Master’s in Emergency Management Program Guide

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When manmade and natural disasters strike, emergency management professionals jump into action. Their ability to work under pressure saves property and, most importantly, lives. On the ground, EMTs, firefighters, and police officers all play essential roles in emergency management. Managers and planners support their work by directing resources and creating action plans. If these positions appeal to you, consider earning a master's degree in emergency management.

What are the Best Emergency Management Programs of 2020? Here are our top 10:

#1 Georgetown University Washington, DC
#2 California State University - Long Beach Long Beach, CA
#3 Arizona State University - Skysong Scottsdale, AZ
#4 National University La Jolla, CA
#5 Nova Southeastern University Fort Lauderdale, FL
#6 Adelphi University Garden City, NY
#7 Arkansas State University Jonesboro, AR
#8 Virginia Commonwealth University Richmond, VA
#9 Liberty University Lynchburg, VA
#10 John Jay College of Criminal Justice New York, NY

On average, emergency management directors earn more than $70,000 per year. is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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On average, emergency management directors earn more than $70,000 per year. In addition to commanding high salaries, these professionals direct hundreds -- sometimes thousands -- of emergency workers during a crisis. In the sections below, learn more about emergency management careers, how to choose a program, and how external resources such as professional organizations can launch your career after graduation.

Should I Get a Master's in Emergency Management?

Master's degree in emergency management programs may appeal to two types of students: those with professional experience needing additional education to advance their careers, and recent college graduates with career plans that require advanced degrees. Working professionals who need flexibility in scheduling might consider online programs while recent graduates who can fully dedicate themselves to academics might consider on-campus programs.

During your program, expect to learn valuable skills applicable to your future career. As an aspiring manager, you will learn as much about administration and interpersonal relationships as emergency management essentials. In the best programs, students apply classroom knowledge in a series of internships and practicum experiences.

Whether you elect to study on campus or online, your educational experience should open up many benefits to jumpstart your career. During your program, network with peers to build valuable professional relationships. As you approach graduation, take advantage of your university's career center, where you can learn how to polish your resume, discover postgraduate internships, and explore potential career paths.

Finally, remember that earning a master's degree puts you ahead of many applicants, even those with some work experience in emergency management. If you select a high-demand concentration, your increased competitiveness should make you an appealing job applicant.

What Can I Do with a Master's in Emergency Management?

Graduates with master's degrees work in managerial positions, typically at government agencies. Nearly all managers work out of an office, yet when disaster strikes, they travel to affected sites to direct resources and personnel. They may spend days or weeks away from home. Although managers must leave family and friends for extended periods, fieldwork often provides benefits such as overtime pay or extra vacation days. The four careers below represent a few positions professionals with a master's degree in the emergency management field perform. Career opportunities may vary depending on your state of residence.

Management Analyst

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Also known as management consultants, management analysts survey a company or organization's operations to raise its efficiency. In the corporate setting, management analysts teach their employers how to increase revenues while reducing costs. An advanced degree in emergency management imparts the intuitive, analytical, and interpersonal skills management analysts use every day on the job.

Median Annual Salary: $82,450*

Emergency Management Director

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Emergency management directors lead teams to respond to natural and manmade disasters. They analyze hazards and organize resources. Other responsibilities include updating disaster plans and training staff. Nearly all emergency management directors possess an advanced degree in emergency management.

Median Annual Salary: $72,760*

Emergency Management Specialist

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Emergency management specialists work alongside emergency management directors to develop and implement policies that can save lives. Unlike directors, they often work in the field when disaster strikes, coordinating the efforts of firefighters, police officers, EMTs, and other emergency personnel. A master's degree makes candidates more competitive for this position. Also, once emergency management specialists start work, an advanced degree can shorten the amount of work experience required to earn a promotion.

Median Annual Salary: $57,645*

Emergency Response Coordinator

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Every company and organization that provides emergency services employs emergency response coordinators. Job responsibilities include taking statements from individuals affected by disasters, managing other employees' duties, and working with outside organizations to manage disaster relief. A master's program provides future emergency response coordinators valuable internship and practicum experience.

Median Annual Salary: $54,294*

Sources: Bureau of Labor Statistics and PayScale

How to Choose a Master's in Emergency Management Program

When researching potential master's degree in emergency management programs, compare each program against your personal and professional requirements. First, consider the amount of time you can dedicate to your education. Most master's programs take two to three years to complete, typically the latter if you study part time. Also, requirements such as practicums, internships, and thesis work may further lengthen your program.

Your second step involves examining each program's courses and specializations. Not all programs provide the specialization you need for your post-graduate career, and some curricula may not align to your professional goals. If you review a sample curriculum and still have questions regarding course requirements or content, contact the university to learn more.

Cost represents a third factor when researching master's in emergency management programs. Just like buying a car, you want to select a graduate program that gives you the best bang for your buck. To reduce your chances of going into debt, consider working part time during your education as a way to pay your tuition.

Once you answer questions regarding length, curriculum, and cost, decide if you want to complete an online or on-campus emergency management master's program. Like part-time programs, online programs appeal to prospective students who have professional and personal responsibilities outside the classroom. Many top online master's in emergency management programs offer excellent educations at competitive tuition rates.

On the one hand, attending an online program can help you sidestep potential issues such as having to move to attend graduate school, which can raise your cost of living. On the other hand, relocating to attend school may have a positive effect if the area has a high demand for emergency management professionals. In the section below, you can learn about one final topic to keep in mind when researching master's programs: programmatic accreditation.

Programmatic Accreditation for Master's in Emergency Management Programs

Every master's degree in emergency management program on your shortlist should be regionally accredited; disregard universities that lack this essential accreditation. Online programs should also hold national accreditation from an agency that specializes in online education or distance learning. Once a program meets one or both of these accreditation requirements, look into whether it possesses programmatic accreditation.

At a programmatic accreditation agency, experts in one academic subject examine college and university programs that offer degrees in that subject. Only the best programs receive accreditation; some employers and emergency management doctoral programs require applicants to earn their master's degrees from one of these programs.

In the emergency management field, the Council for Accreditation of Emergency Management Education (CAEME) oversees bachelor's- and master's-level programs. CAEME separates the best programs from many inferior programs that sprung up shortly after the terrorist attacks on September 11th, 2001. In other words, CAEMA-accredited programs are those you can trust to provide you with an excellent education.

Master's in Emergency Management Program Admissions

In researching different master's degree in emergency management programs, curate a list of three to five universities you want to attend. At least one of the programs to which you apply should have a high admission rate; this program represents your safety school. No matter the programs you apply to, each should have similar if not identical application requirements.

If you apply to online programs, expect lengthier applications than if you had applied to on-campus programs. Online programs attract more applicants who possess professional and life experience that may meet specific application or graduation requirements. If you possess professional experience, describe it in your application; doing so may increase your chances of admission or decrease the amount of time it takes you to graduate.

In the two sections below, learn more about the prerequisites and admission materials necessary to apply to the majority of master's degree in emergency management programs.


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    Bachelor's degree=

    Except in the rarest of circumstances, you must possess a bachelor's degree to apply to a master's-level program. Some programs may also require that you hold a bachelor's in emergency management.
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    Professional Experience:

    Some master's degree in emergency management programs require that applicants have one or more years of work experience. However, the majority of programs do not have this requirement.
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    Minimum GPA:

    The best graduate programs require that applicants earned a minimum 3.0 undergraduate GPA. Programs might make exceptions for applicants with extensive work experience or those with high standardized test scores.

Admission Materials

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    Unlike many undergraduate programs, graduate programs do not use standardized application forms like the Common App. However, expect each application to ask many identical questions about your academic and professional experience. Including the time to write and edit your essays, completing an application should take one week.
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    Submit undergraduate transcripts to each graduate program to which you apply. Request transcripts well in advance of any application due dates. Requesting transcripts may involve a small fee.
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    Letters of Recommendation:

    Graduate programs typically require applicants to submit two to three letters of recommendation from their undergraduate professors. Some programs may accept letters from supervisors if applicants possess significant work experience.
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    Test Scores:

    Most graduate programs require applicants to submit GRE test scores. To determine your score goal, check programs' middle 50% GRE score range; a score within or above this range should make you a competitive applicant.
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    Application Fee:

    Expect to pay $50-$65 for each application you submit. Some universities might offer fee waivers to applicants who can prove financial need. Inquire with the university as soon as possible if you believe you qualify for a waiver.

What Else Can I Expect from a Master's in Emergency Management Program?

Your master's degree in emergency management program might offer one or more concentrations. Selecting a concentration determines not only the courses you take, but also your career path after graduation. Some emergency management careers require applicants to maintain skills that only specific concentrations provide. At the university you attend, the concentrations described below might not exist or use a different name.

Concentrations Offered for a Master's Degree in Emergency Management
Concentration Description Careers
Public Safety Students who select a public safety concentration learn how to protect people from others who wish to do them harm. The best public safety programs include in-depth coursework on terrorism's impact on planning effective public safety measures. As public safety encompasses many disciplines, students in this concentration can choose from multiple careers after graduation. Medical and health services manager, law enforcement officer, emergency management director
Disaster Relief Disaster relief specialists strive to understand natural disasters and how to limit their impact on communities. In this concentration, students learn how to organize resources after a disaster and send aid to those in need. Students who select this concentration typically work for government agencies after they graduate. Emergency management director, management analyst
Homeland Security The Department of Homeland Security coordinates the efforts of multiple government agencies to keep Americans safe from foreign and domestic threats. In homeland security classes, students learn how emergency managers work within this complex organization to prevent the next terrorist attack. The majority of graduates go on to work for the federal government after graduation. Emergency management director, management analyst
Child Protection One of the rarer concentrations, child protection focuses on helping children physically and mentally recover from a disaster. This concentration includes many social work courses, as government agencies may need to care for children in the case of family separation. Students in this concentration also become experts in child psychology and other topics related to childhood trauma. Social worker
Fire Science Firefighters must have the most accurate and up-to-date information if they hope to save homes and lives. Fire science experts apply their expertise to put out fires as soon as possible. In fire sciences courses, students learn about fire physics and how to manage firefighting resources most effectively. Urban planner, emergency management director

Courses in a Master's in Emergency Management Program

Many emergency management programs include a core curriculum that leaves students the option to take electives or complete a specialization. The courses below represent those offered by most programs. If you have specific questions about a course's content or requirements, contact the university.

Ethics and Decision Making

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In this course, students learn how to apply ethics when making split-second decisions during emergency situations. Students examine real-life examples and discuss how they would approach them. They also develop their own code of ethics that falls in line with laws and standards pertaining to emergency managers.

Hazard Mitigation Planning

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As future emergency managers learn how to respond to disasters, they must learn how to prevent disasters from happening or reducing their impact. Students analyze laws that regulate how planners mitigate potential risks such as fire and flood. At the end of the course, students create a hazard mitigation plan, typically one for a local community.

International Humanitarian Disasters

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Emergency managers travel throughout the world to respond to natural and manmade disasters. In this course, students learn how international humanitarian relief has changed over the past few decades and how to respond to developments such as less international cooperation. To understand these issues, students spend much of their time examining different international relief agencies.

Risk Perception Awareness

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Emergency managers must possess strong interpersonal skills. In this course, students learn how emergency managers coordinate among multiple agencies. This course also stresses analyzing locations for potential risks such as a community's vulnerability to natural disasters. All emergency managers must possess these skills, making risk perception awareness a crucial course for all students in this field.

Socio-Cultural Dimensions of Emergency Management

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A community's cultural and socioeconomic makeup influences how emergency managers develop disaster plans. In this course, students analyze how diversity affects disaster planning and response. Course topics include examining how a community's vulnerabilities increase the chances of a disaster. This course appeals to students who plan to work in urban areas with diverse populations.

How Long Does It Take to Get a Master's in Emergency Management?

Earning your degree should take two to three years, the latter if you elect to study part time. Programs that focus on practicums, internships, and other hands-on experiences tend to take longer to complete than programs with fewer or none of these requirements. No matter the amount of time it takes you to complete your degree, expect to earn 36-45 semester credits during your graduate education.

If you want to finish your degree in the least amount of time possible, consider universities that offer accelerated programs or those that let students double-up on credits. If you need extra time to finish your degree, pay close attention to part-time programs or those that allow students to take leaves of absence due to developments in their professional or personal lives. Part-time students may end up paying more for their education at universities that charge them tuition based on the number of credit hours they attempt. In the section below, you can learn more about the total cost of a master's degree.

How Much Is a Master's in Emergency Management?

At a public university, expect a master's degree in emergency management to cost approximately $15,000 a year in tuition. Out-of-state students attending public universities and students attending private universities typically pay double the in-state tuition rate. Considering that programs take two to three years, you might pay $30,000-$90,000 to earn your emergency management master's degree.

Of course, scholarships and grants can significantly decrease how much you spend for your degree. Do not forget about subsidized student loans either; these loans do not begin earning interest until you graduate, saving you thousands of dollars in loan repayments.

When you start budgeting for your graduate education, keep in mind all associated costs. For example, attending an on-campus program may result in living in university housing, the cost of which can match or exceed that of a local apartment. Also, many universities charge on-campus students fees not applicable to online students.

Even as an online student, you may need to spend thousands of dollars upgrading your computer and internet connection. Online students must budget transportation costs to travel back and forth to practicums and internships. Finally, students with children may need to pay for childcare; in some areas, childcare costs can exceed $1,000 a month.

Certifications and Licenses a Master's in Emergency Management Prepares For

Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Professional Development Series Certificate

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A master's degree qualifies graduates to participate in the FEMA Professional Development Series for emergency managers, a program comprised of seven specialized courses. Earning a certificate increases your job prospects in the emergency management field, especially if you aspire to work for FEMA or another emergency management agency.

Advanced Professional Series (APS) Certificate

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Another program offered through FEMA, the APS certificate program helps recent graduates learn about the latest changes in emergency management. The program's 10 courses give you the opportunity to specialize in areas such as debris management, flood flight operations, and homeland security planning for local governments.

Certified Emergency Manager (CEM)

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Developed by the International Association of Emergency Managers, CEM certifies professionals who prove mastery of many emergency management topics. To earn the certificate, you must possess three years of experience, provide a letter of reference, and demonstrate that you have made at least six significant contributions to the profession.

Resources for Emergency Management Graduate Students

Free Application for Federal Student Aid

Before starting graduate school, fill out the FAFSA to determine your aid eligibility. Eligible students may qualify for federally backed loans, grants, and work-study opportunities. Your age and work experience do not affect your aid eligibility.

FEMA Careers

FEMA employs thousands of emergency management professionals. On the FEMA Careers website, learn about open positions, post-graduate internships, fellowships, and volunteering opportunities. Many FEMA employees begin their careers as interns or fellows.

World Health Organization

The United Nations' WHO assists nations undergoing humanitarian crises. On the WHO website, learn more about careers in international disaster management and the latest issues facing vulnerable countries.

American Red Cross

Along with promoting blood donation, the American Red Cross provides relief when natural disasters strike. In addition to job openings, visitors can learn more about emergency management issues in their home communities.

Emergency Management Institute

An extension of FEMA, EMI offers training courses for emergency managers. Completing one or more EMI training programs can increase your job competitiveness or raise your salary potential. Graduate students may begin EMI coursework before finishing their master's programs.

Professional Organizations in Emergency Management

Emergency managers join one or more professional organizations that represent their profession's employees and institutions. Although most organizations charge an annual fee, membership provides a host of benefits such as job boards, insurance, and professional development opportunities. Most importantly, these organizations allow members to network and build valuable relationships. Also, many of them allow undergraduate and graduate students to join. During your graduate education, consider joining a couple of organizations that match your interests and career goals. is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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