Guide to Homeland Security Degrees
What Is a Homeland Security Degree?
Established in 2002, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) protects the nation from a variety of threats. While criminal justice and law enforcement degrees provide adequate preparation for related fields, homeland security professionals face distinctive situations that often require specialized training. As a result, many schools offer homeland security programs that provide graduates with advanced knowledge in focused areas, such as border security, counterterrorism, and emergency response.
Graduates with a homeland security degree can pursue careers with strong salary potential. For example, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), emergency management professionals make a median annual salary of $74,590.
This page covers the different types of homeland security degree programs, including requirements, common courses, and potential careers for graduates.
Why Get a Degree in Homeland Security?
Homeland security attracts aspiring law enforcement and public safety professionals from diverse backgrounds with various career goals. The following list highlights a few of the benefits of a homeland security degree.
Homeland security graduates may enjoy median annual wages that greatly exceed the national median for all occupations. For example, BLS data indicates that the median annual wage for law enforcement professionals exceeds the national median by nearly $30,000.
Many of the careers available to homeland security graduates provide significant opportunities for professional growth. In addition to experience, which grants access to positions with increased responsibility and earning potential, professionals can advance their careers through advanced degrees and certifications.
Graduates with a homeland security degree enjoy access to a variety of career options in areas like law enforcement, public safety, and emergency management.
Career and Salary Outlook for Homeland Security Graduates
Homeland security graduates can pursue criminal justice professions in areas like law enforcement, emergency response, and information technology.
Most law enforcement positions offer career growth opportunities and competitive salaries. According to BLS data, police and detective jobs are projected to grow 5% between 2018-2028, a rate comparable to the average for all occupations. Though pay varies by position, PayScale data shows that DHS employees earn an annual average salary of more than $74,000.
The following list outlines several potential jobs for graduates with a homeland security degree.
Emergency Management Specialist
Emergency management professionals work with government, public safety, and law enforcement agencies to prepare emergency protocols. They devise plans and procedures to follow during times of crisis, such as natural disasters. Most positions require a bachelor's degree at minimum. Some positions may require certifications or additional training. With experience, candidates can qualify for director positions.
Border Patrol Agent
Border patrol agents help protect national and state borders, facilitate safe travels across borders, and ensure the legal and safe transport of goods. While educational requirements vary by employer, many employers seek border control candidates with a bachelor's degree in a field like homeland security.
Homeland security professionals defend the country from attacks. They may work in areas like transportation security, intelligence, immigration, or emergency management. Homeland security professionals typically need a bachelor's degree in a related field. Professionals may qualify for more advanced positions with experience and additional training.
Air marshals help secure the safety of passengers and flight equipment during commercial flights. These professionals often board flights anonymously and observe all on-board activity. Air marshal candidates typically need law enforcement or military training and experience. Applicants without experience may need a bachelor's degree.
|Job Title||Entry Level (0-12 Months)||Early Career (1-4 Years)||Mid-career (5-9 Years)||Experienced (10-19 Years)|
|Emergency Management Specialist||$50,000||$55,000||$64,000||$75,000|
|Border Patrol Agent||$48,000||$49,000||$73,000||$81,000|
Types of Homeland Security Degrees
When researching homeland security degree programs, applicants should consider factors like program costs and their individual career goals. While some entry-level careers in the field don't require a degree, completing an associate or bachelor's degree in homeland security gives candidates a competitive edge in the job market.
Advanced homeland security degrees, such as master's degrees, typically grant access to more opportunities and more financially rewarding careers than undergraduate degrees. The following sections cover various types of homeland security degrees and their potential career paths.
- Associate Degree in Homeland Security
Associate degrees in homeland security typically require 60 credits and two years of full-time study. Applicants usually need a high school diploma or GED. Graduates may pursue entry-level positions, training academies in law enforcement, or a more advanced degree program. Some possible homeland security associate degrees include:
- AA in homeland security
- AS in homeland security
- AS in general studies with a concentration in homeland security
- Bachelor's Degree in Homeland Security
A bachelor's degree in homeland security prepares graduates to work in most law enforcement fields, though some employers may require additional training. Most programs require 120 credits and take four years to complete. Applicants usually need a high school diploma or GED. Graduates can pursue entry- or mid-level employment opportunities or an advanced degree. Potential homeland security bachelor's degrees include:
- BS in homeland security
- BA in homeland security
- BS in criminal justice with a concentration in homeland security
- Master's Degree in Homeland Security
Graduates with a master's degree in homeland security can pursue leadership positions in the field. They can also pursue doctoral programs to prepare for careers in research or academia. Most master's programs require 60 credits and take two years to complete. Applicants typically need a bachelor's degree in a related field. Some possible degree titles include:
- MS in homeland security
- MS in criminal justice with a concentration in homeland security
- MS in counterterrorism and homeland security
Concentrations in Homeland Security
Concentrations allow students to tailor a degree to their interests and goals. Associate and bachelor's programs in criminal justice often offer homeland security as a concentration. Graduate programs may allow students to specialize in various subfields of homeland security, such as biosecurity or counterterrorism.
Some possible homeland security concentrations include:
- Emergency management
- Public safety
- International relations
- Public health
- Community resilience
Homeland Security Certifications
Certification may not be necessary depending on the job; however, certifications demonstrate specialized knowledge and skills to employers. Homeland security students and professionals can earn the certified homeland protection associate credential. Candidates for this credential must be current students or graduates of an accredited university and pass the Homeland Protection Associate test.
Popular Homeland Security Courses
The courses required to complete a homeland security degree vary by program and degree level. Undergraduate students typically take foundational homeland security courses, while graduate students pursue specialized and advanced topics in the field.
Some programs feature capstone courses that allow students to customize their topic of study. The following list outlines common homeland security courses.
Border and Coastal Security
This course reviews the security measures in place along the country's borders and coastlines. Students learn about typical border security issues, potential threats, and the necessary actions authorities take against threats.
Homeland Security Legal and Ethical Issues
In this course, students examine the power afforded to governments and the other organizations responsible for national security. They observe the legal framework and ethical implications of previous and potential security measures, specifically when dealing with counterterrorism and intelligence.
Psychology of Terrorism
This course covers the psychology behind acts of terrorism and the psychological impacts of terrorism and counterterrorism on nations and people. This training can help professionals understand the motivations behind these events, the protective measures necessary to prevent them, and the trauma responses required to recover from them.
Critical Infrastructure Protection
In this course, students learn about the various critical infrastructure components across the nation. They learn how infrastructure systems connect the country, along with their vulnerabilities and potential safety threats. This course also examines the planning, preparation, and establishment of protective measures and programs.
National Security and Intelligence
This course explores the growth and development of national security and intelligence in the United States. Students examine the role of national security in some of the major events in history. They also look at the current state of the field and where it might lead.
Selecting Your Homeland Security Program
When researching homeland security programs, students should consider factors like tuition and financial aid opportunities, course delivery format, and program length. Students with a specific career goal should seek out programs that offer training in their desired focus through electives or specializations. Some schools might also offer internships or additional opportunities in specific fields.
Aspiring applicants should also make sure that they meet the admission requirements for their prospective schools. In addition, a program's alumni network and career services might indicate the types of support students can access before and after graduation.
Should You Get Your Homeland Security Degree Online?
Online programs provide similar training to on-campus programs, but with added flexibility. However, learners must be disciplined and self-motivated to succeed in online programs as these programs don't offer as much structure as on-campus programs.
Accreditation for Homeland Security Schools and Programs
Program accreditation is an important consideration for all students. Attending a regionally accredited program ensures a student's financial aid eligibility, allows students to transfer credits more easily, and guarantees a quality education.
The Council for Higher Education Accreditation recognizes seven agencies that provide regional accreditation to schools depending on where the school is located. Students can research accredited programs on the Database of Accredited Postsecondary Institutions and Programs.
Programs within a school may also receive accreditation. Homeland security students rarely encounter programmatic accreditation, but they may see a joint sponsorship from the DHS and the National Security Agency (NSA). These organizations recognize National Centers of Academic Excellence (CAE) that offer quality training in cyber defense and cyber operations. While not mandatory for employment in the field, graduating from a CAE-designated school may lead to additional internship and employment opportunities.
Frequently Asked Questions
- How long will it take to complete a homeland security degree?
- Program completion times vary by school and student. However, an associate degree typically takes two years to complete, a bachelor's degree often takes four years to complete, and a master's degree usually takes two years to complete.
- How much will I make with a degree in homeland security?
- Salaries vary by career path, educational level, and experience, but according to BLS data, law enforcement professionals earn median annual wages of more than $57,000. Emergency management directors earn wages over $74,000, with the top 10% of earners making more than $140,000.
- What kind of jobs can you get with a homeland security degree?
- Homeland security graduates can pursue a variety of criminal justice careers in areas such as immigration, customs and border security, and transportation security.
- Do you need a master's degree in homeland security to find a job?
- While not often required in homeland security jobs, a master's degree can help individuals advance their career by demonstrating specialized knowledge and skills, qualifying them for leadership roles in the field.
- What skills do you need to work in the homeland security sector?
- Working in homeland security involves continuously analyzing new information and making decisions quickly under pressure; therefore, individuals in this sector should be confident critical thinkers who handle stressful situations well. They should also enjoy working in teams and have good communication skills.
Scholarships for Homeland Security Programs
Students can take advantage of a variety of financial aid opportunities to help offset the costs of tuition, such as loans, grants, and scholarships. The following list highlights several homeland security scholarships available to eligible students.
AFCEA War Veterans Scholarships
Who Can Apply: Awarded to war veterans enrolled in an undergraduate program related to communications and electronics security, this scholarship recognizes students with a minimum GPA of 3.0.
Colonel Sully H. de Fontaine Award
Who Can Apply: Established in honor and memory of Colonel Sully H. de Fontaine, this award supports undergraduate students pursuing a career in the intelligence community.
Ritchie-Jennings Memorial Scholarship
Who Can Apply: Aimed at supporting students pursuing a career in fraud examination, this scholarship recognizes applicants from criminal justice or related fields. Candidates must be enrolled full time in an undergraduate or graduate program.
Al Ponte Graduate Scholarship
Who Can Apply: This award recognizes law enforcement students who plan to pursue graduate school in international relations or intelligence.
CIA Undergraduate Scholarship
Who Can Apply: This program supports undergraduate students who demonstrate financial need. Applicants need a minimum 3.0 GPA and relevant experience and career interests.