Master’s degree in homeland security

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What is homeland security?

The field of homeland security emerged as a result of the 9/11 attacks. It encompasses everything from counterterrorism to public health safety, with 22 agencies falling under the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). These include the U.S. Secret Service, Transportation Security Administration (TSA), Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the Weapons of Mass Destruction Office. Professionals in this interdisciplinary field enjoy various career opportunities in areas such as:

  • intelligence
  • cybersecurity
  • criminal justice
  • counterterrorism
  • law enforcement
  • border protection and control
  • information and economic security
  • maritime, land and aviation security
  • security technology research and development
  • emergency response and disaster management

The DHS  is also one of the largest cabinet departments, employing over 240,000 individuals at the local, state and national levels. The private sector also recruits homeland security professionals, with roles in aviation, banking and information technology. Homeland security encompasses efforts to combat, respond to and recover from terrorism, public health crises, human-made or natural disasters and any other large-scale emergencies.

Many homeland security professionals choose to pursue their master’s degree to gain advanced knowledge and skills for senior-level positions. Getting a master’s degree in this field increases both earning potential and career prospects. Graduates in this field often go on to lead and manage security practices in public and private organizations.

Admission requirements

The admission requirements for a master’s in homeland security typically include:

  • 1-2 year’s professional working experience
  • bachelor’s degree
  • letters of recommendation
  • statement of purpose
  • minimum GPA of 3.0
  • professional resume
  • official transcripts

Most colleges and universities allow students to transfer credits and may award credits for previous professional experience. However, these factors depend on your chosen institution, so be sure to check with the admissions office.

Program flexibility and format

A master’s degree generally takes 2 years of full-time study, including 30 to 40 credits on average. While traditional on-campus options are available, many working professionals prefer an online program for flexibility.

Most online programs are asynchronous, meaning most coursework can be done at any time. Additionally, some schools offer dual degree programs that allow students to pursue bachelor’s and master’s, or master’s and doctoral degrees simultaneously. These joint programs typically take longer than their traditional counterparts.

Average cost of a master’s degree

The cost of your graduate degree largely depends on your chosen educational institution, program format and whether you study part- or full-time. Online programs are typically less expensive than on-campus programs and in-state students pay less than out-of-state students.

The average annual tuition cost for master’s programs in the 2020-2021 school year was $8,950 at public universities. This number jumped to $26,670 at private non-profit institutions.

Financial aid

Many financial aid opportunities are reserved for first-time undergraduate students. However, many government departments, educational institutions, non-profit organizations and even private companies offer financial aid to graduate students in the form of grants, loans, work-study programs and scholarships.

The first step for any student looking for financial aid is to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form.

Coursework examples

Graduate students can expect to study topics such as national security, intelligence analysis, foreign policy and emergency management. They may also need to complete a capstone project or dissertation. Some typical coursework examples include the following:

National security ethics

Security professionals often handle confidential information that can present ethical dilemmas in its distribution and use. This course examines the delicate relationship between privacy principles and intelligence gathering.

Emergency management

In this course, students learn about topics such as disaster management, communication strategies and recovery policies.

Intelligence gathering and analysis

This course allows students to explore intelligence gathering theories, history and the tools used by various organizations today.


As an interdisciplinary field of study, homeland security comes with several concentrations for students to develop skills and gain specialized knowledge in a particular area. Here are a few popular examples:


Biosecurity focuses on the strategies and measures used to protect food and water. It is also concerned with safeguarding living organisms against both artificial and natural biological hazards.


This concentration is about strategies for the detection, prevention, response to, and recovery from national and domestic terrorist attacks. Students also learn about U.S. law and policy, as well as analytical techniques to assess threats and prevent the formation of terrorist organizations.

Information security

This concentration teaches how to protect computer networks, prevent cyberattacks and respond to breaches and intrusions. Students also learn about the methods and principles of data security and information management.


Accreditation ensures that an educational institution or program maintains high standards concerning learning outcomes and faculty staff.

While there are not any specific homeland security accreditation agencies, the Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences and FEMA’s Emergency Management Institute may accredit programs in this niche. It’s best to check whether a school or program is accredited by searching the CHEA database.

Potential careers

Homeland security graduates have an abundance of career opportunities in management, leadership and other high-ranking roles. Moreover, they can find employment with various government and private organizations. Here are a few popular options:

These professionals interpret and analyze information to predict outcomes, identify discrepancies and make recommendations. Their duties include extensive research using various kinds of data. As senior-level employees, senior intelligence analysts usually oversee teams, review information and implement intelligence processes. While the majority of intelligence analysts hold a bachelor’s degree, a master’s is advantageous and can significantly boost your earning potential.

The average annual salary for senior-level professionals in this field is $96,844.

These professionals develop, implement, maintain and oversee disaster recovery plans within private or government organizations. Disaster recovery managers must also ensure the integrity of assets, information systems and data in the event of a disaster or breach. Most disaster recovery coordinators hold a bachelor’s degree. However, a master’s degree in homeland security with an information systems concentration can qualify you for more advanced positions with a higher salary.

The average annual salary of a disaster recovery manager is $70,913.

Special agents are law enforcement personnel who investigate alleged criminal or terrorist activity. Their duties include conducting surveillance, collecting evidence and interviewing suspects. Special agents can work for various federal organizations such as the FBI and CIA. Although not required, a significant number of special agents hold a master’s degree. A graduate degree can enhance your salary potential and better prepare you for advanced roles in this subfield.

The average annual salary for a special agent is $90,870.

Continuing education

Pursing a doctoral degree can prepare you for top executive, academic and research roles across many organizations and subfields of homeland security. Law enforcement agencies also offer professional development certifications, such as the Certified Homeland Protection Associate (CHPA) and Certified Homeland Protection Professional (CHPP).

The Department of Homeland Security has an extensive list of training resources available. Additionally, many educational and private institutions also offer continuing education programs.

Should I get a master’s in homeland security

If you are aiming to fulfill senior-level positions in homeland security, earning your master’s degree can prove beneficial. Not only will it give you an advantage over other candidates, but it will also enhance your skills, knowledge and earning potential.

Homeland Security Digital Library

The Homeland Security Digital Library offers an extensive collection of documents, publications and research tools for students and professionals in the industry.

Disaster Information Management Research Center

The Disaster Information Management Research Center forms part of the U.S. National Library of Medicine. It provides literature, news and continuing education resources.

International Association for Counterterrorism and Security Professionals (IACSP)

IACSP hosts annual conferences and publishes the Journal of Counterterrorism and Homeland Security.