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What Does a Career in Homeland Security Entail?

Are you interested in pursuing a career in homeland security? If you are dedicated to keeping the people and property located in the United States safe, a job in this field may be ideal. Homeland security professionals work to anticipate, prepare for, prevent, and react to a wide range of emergency situations affecting people and critical infrastructure. From threats such as hurricanes to terrorist attacks, those in homeland security are often responsible for emergency management, response, and prevention. While homeland security professionals can find work in many different sectors, some of the most common employers include:

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Components of a Successful Career in Homeland Security

However, a career in homeland security or public safety is not for everyone. Homeland security professionals following these career paths must have a firm understanding of numerous subjects and be able to function successfully under demanding circumstances related to criminal justice and law enforcement. They must often develop a wide variety of skills in order to thrive and find leadership positions. Those who are most successful as homeland security students and in future criminal justice and law enforcement positions often possess the following main characteristics that support their studies in terms of this concentration:

  • Analytical thinking skills and a mind for gathering facts and data as well as great organizational skills
  • Well-developed proficiency with written and verbal communications
  • Fast reaction times that allow for quick assessment of a situation and a reasonable response to protect people and critical infrastructure
  • Flexible thinking that allows for extensive adaptability in the face of new circumstances
  • Creativity necessary to imagine how terrorists, criminals, and hackers may strike next
  • Ability to work under pressure and in stressful situations both in the field and the office in federal, state, and local positions

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How to Earn an Online Degree in Homeland Security

It's not difficult to find and enroll in a national security or homeland security program. These are available in traditional programs and are becoming popular in online programs as well. You will, however, have to work hard to complete the degree requirements and advance in the field as a professional. Keep the following steps in mind as you begin pursuing a career in homeland security:

  • Develop and hone your interest in homeland security by taking relevant classes and participating in related high school activities

  • Determine what level of education you need to reach your ultimate career goal (associate, undergraduate, or graduate)

  • Research institutions that offer homeland security degrees

  • Create, request, and organize any necessary application materials (entrance essay, reference letters, etc.)

  • Submit applications to your preferred programs (often your first, second, and third choices)

  • Decide which institution/program meets your objectives and offers the best opportunities for future success

  • Enroll in courses that align with your specific interests

  • Graduate from your chosen college or university

  • Apply for professional employment

Typical Homeland Security Certifications Needed

download-program-guide Because there are so many different sub-fields within homeland security programs, and law enforcement in general, the certifications you need will be based on your specific career path. Detectives and criminal investigators, for example, must first serve as law enforcement officers who have completed police academy training, served with a supervising officer, and worked professionally for two to five years. Other professions have regulations that vary per state. Private investigators, security guards, and firefighters must all apply for a license or certification through the state in which they reside and plan to work. Those who work for the Department of Homeland Security will require clearance for their work. However, despite the many specializations you can enter through experience, students can gain most of their education through a general homeland security or criminal justice degree, many of which are available through online or hybrid (online and in person) programs.

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Some possible certifications for other professions include:

  • Certified Emergency Manager (CEM) offered by the International Association of Emergency Managers (IAEM)
  • Associate Emergency Manager (AEM) offered by the International Association of Emergency Managers (IAEM)
  • Certified Homeland Protection Professional (CHPP) offered by the National Domestic Preparedness Coalition (NDPCI)
  • Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP) offered by (ISC)²
  • Certified Information Security Manager (CISM) offered by the Information System Audit and Control Association (ISACA)
  • Certified Information Systems Auditor (CISA) offered by the Information System Audit and Control Association (ISACA)
  • Global Information Assurance Certification (GIAC) offered by Global Information Assurance Certifications

Academic Standards for Homeland Security Degrees

While every college and university is different, most institutions establish certain academic standard requirements for their on-campus and online students. These vary, but frequently mean that prospective homeland security students need to provide the following items:

  • High School Transcript(s)
  • Application Fee
  • College Admission Tests (ACT or SAT)
  • Letter(s) of Recommendation
  • Application Essay
  • An Interview

Exam / Experience Needed for Homeland Security Degrees

Most colleges and universities require that prospective students complete a college admission test as part of their admission requirements. For a university in the United States, either the ACT or SAT will suffice. The majority of schools will accept scores from one or both of these examinations. Keep in mind, however, that the minimum score requirements will vary.

download-program-guide The ACT and SAT examinations are similar, but not identical. While the differences are minor, they could still impact your overall preference. It is important to research each option thoroughly and to select the test that best suits your testing style. You may also consider taking both examinations; this would allow you to submit the higher of the two scores when applying to your preferred college or university.

If you plan to enroll in a graduate degree program, you may need to take the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) or Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT), depending on what the program or university admission requirements. This school level may be available as 100% online programs or there may only be some online courses available.

Online Homeland Security Degree Options

Individuals interested in a career in homeland security will need to decide what level of education they intend to complete. There are several academic options to choose from including associate, bachelor's, and graduate degrees. Most colleges and universities will offer at least one homeland security major within these degree types. It is important that you spend time considering the benefits of each level, as well as the kinds of jobs that the degree will qualify you for. You must also keep in mind the difference in price so that you can budget appropriately.

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Degree Type Public (In-State) Private
Associate $3,570
Bachelor's $9,970 $34,740
Graduate $8,670 $29,960

Associate Degree in Homeland Security Online

An online or on-campus associate degree in homeland security provides a fundamental introduction to the security field. It is intended to prepare graduates for further education or for entry-level positions. These programs usually consist of 60 credit hours of coursework and take most full-time students two years to complete. Assuming that the institution or program is accredited, graduates will be able to transfer their credits to a four-year undergraduate college or university if they wish. Alternatively, an associate’s degree in homeland security generally qualifies professionals for employment in law enforcement, information analysis, infrastructure protection, cybercrime investigation, and online or computer security.

Every college and university is different, but coursework frequently covers:

  • Loss Mitigation
  • Introduction to Terrorism
  • Criminal Justice
  • American Homeland Security
  • Weapons of Mass Destruction
  • Terrorism Response Operations
  • Disaster Planning
  • Emergency Management

Bachelor's Degree in Homeland Security Online

While an online associate degree in homeland security may qualify candidates for some entry-level positions, most people prefer to pursue an online or traditional bachelor’s degree. These usually consist of 120 credit hours of coursework and take full-time students four years to complete. Transfer credits can shorten this timeframe, however. Those enrolling part-time, on the other hand, may need five to eight years to complete the course requirements. Graduates can either continue their education or find employment. A bachelor’s degree in homeland security will generally qualify professionals for employment as an immigration inspector, secret service agent, emergency management specialist, customs and border patrol agent, or occupational health and public safety specialist.

Coursework is comprised of both major-specific and general liberal arts content. Every college and university is different, but coursework frequently covers:

  • Emergency Preparedness
  • Disaster Management
  • Response and Recovery Tactics
  • Emergency Planning
  • Politics and Security Policies
  • Homeland Security Administration and Protection
  • Legal Rights and Security
  • Infrastructure Protection

Many colleges and universities also offer students specializations in the homeland security field. Common concentrations include:

  • Criminal Justice
  • Law and Society
  • Cybersecurity and Information Assurance

Master's Degree in Homeland Security Online

An online master’s degree is not required to have a career in homeland security, but many professionals choose to seek one anyway. This level of education demonstrates a strong commitment to the field and often results in more employment opportunities. Graduates can also expect higher salaries, faster promotions, and more job security.

Most homeland security graduate programs consist of 30-60 credit hours of coursework that takes full-time students about two years to complete. Transfer credits can shorten this timeframe, however. Those enrolling part-time, on the other hand, may need longer to complete the course requirements. An online master degree in this field generally qualifies professionals for employment as an emergency management director, as well as management roles in transportation, screening, department security, and remote sensing.

Many institutions will include this coursework:

  • National Defense
  • Homeland Security Applications
  • Administration of Homeland Security
  • Social and Ethical Issues
  • Terrorism and Counterterrorism
  • Threats and Violence
  • Strategic Planning
  • Historical and Contemporary Issues
  • Comparative Methodologies
  • Forensics

Earning Potential for Homeland Security Degree Fields and Occupations

According to the BLS (Bureau of Labor and Statistics, the median annual wage for protective service occupations in 2017 was $39,550. This is slightly above the median annual wage of $37,690 for all other occupations in the nation. Additionally, protective service occupations are expected to increase by 5% from 2016 to 2026. This is about as fast as other employment options.

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Homeland Security Median Salaries by Field of Study

It is important to remember that homeland security contains many different sub-fields and positions. Every job is different and salaries will vary greatly depending on title, education, and location. Some potential fields include:

Business Continuity

Business continuity professionals who work in homeland security are charged with ensuring businesses can reopen and successfully function after a disaster. Their job is to answer difficult questions that help companies get up and running again with as few roadblocks as possible. Common titles for individuals in these positions are Business Continuity Expert and Emergency Operations Director.

Information Security

Security specialists who work in homeland security are responsible for protecting information of all kinds, as well as the systems that store and move the information. Using their knowledge of computer science, professionals in this field develop and protect systems that ensure information is easily and safely transferred from one location to another (physically or electronically) without being intercepted by others.

Scientific Study

Scientists who work in homeland security use their knowledge of physics, chemistry, biology, and other sciences to help decrease risks associated with both naturally occurring disasters and man-made weapons. These professionals focus most of their attention on preventing, detecting, and mitigating potentially disastrous outbreaks and/or attacks. While many will work in laboratory settings, some perform duties in the field. Most scientists working in homeland security have jobs in biosecurity.

Field of Study Associate’s Salary Bachelor’s Salary Master’s Salary
Business Continuity $60,000 $72,760 $95,890
Emergency Management $60,000 $72,760 $95,890
Information Security $90,940 $95,510 $98,100
Law Enforcement $56,410 $62,960 $79,970
Physical Security $25,170 $31,980 $33,170
Scientific Study $61,220 $69,660 $103,580

Homeland Security Salaries by Occupation

Emergency Management Directors

Emergency management directors are responsible for preparing plans and procedures in response to natural disasters and other large-scale emergencies. These professionals often coordinate extensively with public safety officials, elected officials, non-profit organizations, and government agencies. Other responsibilities may include assessing hazards, meeting with public officials, organizing emergency response training programs, coordinating resource sharing, preparing damage assessments, applying for federal funding, reviewing emergency operations plans, and maintaining emergency facilities.

Police and Detectives

There are many different types of law enforcement and criminal justice jobs, including police, detectives, criminal investigators, fish and game wardens, patrol officers, and transit police. While specific duties will vary, these professionals are all responsible for protecting lives and property and engaging in some form of emergency manegement when necessary. Other responsibilities may include responding to emergencies, patrolling assigned areas, conducting traffic stops, issuing citations, searching for records and enacting warrants, obtaining warrants, arresting suspects, collecting evidence from crime scenes, observing suspects, writing reports, preparing cases, and testifying in court.

Information Security Analysts

Information security analysts are responsible for planning and carrying out security measures that keep a company or organization’s computer networks and systems safe. These professionals must adapt to the ever-increasing number and kind of cyberattacks. General responsibilities may include monitoring organization networks, installing protective software, preparing reports, conducting penetration testing, researching information technology security trends, recommending security enhancements, and assisting computer users.

Occupation Entry Level Median Annual Salary Mid-Career Median Annual Salary Late Career Median Annual Salary
Emergency Management Directors $60,000 $72,760 $95,890
Epidemiologists $60,300 $75,400 $96,800
Firefighters $41,400 $48,500 $71,600
Information Security Analysts $59,700 $82,000 $101,700
Police and Detectives $56,300 $63,700 $83,000
Security Guards $29,000 $36,300 $45,500
Gaming Surveillance Officers $40,000 $50,000 $56,500
Transportation Screeners $30,100 $34,400 $39,600

Important Questions to Ask (FAQ)

How long does it take to earn a homeland security bachelor’s degree online?

Most traditional and online bachelor’s degree programs are designed to be completed within a four year period. The time it will take you specifically, however, will depend on your personal circumstances. Online degrees are often preferred by homeland security students and others who already have a job or have personal responsibilities at home that prohibit them from enrolling in an on-campus program. If you are in a similar situation and plan to earn your homeland security degree part-time, it can take between five and eight years to complete.

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How much does a homeland security bachelor’s degree cost?

international_business_bachelors_degree_cost The College Board’s Trends in Higher Education Series reported that the average in-state tuition for attending a four-year public institution during the 2017-18 academic year was $9,970. Private colleges and universities charged more, however, with an average tuition of $35,260. Most schools charge per credit, which means taking a class again will cost you more.

Predicting the exact amount you will pay for a bachelor’s degree in homeland security is difficult. Tuition costs vary from institution to institution, fluctuate slightly each year, and are based on school size, location, and a per credit basis. You will need to research each college and university individually for more precise pricing. Your actual out-of-pocket cost may also be higher than what is listed on the school’s website. In addition to tuition, there are several other fees and expenses you will need to account for. Your residency status (in-state vs out-of-state) may also impact your total cost of attendance. Of course, if you are eligible for financial aid, this can help immensely. And, on top of financial aid, there are options such as grants and scholarships that may be open to you. Staff at your university can help you with this.

Does the online school have the major(s) you are considering?

While most colleges and universities offer national security or homeland security programs, it is important to realize that not all of them do. Before selecting and applying to a specific institution, you should ensure the program and concentrations you want are actually available. It is also a good idea to verify that the school offers any minor programs you may be interested in and check if you can take your degree online if you are interested in distance learning.

How many students graduate “on time,” or within four years?

international_business_students_graduate_on_time In most cases, students can expect to complete their traditional, undergraduate degree within four years. Some institutions, however, have a reputation for offering programs that take longer for students to complete. As a full-time student, online or otherwise, you should verify that the college or university in question expects graduation to occur within the standard timeframe. It is also a good idea to find out what the program’s graduation and employments rates are.

What kind of accreditation does the online program hold? How it is regarded in the field?

international_business_program_hold When looking for a homeland security program, it is important to consider the college or university’s accreditation standing. Not every educational institution is accredited, which can cause problems if you plan to enroll in additional programs in the future. Most reputable schools are accredited by an accreditation agency to prove that they meet certain academic standards.

There are no international accreditation agencies for homeland security degree programs. As a result, prospective students should look for colleges and universities that are regionally accredited. These institutions have proven that they meet all the academic expectations of a particular region. Regional accreditation organizations include:

  • Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE)
  • New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC)
  • North Central Association Commission on Accreditation and School Improvement (NCACS)
  • Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (NWCCU)
  • Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACS COC)
  • Western Association of Schools and Colleges Accrediting Commission for Schools (WASC ACS)

Homeland Security Scholarships

Earning a degree in any field can be very expensive. For this reason, many students choose to apply for financial aid. One of the best kinds of aid is a scholarship which, unlike a loan, does not need to be repaid.

While scholarships can help to pay for your tuition, it is important to realize that most scholarships will not cover all of your expenses, which is why many students opt to apply for multiple financial aid opportunities (grants, loans, etc.).

Fortunately, there are a wide variety of scholarships available to individuals who plan to major in homeland security. Some of the most prestigious scholarships include:

  • CyberCorps Scholarship for Service
    The CyberCorps Scholarship for Service is funded by the National Science Foundation. It is intended for individuals interested in protecting the government’s critical information infrastructure. The award amounts vary but could fully cover the tuition for attending one of the participating institutions as a full-time student. Undergraduate recipients will also receive a $22,500 stipend, while graduate recipients will receive a $34,000 stipend.

  • Boren Scholarship
    The Boren Scholarship is supported by the National Security Education Program. It is designed to provide a unique funding opportunity for undergraduate students learning languages that are less common. Award amounts can be up to $20,000, depending on the length of study required. Recipients must agree to work for the federal government for at least one year after graduation.

Professional Homeland Security Organizations

Because there are so many different homeland security fields and occupations, there is an almost endless variety of professional organizations and associations for professionals to choose from. Regardless of your intended career, you will have no problem finding a suitable group to join. Becoming a member of any professional organization or association has many benefits, including networking, education, training, and idea-sharing opportunities. Most also offer their members discounts on conventions, seminars, certifications, and events. Some prominent options for homeland security professionals include:

  • International Association for Counterterrorism and Security Professionals (IACSP)
  • International Association of Flight Paramedics (IAFP)
  • International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF)
  • International Association of Professional Security Consultants (IAPSC)
  • International Association of Crime Analysts (IACA)
  • International Foundation for Protection Officers (IFPO)
  • International Association for Healthcare Security and Safety (IAHSS)
  • National Association of Emergency Medical Technicians (NAEMT)
  • National Association of EMS Physicians (NAEP)
  • National Fire Service Incident Management System Consortium (NFSIMSC)
  • National Sheriffs’ Association (NSA)
  • National Council of Investigation and Security Services (NCISS)
  • Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association (FLEOA)
  • United Government Security Officers of America (UGSOA)


Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association (FLEOA)

The Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association (FLEOA) represents over 26,000 federal law enforcement officers. As the largest non-partisan, non-profit professional law enforcement association, FLEOA is a strong legislative voice. The association offers memberships for individuals who are currently working, retired, in the academy, or resigned. FLEOA member benefits include access to legal representation, an emergency hotline, discounts, and networking opportunities.



International Association for Healthcare Security and Safety (IAHSS)

The International Association for Healthcare Security and Safety (IAHSS) represents a variety of related professionals. IAHSS offers membership to professionals working in healthcare facilities as managers or supervisors of security, safety, or emergency management. Members have access to networking, educational training, certifications, and helpful resources.



National Association of Emergency Medical Technicians (NAEMT)

The National Association of Emergency Medical Technicians (NAEMT) is the only national association that represents EMS professionals. NAEMT offers memberships to business communication professionals in order to help improve business results, advance careers, and resolve industry challenges. Members are given exclusive access to peer networking online, a skills-development academy, certification programs, webinars, and excellence award programs.

Choosing an Online Accredited College

Finding a college or university that is either internationally or regionally accredited is extremely important. While there are homeland security degree options offered by institutions that are unaccredited, you should consider them very carefully before enrolling. These schools do not adhere to established standards. As a result, the credits you earn may not be transferrable to another institution. Additionally, some employers refuse to acknowledge degrees awarded by unaccredited colleges and universities; others may hire you, but pay you less.

If you are interested in pursuing a career in homeland security, then it is time to begin preparing for your future now. Depending on your specific field of interest, you may be able to take advantage of certain opportunities starting in high school. As a current professional, you may be able to find relevant seminars or training through your employer or within your community. Regardless, you should keep the following tips in mind when you do begin looking for a homeland security degree program.

On-Campus vs. Online vs. Hybrid Degree Programs

Many homeland security professionals receive their degrees by attending a traditional, four-year, undergraduate program. Attending classes on campus is not, however, an option for everyone. Depending on your personal circumstance, you may be looking for an alternative. Fortunately, there are many colleges and universities that offer online degrees. This option is ideal for people who are already working full or part-time and/or have responsibilities that prevent them from being away from home. Distance learning allows for flexible course scheduling and may make a degree in homeland security more attainable.

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Online programs are not perfect, though. One of the major drawbacks with distance learning is that students have no opportunity to network with other individuals in the field. If this is a serious concern for you, it may be worth looking for an institution that offers a hybrid homeland security degree. Hybrid programs bridge the gap between on-campus and online learning by requiring students to participate in short residencies. While most of your classes would be taken from home, you would be asked to travel to, and stay on, campus periodically to complete certain expectations. This method allows you to interact with your professors and peers in person, which may make it more appealing.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is a homeland security degree?

For those who are going into college this year or sometime in the next few years, it may be surprising to realize that homeland security degrees didn’t exist before 2001. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) was created in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, and degrees grew out of existing criminal justice departments to meet the new need for those who were familiar with larger security issues to both fill this new department and prepare other criminal justice professionals to understand security on the world stage. The DHS now covers other departments such as FEMA, the TSA, and CBP, among others.

What are your career options with this degree?

As mentioned before, the DHS has grown to include many other departments covering transportation safety, emergency management, border protection, and more. With a degree in homeland security, you will have knowledge of how we maintain the security of the United States through various means. Thus, you will be prepared to work in any of these departments and could find plenty of options for a career once you are ready to start your first job. You may even find yourself drawn to a law degree or victim advocate position, depending on your interests in the field.

Is there homeland security specific accreditation?

The Council for the Accreditation of Emergency Management and Homeland Security Education evaluates and accredits education programs in emergency management and homeland security in order to ensure that programs in these fields offer education that meets certain quality standards.

Post-Graduate Job Placement Assistance

After completing your homeland security degree, your first priority will be finding a job. This is often easier said than done, however. Graduation can be an extremely stressful time, especially if you do not already have employment lined up.

Fortunately, most colleges and universities offer programs that can help. When researching potential institutions, look for ones that provide some sort of graduate job placement assistance. While no school is able to guarantee that you will receive an employment offer after graduation, many make an effort to ensure you have access to all the resources you need. At minimum, most colleges and universities offer interview preparation assistance, resume development, and career coaching services. Some even host one or more job fairs.

To ensure the process of finding employment after graduation is a little easier, look for institutions that offer current students and alumni job placement assistance.

Accreditation Can Affect Your Salary

As previously mentioned, it is extremely important that you pay attention to the college or university’s accreditation status. Institutions that are not accredited do not adhere to any specific academic standards or guidelines. As a result, it is impossible to gauge whether or not the curriculum they utilize covers the content necessary to be successful in the field. For this reason, it is not uncommon for companies and organizations to hire graduates from these institutions at a much lower starting salary, if they employ them at all.


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