When the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) was created in the wake of September 11th, its primary purpose was to protect the country from terrorism. Today, the department’s role has expanded to include disaster response and border security. On that basis alone, DHS carries a pretty thick dossier.
But national security threats go deeper still. A Pew Research Center study concluded that Americans believe the spread of diseases is currently the greatest security threat to the country, followed by nuclear proliferation and cyberattacks. All fall under the purview of homeland security professionals.
To address the need for well-trained and experienced national security professionals, the DHS collaborated with FEMA and the Naval Postgraduate School Center to a create master’s in homeland security. That program has provided the model for numerous other programs since its inception. Through the years, universities have added offerings covering such topics as cyber security, disaster preparedness, and even public health. Wherever the goal is to provide adequate defense against security threats, a master’s in homeland security can help.
Completing a master’s in homeland security can lead graduates to promotions or new job opportunities in the public and private sectors. You might work for a large bank or a government agency like the:
You might even work for the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) (though probably not as somebody who has to rifle through an angry passenger’s makeup case).
So, what can you do with a masters in homeland security? This article provides the answer, covering:
The Naval Postgraduate School has the best-known master’s in homeland security program; it’s the gold standard, and many other curricula are based on—or straight up copied from—it. The Postgraduate School’s program “focuses on building collaboration among local, tribal, state, and federal leaders who develop strategies, plans, and programs to prepare and respond to national security threats and catastrophic events.” Students learn not only counterterrorism measures but also how to prepare for natural disasters. If a Category 5 hurricane were to touch down, someone with a master’s in homeland security would have the skills and knowledge to spearhead safety and protection efforts.
The need for homeland security professionals is significant, with relatively few master’s programs serving the job market (in part because the field is so new). FEMA has compiled a list of relevant accredited graduate programs. The degree programs listed below may have slightly different titles—often corresponding to different focuses—but all are acknowledged by FEMA:
|University and Program Name
Admissions requirements for homeland security programs vary. Some are open to novices, while others look only for current experts in the field. Thinking about signing up for a program tomorrow? Know that it’s generally advised to have some work experience before jumping into a multi-year graduate degree.
Even Penn State’s program, which only requires that the applicant have a bachelor’s degree, asserts that it’s best suited for:
The Naval Postgraduate program is open only to leaders at a local, state, federal and tribal level. The program also requires that any federal employee who applies be employed by the DHS for a year or more. If you’re in the military, your rank should be at least major or your branch’s equivalent rank.
Though less strict, the Arizona State program requires either two years of relevant work experience or a relevant bachelor’s degree. Qualifying undergraduate majors include:
There are very few actual undergraduate programs in homeland security, but there are quite a few certifications that you can earn at the baccalaureate (or equivalent) level to gain experience. Florida State University offers a certificate in emergency management and homeland security at the undergraduate level.
Penn State offers the opportunity for students to complete a homeland security minor as part of their undergraduate degree. This can be helpful not only when applying to jobs or graduate school but also to research whether national security is a field that interests you.
A master’s in homeland security prepares graduates to become (or improve as) security-minded leaders—often in public service positions, but sometimes for a private or non-profit organization.
Remember, potential threats come in many forms, not just attacks on the country. Individual programs may choose to focus heavily on public health rather than counterterrorism. Some ask students to complete relevant core courses in homeland security and then allow them to select a concentration.
A homeland security program might cover topics like:
A typical curriculum—such as this one, offered by Virginia Commonwealth University’s online program—might include the following courses:
You will also likely need to complete a capstone course, which helps students apply the cumulative knowledge gained during the program.
There are ways other than master’s in homeland security to advance your education. The Department of Homeland Security offers training courses for current professionals as well as civilians. Individual state governments may also offer programs; the New York State government offers certification programs for those involved in disaster response.
If you know that graduate school is in your future but aren’t sold on homeland security as the right degree path, you can qualify for similar jobs with a degree in a related field. For example, a master’s in cyber security allows you to work for the computing department in governmental security agencies.
Because some master’s in homeland security programs are designed for current leaders, many students use them to earn a promotion rather than get an entirely new job. For example, John Sudnik, who is the chief of department (highest-ranking officer under the commissioner) for the New York Fire Department, has a master’s in homeland security from the Naval Postgraduate School. In 2018, Sudnik earned nearly $230,000.
It only takes a bachelor’s degree to get an entry-level emergency management director job, which involves creating and implementing effective plans for disasters, according to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics. Completing a graduate program can then help you advance to a more senior position. Emergency management directors earn a median salary of just under $75,000, but the top earners make closer to $150,000.
Similarly, the average FEMA emergency management specialist earns just a hair under $70,000 for their work responding to emergencies. However, those with a master’s degree can increase their responsibilities (and likely salary) by moving into a senior position with the right experience.
Other jobs that you qualify for with a master’s in homeland security include:
These jobs are not limited to federal agencies; some might be in the private sector. If you decide you don’t want government health insurance, common fields in corporate America for those with a master’s in homeland security are:
Remember, an advanced degree is just one component of advancing your career in homeland security. It probably won’t even be the only advanced training you complete. Remember John Sudnik? He got his master’s in 2006 but was only appointed to his current position in 2019. It also took years of work experience and some FDNY certifications.
You may need to complete additional training programs in homeland security and emergency management before obtaining a final position—especially at a federal government agency. This should not discourage you from getting a master’s in homeland security; it’s an excellent degree for professionals who want to gain an edge in the field.
(Last Updated on February 26, 2024)
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