Homeland security career guide

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Introduction to homeland security

In response to the 9/11 terrorism attacks in 2001, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) was created in an effort to avoid future catastrophic events. The mission of the DHS is to protect the United States from human-made and natural disasters.  

The DHS is composed of several sub-agencies that work together to preserve the safety of all Americans. These agencies include:  

  • Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA)  
  • Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)  
  • Office of Intelligence and Analysis  
  • U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS)  
  • Federal Law Enforcement Training Center (FLETC)  
  • Transportation Security Administration (TSA)  

The DHS is made up of 22 government agencies and employs more than 230,000 people. This vast number of agencies ensures a steady flow of job opportunities from administrative to field work. If you are seeking a career in law enforcement or the military, the agencies that may be relevant to your search include: 
 

  • U.S. Coast Guard (USCG)  
  • U.S. Custom and Border Protection (CBP)  
  • Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)  
  • U.S. Secret Service 

What do I need to work in homeland security?

The ideal candidate for a job in the DHS has no criminal history, strong critical thinking skills, professionalism, physical ability and a desire to protect their county. Veterans who want to continue their careers and expand their knowledge in other areas of law enforcement can apply to join a DHS agency after their time in the military.  

The DHS also has several fields and related agencies not directly involved in law enforcement. From cyber security to emergency management, these agencies are crucial in protecting against attacks. FEMA is made up of a team of federal leaders and emergency management specialists that work to minimize damage. Members of FEMA can find themselves in an office or in the field responding to disasters like hurricanes or floods.  

The DHS also has a research and development branch, known as the Science and Technology Directorate. This branch is research-based and focuses on leveraging existing networks to build knowledge and define future research goals.  

In an evolving world full of new technology, cybersecurity has become an essential division of the DHS. Cybercriminals find ways to steal personal information, breaching major organizations like financial institutions and social media platforms and causing millions of dollars in damage.  

Educational pathways to jobs in the DHS

The DHS does not always require applicants to have a degree. However, having a degree in a related field can support your employment prospects and chances of promotion. Some degrees that fall under this category include criminal justice, psychology, cybersecurity, and sociology. 

 
In instances where extensive, specific knowledge is needed, a degree is often necessary. For example, a degree in cyber security is usually a prerequisite to work for CISA, as the field requires extensive computer programming and information systems knowledge. A degree in computer science, cybersecurity, information systems management and risk management are excellent ways to prepare yourself for a job in this segment of the DHS. 

  
For prospective students interested in getting a degree in homeland security, there are options at the associate, bachelor’s, master’s, and doctorate levels. Many universities also offer concentrations in areas like emergency management, national security, and intelligence. 

Associate degrees

With an associate degree, you can secure an entry-level position in several areas. The examples below are also available without a degree, though a degree will improve your chances of employment and serve as a starting point should you wish to further your education and career. 

shield-checkBorder patrol agents

These agents protect American land and water borders with an emphasis on protecting citizens from terrorists, drug smugglers, and the illegal entry of undocumented aliens. The average annual salary of a border patrol agent is $79,500. 

shield-checkDEA agent

These law enforcement professionals work under the Drug Enforcement Administration and are focused on protecting American citizens from illegal controlled substance manufacturers and distributors. The average annual salary of a DEA agent is $71,000.   

shield-checkTSA agent

These agents screen passengers and their luggage to prevent anything potentially dangerous from coming on board planes. The average annual salary of a TSA agent is $37,669. 

Bachelor’s degrees

A bachelor’s degree in homeland security can be earned as an extension of an associate degree or as a stand-alone starting point for your education. Bachelor’s degrees include 120 credits and usually take 4 years to complete. If you earn your associate degree first, you need 2 additional years of study to earn your bachelor’s. The average annual tuition cost for a bachelor’s degree is $9,580 for in-state students and $27,437 for out-of-state students. 

Most bachelor programs also include internship opportunities related to your major, which is a good way to get started in a job after graduation. Required courses typically include an introduction to organizational security, global threats to security, an introduction to intelligence and critical infrastructure, and key resources protection.  

Bachelor’s degrees in this area are often more specified and lead to more advanced job opportunities. Listed below are typical examples of careers available to those with a bachelor’s degree in homeland security. 

shield-checkInformation security analyst

These analysts work with computer networks and systems to assure they are secure. Information security analysts earn an average annual salary of $73,035.  

shield-checkEmergency management specialist

These professionals coordinate and carry out support plans for victims of human-made or natural disasters. Emergency management specialists earn an average annual salary of $64,051. 

Master’s degrees

A master’s degree in homeland security or a related field allows you to focus on a specific branch of the DHS. For example, with a bachelor’s degree in cybersecurity, you may specify further with a master’s degree in information assurance. Master’s programs are typically about 30 credits.  

By furthering your education, you will stand out in the hiring process and can earn a higher salary. A master’s degree allows the number of jobs you are eligible for to grow tremendously. The average annual tuition and fees for a master’s degree in the 2020/2021 school year were $8,950. Listed below are some examples of positions available to those with a master’s degree in this field. 

shield-checkIntelligence analyst

These agents work with military and law enforcement to help fight terrorist plots by neutralizing foreign threats. Intelligence analysts earn an average annual salary of $71,072.

shield-checkEmergency manager

These professionals help communities an organizations predict and avoid vulnerabilities and deal with disasters. Average annual salary of $73,347.

shield-checkNetwork engineer

Sometimes referred to as network architects, these professionals optimize computer networks, troubleshooting issues, designing and improving networks. Average annual salary is $74,976.

Doctorate degrees

If you are looking to hold a senior position in the DHS, a doctorate will help you get there. From local to international security issues, a doctorate degree qualifies you for mid- to high-level executive positions. A doctorates degree is typically 70-80 credits and usually takes 2 to 3 years to complete. The average annual cost of tuition and fees for a doctoral degree in the 2020/2021 school year was $11,440. Some programs require labs, a residency and a thesis.  

Earning your doctorate in homeland security or a related field allows you to move into careers where you are in charge of a team or even a branch of the DHS. These types of positions require several years of experience. Some examples of roles that those with a doctorate take on are listed below. 

shield-checkChief security officer

These professionals are the highest-level executive responsible for an organization’s security, both physical and digital. Chief security officers earn an average annual salary of $148,614. 

shield-checkSupervisory CBP officer

These professionals work in the Customs and Border Patrol segment of the DHS at a high level with responsibilities such as developing analytical procedures to conducting training programs. Supervisory CBP officers earn an average annual salary of over $108,699. 

Certificates and licenses

The certifications and licensing required to work in the DHS vary by branch. Cybersecurity experts may need to be certified in computer programing, while FEMA employees need insurance licenses. Certifications can be completed throughout the course of your career, helping to expand your knowledge and keep you up to date on the latest skills and knowledge. 

Conclusion

The DHS is an excellent place to learn, grow and develop your career. With so many different agencies and roles to choose from, there are plenty of opportunities to build a career. Earning an associate, bachelor’s, master’s, or doctorate degree comes with an increasing opportunities for more senior and higher-paying roles. Many agencies in the DHS allow you to travel around the country, but there are also plenty of local DHS agencies. No matter what you are looking for in a career, the DHS is sure to have an opportunity for you. 

U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS)   

The DHS website includes plenty of information for those interested in starting a career based in the field of homeland security, including the latest news and career listings.   

 U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP)  

The CBP website has information on the different roles in this organization as well as current job opportunities.  

FEMA   

FEMA’s website includes details on their current projects, how to apply for open positions and recruitment events for prospective employees.