A master's degree in security and risk management opens the door to many exciting and rewarding careers in the public or private sectors. Security studies is an interdisciplinary field which continues to grow as companies and communities face increasing threats from cybercrime, terrorism, or climate change. Internal and external threats that organizations and communities face change over time, and so do techniques for detecting, preventing, or responding to those threats. If you find this degree appealing, either to advance your existing career or to start a new one, keep reading. This guide details concentrations, courses, and career paths, along with advice on choosing the best program for you.
Should I Get a Master's in Security?
Students who are already working in the security field find a master's degree in security studies most appealing. This degree prepares individuals for demanding careers, such as homeland security or police work. Individuals already working in cybersecurity could pursue more specific degrees, but this type of degree opens up new career paths.
Whether you want to advance an existing security career or if you want to jumpstart a new career, a master's degree in intelligence and security studies could be just the thing. Such a degree leads to an increased knowledge of the kinds of security threats that face both the public and private sectors, including cybercrime, international terrorism, and nuclear proliferation. You can also combine this degree with various undergraduate educations if you desire to work as an analyst in the federal government.
Getting a master's degree might not be required for your career, but it offers benefits beyond an education. Internships and job placement assistance help launch your career even before you graduate, and having a master's certainly makes you a more qualified candidate. The peers and faculty you meet during your program make great contacts for finding work and improving your skills.
What Can I Do With a Master's in Security?
From immigration to cybersecurity, a master's degree in security studies leads to a variety of careers based on your degree specialization, skill set, and previous degree. You can use this broad degree to advance an existing career or transition to a new one. Browse the examples below for ways to apply your degree in a world with ever-changing security needs.
- Immigration Officer
These professionals work primarily in the Department of Homeland Security to ensure that immigration laws and other procedures are being followed, including deciding who may enter the country. They may also research or design policy to reflect the department's changing needs.
Median Annual Salary: $57,073*
- Information Security Analyst
These professionals provide security solutions for their employers, researching and analyzing existing systems as well as recorded breaches to provide solutions. This technical career focuses on network security, though workers may also focus on the security of physical spaces.
Median Annual Salary: $70,817*
- Intelligence Analyst
These individuals analyze information concerning potential or known security threats. They often work for the government or for security companies which contract with the Department of Homeland Security, FBI, or other government groups. This career focuses on research and remains highly specialized.
Median Annual Salary: $66,805*
- Network Security Engineer
These professionals design, implement, maintain, and update protections to computer networks operated by their employers or clients. This technical career focuses on preventing unauthorized users from gaining access to networks.
Median Annual Salary: $84,216*
How to Choose a Master's Program in Security
When searching for your ideal master's degree in security studies, you must consider your personal preferences and how fast you wish to get your degree. On-campus programs typically take two to three years. Online programs might be much slower if you enroll part time, or much faster if you take classes in an accelerated format. Cost is another important issue, with online programs generally costing less than on-campus equivalents. Online programs usually offer greater flexibility in scheduling courses, allowing students with existing obligations such as work and family to study on their own schedule. If you prefer to attend on-campus classes, the school's location impacts not only cost, but also your overall experience. Carefully consider the city or community in which a school exists.
When choosing a program, keep an eye out for those which require a practicum, thesis, or other type of capstone project. While such projects may seem daunting, they provide an opportunity to put your knowledge to use and undertake something which you can reference on resumes or during interviews. Internships and other opportunities for hands-on experience also prove valuable, and can help improve your chances of success in your chosen field.
Programmatic Accreditation for Master's Programs in Security
Accredited schools have proven that they maintain certain standards set by regional or national accreditation boards. You can generally find a school's accreditations online with minimal effort. Be wary of schools that do not readily provide their accreditation. Some fields and professions also have accreditation organizations, which can accredit certain programs or departments within a school. While these programmatic accreditations are not necessary for a quality education, they indicate that the program has met certain standards specific to the field. Many accrediting organizations exist for the interdisciplinary field of security studies. Any accredited program is worth seriously considering, especially if it directly relates to your desired concentration.
Master's in Security Program Admissions
One of the first steps in earning a master's degree in security management is applying to programs. Most people apply to several programs to improve their chances of getting accepted, but each application must be unique. An application must prove you're good enough to go to the school and show why you think the school is a good fit for you. Applications exceed positions, so admissions personnel must be confident that you're going to take the program seriously. Keep this in mind when choosing where to apply. Allow plenty of time to prepare your applications and submit them before the deadlines. Once you submit an application, it is out of your hands.
- Bachelor's Degree: You need a bachelor's degree in order to start a master's program, but the specific degree required varies by program.
- Minimum GPA: Most programs require a minimum undergraduate GPA, which is usually 3.0 or 3.5. This varies by program and can sometimes be waived.
- Application: This is usually the first part of the process, and mostly consists of basic information such as your address and previous schools.
- Transcripts: You can pay a nominal fee to send your official transcripts to your desired schools.
- Letters of Recommendation: Ask professors, superiors, or peers who can speak to your strengths to write recommendation letters. Make sure to give them plenty of time to craft a thoughtful note.
- Test Scores: You likely must take the GRE and send your test scores to the schools to which you applied. Minimum scores vary by program.
- Application Fee: This fee generally cannot be waived or refunded. It exists to ensure applicants are serious about the school and worth considering.
What Else Can I Expect From a Master's Program in Security?
Every master's degree in intelligence and security studies differs but also contains common themes and issues. This section introduces you to concentrations and courses, certifications you can pursue, and practical considerations such as degree cost.
|Homeland Security||This concentration focuses on immigration, terrorism, and other security aspects as related to the mission of the Department of Homeland Security. Students explore immigration law; terrorism; and systems for detecting, preventing, and responding to terror attacks. Students may also study natural disaster response.||Immigration officer|
|International Security||This concentration takes a global approach to security issues faced by the United Nations and other international organizations. Students also learn how national security is conceived within the global context. They discuss international law; multicultural and multinational cooperation and coordination; and disaster response.||Immigration officer, intelligence analyst|
|Cybersecurity||This concentration focuses on the use of computers and similar technology, either to commit crimes or as the target of crimes. The focus remains on information technology and the systems used to protect that technology and the data it holds, including testing defenses, responding to breaches, and computer forensics.||Intelligence analyst, network security engineer|
Courses in a Master's in Security Program
Review the five examples below for a glimpse of the courses you might take while earning your master's degree in counterterrorism and security studies. Every program is different, but many common themes exist.
These courses focus on modern understandings of why people commit crimes. Students explore the history of criminology as well as modern theories, methodologies, and shortcomings. They learn how to use these tools to prevent and respond to criminal activities within a security role.
- Urban Resilience
As an increasingly large percentage of the world's population lives in cities, they have become the focal point for both development and security problems. These courses explore how cities have responded to and recovered from events such as terrorist attacks and natural disasters.
- International Security
Students discuss the problems facing nations and international organizations, and how these entities can respond to serious issues. Topics include nuclear proliferation, human trafficking, and global climate change.
Whether in the form of cybercrime, cyberwarfare, or cyberterrorism, computers remain a target for crimes and other attacks. These courses cover the kinds of security systems which exist today, and the threats they are designed to protect against.
In these courses, students discuss contemporary and historical efforts to counteract terrorism, whether military or social, and the effects of those efforts. Students discuss the roots of terrorism, common tactics and motivations, and ways to combat these through social pressure or force.
How Long Does It Take to Get a Master's in Security?
It typically takes two to three years to earn a master's degree in security studies, which is standard for most master's programs. Students can explore ways to speed up the process, such as by taking more credits each term or taking summer courses. In more traditional academic settings, students can plan ahead to ensure they get the courses they need. In many online programs, students must follow a specific order of courses, so this shouldn't be a problem. Online programs often feature accelerated or intensive options, allowing you to finish sooner by completing more classes in less time.
How Much is a Master's in Security?
Cost remains an important factor when choosing where to get your master's degree in security and risk management. As the most expensive part of college, tuition varies substantially across programs. More expensive doesn't necessarily mean better. In a master's program, you must consider more details than just price to find the right school for you. However, students can take advantage of some ways to reduce costs.
Attending school in the state where you reside generally costs less than moving to a new state. Some schools and even some states offer in-state tuition to students from certain neighboring states. Students can get around this by attending online. Schools with both a physical and virtual presence usually charge less for online courses, regardless of where you live. This also means you don't have to move, find new housing, or get a new job. Costs add up when you live on campus, especially if you take longer than average to finish your degree.
Certifications and Licenses for Master's in Security Graduates
- Basic Analyst Classification
Intended for beginning professionals who are not yet certified, this classification verifies that the holder is familiar with the basics of the profession. It does not grant the right to call oneself certified, but shows employers that you are serious about getting your eventual certification.
- (ISC)2 Certifications
- (ISC)2 is a leader in cybersecurity, and these certifications are taken seriously by employers and professionals around the world. Students can choose from multiple certifications for different specializations, such as certified cloud security professional, as well as for different points in their career, such as information systems security management professional.
- GSHNSP Homeland Security Certifications
The Global Society of Homeland and National Security Professionals offers several certifications for those interested in careers with the Department of Homeland Security and related organizations. These verify that the holder has the skills, knowledge, and training required to perform in such roles. Certifications exist for both established professionals and those wishing to enter the field.
Resources for Graduate Security Students
This online magazine focuses on defense-related issues, such as new technology, threats, and current events. The site is available to anyone who wishes to learn more about defense and national security.
This bimonthly academic journal sponsored by the Terrorism Research Initiative and the Center for Terrorism and Security Studies focuses on academic analysis of issues pertaining to terrorism, security, and anti-terrorism tactics and efforts.
Since 1921, the CFR has provided an independent, bipartisan look at the global context in how the United States operates, with the stated goal of better educating Americans on what is going on in the world. The website hosts writing on various topics, such as defense, health, and human rights.
Founded after the 9/11 attacks, the NCTC remains dedicated to leading the counterterrorism effort through collaboration, information sharing, research, and intelligence. This government agency is under the direction of the Director of National Intelligence. Its website hosts various resources such as the counterterrorism guide.
The National Security Research Division of the Rand Corporation serves as a leader in security and intelligence research, working with multiple government and private groups. The website provides a variety of news, writing, and opinion pieces by thought leaders in the security, intelligence, and defense communities.
Even before you complete your master's degree in security and risk management, joining a professional organization offers many benefits. These groups can help you connect with other professionals, find a job, and even get funding toward your degree. Many also offer valuable certifications at discounted rates for members. See below for just a few of the organizations you might find useful.