Earning a Master’s in Homeland Security Online

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Homeland security spans several career areas, including law enforcement, customs and border patrol, and immigration services. Many employers are aware of the rigor and discipline required to complete a post-graduate program in this industry and often prefer job applicants with a higher education degree. This article will examine the advantages of pursuing an online master’s degree in homeland security, various funding sources, program requirements, and close with a sampling of the professional organizations that support homeland security professionals.

Student Profile: Who Earns an Online Master's Degree in Homeland Security?

An online master’s degree in homeland security can enhance a recent graduate’s job prospects or advance a seasoned field professional’s career. Because security is such a prevalent concern throughout the world today, a professional holding a master’s degree in homeland security will often have an easier time meeting and exceeding their immediate and long-term career goals.

Why Get a Master's Degree in Homeland Security?

Pursuing Specialization

A master’s program provides enrollees with the opportunity to focus on topics that interest them, such as emergency management. A master’s program also provides students with the opportunity to concentrate in specialized areas that open job opportunities in a variety of industries. For example, a private detective concentrating on security protocols can establish a career in the gaming industry or as part of a private security firm.

Career Advancement Opportunities

Many employers understand and appreciate that earning a master’s degree takes dedication and discipline, so completing a master’s program in homeland security tells a future employer that you possess these qualities and you are the kind of employee they want to have working for them. Having a master’s degree in homeland security can often lead to career promotions, an increase in responsibilities, and often a higher salary.

Online Learning Technology

Pursuing a master's degree in homeland security online familiarizes students with cutting-edge communication and security technology. This gives them the ability to recognize and respond to security threats quickly and efficiently, and makes all the difference between a secured system and a compromised network. Familiarity with the latest security technology can also help prevent, contain, and correct security breaches as they occur.

Prerequisites for Online Homeland Security Programs

The prerequisites for each online master’s in homeland security program will vary. It is advisable to become familiar with these prerequisites to make sure you choose a program that builds on your strengths. Below are some common prerequisites that most programs will require as part of the application process.

    • Work Experience: Although it is not a requirement for all master’s in homeland security degrees, having some type of work experience can help you get more out of your postgraduate program. Some schools give academic credit for work experience, and this may reduce the time it takes for you to complete the program.
    • Exams and Test Scores: Most schools offering a master’s program in homeland security require applicants to submit the results of their graduate record examination (GRE). Because GRE scores are weighed along with an applicant’s other qualifications, most institutions do not have a minimum required score. GRE scores are valid for five years.
    • Coursework: Each program offers a set of courses that supports the school’s academic goals for their students. Many master’s programs in homeland security require students to enroll in a research course that helps them fulfill another requirement for graduation -- namely a thesis or a capstone project. Some programs also offer areas of specialization, so students can focus in a field that supports their professional goals.
    • Recommendations: Schools that require applicants to submit recommendation letters typically prefer that they come from someone who knows the applicant well and is familiar with the time and energy it takes to complete a master’s program. Most schools require at least two letters of recommendation.
    • Essays: Master’s programs often have a significant writing component, so most schools require applicants to submit an essay as part of the application process. Essays can range from 1-3 pages and usually require applicants to state their educational and career goals, as well ashow completing the program can help them attain those goals.
    • Interviews: An interview is rarely required for admission to an online master’s program in homeland security. The application documents often present an accurate picture of an applicant’s ability to complete the program. Programs that require an interview usually conduct it through an online application like Skype.
    • International Students: Along with the same application documents required from U.S.- based applicants, international students must also submit the results of their English proficiency exam and a verified English translation of all documents that are in their native language.

How Much Can I Make with a Master's Degree in Homeland Security?

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects a modest job growth rate of 5% for the protective services sector, which would provide an estimated 158,200 new jobs in the security sector. Factors such as geographic location and industry concentration affect the number of homeland security jobs available. For example, border states have a greater need for border patrol officials, and cities that have a thriving gambling industry, like Las Vegas, will require more gaming surveillance professionals.

Traditional Careers for Homeland Security Majors

Career Stats Description

Criminal Investigator or Special Agent

Median Pay: $79,970

Job Growth: 5-9%

Criminal investigators and special agents gather and verify evidence as well as interview and observe witnesses and suspects to solve crimes. They also prepare reports of their investigation and give testimony during trials when needed.

Ideal for: Individuals with highly developed social intuitiveness, acute powers of observation, and active listening techniques.

Customs and Border Protection Agent

Median Pay: $55,751

Job Growth: N/A

Customs and border protection agents prevent illegal trade and immigration, human trafficking, and acts of terrorism at the nation’s borders. They ensure the safe passage of U.S. citizens in and out of the country. Salaries for CBP officers vary greatly and are dependent on the employee's designated grade level and pay schedule.

Ideal for: Physically fit individuals who are able to work various shifts and are trained to use a variety of tools in detecting the illegal conveyance of goods and people.

Intelligence Analyst

Median Pay: $79,970

Job Growth: 5-9%

Intelligence analysts gather information from diverse sources and evaluate their relevance to terrorism or other types of security threats. They also collaborate with their counterparts in other countries to share pertinent security information.

Ideal for: Individuals with the ability to find links between seemingly trivial or unrelated details and have the patience and determination to absorb and correlate vast amounts of information.

Emergency Management Director

Median Pay: $72,760

Job Growth: 8%

Emergency management directors draw up the plans and map out the procedures to be followed during natural or man-made disasters. They also coordinate with public officials and other emergency response teams during emergency situations.

Ideal for: Individuals with fast response times who can assess critical situations quickly and accurately and present a course of action that mitigates the effects of a negative situation.

Creative Careers for Homeland Security Majors

Career Stats Description

Information Security Analyst

Median Pay: $95,510

Job Growth: 28%

Information security analysts monitor and maintain a network’s hardware and software security systems to prevent, detect, and correct security breaches. They also develop security standards tailored for an organization’s specific needs.

Ideal for: Individuals who are knowledgeable about the latest security technology and have the ability to detect and react quickly to system breaches.

Postsecondary Teacher (Homeland Security)

Median Pay: $76,000

Job Growth: 15%

Depending on their professional and academic background, homeland security college professors teach a specialized subject such as cybersecurity engineering or present students with a more general overview of the field.

Ideal for: Postsecondary teachers must have at least a master’s degree in a homeland security sector and are often required to have work experience in the field.

Sources: Bureau of Labor Statistics, PayScale, ONetOnline.org, 2017-2018

Paying for an Online Master's in Homeland Security

There are several ways you can save money when you decide to pursue an online master's in homeland security, and scholarships top the list since these awards don't have to be paid back. Pursuing an accelerated program allows you to earn your degree more quickly and in turn can help save money on tuition as well. Keep in mind that tuition for online master’s in homeland security programs vary greatly, and it is worth the time and effort to research the schools offering the most affordable rates.

Tuition Timelines

It typically takes 16-24 months to earn an online master’s in homeland security degree, but the length of your program depends on whether you pursue a part-time, full-time, or accelerated pace of study.

Part-Time Path

A part-time online master’s in homeland security program allows most students to enroll in at least two classes per semester while continuing to work full time. Following a part-time path can extend program completion by as much as one semester.

Real-Life Example:

School Name: Wilmington University
Total Credits Required: 33
Summary: The university gives students a maximum of five years to complete the program. In that time, tuition and other fees may increase, thus making the degree more costly.

Full-Time Path

Students pursuing a full-time path must earn about 36 credits and can earn their degree in 18-24 months.

Real-Life Example:

School Name: Nova Southeastern University
Total Credits Required: 36
Summary: Tuition and registration are the same for all applicants, but enrollment status may affect other fees and costs.

Accelerated Path

Students with significant work experience and/or an undergraduate degree in homeland security or a closely related field often qualify to enroll in a university’s accelerated track.

Real-Life Example:

School Name: George Washington University
Total Credits Required: 36
Summary: Students enroll in a preset sequence of courses each semester with each course lasting 8-16 weeks. It is possible to accelerate completion of the program by transferring credits from another accredited program.

Subject-Specific Financial Aid, Grants & Scholarships

Several government agencies and private organizations offer scholarship opportunities to students who wish to pursue a degree in homeland security or a related field. Below, is a sampling of some of these award opportunities.

What to Expect from a Master's Level Online Homeland Security Program

A typical online master’s degree in homeland security consists of 30-36 credits and requires either a capstone project or thesis for graduation. Because many students pursuing an online master’s in homeland security are also full-time working professionals, most programs offer asynchronous classes and several starting points throughout the year. Almost all homeland security students complete an internship or apprenticeship experience prior to graduating from the program.

Major Milestones

  1. Capstone Coursework

    Students typically enroll in a capstone course after they have completed their core courses and the majority of their concentration courses.

  2. Internships/Apprenticeships

    Part-time students often explore internship or apprenticeship opportunities while they are still enrolled in their program. Full-time students often take advantage of summer internship opportunities or wait until after graduation to begin an internship or apprenticeship program.

  3. Thesis Preparation and Defense

    A thesis defense is often the culminating experience of a master’s program, but thesis preparation can begin at the onset of a student’s academic career in terms of coursework and topic selection.

  4. Licensure Exam and Exam Prep

    Some homeland security specializations, such as information assurance, have additional certifications that, while not strictly required for employment, are still highly sought after in the industry. These certification exams are usually taken at the completion of postgraduate studies.

  5. Graduate Department Requirement Completion

    Most master’s programs require students to request their respective department to declare them as having completed all the department requirements for their degree.

  6. Intent to Graduate/Completion Confirmation

    This form is filed by the student toward the end of the program when he or she has completed all the requirements for graduation. It has to be formally received by the school before the degree is conferred.

Coursework

Although coursework for online master’s in homeland security programs may differ depending on the program focus and available concentration areas, there are certain foundation classes that are offered in most programs.

Introduction to Information Assurance

Students learn about the principles of information security and how to implement modern mechanisms to safeguard digital data. They also study the risks involved in information system breaches, how to detect them, and how to mitigate a system’s vulnerability.

Critical Infrastructure

This course identifies the country’s critical infrastructures and how to safeguard them from acts of terrorism and natural calamities. Students learn to analyze the vulnerabilities of infrastructures and the ways that technology, manpower, and other resources can be utilized to address them.

Risk Management

Students explore the technologies and techniques used by terrorists, thieves, and hackers to infiltrate and disrupt digital infrastructures. They also develop risk management protocols that detect these activities and mitigate their effects.

Homeland Security Policy

Students examine the emerging and rapidly shifting threats and vulnerabilities faced by this department. This course also covers internal and international networks of organizational relationships that it utilizes to carry out its mission and implement its policies.

Disaster Response and Community Health

In this course, students learn how to address community health issues as they plan for man-made or natural disasters. They examine local and national policies that impact community health in times of crisis and how these policies can be implemented efficiently.

Requirements to Practice

Whether you complete a master’s in homeland security online or on campus, prospective employers will recognize that you are a highly qualified professional. However, there are additional certifications you can earn to finetune your knowledge and skills in specific homeland security fields. The certifications below are not mandatory for a successful career in homeland security, but they present excellent opportunities to increase your knowledge base on topics that interest you and will almost certainly position you for professional advancement.

    • Certified Homeland Protection Associate: This certification program has four levels and is jointly administered by the National Sheriffs' Association and the Global Society of Homeland and National Security Professionals. The required educational level and length of professional experience vary at each CHPA level.
    • Certified Homeland Protection Professional: Applicants must have at least four years of professional or volunteer experience in the public safety or security field in a supervisory capacity. A CHPP designation means the holder has the requisite knowledge and abilities to plan for and respond to all types of natural disasters or acts of terrorism.
    • Certified Information Security Manager: Applicants must have at least five years of verifiable work experience in the information security arena obtained within 10 years of applying for the certification exam. The CISM is considered the top IT credential for professionals in charge of developing security systems in enterprise-level applications.
    • GIAC Security Essentials: This is an entry-level Global Information Assurance Certification. Holders possess the knowledge and technical skills needed to detect, mitigate, and prevent the breach of digital infrastructure. Exam takers are encouraged to enroll in a SANS course to prepare for the exam.

Professional Organizations & Resources

Homeland security’s landscape is in a state of constant flux, and there has been a marked increase in the occurrence of natural calamities and extreme weather patterns due to climate change. Security experts and disaster relief professionals benefit from organizations and resources that allow them to share best practices and keep up with the latest news and developments in an ever-shifting arena. Below, are some of these professional organizations and resources.

  • ASIS International: An international community of security professionals, this organization was formerly known as the American Society for Industrial Security. They have security certification programs, a career center, and professional development opportunities. They also host an annual conference for international security practitioners.
  • Disaster Recovery Institute International: Emergency and disaster relief organizations throughout the world benefit from DRII’s programs that provide education and accreditation in the business continuity field. They offer courses for all levels of experience and education, as well as specialty certifications.
  • International Association of Emergency Managers: The IAEM has a scholarship program for students pursuing degrees in emergency management or a related field. The organization’s website features an active jobs board, think tank and webinar recordings, and current information about their certification programs.
  • International Association of Law Enforcement Intelligence Analysts: This organization publishes the Journal of Intelligence and Analysis, an annual peer-reviewed publication. Their website also features regional chapter news in addition to up-to-date information about training and certification programs.
  • National Emergency Management Association: The NEMA is a professional association with emergency management directors from all over the country. They hold an annual forum that provides extensive networking opportunities, and their website features a document library, a career center, and an online store.
  • Center for New American Security: An independent and bipartisan organization, the Center for New American Security collaborates with defense and security experts, policy makers, and the public to craft pragmatic, principled, and enforceable national security policies.
  • Department of Homeland Security: The student career page of the DHS website features information on scholarships, internship opportunities, fellowship programs, and other helpful resources for homeland security students. There are opportunities for both undergraduate and graduate students.
  • Homeland Security Affairs: A peer-reviewed online journal, Homeland Security Affairs is published by the Naval Postgraduate School Center for Homeland Defense and Security. The journal provides a forum for security experts from all over the world to exchange ideas and innovative security strategies.
  • Homeland Security News Wire: An online daily news publication, Homeland Security News Wire features emerging homeland security and national defense issues that impact several areas such as business, finance, and technology.
  • National Security Agency: NSA seeks out and supports the next generation of scientists, cybersecurity experts, and security professionals by providing several funding and early training opportunities for schools and students.