What You Need to Know About Earning an Online Master's in Homeland Security
March 10, 2021
This relatively new graduate-level degree pathway can help you land a high-profile position in an agency like the DHS or in the private sector.
The Master of Homeland Security is a degree of relatively recent vintage; this discipline was almost nonexistent in academia prior to the events of September 11, 2001. Shortly after the World Trade Center attacks, the government established the Center for Homeland Defense and Security (CHDS). A year later, the agency created one of the first master's degree programs focused on homeland security. In the decade that followed, several universities created their own Masters of Arts and Masters of Science degree programs focused on preventing and responding to threats like terrorist attacks, natural and man-made disasters, and other emergencies.
As both technology and the types of threats against the United States have evolved, so have master's degrees in homeland security. More colleges and universities have launched online master's in homeland security programs that cover the same ground as traditional Master of Homeland Security programs. And students in Master of Homeland Security programs now study not only terrorism but also cybersecurity, public health, law, intelligence, and public policy.
As Virginia Commonwealth University puts it in its Master of Arts in Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness program guide, students in these programs are taught "the decision-making, leadership and policymaking skills they need to protect their communities from the unpredictable and unexpected" and "lead and support first responders and rescuers to protect against domestic and global threats."
There will always be terrorism and other threats looming on the horizon. That means there will always be a need for professionals trained to prevent and manage emergencies. Keep reading to find out how you can become one of them without having to relocate for school or take a sabbatical from your job. In this article about online master's in homeland security degrees, we cover:
- What is a Master of Homeland Security, and who earns this degree?
- What do students in online master's in homeland security programs study?
- How long does it take to earn an online master's in homeland security?
- Can students in Master of Homeland Security programs choose concentrations?
- Where can I find the top online master's in homeland security programs?
- How much does it cost to earn a Master of Homeland Security online?
- Which schools offer affordable online homeland security master's degrees?
- Are there any disadvantages to studying homeland security online?
- How much do online Master of Homeland Security program graduates earn?
- What are the benefits of earning this degree?
What is a Master of Homeland Security, and who earns this degree?
Master's in homeland security programs, whether offered on campus or online, or delivered in a hybrid format, exist to prepare students for careers in:
- Disaster prevention and response
- Homeland security preparedness
- Immigration law enforcement
While it's possible to work in careers like these with a bachelor's degree in criminal justice, computer science, public health, or homeland security, a master's degree is often required to work in leadership positions in these disciplines. Students in Master of Homeland Security programs are taught the management, planning, intelligence, tech, risk management, and communications skills they need to address current and future threats to the US.
As to who earns this degree, that varies from program to program. Some homeland security master's degree programs require applicants to have significant professional experience in roles directly or indirectly related to national security. These programs tend to attract applicants who have served in the military or who have backgrounds in intelligence, law enforcement, immigration, or cybersecurity.
Other programs accept students who are looking to change careers. They might be former military personnel, or they may have no relevant experience at all. What students in online master's in homeland security programs in particular tend to have in common is that they are looking for a higher degree of flexibility than traditional on-campus programs can offer.
Tip: It's important to read program guides and application guidelines carefully. If you have professional experience or skills related to homeland security, you may be eligible to enroll in more rigorous and/or more prestigious graduate degree programs. If not, you need to be sure you're looking at programs open to applicants without relevant experience.
What do students in online master's in homeland security programs study?
Homeland security is a complex discipline that draws from fields as diverse as law, ethics, and engineering. Coursework in online master's in homeland security programs can cover a wide array of topics, including:
- Border security
- Emergency management
- Homeland defense
- Information security
- Intelligence methods
- Interagency issues in government
- International relations
- International security and trade
- Public health
- Resource protection
- Risk assessment
- Strategic planning in government
- Technology and national security
- Weapons of mass destruction
Upon graduating from an online Master of Homeland Security program, you'll have the skills and knowledge required to do things like:
- Develop strategies, programs, and plans to prevent terrorist attacks and other catastrophic events
- Evaluate modern security risks and vulnerabilities
- Evaluate federal, state, and local policies related to terrorism and emergency preparedness
- Help local officials develop smaller-scale actionable security strategies
- Recognize patterns associated with terrorist group activities to forecast risk
- Resolve organizational and interagency disagreements related to homeland security
Can students in online Master of Homeland Security programs choose concentrations?
Some online master's in homeland security programs give students the option to choose a concentration like:
- Food defense
- Community resilience
- Cybersecurity policy
- Emergency management
- Information assurance
- Information security
- Public health preparedness
- Threat management
You'll still get the same education as students in graduate-level homeland security programs for generalists, but you'll also take additional courses related to your specialization. For example, a student specializing in cybersecurity might take classes in information systems, information security management, and security technologies in addition to core program courses.
If you're passionate about a particular area of homeland security, it's not a bad idea to opt for a program that allows you to choose a concentration. Having specialized knowledge or a deeper understanding of a particular area of homeland security can boost your job prospects considerably.
How long does it take to earn an online master's in homeland security?
Online homeland security master's degree programs generally require students to complete 30 to 36 credit hours of coursework. How long that takes varies from school to school. Northeastern University's 100 percent online program, for example, requires students to complete roughly 32 credit hours of coursework over two years for full-time students or three years for part-time students. Aspen University, on the other hand, requires students to complete 36 credit hours of coursework, but full-time students can graduate in as little as 18 months.
Where can I find the top online master's in homeland security programs?
The gold standard of online master's in homeland security programs is the Naval Postgraduate School's MA in Homeland Security. This program was established by the CHDS and is only open to employees of local, tribal, territorial, state, and federal government agencies or members of the US military. Tuition is free, but as you may imagine, admission into this particular program is hugely competitive. It's also intensive. Students commit to 18 months of continuous enrollment plus the completion of a thesis, and two years of post-graduation service. The majority of coursework (15 to 20 hours per week) is completed online, but students are required to spend two weeks in residence each quarter.
There are also strong homeland security programs—some modeled after the CHDS program—at the following schools:
- Arizona State University - Tempe
- George Washington University
- Northeastern University
- Pace University - New York
- Pennsylvania State University - World Campus
- St. Joseph's College - New York
- Tulane University of Louisiana
- University of Maryland - College Park
- Virginia Commonwealth University
How much does it cost to earn a Master of Homeland Security online?
It's possible to earn a homeland security master's degree online for under $10,000, but most programs cost somewhere between $20,000 and $35,000. According to US News and World Report, the per-credit cost of online master's in homeland security programs typically range from $415 to $1,150, but keep in mind that doesn't represent total tuition. Many colleges and universities charge online students technology fees and other fees, and distance learners are sometimes charged a higher out-of-state tuition rate.
Which schools offer affordable online homeland security master's degrees?
Some of the most affordable online homeland security master's degree programs can be found at the following schools:
- Arkansas Tech University
- Aspen University
- Mississippi College
- Northwestern State University of Louisiana
- Sam Houston State University
- Towson University
- Trident University International
- Wilmington University
Are there any disadvantages to studying homeland security online?
Not really. Modern online degree programs typically follow the same curricula as traditional online programs and give students the same access to faculty, networking opportunities, and alumni groups. If the program you choose requires you to complete an internship, your school may be able to help you find a local placement. You'll get the same education, but you'll still be able to meet professional and personal commitments that might make completing a full-time, on-campus program difficult, if not impossible.
How much do online Master of Homeland Security program graduates earn?
There are hundreds of thousands of homeland security jobs in the federal government alone. Homeland security professionals represent roughly 10 percent of the federal workforce. They work in the Department of Homeland Security as well as in the Secret Service, Department of Transportation, Department of Labor, Department of State, FBI, and CIA. The US military also employs homeland security experts. Outside the federal government, there are job openings related to homeland security in the private and nonprofit sectors, and in state and local agencies.
This abundance of opportunity is good news for homeland security master's degree holders, but it does make it tough to estimate how much you'll earn after graduation. PayScale reports that employees of Department of Homeland Security earn about $74,000 annually on average. However, your earning potential will also depend on your job title—and you'll be qualified for a lot of different ones after graduation. You might earn close to $98,000 as an intelligence analyst. or anywhere from $50,000 to $104,000 as an emergency management specialist. You might become an intelligence collector, counterintelligence specialist, program manager, or network and systems engineer—and earn more or less depending on whether you work for Uncle Sam (with its set pay grade scale and solid benefits) or a private corporation (where the paychecks tend to be higher, but jobs are less secure).
What are the benefits of earning this degree?
Maybe you're wondering whether a Master of Homeland Security is worth it. Decades have passed since the attacks, but there are still only just over sixty graduate-level homeland security programs in the US. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) maintains a list of these programs. Still, there isn't an accrediting organization for master's in homeland security programs, and FEMA clearly states that their list does not constitute any type of endorsement. Perhaps you're thinking that a political science degree or a public policy degree might be more useful.
You may be right—especially if you aren't 100 percent sure you want to work in homeland security. It's possible to launch a career in this discipline without a specialized master's degree if you can pass a background check and get a security clearance.
If you know for sure, however, that you want to spend your entire career working for the Department of Homeland Security or an agency like the FBI or CIA, then this degree is absolutely worth it. Earning an online master's in homeland security can make it easier to get a job and will help you advance more quickly.
The fact is that getting a job in homeland security can be time-consuming and stressful. There are plenty of career opportunities at all levels of government in homeland security. Even so, the competition for available positions tends to be fierce—possibly because, as one Glassdoor reviewer put it, homeland security "can be the most flexible, challenging, and best-paid job in the federal government."
There are opportunities in the private sector, too, but hiring managers tend to want to see particular qualifications in applicants. In other words, to land a job in this field, you should do anything and everything you can do to stand out from the crowd. Getting a homeland security master's degree is one way to do just that.
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