In fiscal year 2023, the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) managed a budget of over $175 billion. That’s more than the government spent on the Department of State and the Environmental Protection Agency combined.
It’s no mystery why DHS is so robustly funded. The agency handles some pretty hefty responsibilities, including protecting the nation’s critical infrastructure, combatting terrorism (including domestic terrorism), and improving the nation’s cyber security practices.
Mitigating cyber risk has become a significant homeland security concern, especially as malware attacks increase in frequency, cost, and damage. The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) is poised to take on a greater role within the DHS in the coming years.
If you are looking to pursue a graduate degree in national defense, you may be wondering whether to earn a master’s in homeland security or a master’s in cyber security. Each degree can lead to similar jobs, but they’re far from identical. Read on to learn about the differences and similarities. This article addresses the questions:
The answer to this question ultimately comes down to your goals. The two disciplines overlap. Many homeland security master’s programs, including the one at Virginia Commonwealth University include cyber security coursework. The difference between that degree and one focusing on cyber security, such as the program at University of Tulsa, is you’ll learn less about the technical side to the field, focusing instead on utilizing policy and management to combat cyber threats.
Broadly, most cyber security master’s programs attract professionals with a computer science background, while most homeland security programs draw professionals with a defense background. Both degrees represent excellent options that can prepare you to work both for federal agencies and the private sector. You may even work for a non-profit.
You do not need a master’s degree to work in cyber security. However, if you want to secure one of the top jobs in the field, you should consider one. Having a master’s degree on your resume can open more doors.
In its 2022 Cybersecurity Workforce Study, (ISC) estimates the size of the the global cyber security workforce at 4.7 million. It also indicates that the current workforce is 3.4 million workers short. That’s over 3 million positions waiting to be filled by qualified cyber security experts (nearly half a million of them in North America alone). (
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, top-paying employers in cyber security analytics include those in:
- Information services: $149,500
- Securities, commodity contracts, and other financial instruments: $142,000
- Research and development in the physical, engineering, and life sciences: $129,000
- Scientific research and development services: $128,500
- Software publishers: $126,000
- Publishing: $125,700
The average salaries of professionals with a Master's degree are between $91,000 and $109,000, respectively. About half of all professionals in this field hold a graduate degree. ( )
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A master’s in cyber security prepares graduates to advance their careers in the field. It’s a great way for computer science professionals to specialize in this popular and increasingly crucial area.
In addition to common master’s admissions requirements like standardized test scores, resumes, and letters of recommendation, many cyber security programs have field-specific prerequisites. It’s helpful to understand at least one programming language, and many applicants have two or more years of work experience in a discipline like:
Candidates typically hold jobs in information assurance, digital forensics, or penetration testing. Master’s programs typically build on computer science experience, meaning many students enter with a bachelor’s degree in the subject. Programs that admit students without a relevant background usually ask them to complete bridge courses to catch up before classes start. Courses can include introductory programming or advanced mathematics, such as calculus and algorithms.
The typical cyber security master’s curriculum covers subjects like:
Computer science and engineering master’s programs commonly offer cyber security as a specialization option. STEM MBAs have become increasingly common in recent years; many offer a cyber security pathway. MBAs prepare students for management careers and are not technical.
There also are specialized cyber security programs. Tulane offers a cyber security management master’s degree that prepares students to oversee teams and develop and implement cyber incident response strategy.
The average salary for someone with a cyber security master’s is over $93,000 per year, according to PayScale. Six-figure salaries are common. Experienced managers earn nearly $150,000 per year, and the very best professionals can earn around $500,000 annually at top companies in major markets.
Top cyber security jobs include:
Major players looking for cyber security talent include:
A homeland security master’s prepares students for careers keeping the nation safe, including roles in federal or local government agencies, private corporations, or nonprofits. The term homeland security may conjure images of bomb threats and tracking down terror suspects, but the field encompasses much more than that. It includes disaster response, national cyber security, and critical infrastructure protection.
Prerequisites for homeland security programs cover a broad range. Applicants to the Penn State program should have at least two years of relevant experience. In contrast, American University doesn’t list any experience requirements.
Some programs ask inexperienced students to complete bridge courses to prepare for challenging coursework. Those who are admitted to the University of Alaska complete Principles of Emergency Management and Homeland Security. You’ll also take Emergency Planning and Preparedness and Community Planning, unless you earned a bachelor’s in emergency management degree from the school.
The standard-bearer for homeland security programs is the Naval Postgraduate School. Though admissions requirements are somewhat open-ended, the school states that “most students in the program are experienced or fast-rising state, local, tribal, territorial or federal officials.” You might spend decades gaining work experience before applying for the program.
Many homeland security curricula are based on the Naval Postgraduate School’s, which includes coursework like:
Students can complete program tracks in areas like:
You also might be drawn to another relevant degree. Other program titles that may be attractive to current or aspiring homeland security professionals include:
You can pursue many careers with a homeland security master’s, including at agencies and organizations like:
Top job titles include:
You may need supplemental education, including training programs, graduate certificates, and even another master’s degree, plus substantial experience to land these roles.
Finding the time to complete a master’s degree can be difficult. Many students find themselves looking at online programs because they provide more flexibility.
Schools with top online cyber security programs include:
There are not many online homeland security programs, but respectable options include:
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