Homeland Security Degrees: Master's, PhD & Online Course Info

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What kind of job can you get with an advanced degree in homeland security? Find out program requirements, online options and info on courses and homeland security master's and Ph.D. degrees.
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Study Homeland Security: Graduate Degrees at a Glance

Homeland security professionals try to minimize the vulnerability of the U.S. to natural and human-created disasters, such as terrorist attacks. They also respond to catastrophic events. A graduate degree in homeland security might seem like a good idea to hone your organizational leadership and strategic skills - but some homeland security jobs, such as border patrol agent, require only a bachelor's degree or a combination of postsecondary education and experience.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is one of the largest federal agencies. The Partnership for Public Service projected the DHS would hire more than 65,000 employees from 2010-2012. Homeland security careers also exist within the U.S. Department of Labor, Central Intelligence Agency, state and local agencies and the private sector. The diversity of jobs in this field means a degree alone may not be enough; job-specific training may be required.

Master's Doctorate
Who is this degree for? Those interested in working in management positions in the private or public sector People who want to work as professors, researchers or consultants
Common Career Paths (with approximate mean annual salary) - U.S. Border Patrol agent ($39,000)**
- Information security analyst ($82,000)*
- Detectives and criminal investigator ($76,000)*
- Criminal justice and law enforcement professor ($66,000)*
- Counter-terrorism consultant (unavailable)
Time to Completion 16 months (full time)-7 years (part time) 4 years full-time, up to 8 years part-time after master's coursework
Common Graduation Requirements - Roughly 8-12 graduate level courses
- Small project, research study, portfolio, thesis or field practicum
Roughly 12-18 graduate-level courses
- Two consecutive semesters of full-time residency
- Dissertation
Prerequisites Bachelor's degree Master's (at some schools, bachelor's) degree in public administration or related field
Online Availability Yes Rare; more common at for-profit institutions

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2011 figures), **U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (July 2010 figures).

Master's Degree in Homeland Security

Universities offer Master of Science and Master of Professional Studies programs in homeland security for those seeking management or other advanced positions in the field. Homeland security master's degree programs offer core courses in key homeland security concepts, such as strategic planning, ethics and administrative concepts. Electives allow students to specialize in one of the many subfields related to homeland security. Programs typically culminate in a capstone experience, which could range from an individual research project or a small-group project to a field practicum.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Programs allow you to specialize in a variety of areas
  • Prepare for a career within a large sector of government
  • Work in a career that will help keep others safe

Cons

  • Many careers in homeland security do not require advanced study
  • Might prepare you for a career with a relatively low salary
  • Job could be dangerous at times

Courses and Requirements

To apply to a master's degree program in homeland security, you must have a bachelor's degree. Although work experience in a military, law enforcement or public service field is generally not required, some programs may be geared toward individuals who have such experience.

Some examples of courses found in master's degree programs in homeland security include:

  • Web data security
  • Natural disasters
  • Disaster communication
  • Disaster psychology
  • Decision making analysis
  • Applied geography
  • Homeland security law

In addition to completing core courses, students must generally choose a concentration, complete elective courses within this concentration and a capstone experience. Some of the specializations available within a master's degree program might include:

  • Terrorism and security studies
  • Information security and forensics
  • Public health preparedness
  • Organizational leadership
  • Agricultural biosecurity
  • Emergency management
  • Geospatial intelligence

Online Degree Options

Universities offer master's degree programs in homeland security in online or hybrid (online and on-campus) formats. Some on-campus programs are offered in the evenings and on weekends to accommodate the schedules of working professionals. Online master's degree programs typically have the same academic requirements as their on-campus counterparts.

Stand out With This Degree

One way to stand out at the master's degree level is to choose a specialization closely related to the position in which you'd like to work. If you're currently working in homeland security, these programs can help you gain additional, specialized skills to stand out in your field. A few areas of specialization might include cyber security, robotics and surveillance, biometrics and systems engineering.

Some schools offer a fellowship program sponsored by the DHS to both master's- and doctoral-level students who intend to work in the engineering, mathematics, science and technology subfields within homeland security. Science-related subtopics might include biological threats and countermeasures, social and behavioral sciences, explosives detection, geophysical studies related to natural disasters and food security. Technology-related subtopics include computer/information sciences and advanced data analysis/visualization. The fellowship, which pays a stipend, requires U.S. citizenship, a grade point average of at least 3.0, a 10-week internship with a DHS-affiliated facility and a commitment to one year of service at a venue approved by the DHS.

Degree Alternatives

If the information security aspect of homeland security interests you, you might consider a degree program in information systems. According to the BLS, information security analysts and related professionals generally hold at least a bachelor's degree in a computer field. Some employers, the BLS noted, prefer those who hold Master of Business Administration degrees in information systems. Job growth for information security analysts and related computer professionals, the BLS projected, would be better than the average for all occupations from 2010-2020, at 22%.

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) Degrees in Homeland Security

Ph.D. programs in homeland security are available. However, these programs are rarely offered at public and private not-for-profit universities. Many universities offer homeland security courses and concentrations through broader programs, such as public administration, business and management. A doctoral program in public administration may allow for a self-designed concentration or offer concentrations in public policy studies and financial administration/public budgeting.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Prepares you to teach homeland security at a college or university
  • For those who work in administrative positions, a Ph.D. program can provide a deeper understanding of homeland security theory and practice
  • Can help prepare you for research that will advance the field of study

Cons

  • Ph.D. programs in homeland security are relatively hard to find
  • Might require master's degrees in fields other than homeland security
  • May require full-time student residency

Courses and Requirements

Applicants to a Ph.D. program in public administration must generally have a master's degree in public administration, public policy, sociology, economics or business. In some instances, applicants with master's degrees in other fields of study may be considered, and some programs will consider students who hold bachelor's degrees. These programs may require courses in the following:

  • Research methods
  • Organizational behavior
  • Contemporary public management issues
  • Public budgeting and finance
  • Public expenditure analysis

Applicants must also have acceptable scores on the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) and meet the minimal graduate grade point average. Those admitted to the program may need to maintain a certain grade point average to remain in the program. Much of a Ph.D. program is dedicated to researching, preparing and defending a doctoral dissertation. The capstone experience of a Ph.D. program is writing and orally defending the dissertation.

Online Degree Options

It may be difficult to find an online Ph.D. program in homeland security or in public administration from a public or private not-for-profit university. Campus-based or hybrid programs that offer homeland security concentrations are more common. Make sure that any prospective program is accredited.

Stand Out With This Degree

A doctoral-level education may help prepare you for positions that include executive director of a private sector organization, legislator and city planner or manager. To stand out among those who've earned doctoral degrees in public administration, you can attend a school accredited by the National Association of Schools of Public Affairs and Administration. You can also look for schools that have demonstrated a commitment to research in the field through research institutes and public administration initiatives. These institutes may offer opportunities for hands-on experience as well as research. You can also stand out with a Ph.D. program by choosing a school with a reputation for placing graduates in positions related to homeland security.

Another possible way to stand out is to pursue a federal volunteer program related to homeland security. Students enrolled at least half-time, including doctoral students, who are U.S. citizens can apply to the U.S. Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) Student Volunteer Program. The OSTP advises the Executive Office of the President on how science and technology relate to U.S. and international affairs. National security, public health and economic concerns are among the issues relevant to the OSTP. The 90-day program allows students to work with policy analysts. Divisions that accept student volunteers include National Security and International Affairs (NSIA), Environment and Energy (E & E) and the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST).

Popular Schools

  • Online Programs Available
    1. Kaplan University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master: Criminal Justice
      • Master: Criminal Justice
  • Online Programs Available
    2. Northcentral University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • MS - Organizational Leadership: Criminal Justice
      • MBA - Criminal Justice
      • MBA - Homeland Security
  • Online Programs Available
    3. Colorado Christian University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Criminal Justice, M.S.
  • Online Programs Available
    4. Utica College

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master of Professional Studies in Cyber Policy and Risk Analysis
      • MS in Data Science: Financial Crime
  • Online Programs Available
    5. Regent University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master of Arts in Law - Criminal Justice
      • Master of Arts in Law - National Security
      • Master of Public Administration - Emergency Management and Homeland Security
  • Online Programs Available
    6. Lewis University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • MS in Criminal Justice
      • MS in Public Safety Administration
  • Online Programs Available
    7. Saint Joseph's University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • MS in Criminal Justice
      • MS in Criminal Justice Intelligence & Crime Analysis
      • MS in Criminal Justice Behavior Analysis
      • MS in Criminal Justice Homeland Security
      • MS in Criminal Justice Federal Law Enforcement
      • MS in Criminal Justice Behavior Management

Featured Schools

Kaplan University

  • Master: Criminal Justice

Which subject are you interested in?

Northcentral University

  • MS - Organizational Leadership: Criminal Justice
  • MBA - Criminal Justice
  • MBA - Homeland Security

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Colorado Christian University

  • Criminal Justice, M.S.

What is your highest level of education completed?

Utica College

  • Master of Professional Studies in Cyber Policy and Risk Analysis
  • MS in Data Science: Financial Crime

What is your highest level of education completed?

Regent University

  • Master of Arts in Law - Criminal Justice
  • Master of Arts in Law - National Security
  • Master of Public Administration - Emergency Management and Homeland Security

What is your highest level of education completed?

Lewis University

  • MS in Criminal Justice
  • MS in Public Safety Administration

What is your highest level of education?

Saint Joseph's University

  • MS in Criminal Justice
  • MS in Criminal Justice Intelligence & Crime Analysis
  • MS in Criminal Justice Behavior Analysis

What is your highest level of education completed?