Like most master's degree programs, homeland security degrees often attract students who already have experience in their chosen field, although many are also open to newcomers.
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Lucien Formichella
Noodle Expert Member

November 03, 2021

Homeland security encompasses more than just counterterrorism—disaster response, cybersecurity, and law enforcement all fit under the umbrella. Earning a master's in homeland security can lead to careers with great pay and even greater responsibility.

Since its creation in 2002 in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has become one of the largest federal government entities, employing more than 240,000 people across 14 agencies. More than just a term for counterterrorism, homeland security addresses threats like cyberattacks and natural disasters as well as bombings and shootings. State governments and private companies rely on homeland security professionals to keep people and property safe.

It's not always smooth sailing. Following Hurricane Katrina, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) struggled to provide aid for those who were impacted. Today, top master's in homeland security programs use previous failures (like Katrina) to train future leaders for high-paying, high-responsibility positions in law enforcement, counterterrorism, cybersecurity, and disaster response.

Homeland security covers a broad range of occupations, from entry-level positions to top jobs. Though both are important, working as a TSA agent and holding a supervisory FBI position requires two completely different skill sets. This article on the 9 best jobs with a homeland security degree helps answer questions like:

  • What is homeland security?
  • What is a master's in homeland security?
  • Who gets a master's in homeland security?
  • Homeland security master's program admissions requirements
  • The 9 best careers in homeland security
  • Top homeland security master's programs
  • Top online homeland security master's programs

What is homeland security?

Homeland security is different now than ten years ago; the term continues to expand to address emerging national security threats. Today 14 agencies make up the DHS. They include:

  • Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA)
  • Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)
  • The US Coast Guard
  • Transportation Security Administration (TSA)
  • United States Customs and Border Protection (CBP)
  • United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)
  • United States Secret Service (USSS)

In response to suspected Russian cyberattacks like the Sunburst hack and increased domestic extremism activity, President Biden created new advisory positions in 2021. New technology and proposed legislation, such as the Domestic Terrorism Prevention Act of 2021, may further increase the responsibilities of homeland security professionals. There's also a significant need for cybersecurity professionals in the private sector.

What is a master's in homeland security?

A master's of homeland security is an interdisciplinary defense degree designed to help graduates address threats and strengthen national security.

There are several kinds of homeland security programs, including general programs and those which focus on specific areas, including:

FEMA lists homeland security programs on its website, which is a useful guide, though doesn't say anything about a program's quality beyond basic competency.

Purpose

Homeland security programs typically train security professionals in new skills to advance in their current roles or transition to new career opportunities. Like most master's degree programs, homeland security degrees often attract students who already have experience in their chosen field, although many are also open to newcomers.

Beyond the DHS, graduates take roles in organizations like:

  • Large, data-driven companies
  • Local law enforcement and disaster response agencies
  • Public health organizations
  • The United States Air Force

Curriculum

The Naval Postgraduate School is widely considered the best homeland security program; its curriculum serves as the basis for many other programs.

Coursework includes:

  • The Unconventional Threat to Homeland Security
  • Research and Writing for Homeland Security
  • Technology for Homeland Security
  • Intelligence for Homeland Security: Organizational and Policy Challenges
  • Critical Infrastructure: Vulnerability Analysis and Protection
  • Strategic Planning and Budgeting for Homeland Security
  • Multi-discipline Approaches to Homeland Security
  • Comparative Government for Homeland Security
  • Internet, Society, and Cyberconflict

Still, individual programs can be substantially different. The University of Alaska Fairbanks offers a Master of Security and Disaster Management that features these concentrations:

  • Arctic security
  • Business continuity
  • Cybersecurity
  • Disaster management
  • Strategic leadership

Graduates can take jobs in disaster preparedness, emergency management, risk management, and business continuity.

There are homeland security bachelor's programs—including one at the University of Alaska—which cover many of the same topics as master's degrees, though in less depth.

Who gets a master's in homeland security?

Many homeland security students already work in emergency management, counterterrorism, or the armed services (typically as officers). Robert Ituarte, who completed the University of Alaska program, only decided to earn his degree after 24 years of Air Force service.

You don't always need a homeland security background, especially if you attend an interdisciplinary-focused program. Having a a legal background may make you a desirable candidate for a program like the University of Kansas MS in Homeland Security: Law and Policy program, which focuses on legislative issues.

Also: you don't need a homeland security degree to forge a great homeland security career, especially if your specialization is cybersecurity. Students with a computer science background may benefit from a master's in cybersecurity, especially if they want to pursue ethical hacking positions. University of Tulsa alumni work at federal agencies, and in intelligence and criminal justice.

Regardless of your specialization, earning one degree isn't enough to qualify for the very best homeland security jobs. Completing additional certifications or training courses can bolster your resume.

Homeland security master's program admissions requirements

Though students in master's in homeland security programs may have decades of experience, many programs set minimum experience requirements. The Naval Postgraduate School requires that applicants be "employed full-time by a local, tribal, territorial, state, or federal government agency or the US military, and have homeland security experience and responsibilities."

George Washington University looks for students with at least two years of relevant work experience in a field like:

  • Critical infrastructure
  • Government contracting
  • Homeland security
  • Information technology
  • Intelligence
  • Law enforcement (federal, state, or local)
  • Public safety

Not every FEMA approved program requires professional experience. Virginia Commonwealth University only requires that applicants have a bachelor's degree and an undergraduate GPA above 2.7.

Other common master's program admissions requirements include two letters of recommendation, a personal statement, and Graduate Record Examinations (GRE) scores.

The 9 best careers in homeland security

Education credentials, such as a master's degree, can be a major factor in qualifying for upper-level homeland security positions. Experience is also essential; you will likely have to work several years before reaching upper-level management.

According to PayScale, the average annual salary for a master's in homeland security degree-holder is around $64,000, but it's possible to earn far more than that in top jobs.

Your salary can also depend on where you live and your years of experience in a role. Some jobs on this list include location-specific salary examples to illustrate this point.

Fire chief

In most instances, the fire chief is an experienced firefighter who runs the entire department (though large cities may have a fire commissioner). Their duties include organizing the department, overseeing administrative tasks, and organizing training. Most fire chiefs are appointed, meaning you won't find it on a job board. It can take decades to reach this position (most never do), and it's likely the role you'll hold before retiring unless you become commissioner.

According to PayScale, the average fire chief salary is around $80,000. The Oklahoma City Fire Chief earns an annual salary of nearly $171,000 per year. The New York City Chief of Department earned nearly $240,000 in 2020.

Police captain

Police captain duties can differ based on how a town or city's department is organized. The structure is typically much different in rural areas than in urban locales. The LAPD captain's responsibilities include:

  • Complying with appropriate regulations and oversight procedures
  • Overseeing administration
  • Conducting training and inspections
  • Establishing relationships with communities
  • Engaging with policymakers and government officials

There are three captain levels in the LAPD. Finishing each means you'll become a commander, deputy chief, or even the chief of police. Advancing is difficult.

According to PayScale, the average annual police captain salary is almost $82,000. LAPD captains earn between $140,000 and $170,000 per year.

Assistant director of emergency management

According to an Arizona job posting, the assistant director of emergency management works with and supports state departments to identify and neutralize hazards and threats. This position requires extensive experience in emergency management and may lead to an emergency management director position.

In 2019, Arizona's assistant director of the emergency department earned just over $90,000. According to PayScale, the average salary for an emergency services director is nearly $110,000.

FBI intelligence analyst

Intelligence analysts are responsible for mitigating threats before they occur. Analysts require advanced analytical skills and must communicate and collaborate with other agencies. These professionals may specialize in preventing crime or terrorist attacks.

According to PayScale, FBI intelligence analysts earn nearly $73,000 per year. Earning a master's in homeland security and gaining experience can help analysts earn promotions to management positions, which may lead to a six figure salary.

Cybersecurity analyst

Cybersecurity represents a critical front in the battle to provide homeland security. Analysts identify and mitigate potential security breaches. There are jobs in government agencies (e.g., the NSA) and the private sector (e.g., banks).

While a homeland security degree is helpful for this career—especially if you want to qualify for a leadership position—you'll likely need a computer science or cybersecurity-focused degree, certification, or at least a rich background in the field.

According to CyberSeek, the average cybersecurity analyst earns $96,000 per year. Advancement opportunities include:

  • Cybersecurity architect
  • Cybersecurity engineer
  • Cybersecurity manager or administrator

The average salary for each career is in the six figures.

Health services manager

Health services managers coordinate patient care and ensure regulatory compliance for organizations like nursing homes, healthcare networks, and hospitals. Those who work for a government agency may focus on policy. Health managers can potentially advance to executive positions in a hospital.

The US Bureau of Labor Statistics expects the job market for health services managers to grow by 32 percent from 2019 to 2026; these professionals earn a median pay of $100,000. While a master's in homeland security can help you qualify for a leadership role, especially in public health, health degrees are more common.

Emergency management specialist

According to a FEMA job posting, emergency management specialists are in charge of "Identifying conflicts in multiple Federal planning requirements and assistance programs and providing recommendations regarding efficiency and effectiveness of disaster recovery programs." Naturally, a job's characteristics may differ based on where you work; a disaster in Arizona looks much different from one in Florida. According to FEMA, an emergency management specialist's salary range is between $64,535 and $101,503 per year, depending on the applicant's experience and education.

There's no single career advancement path for emergency management specialists, though supervisory emergency management specialist is the natural next step. Supervisor specialists earn between $156,235 and $172,500 annually.

Coast Guard supervisory IT cybersecurity specialist

According to a recent Coast Guard job posting, supervisory cybersecurity specialists lead a team of cybersecurity professionals, plus build and maintain the cyber defense infrastructure of their departments. A master's or the equivalent in cybersecurity is likely necessary for this position.

The salary for Coast Guard specialists is between $144,128 and $172,500 per year. According to PayScale, the average annual salary for a information security manager, a similar position, is around $117,000.

In military and government settings, advancement can mean managing larger departments rather than getting a new job title. A Cybersecurity specialist who works for private companies may become an executive, like chief information security officer.

Secret Service technical security investigator

These professionals fill essential roles in technical law enforcement. They are experienced in:

  • Chemical biological countermeasures
  • Electronics
  • Explosive ordnance disposal
  • Technical surveillance countermeasures

Job duties revolve around security technology installation to maintenance. Investigators may also be responsible for searching areas for threats and advising higher-ranking officials.

Security investigators typically need an advanced degree, and earn between $79,468 and $103,300 annually. Advancement opportunities include branch chief and assistant division chief.

Top homeland security master's programs

Aside from the Naval Postgraduate School, it's tough to say which program is the best—each school has a different specialty. It's essential to conduct your own research.

This list relies on data from US News and World Report, meaning it also includes emergency management-focused degrees. Top schools include:

Because the fields are distinct, top master's in cybersecurity programs include:

Top online homeland security master's programs

Top online cybersecurity degrees can be found at:

Questions or feedback? Email editor@noodle.com