergency Management Director
Emergency management directors develop plans that communities use in response to natural and human-made disasters. They also typically manage disaster response, coordinating the efforts of law enforcement, public health and safety officials, and nonprofit organizations. Most of these jobs require a bachelor's and significant prior experience.
- Information Security Analyst
Information security analysts plan and implement measures to protect an organization's data and computer systems. For example, they may monitor networks for intrusion or conduct penetration testing to identify potential weaknesses. These analysts may also develop security standards and policies, install firewalls and data encryption programs, and investigate cyberattacks after they occur.
- Forensic Science Technician
Forensic science technicians collect and analyze evidence to assist in the investigation and prosecution of crimes and criminals. While some technicians work directly at crime scenes, others work in laboratories, conducting DNA or fingerprint analyses. These jobs require both a bachelor's degree and extensive coursework in subjects like biology and chemistry.
Master's Degree in Homeland Security
A master's degree in homeland security can help prepare you supervisory and specialized roles. For example, you can serve as the director of a state's cybersecurity office or senior intelligence analyst for the National Security Agency (NSA).
Master's programs offer advanced instruction in subjects like unconventional threats to homeland security, critical infrastructure vulnerability analysis, and strategic planning and budgeting in the public sector. Graduate students who hope to continue their education at the doctoral level often follow a research track, completing a series of courses on data analysis and writing a thesis. More practice-oriented programs may require students to complete a field-based capstone project.
- Civil Engineer
Civil engineers plan, build, and maintain infrastructure projects such as highways, dams, bridges, and water supply systems. While you must have a bachelor's degree in civil engineering to take on these jobs, a master's in homeland security may position you for a senior role overseeing infrastructure protection for a state or federal agency.
- Computer or Information Systems Manager
Computer and information systems managers direct an organization's computer-related activities. For example, they may serve as director of cybersecurity, overseeing the work of a team of information assurance analysts. When hiring for these leadership positions, many organizations prefer candidates with an advanced degree.
- Intelligence Officer
Intelligence officers collect and analyze data such as email and phone communications, satellite imagery, and financial records. They process information to detect threats to national security or identify perpetrators of terrorist acts. Increasingly, intelligence officers have at least some graduate-level education in a field like homeland security.
- Police Chief
Police chiefs hold broad administrative responsibility for police departments. They may hire and train new officers, develop budgets, create patrol schedules, and oversee disciplinary cases. Many also collaborate closely with community leaders and other senior public safety officials. Though not a requirement, a master's degree may give you a competitive edge when applying for these jobs.
- Fire Chief
The leaders of local fire departments and state fire agencies, fire chiefs manage firefighters, fire investigators, and emergency responders. They may also develop programs for a state's fire academy, advocate for increased funding for their departments, or serve as a senior member of their community's emergency response team.
Doctoral Degree in Homeland Security
To teach or conduct research at a college or university, you generally must have a doctoral degree. A doctorate can also help you signal the deep expertise needed for senior leadership roles in the public sector, such as deputy director of immigration and customs enforcement.
The time needed to earn a doctorate can vary, but most full-time students graduate in 4-7 years. Students typically begin with three years of coursework in areas like public health and emergency planning; homeland security enterprise; and risk, resilience, and innovation in security policy. They must then pass a comprehensive examination in order to formally begin the dissertation process.
After receiving approval of their dissertation proposal from their faculty advisor, doctoral candidates must conduct original research or analyze multiple sources of existing data. They then must summarize their methodology and findings in a written document, usually around 100-200 pages in length. Finally, to earn their doctorate, students must defend their dissertation before a faculty committee.
- Postsecondary Teacher
Postsecondary teachers instruct students at colleges, universities, and professional schools. They may also advise learners and perform other administrative tasks, such as chairing a criminal justice or homeland security department. A master's may qualify you to teach at a community college, but most four-year and graduate institutions require professors to hold a doctorate in their area of expertise.
- Top Executive
Top executives in the public sector may serve as mayors, city managers, county officials, or governors. These chief executive officers must draft departmental budgets, oversee government personnel, and create policies in conjunction with legislative bodies. A doctorate in homeland security may help public executives demonstrate their capacity to lead during times of crisis.
What Industries Can You Work in With a Homeland Security Degree?
A homeland security degree qualifies you to work in a wide variety of industries. Many graduates begin their careers in local and state law enforcement, while those with a bachelor's may also apply to positions within federal agencies like the United States Border Patrol. Others may work in emergency response, helping communities prevent and recover from large-scale disasters. Homeland security programs also equip their students with the knowledge and skills needed to serve in the private sector.
Homeland security professionals can work for municipal, county, or state governments. They may also work for federal agencies like DHS and the Department of Justice (DOJ).
Median Salary: $80,000
- Military or Armed Forces
A large number of homeland security graduates enter the armed forces. For example, they may serve as military intelligence officers, helping to prevent terror attacks.
Median Salary: $57,000
- Aerospace and Defense
Aerospace and defense companies create products and technologies used to secure national borders, protect air transportation systems, gather foreign intelligence, and detect potential threats from a distance.
Median Salary: $86,483
- Information Technology Services
Earning a degree in homeland security opens up opportunities in cybersecurity and information assurance. Graduates may protect customer data for private companies or work to ensure the security of public infrastructure systems, such as power grids.
Median Salary: $62,993
Banks also employ a large number of homeland security professionals to safeguard sensitive information and ensure the continuity of services in the wake of disasters and other emergencies.
Median Salary: $58,000
How Do You Find a Job as a Homeland Security Graduate?
USAJOBS serves as a central repository of job openings at federal agencies. You can also search your city and county websites for opportunities in local law enforcement or emergency response. For job listings within the private sector, try sites like Indeed or SimplyHired.
In addition, attend networking events organized by your college's alumni office, your local chamber of commerce, or one of the homeland security professional organizations listed below.
Finally, continuing your education or earning a professional certification can help your employment prospects, especially for highly competitive positions.
Professional Resources for Homeland Security Majors
A joint effort of the Department of Homeland Security's Preparedness Directorate, the Federal Emergency Management Association (FEMA), and the Naval Center for Homeland Defense and Security, this free online library provides valuable resources for students and professionals alike. Topics covered include active shooters, border protection, infrastructure cybersecurity, and electronic surveillance.
Sponsored by the University of Delaware, the Disaster Research Center collects scholarly articles, working papers, and policy reports on subjects such as patterns of looting in the wake of disasters, strategies for deploying rapid-response teams, and professional development programs for civil authorities. The center also disseminates new research through a quarterly newsletter.
CIS curates cybersecurity best practices, tools, and threat profiles. The center publishes a list of the current month's most commonly deployed forms of malware and newly discovered vulnerability in commercially available software. The center also provides resources to help towns and states safeguard their elections from outside intervention.
NEMA is a professional association for emergency management directors and related personnel. The association organizes two annual forums, hosts a digital document library and career center, and convenes working committees on topics like private sector coordination and homeland security legislation. NEMA also provides in-person training for new state emergency directors.
The IACSP provides information and educational resources to homeland security and counterterrorism professionals around the globe. In addition to publishing a news blog and scholarly journal, the association hosts conferences in areas such as the changing landscape of asymmetric threats and the use of social media in law enforcement.
Originally founded in 1981, IALEIA now serves as the largest professional organization for law enforcement analysts. The association offers professional certification, in-person and online training opportunities, and online toolkits to help members build an intelligence unit and encourage interagency cooperation. IALEIA also administers a mentoring program and provides scholarships to homeland security students.
IAFC represents firefighting and emergency response leaders. The association provides scholarships to support continuing education, administers an international fellows exchange program, and hosts online resources covering subjects like wildfires, the handling of hazardous materials, and communications technologies. IAFC also maintains a jobs board, hosts conferences, and offers training webinars.
FLEOA represents roughly 26,000 law enforcement officials working within more than 65 federal agencies. While the association primarily conducts lobbying and advocacy efforts, FLEOA also disseminates news and policy updates, offers retirement planning services, and provides financial support to members and their families through the FLEOA Foundation.
NSA provides education and training to sheriffs, deputies, and other public safety professionals. Additional membership benefits include insurance coverage, subscriptions to the association's bimonthly magazine, access to a national database of law enforcement job opportunities, and admission to professional development and networking events around the country.
GSHSP offers five levels of certification for homeland security, law enforcement, and emergency response personnel. To prepare candidates for certification exams, the society also provides online training on subjects such as the darknet, narcotics field testing, and the assessment of school-based threats. GSHSP also offers free professional development webinars.