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Homeland security professionals work in the interest of public and national safety. Federal agencies are the largest employers, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (2017), typically requiring applicants to be U.S. citizens and pass comprehensive background checks for security clearance. However, with the rise of public-private partnerships, there is a need for professionals in the private sector as well.
Individuals interested homeland security careers should be able to think critically and react calmly to stressful situations. According to the College Board, most occupations falling under the homeland security category are well-suited to people who can be cool-headed in an emergency and are committed to ensuring the safety of others. Those who are procedure-oriented and good at following a chain of command might also find a career in homeland security satisfying.
An online homeland security degree can give you the flexibility you need to work a part- or full-time job. High school graduates, working professionals, stay-at-home parents, may find online education a convenient way to maintain their commitments and earn a degree toward career advancement at the same time.
What do homeland security professionals do?
Homeland security professionals work in both the public and private sectors to identify possible threats and respond to emergency situations. Some occupations related to this field along with their associated duties are:
- Monitoring an organization's computer networks for security breaches
- Investigating any security violations and installing systems like firewalls and data encryption programs to protect networks
- Testing systems for vulnerabilities and strengthening them
- Carrying out studies on public health problems in order to find ways to alleviate them
- Managing public health programs
- Monitoring infectious diseases, bioterrorism threats, and other problem areas for public health agencies.
Emergency management director:
- Preparing for hazards by making plans to minimize risks to people and property
- Coordinating between different organizations and communities for the sharing of resources during emergencies and disasters
- Applying for federal funding for emergency management planning, response and recovery and ensuring they are used fittingly
While these are just a few examples of homeland security jobs, graduates of online homeland security degree programs can find employment in a number of different occupations that can allow them to pursue their particular area of interest.
Choose a degree that can help you meet your career goals
While not every occupation in the homeland security field requires a formal degree, even some college education can be attractive to employers. Entry-level positions should be most accessible to those with associate and bachelor's degrees, while management positions may be reserved for those with advanced education or experience. Doctoral degrees may suit individuals wanting to enter research, academia or high-level management or policy-making positions in the field of homeland security.
Online Certificate Programs in Homeland security
What can I expect to learn in an online certificate program?
Students enrolled in an online homeland security certificate program can learn to understand the various security issues faced by the country along with the theoretical and practical applications of homeland security.
Typical duration: Up to one year of part-time study
General prerequisites: High school diploma or equivalent
Typical coursework: Curricula is designed to help you understand how different intelligence agencies in the country work, what credible sources of information are and the different security measures taken to enhance public safety. Courses you may take are:
- Introduction to homeland security and defense
- Private sector homeland security
- Security management
- Intelligence and homeland security
Possible electives: Chemical, biological, and radiological hazards; hate crime; regulatory issues in weapons of mass destruction
What can I do after earning a certificate?
A certificate program can help you earn entry-level positions in public or private enterprises. Your credits may also be applicable toward an online associate or bachelor's degree program in homeland security. Potential occupations include:
- First-line supervisors of police and detectives
- Security guards and gaming surveillance officers
- Transportation security screener
Online Associate Degrees in Homeland Security
What can I expect to learn in an online associate degree program?
Online homeland security associate degree programs build on the topics studied in a certificate program in order to go into the subject of homeland security and its components in more depth.
Typical duration: Up to two years of full-time study
General prerequisites: High school diploma or equivalent
Typical coursework: You can get an overview of how the different departments of homeland security organizations work along with an understanding of the agencies. You can also learn about responses and actions used to deal with various threats to national security and the public. Apart from general education topics, your coursework may include:
- Constitutional law for the homeland security professional
- Domestic and international terrorism
- Emergency planning and security measures
- Introduction to cyberterrorism
Possible electives: Fire behavior and combustion; constitutional law and rights of people; criminal law
What can I do after earning an associate degree?
An associate degree may act as a stepping stone toward an online bachelor's degree in homeland security or allow you work in entry-level positions in federal agencies. You may also be able procure employment in other law enforcement or disaster management agencies. Potential occupations include:
- Fire inspector
- Intelligence analyst
- Law enforcement officer
Online Bachelor's Degrees in Homeland Security
What can I expect to learn in an online bachelor's degree program?
An online bachelor's degree program in homeland security can give you foundational knowledge of the complex systems in intelligence, infrastructure and crisis management needed to work in the field of homeland security.
Typical duration: Up to four years of full-time study
General prerequisites: High school diploma or equivalent
Typical coursework: Topics are designed to help you understand the cultural and political causes of terrorism and how various agencies come together to combat it. You can learn to apply this knowledge to real-world situations to mitigate suffering caused by disastrous circumstances — both manmade and natural. Some courses you may take are:
- Counterterrorism and intelligence analysis
- Protecting the homeland, response and recovery
- Emergency planning
- Psychology of disaster
You may also have to complete a capstone project as a part of your online homeland security degree program.
Possible electives: Challenges in U.S. and global public health; victimology and criminal behavior; concepts of emergency management
What can I do after earning a bachelor's degree?
A bachelor's degree can pave the way for a number of different homeland security careers including careers in emergency management, private and public security. Some potential occupations include:
- Loss prevention managers
- Emergency management directors
- Security consultant
- Security analyst
Online Master's Degrees in Homeland Security
What can I expect to learn in an online master's degree program?
An online master's in homeland security program can help you look at homeland security and its related aspects from a global perspective. It can equip you with the leadership skills needed for high-level homeland security careers.
Typical duration: Up to two years of full-time study
General prerequisites: Bachelor's degree
Typical coursework: Topics can allow you to explore homeland security from legal, social, business and economic aspects and understand the interrelationships between public and private sector agencies and the roles they play in the field. Curricula can vary depending on your specialization. However, some core topics you may study are:
- Planning and operations in crisis and emergency management
- Risk, vulnerability, and capability assessment methods
- Critical issues in terrorism
- Homeland security: social and ethical issues
- Crisis intervention
You may also have to complete a capstone project comprising of original research.
Possible electives: Homeland security and defense in practice; agricultural biosecurity: protecting a key infrastructure; U.S. homeland security law
What can I do after earning a master's degree?
A master's degree in homeland security can allow you to pursue management-level positions in a variety of different industries in both the public and private sector. Positions can vary depending on your degree concentration and previous work experience. Some industries you may work in include:
- Border and transportation security
- Emergency preparedness and response
- Hazard mitigation
- Homeland defense
- Information analysis
- Infrastructure protection
Online Doctoral Degrees in Homeland Security
What can I expect to learn in an online doctoral degree program?
A doctoral homeland security degree program can equip you with the in-depth research and analysis skills required to ensure public safety and influence policy.
Typical duration: Three to seven years of full-time study
General prerequisites: Master's degree
Typical coursework: Courses you take as a part of your doctoral degree program can include topics on conducting research and analyzing its results in order to prepare you for your doctoral dissertation apart from core coursework which can include:
- Counterterrorism and counterintelligence strategies
- Critical incident planning and leadership
- Critical infrastructure: vulnerability analysis and protection
- Homeland security strategy and policy
- Risk, resilience and innovation in security policy
Programs may require on-campus residencies, or short periods of practical study that complement classroom work.
Dissertation: After coursework is completed, students research and complete their doctoral thesis under the guidance of an academic supervisor. Doctoral dissertations typically consist of original research and students are expected to make fresh contributions to the field of homeland security through them. Depending on your program, the dissertation may be original research work on a theoretical topic in the field or it may be a more applied document analyzing case studies or creating a disaster response plan for a real-world organization.
What can I do after earning a doctoral degree?
A doctoral degree in homeland security can give you the opportunity to enter the field of research and academia. You may also be eligible for executive-level roles in a number of different government agencies including those in the fields of emergency management, public safety and law enforcement. You may also become a part of policy-making bodies as a subject expert.
Accreditation is an important factor to consider while choosing from one of the many online homeland security degree programs. Accreditation is a voluntary process schools undergo to demonstrate that their program meets or exceeds the professional standards required by the industry. It can also be a prerequisite for students to qualify for federal loans or educational grants.
While there is no professional body that accredits homeland security programs, colleges and universities may be accredited by regional or national accrediting body. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security, however, does recognize schools as Centers of Excellence for their contributions toward training the next generation of homeland security experts.
Homeland security degree programs come in multiple specializations and may be offered through colleges of criminal justice, public health, public administration or management. Although it is a relatively new field, you may find a host of different concentrations as homeland security careers can span numerous different industries. Some concentrations include:
- Agricultural biosecurity and food efense
- Criminal justice administration
- Critical infrastructure protection
- Emergency management and crisis preparedness
- Geospatial Intelligence
- National security policy and management
- Public Health Preparedness
How can I get a homeland security certification or licensure?
Due to the broad scope of the field there are no all-encompassing certifications and licensures. The requirements for professional certifications or licensure may vary depending on the field you work in, the job you hold and the security clearances you need. Those seeking homeland security certifications may apply to:
- Certified Homeland Protection Professional (CHPP)
- Certified Homeland Protection Associate (CHPA)
- Certified Protection Professional (CPP)
Scholarships and Financial Aid Programs
As with many fields, there are a number of different scholarships available for eligible students. Apart from scholarships specifically targeting students enrolled in a homeland security degree program, it may be worth your while to look for scholarships available for your chosen concentration. For example, if you are studying homeland security with a concentration in cybersecurity look for cybersecurity and other computer-related scholarship programs and grants as well.
Additionally, do check with your college or university's financial aid office to see if they have any financial aid programs that you may be eligible for. Some scholarships to help you get started in your search are:
- American Society for Industrial Security Scholarships and Grants
- Association of Former Intelligence Officers Scholarships
- CyberCorps®: Scholarship for Service
- Department of Homeland Security Scholarships and Internships
- Department of Homeland Security
- Global Society of Homeland and National Security Professionals
- International Association for Counterterrorism and Security Professionals
- International Association of Emergency Managers
- International Association of Law Enforcement Intelligence Analysts
- National Homeland Security Association
What kind of jobs can I get with a homeland security degree?
Occupations falling under the umbrella of homeland security are diverse. According to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the main career fields can involve:
- Law enforcement careers involving protection of the president, vice president, their families, heads of state and other designated individuals. These careers also involve securing the nation's borders, interagency law enforcement training, and enforcing economic, transportation and infrastructure security.
- Immigration and travel security careers involving protection of the nation's transportation systems, as well as overseeing lawful immigration to the U.S.
- Careers that involve protecting the public, environment and U.S. economic and security interests.
According to the DHS website, other homeland security-related careers may be found in medical occupations, human resources, facilities, budget, procurement, science and technology, training, intelligence, public affairs, communication, planning and coordination, detection, civil rights, fraud detection and more.
Job prospects and income can vary depending on the occupation and location. The following table lists the various occupations related to the field of homeland security along with their national mean wages, projected job openings and job outlook for 2016 to 2026 using data from BLS.