While measures for defending the U.S. have always existed, the field of homeland security emerged in its present incarnation in the early 21st century, primarily in response to 9/11. Launched in 2002, the Department of Homeland Security ranks among the largest U.S. Cabinet departments, employing more than 240,000 staff members. Homeland security as a career encompasses not just terrorism prevention, but protocols to protect U.S. citizens from natural disasters, public health crises, and other large-scale emergencies.
A master's in homeland security puts you at the center of this vital field, preparing you to lead and manage security practices for a variety of public and private agencies. The ever-changing nature of modern security means that jobs will always exist in the industry, and the Bureau of Labor Statistics projects positions for emergency management directors to increase 8% from 2016-2026, which is about as fast as the average job growth rate in the country.
Should I Get a Master's in Homeland Security?
A master's in homeland security explores the practices and protocols that guide national security organizations, training students in emergency response and management, security policy, and organizational strategies. The often chaotic nature of the work attracts quick-thinking and adaptable candidates. To succeed in homeland security, you must be creative, analytical, and highly organized.
If you're already employed in the homeland security field and pursuing your master's to advance your career, it's easy to see the appeal of an online program, which enables you to earn a degree without traveling to campus or leaving your current job. Conversely, if you're fresh out of an undergraduate program, you might benefit from an on-campus program that prepares you to enter an advanced position in the field after graduation. Both online and on-campus programs provide the same information and award the same degrees.
Outside of academic and professional skills, a master's degree in homeland security provides many useful resources to increase your career options. During your program, you'll have opportunities to network and build new professional contacts, as well as participate in practicums and internships that provide hands-on professional experiences.
What Can I Do With a Master's in Homeland Security?
Graduating from a homeland security program prepares you for many careers in the public and private sectors. While many students find positions with the Department of Homeland Security, others may work with different government agencies or private companies.
Typically, your field of specialization dictates your career prospects, though many of the skills gained in a master's program translate to diverse fields. With a master's degree, you'll likely pursue management and leadership roles, which require substantial homeland security knowledge and the ability to delegate tasks, organize employees, communicate effectively, and negotiate conflict.
- Emergency Management Director
Emergency management directors plan for disasters of all types, developing response strategies and procedures. They also lead response and relief efforts when disasters occur, often working alongside other public safety officials. These managers typically work for government agencies, though some find employment in the private sector.
Median Annual Salary: $72,760*
- Information Security Analyst
These analysts focus on securing computer networks against cyber attacks and other unauthorized intrusions. Homeland security majors focused on information security may find work overseeing government information networks.
Median Annual Salary: $95,510*
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics
How to Choose a Master's in Homeland Security Program
You should weigh many factors, both academic and practical, before choosing a master's in homeland security program. In terms of logistics, consider a program's delivery options, enrollment options, completion time, and location. If you work full time, you might choose a part-time online program that enables you to complete courses in between work hours. Conversely, if you're eager to enter the field quickly, an accelerated on-campus program might be an appealing choice.
Location may also play a role in your decision, though many online programs require no campus visits. However, if you're interested in a campus program and hope to find a job nearby, factors such as job market, cost of living, and quality of life may affect your decision.
Academic factors also play a large role in program selection for homeland security students. Many master's programs offer different specializations that build advanced knowledge in one area of the field, such as cyber terrorism or natural disaster management. Depending on your professional interests, you may find some programs appealing and others irrelevant.
Similarly, many programs offer an internship or practicum experience in a professional security environment. Whether you absolutely want an internship or can't perform one due to other obligations, be sure to confirm a program's requirements. Finally, it's important to ensure that a program holds proper accreditation, which the next section explores in detail.
Programmatic Accreditation for Master's in Homeland Security Programs
When researching master's in homeland security programs, you should always check an institution's accreditation status, particularly if you plan to earn your degree online. Accreditation shows that a school meets certain national and regional quality standards through evaluation by a reputable accreditation agency. Proper accreditation also ensures that your credits can transfer if you decide to enroll at another college.
As a relatively new field of academic study, there aren't any agencies that specifically accredit homeland security programs. However, any reputable school should possess regional accreditation from one of six agencies, which includes the Middle States Commission on Higher Education, the New England Association of Schools and Colleges, and the Higher Learning Commission.
Master's in Homeland Security Program Admissions
The admissions process for graduate school is comparable to most undergraduate programs, with a few added elements. In addition to grades, many graduate programs care about your relevant experience, including previous jobs, internships, and other professional training. Your letters of recommendation also weigh more in graduate admissions, and it's important to find professors and supervisors who can speak to your strengths.
Many students apply to fewer graduate programs than undergraduate programs, with the average applicant choosing five schools. If you're applying to an online program, the process may require a few extra steps. Below, you'll find a quick overview of what most schools expect from you.
- Bachelor's Degree: All graduate programs require you to possess at least a bachelor's degree, though most don't require undergraduate studies related to homeland security. Some programs may include course prerequisites that you must fulfill before applying.
- Professional Experience: You may not need any professional experience to apply to most programs, but more specialized degrees may cater to applicants who already work in the homeland security field.
- Minimum GPA: Most reputable programs require an undergraduate GPA of at least 3.0, though many allow you to waive this requirement under certain circumstances, particularly if the rest of your application is strong.
- Application: Typically completed online, the general application requires basic identifying information.
- Transcripts: All programs require you to submit transcripts, which you can obtain from your school's registrar. Most schools charge a small fee for transcripts.
- Letters of Recommendation: Most graduate programs require you to submit 2-3 letters of recommendation from professionals who know your work. You should request letters of recommendation as early as possible in the application process.
- Test Scores: Many programs require you to submit GRE scores, though often as a formality. A school's graduate application page should inform you of the institution's score requirements.
- Application Fee: Most graduate programs require an application fee, though many programs offer fee waivers. Check program websites or email the school's graduate admissions department to learn how to obtain a fee waiver.
What Else Can I Expect From a Master's in Homeland Security Program?
As a highly specialized field of study, homeland security offers several concentrations for students looking to develop marketable skills in a specific area. Available concentrations vary between programs, and the same concentration may include different curriculum requirements at different schools. The table below outlines popular concentrations and their career paths.
|Counterterrorism||Counterterrorism students focus on strategies for preventing and responding to domestic and international terrorist threats. The program curriculum covers topics such as the history of terrorism, U.S. policy and law, and analytical methods to assess threats and stop the formation of terrorist groups.||Intelligence analyst, terrorism prevention agent, federal agent|
|Information Security||Information security focuses on securing computer networks and other digital systems from cyber attacks and other unauthorized intrusions. Students in this concentration explore methods of information management and data security, gaining the advanced skills necessary for preventing and responding to cyber attacks.||Information security analyst, digital forensics|
|Public Health Preparedness||Public health preparedness students gain high-level knowledge of natural and artificial public health threats, such as infectious diseases and bioterrorism. This concentration examines strategies for preventing and responding to health issues and containing the spread of illness.||Public health manager, disaster preparedness coordinator|
|Geospatial Intelligence||This specialized field explores the role that geography plays in homeland security, encompassing disaster response, emergency preparedness, environmental analysis, and the spatial interactions of terrorist groups. Geospatial analysts use this information to improve threat prevention and response tactics.||Geospatial analyst, imagery analyst, spectral analyst|
|Biosecurity||Similar to public health, this unique concentration focuses on protecting living organisms from natural and artificial biological hazards. However, biosecurity emphasizes protective and preventative measures, such as strategies for protecting food and water resources.||Emergency management director, agricultural inspector, medical and health services manager|
Courses in a Master's in Homeland Security Program
Courses vary among master's in homeland security programs, particularly between different concentrations. However, most degrees cover the same fundamental topics, which address core principles of national security, foreign policy, intelligence analysis, and emergency management. The list below offers an overview of the most common courses in homeland security programs.
- Emergency Management and Crisis Communication
This course covers the fundamentals of crisis planning, preparing students to respond to various emergencies. Common topics include communication strategies, emergency preparedness and recovery measures, and disaster policy. Course materials apply to emergency management in the public and private sectors.
- U.S. Foreign Policy and National Security
Examining the development of U.S. foreign policy throughout the 20th and 21st centuries, this course charts the concurrent rise of national security measures, typically focusing on major foreign policy events, such as the Cold War and the War on Terror.
- Interagency Cooperation
Homeland security professionals work for different agencies that must interact to share intelligence and coordinate threat response strategies. This course explores the challenges of communication between various intelligence agencies at the regional, national, and international level, focusing on technology, legality, ethics, and communication methods.
- Ethical Issues in National Security
Intelligence professionals work with sensitive information that presents ethical issues in its use and distribution. This course explores the ethical dimensions of intelligence work, focusing on the delicate relationship between intelligence gathering and traditional American values, such as privacy and honesty.
- Intelligence Collection and Analysis
This course explores major methods of intelligence collection and analysis. Students examine the history and theories of intelligence gathering, including its roots in the social and behavioral sciences and its use at different organizational levels.
How Long Does It Take to Get a Master's in Homeland Security?
While completion time varies between programs, most homeland security master's degrees take around two years of full-time study to complete. However, many programs deviate from the standard curriculum model, offering part-time and accelerated formats that lengthen or shorten the time to degree depending on students' needs.
Part-time enrollment serves the needs of students with career or family obligations, though it typically means more time spent in school at a higher cost. Conversely, some schools offer accelerated programs that can be completed in under two years. These degrees typically feature a heavier course load, and online programs may require candidates to visit campus for intensive residency sessions.
Credit requirements vary between programs, but most degrees require between 36 and 54 credits to graduate. Programs that include certification pathways typically require more credits to complete.
How Much Is a Master's in Homeland Security?
Prices vary between institutions, but you can expect to pay anywhere from $20,000-$40,000 to complete your degree. Several factors affect the cost of your degree, but the primary cost determination is whether a school is public or private. Public schools receive state funding, enabling them to subsidize tuition and offer lower prices to students. Private schools receive no state funding, resulting in higher costs for students. However, private colleges often maintain lower enrollment levels and offer smaller, more specialized programs, with unique concentrations that may not be available at larger public schools.
In addition to tuition, other costs may add to your total education expenses. As a graduate student, you most likely won't pay for campus housing, but commuting expenses can add up. Even if you enroll in online courses, most schools charge a technology fee, sometimes per credit. Additionally, you need to purchase textbooks regardless of whether you take courses online or on campus. Schools offer various funding options for graduate students, so be sure to check with your institution to determine potential pathways to reduce your overall expenses.
Certifications and Licenses a Master's in Homeland Security Prepares For
A cybersecurity certificate trains students in the basic practices of information storage and security, building skills to deter and respond to cyber attacks. Students learn about encryption, network security protocols, and compliance frameworks. Specialized certificates may include skills in cyber forensics, training students to investigate cybercrimes.
- Port Security
As a major center of imports and exports, the country's ports play an important role in homeland security enforcement. A port security certificate trains students to maintain the integrity of U.S. waterways, covering topics such as international trade policy, maritime law, and the maritime transportation system.
- Risk Management
Applying principles of risk assessment to homeland security planning, risk management focuses on the analysis of possible outcomes, unforeseen developments, and associated costs. A risk management certificate builds a framework for predicting and analyzing potential risk factors in security situations and emergency scenarios.
- Geospatial Services
Applying principles of geographic imaging to homeland security and threat assessment, a geospatial services certificate trains students to use geographic information technologies for emergency planning and response. The certificate builds knowledge in the techniques and tools of geographic imaging and modeling.
- Emergency Management
Exploring the methodologies, techniques, and functions of crisis action and planning, an emergency management certificate draws connections between homeland security and disaster response practices. The certificate typically covers disaster planning, prevention strategies, and the organizational and communication practices that characterize incident response.
Resources for Homeland Security Graduate Students
Compiling more than 179,000 resources related to homeland security, this online library offers a vast collection of documents to students, along with other helpful research tools.
For more than 40 years, CRED has promoted research and training in international disaster and conflict health studies, providing extensive data on various humanitarian emergencies.
Part of the U.S. National Library of Medicine, this site offers a wealth of information on public health and other disasters, both natural and man-made.
Launched in 1988 with the support of the World Health Organization, this database keeps track of over 22,000 disasters since 1900, with the goal of improving disaster preparedness through research.
The first research center devoted exclusively to disaster studies, the DRC offers a variety of academic resources, including papers, annual reports, presentations, and research notes.
Professional Organizations in Homeland Security
Security professionals depend on information sharing to stay up to date on the latest developments in the field, and professional organizations provide opportunities for networking and community building. Membership in a professional organization offers many other benefits as well, including a support system, certification and training, professional development, mentorship, and access to trade publications. Below, you'll find an overview of five major organizations for security professionals and the services they provide.