Security professionals protect human, material, and information assets. They collect and interpret data in order to create defense networks and response procedures. Longtime experts can even anticipate and safeguard against crises long before they occur. An online master's degree in security studies prepares you for a lucrative career in expanding fields such as financial risk management, international business, counterterrorism, and homeland security.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects security jobs will grow through 2026, including a remarkable 28% increase for information security analysts. The proper education and professional experience empowers you to not only enter these professions, but also advance into leadership roles and shape the future of security in the U.S. and abroad. Whatever your career aspirations, the right master's degree in intelligence and security studies online program can help you achieve your goals.
What are the Best Online Master's in Security Programs?
Johns Hopkins University
|Washington, DC||Cost: $$$$$||Enrolled Online: 93%||
Located in the nation's capital, Johns Hopkins University started as one of America's first research universities in 1876. Today, more than 20,000 graduate students study in 180 fields, including an online master's in security degree program.
Officially named the online MA in global security studies, this program examines the threats to global security coming from nonstate actors and foreign rising powers. Made up of 36 credits, the curriculum focuses on analyzing challenges and potential solutions through the military, economics, and energy and environmental security.
Part-time distance learners typically complete the program in two years. They must take four core courses, three research study process courses, and five electives. The research courses prepare learners to write a journal-length article during their final semester, which students must defend before graduation. Students can also opt to pursue one of two concentrations: strategic studies or energy and environmental security.
Although students may take all courses online, they may also choose to travel abroad for a course during the summer. In the past, Johns Hopkins students have traveled to Europe, Mexico, Israel, and India. The university also offers networking opportunities for both its on-campus and distance learning students. After completing the degree program, graduates have found employment with the Department of Defense, Department of Homeland Security, think tanks, and global advocacy groups.
To apply, applicants must write a statement of purpose outlining their analytical abilities and interest in the program. They must also submit contact information for two recommenders, a resume, and an essay. Prospective students should send in their undergraduate transcripts showing a GPA of at least 3.0. Johns Hopkins does not require students to take the GRE.
Johns Hopkins programs are accredited by the Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools.
University of Texas at Austin
|Austin, TX||Cost: $$$$$||Enrolled Online: 83%||
As a part of the University of Texas system — one of the largest in the nation — UT Austin operates as a research university, enrolling over 51,000 students. Many learners take advantage of UT Austin's extended campus, which offers online courses and degrees. The extended campus includes the online master's in identity management and security for individuals seeking a career in security management.
This master's in security operates as a joint program through UT Austin's School of Information and Center for Identity. The curriculum focuses on identity management and security best practices and challenges, in addition to learning about evaluating risk and mastering security technologies.
Overall, the regionally accredited program consists of 30 credits, or 10 courses. These include identity communications, identity and public policy, and identity business practices and governance. Courses operate synchronously, which means students must log on at specific times to watch lectures and participate in discussions.
At the end of the program, distance learners complete a cumulative three-credit professional experience and project. In this course, students use the knowledge from their previous coursework to solve a real-world problem. This experience prepares students for life after graduation, when alumni find jobs working in security management roles at organizations that deal with big data and biometric technologies.
Prospective students should submit their undergraduate transcripts, three recommendation letters, a personal statement, and resume. Applicants must also send in GRE or GMAT scores, but they do not need to meet a minimum undergraduate GPA requirement.
|St. Louis, MO||Cost: $$$$$||Enrolled Online: 64%||
Although based in St. Louis, Webster University operates from campuses all over the globe, including Europe, Asia, and Africa. The Higher Learning Commission-accredited university also runs over 50 graduate, undergraduate, and certificate programs through its online campus. Among these online programs, Webster offers a master's in business and organizational security management.
The program combines social sciences, business knowledge, and security management skills. The curriculum trains students to identify and combat threats to business organizations and information networks. The program also prepares learners for the Certified Protection Professional Program.
Distance learners enroll in 36 credits to complete the program, taking courses like legal and ethical issues in security management, business assets protection, and information systems security. Courses run asynchronously, so online students can listen to lectures when it suits their schedule, while still meeting deadlines and due dates. Distance learning courses at Webster last eight, nine, or 14 weeks.
Alternatively, online students can choose to pursue an MA/MBA in business and organizational security management. This dual degree consists of 51 credits, and adds graduate courses from the business school like finance, managerial economics, and marketing. Students who choose this route receive both degrees simultaneously.
Applicants must have an undergraduate degree in business or a business-related area with a minimum GPA of 2.5. Prospective students without a business-related degree may still apply, as long as they took foundational business courses in college or passed a foundational business course through Webster. Applicants do not need to submit GRE or GMAT scores.
University of Denver
|Denver, CO||Cost: $$$$$||Enrolled Online: 75%||
The University of Denver opened its doors as the Colorado Seminary in 1864. Still operating as a private university with a student body of 12,000, students may also enroll in University College, the distance learning college at DU.
The online master's in security management teaches students how to protect businesses, customers, intellectual property, and physical assets. DU offers four concentrations: emergency planning and response, information security, organizational security, and supply chain management. Students complete 48 credits, or 12 courses. The program allows distance learning students to finish the program in as little as 18 months, although part-time learners may also take two, three, or sometimes five years to graduate.
While core courses focus on foundational aspects of security concepts and business assets protection, concentration courses and electives go deeper. Distance learners may choose between courses like hazardous and radiological material preparedness, human factors in security, and risk management. Although courses run asynchronously, students may also live chat with peers and directly contact professors.
The degree culminates in either a capstone project or seminar. Learners who choose the capstone project work with an adviser to research a specific topic or problem within their concentration. Students opting for the seminar write a 8,000-word paper that takes a position on a specific issue within the security field.
Prospective students may apply if they earned a bachelor's degree with a minimum 2.5 GPA. DU does not require applicants to submit GRE or GMAT scores. However, candidates should send in two references, a personal statement, and a resume. The University of Denver is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.
East Carolina University
|Greenville, NC||Cost: $$$$$||Enrolled Online: 62%||
Located in Greenville, North Carolina, East Carolina University enrolls nearly 30,000 graduate and undergraduate students. Nearly half of the students at the public, regionally accredited university take at least one distance education course. The university also offers 120 fully online degree and certificate programs, including the online master's in security studies.
The program includes 36 credits: five core courses, an internship, and four concentration or elective courses. Distance learners choose between specializations in international security, homeland security policy, science and technology security, and environmental health and occupational safety. Moreover, the science and technology security emphasis area includes two subspecializations: computer science and information technology. Students must also decide whether to pursue a thesis or nonthesis degree.
While core courses focus on foundational policies and practices of national security, concentration electives allow students to dig deeper into their interests. They might take a course on cryptographic protocol or war and peace in the Middle East. Distance learning students can take advantage of study abroad opportunities during the summer semester, studying in cities like Prague.
The entire program takes about two years for full-time students to complete. At the end of the program, distance learners must pass a comprehensive exam to qualify for graduation. The exam includes two 3,000-4,000 word essays, which students must write in 72 hours.
To apply, those interested should send in GRE or GMAT scores along with undergraduate transcripts. ECU waives the GRE/GMAT requirement for applicants who earned a bachelor's degree in a security field. ECU expects applicants to have earned a 2.7 GPA during their senior year. Lastly, prospective students should submit a statement of purpose and three recommendation letters.
Nova Southeastern University
|Fort Lauderdale, FL||Cost: $$$$$||Enrolled Online: 52%||
Nova Southeastern University began as the Nova University of Advanced Technology in 1964. Located in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, NSU was originally chartered as a graduate university offering programs in the physical and social sciences. The school has since expanded its academic reach to include undergraduate degrees and professional programs in addition to graduate programs, and the private, regionally accredited university also runs several distance learning programs.
The online national security master's degree at NSU prepares students to critically analyze global intelligence and security. The program consists of 36 credits, including 21 credits of core courses and 15 elective credits. Distance learners can choose from electives like civil liberties and national security, weapons of mass threat and communicable diseases, and economic statecraft in national security affairs.
Students may also pursue an optional concentration in cybersecurity. This route means learners take electives in information technology, learning technical computer security skills.
Before students graduate, they must either pass a comprehensive exam or work on a six-credit thesis. The comprehensive exam tests student knowledge of historical and theoretical concepts, in addition solving hypothetical security challenges. Distance learners opting for the written thesis must carry out research that contributes to the field; they must also successfully orally defend their thesis.
Interested individuals can apply if they earned a GPA of at least 3.0 in their upper-level undergraduate coursework, or if they already possess one master's degree with a minimum 3.0 GPA. Applicants should also submit a resume, two recommendation letters, an academic writing sample, and an essay outlining the applicant's professional goals. NSU does not require GRE scores.
Citadel Military College of South Carolina
|Charleston, SC||Cost: $$$$$||Enrolled Online: 73%||
The South Carolina legislature established the Citadel two decades before the Civil War, when it was meant to educate military service members. Today, the Charleston-based Citadel still holds a reputation for its Corps of Cadets. However, the public university also offers undergraduate and graduate degrees for civilians. The regionally accredited Citadel Graduate College also allows working adults to enroll in programs through distance learning.
The online master's in intelligence and security studies focuses on policy analysis, intelligence, and homeland security leadership. Students complete 36 credits of coursework, and can choose between concentrations in cybersecurity and leadership. The Citadel runs the cybersecurity concentration in conjunction with the College of Charleston, and both specializations result in certificates.
The online master's in security consists of 12 core credits, and 24 electives. Distance learning students may choose from courses like comparative criminal justice systems, transnational organized crime, intelligence theory application, and the evolution of military leadership thought. Students may also complete a three-credit internship focusing on either intelligence or homeland security.
Online courses at the Citadel last 15 weeks, consisting of components including online video lectures, discussion boards, and web conferencing. The Citadel also requires distance learners to take a leadership seminar, which is not for credit and is no tuition, introducing students to the Citadel's foundational values.
Applicants must submit official undergraduate transcripts, a writing sample, their resume, and GRE or MAT scores. The Citadel does not set a minimum GPA requirement, but the university does expect a "competitive" GPA.
CUNY John Jay College of Criminal Justice
|New York, NY||Cost: $$$$$||Enrolled Online: 47%||
As a part of the City University of New York, the John Jay College of Criminal Justice offers undergraduate and graduate degrees falling within the umbrella of justice, law, and public safety. The regionally accredited school opened in 1964, and now enrolls over 15,000 students in over 50 academic programs.
The online master's in security management degree program also trains students to work in the security industry, especially in the private sector. Distance learners take 36 credits, divided into 12 credits of core courses, 12 in management analytics, and 12 in electives. Core courses focus on the foundations of protection management systems, while elective courses include analysis of building and fire codes, maritime security, and business continuity planning.
All students take a comprehensive exam at the end of the program, which evaluates the knowledge and skills learned throughout the degree. Students who maintain a GPA of at least 3.5 may also pursue a thesis track. Learners who choose this track are also required to write and defend thesis-level research. Six elective credits can count toward thesis work.
Accelerated courses last eight weeks and run asynchronously. Full-time students typically finish the program in two years, and part-time students usually finish within three or four years. Distance learning students receive many of the same perks as their on-campus peers, including access to the library, a John Jay identification card, and university gym membership.
To apply, prospective students should possess a minimum 3.0 GPA in their undergraduate coursework, submit undergraduate transcripts, a personal statement, two or three recommendation letters, and a writing sample. John Jay does not require security management students to submit GRE scores.
University of Arizona
|Tucson, AZ||Cost: $$$$$||Enrolled Online: 64%||
Arizona State University, a public research institution based in Tucson, enrolls over 70,000 people. It began as a school in the late 1800s, before Arizona even possessed statehood. The school trained teachers and taught agriculture and the mechanical arts. Now accredited by the Higher Learning Commission, Arizona State administers several colleges and schools, including an online campus.
At ASU, the 36-credit online master's in international security studies takes an interdisciplinary look at global security. Students can choose from several thematic tracks, including violent and nonviolent conflict, U.S. foreign policy, technology and security, and nontraditional security threats. No matter their concentration, distance learners must also take foundational courses and a capstone project. ASU offers two capstone possibilities: a professional portfolio or a thesis.
Distance learning courses last eight weeks. Students learn through video lectures and virtual discussions. Instructors typically teach courses asynchronously, allowing distance learners may also access the material on their own time. Online students also receive access to additional benefits, like career services, a writing center, and the university's Writing Skills Improvement Program.
Distance learners may also earn course credit through internships. ASU students find internship opportunities at places like the U.S. Department of State, United Nations agencies, and human rights nongovernmental organizations.
Prospective students may apply if they earned a minimum 3.0 GPA in their undergraduate coursework. Applicants with a GPA below 3.0 may also pursue admission as non-degree-seeking students. Candidates should submit a personal statement and resume, but do not need to submit GRE scores.
University of Massachusetts - Lowell
|Lowell, MA||Cost: $$$$$||Enrolled Online: 60%||
As a part of the University of Massachusetts public system, the regionally accredited UMass Lowell enrolls over 16,000 students each year. This includes both undergraduate and graduate students who opt for online programs.
Security students at UMass Lowell can choose between two online degrees: a master of science or a master of arts in security studies. Each degree consists of 30 credits and lasts about two years. However, the two degrees prepare students for different careers. Master of science students focus on cybersecurity, weapons of mass destruction, and critical infrastructure threats. Master of arts students plan for careers in government agencies or with defense contractors by learning about psychology, criminal justice, and legal studies.
Each degree offers different concentration options as well. MS students can specialize in chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, and explosives security, critical infrastructure protection, and cybersecurity. MA students may concentrate in homeland defense, industrial and economic security, and international security. No matter what students choose, they must complete a capstone research paper before graduating.
The Center for Terrorism and Security Studies at UMass Lowell offers several opportunities for security students. The center sponsors an internship program through which learners can gain real-world experience at U.S. government agencies. Distance learning students can also access the field's latest research through the center.
All applicants must possess an undergraduate GPA of at least 3.0. Most MA candidates qualify to apply with just a bachelor's degree, no matter the subject area. However, MS candidates should hold an undergraduate degree in a science, engineering, or technology discipline. Applicants should also submit GRE scores, a personal statement, and two recommendation letters.
What Else Can I Expect From an Online Master's in Security Program?
To maintain government and industry accreditation, online master's degrees in security studies must adhere to certain academic standards and professional development outcomes. This often translates into similar core requirements across programs. However, beyond these base similarities, degree pathways vary greatly based on departmental focus and individual student needs.
Curriculum for an Online Master's Degree in Security
- Contemporary security studies: This course provides all future security professionals with an overview of current practices in the field. Topics include strategies in crisis management, professional leadership, and theories in data gathering and analysis. Students also research and discuss contemporary challenges in security studies.
- Network infrastructures: A fundamental course for information security specialists, this class trains students to effectively use applications and implement protocols for computer information systems. Topics include network architecture programming interfaces, routing and data linkage, and emerging network technologies. Students also learn key administration skills, including how to install, configure, and automate popular network-based services.
- Digital forensics: This course trains cybersecurity professionals to identify, extract, and preserve electronic data. Students also learn how to recover data from operating or file systems. The course teaches students how to handle digital data in an ethical and law-abiding manner, so that the information they present can be used in legal proceedings if necessary.
- Homeland security and terrorism studies: Combining theory with application, this course is required for border and homeland security professionals. Topics include types of terrorist threats and changes to domestic and foreign security policies in the wake of 9/11. Students also analyze and discuss case studies in contemporary counterterrorism measures, including successes and alternatives to current practices.
- Information regulatory compliance: Focusing on enterprise-related information security, this course benefits professionals who want to work for private businesses. Students learn how information is governed — and therefore how risk can be managed — on a mass organizational level. Key principles include government compliance with regard to e-documents, instant messaging, mobile and cloud computing, and social media.
How Long Does It Take to Get an Online Master's in Security?
Online master's degrees in security studies require at least 30 credits and generally take two years to complete. Curricular differences between programs can affect how long it takes to earn your degree. Certain capstone and internship experiences may take longer than others. And while remote courses are usually asynchronous, some schools hold real-time online sessions to encourage group work and discussion.
Similarly, programs can structure their coursework in a cohort learning style, which requires you and a small group of peers to progress through the program as a group, usually taking one class at a time. This option benefits nontraditional students who need to juggle work and school obligations, but may also lengthen the time needed to graduate. For maximum flexibility, seek out a master's degree in intelligence and security studies online that offers individually paced learning, accelerated classes throughout the year, and the ability to complete internships where you live or with your current employer.
Certifications and Licenses a Master's in Security Prepares For
- (ISC)² Information Security Certifications: A global leader in the field, (ISC)² provides 10 professional certifications for information security professionals. Options include recognition for general practice and specialized certificates for cloud computing, software lifecycle, and security architecture. Entry requirements vary for each certificate, but candidates must possess a certain amount of paid work experience.
- GSHNSP Homeland Security Professionals: In conjunction with the National Sheriffs' Association, the Global Society of Homeland and National Security Professionals offers two certification pathways: the introductory certified homeland protection associate (CHPA) and the advanced certified homeland protection professional (CHPP). While the first few levels of the CHPA don't require college education, the remaining certificates as well as the CHPP require at least an associate degree.
Accreditation for Online Master's in Security Degrees
U.S. colleges and universities must maintain national and/or regional accreditation in order to bestow valid degrees. Organizations under the auspices of the U.S. Department of Education (ED) and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) confer national accreditation. National accreditation signifies a school's adherence to academic standards defined by both the federal government and CHEA. This official backing also grants schools access to important resources such as federal funding.
The ED and CHEA grant national accreditation through subsidiary organizations. The ED is a government entity whose mission includes ensuring that schools work with the federal government when it comes to curriculum planning, testing, and program outcomes. Established in 1996 as a private nonprofit, CHEA advocates for educational research and the rights of its 3,000+ member institutions. For more information, check out the ED and CHEA websites.
Regional accreditation is granted by one of six organizations, depending on where the school is located. Similar to CHEA's mission, these organizations ensure that colleges and universities standardize their curricular outcomes and professional support services. Generally speaking, employers prefer regional over national accreditation due to the fact that they must engage with local and state authorities more intimately. Ideally, you should enroll in a school that holds both forms of accreditation. Additionally, a program may possess professional accreditation from organizations such as the International Assembly for Collegiate Business Education.
Employment Outlook for Master's in Security Graduates
Master's in Security Salary
Using data from PayScale, the table below details five popular career choices for security professionals, along with their average salaries. This information suggests that the primary determining factor for salary is work experience, though education, professional training, and certification also contribute to pay increases.
|Job Title||Overall Median Salary||Median Salary for Entry-Level Employees (0-5 years)||Median Salary for Mid-Career Employees (5-10 years)||Median Salary for Late-Career Employees (20+ years)|
|Information Security Analyst||$70,439||$64,135||$79,852||$93,493|
|Network Security Engineer||$83,805||$72,318||$86,602||$110,323|
Master's in Security Careers
An online master's degree in security and risk management equips you with the theoretical knowledge, best practices, and hands-on experience to pursue entry or advancement in growing fields such as law enforcement, public policy, and information security. Security specialists have exceptional critical thinking and leadership skills that enable them to handle sensitive situations effectively. Many work in group settings as managers and counselors, while others perform their tasks independently as analysts and private investigators.
- Intelligence Analyst
Intelligence analysts provide information about security threats for government agencies, contractors, and private businesses. These professionals typically digest large amounts of data along with confidential or classified information. They may need to be familiar with automated systems like databases, imagery analysis, and signal intelligence. A bachelor's degree in a relevant field is usually the minimum requirement.
- Information Security Analyst
One of the fastest growing careers, these security professionals implement and manage systems that protect their organization's sensitive information. They also monitor systems for security violations and investigate breaches. Information security analysts must obtain advanced computer and IT skills, usually through a graduate degree program and specialized professional certification.
- Military Career
Providing crucial security and civil services to their communities, military personnel may occupy combat-specific roles or pursue civilian careers as doctors, nurses, lawyers, engineers, or linguists/translators. The military offers professional advancement resources such as leadership training and funding for college.
While an online master's degree in security studies prepares you for a variety of job opportunities, it may also be helpful to receive external support from professional associations. Membership in a professional association provides additional networking, research, and funding opportunities that are important for career success. Organizations usually charge an annual membership fee, but in return you receive academic scholarships, research and project grants, and access to discussion boards and job listings. Many even give substantial discounts on the price of conference attendance and training seminars. Most professional organizations host workshops such as the SANS Institute's live security training programs.
Financing Your Online Master's in Security Program
When conducting research on online master's degree in security studies programs, you should strongly consider affordability in addition to how each school fits your professional interests and goals. Student loan debt not only cripples you financially, but can also inhibit your career advancement opportunities. The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) enables you to sign up for several loans and awards simultaneously. Additionally, you should look into funding opportunities from community, professional, and government organizations, including scholarships from the CIA and the American Society for Industrial Security.
Approximately two-thirds of today's college students rely on loans to fund their education, but there are plenty of overlooked financing options you can use to reduce your overall student debt.
Completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is a crucial first step for any student with financial needs. Our FAFSA guide features a step-by-step rundown on the process and answers to several frequently asked questions.
Financial aid for online learning is equivalent to what you'll find for campus-based learning, but that hasn't always been the case. Learn about the changes that have taken place, as well as the different funding opportunities available to online students.
Online college programs can be a flexible, affordable option for single parents who are interested in earning a degree and securing their family's financial future. We've compiled a list of scholarships, grants, and other financial aid options geared toward single moms and dads.
Millions of dollars in free money is available to U.S. military personnel, but much of it goes unused. Learn more about grants, scholarships, and other financial aid opportunities available to veterans, active-duty service members, and reservists.