What is a Homeland Security Degree?

Homeland security degree programs prepare students to work in the areas of intelligence, counter-terrorism, border security, and emergency management.

The typical curriculum addresses topics like these:

  • Developing safety awareness
  • Jobs and roles in the homeland security field
  • Disaster preparedness and response
  • Emergency services
  • Emergency exercises
  • Understanding terrorism – domestic and international threats
  • Crisis communication and public awareness
  • Ensuring national security while protecting Constitutional freedoms
  • Intelligence methods and guarding national secrets
  • Assessing perceived threats posed by terrorist organizations and world events
  • Countering the use of a biological weapon
  • Using the media to gain control of an emergency situation

Program Options

Associate Degree in Homeland Security – Two Year Duration
The Associate Degree in Homeland Security provides students with the foundational knowledge to continue their studies at the bachelor’s level or to work in entry-level positions in the field. Jobs for which associate graduates qualify may include Transportation Security Administration (TSA) officer, border patrol agent, and security guard.

Coursework at the associate level often combines a homeland security curriculum with some general education classes in areas like English, math, and general sciences. The security component covers topics like:

  • The Causes of Terrorism
  • The Psychology of Terrorism
  • The Politics of Terrorism
  • Risk Assessment
  • Cyber Terrorism
  • Infrastructure Protection
  • Border Security
  • Disasters, Bioterrorism, and Public Health
  • Homeland Security Policies
  • Homeland Security Law and Ethics

Bachelor’s Degree in Homeland Security – Three to Four Year Duration
Graduates with a Bachelor’s Degree in Homeland Security typically qualify for roles in the areas of law enforcement, emergency management, and cybersecurity. The homeland security bachelor’s curriculum is comprehensive, covering the many aspects of the field:

  • Introduction to Homeland Security and Defense
  • Critical Infrastructure Protection
  • Intelligence and Homeland Security
  • Legal and Ethical Issues in Homeland Security
  • Patrolling and Policing
  • Emergency Planning
  • Risk Communications
  • The Terrorist Mind
  • Biological and Chemical Hazards
  • Radiological Hazards
  • The Psychology of Disaster
  • Domestic Violence and Extremism
  • International Terrorism
  • The Collection of Intelligence
  • The Analysis of Intelligence
  • Information (IT) Security
  • Cybercrime and cyber law
  • Research Methods in Homeland Security

Master’s Degree in Homeland Security – Two Year Duration
With a Master’s Degree in Homeland Security, graduates qualify for a wide variety of leadership roles in the field, such as supervisory security specialist, personnel security specialist, and emergency management specialist.

Many schools require master’s candidates to complete a work experience practicum or internship and to complete a portion of their graduate studies abroad. These requirements are in addition to the planning and research of a master’s thesis.

Courses at this level often include:

  • Homeland Security Science and Technology
  • Emergency Preparedness and Response
  • Law, Society, and Homeland Security
  • Cyber Warfare and Cyber Terrorism
  • Cybercrime and Industrial Security

Doctoral Degree in Homeland Security – Four to Five Year Duration
Individuals who earn a Doctoral Degree in Homeland Security typically go on to teach in the field at the university level or to assume senior management roles in law enforcement, public administration, and disaster preparedness.

Programs vary from school to school, but in general they combine lecture and research components, leading to a final dissertation. Here are some courses that represent the focus of the homeland security doctoral curriculum:

  • International Relations
  • Foreign Policy
  • Intelligence Gathering
  • Counter-terrorism and Counter-intelligence

Degrees Similar to Homeland Security

Corrections majors study prison life and examine ways to improve how prisons work. The typical corrections curriculum covers controlling the cost of operating prisons, maintaining acceptable living conditions for inmates, and helping parolees returning to life outside prison.

Criminal Justice
Criminal justice is concerned with society’s response to crime. Degree programs in the field teach students about the agencies and processes that governments have created to control crime and punish those who violate laws. At the heart of training are the five components that make up the criminal justice system: law enforcement, prosecution, defense, courts, and corrections.

Criminology is the study of crime, the human factors and behaviors that make it happen, and its impact on society. Degree programs in the discipline include coursework in: criminal law, psychology of crime, statistical and computer applications in criminal justice, and research methods in criminal justice.

Cyber Security
Degree programs in cyber security provide students with foundational knowledge and skills in computer science, computer programming, cloud computing, information technology, big data, and digital forensics. Within the discipline are specializations such as database applications, systems and network administration, and data recovery.

Law Enforcement
A degree in law enforcement prepares students to complete specific on-the-job training programs that are typically required for positions in fields such as policing, detective work, corrections, and probation.

Law Enforcement Administration
This degree field addresses management practices and criminal justice and prepares students for leadership roles in law enforcement. Common classes include criminology, criminal law, criminal justice administration, and police and community relations.

Police Science
Degree programs in police science prepare students for all aspects of police and security work: patrolling, investigating, crime prevention, community relations, and report writing.

Public Administration
Students who enrol in a degree program in public administration learn about the process of implementing policy at the various levels of government and within non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and non-profits. As part of their studies, they typically investigate a variety of public issues, from environmental protection to crime fighting, homelessness, unemployment, and drug abuse.

Skills You’ll Learn

While learning about homeland security and developing the specific hard skills required to work in the field, students also cultivate a set of soft skills, which are valued across the job spectrum:

Ability to Follow Orders
Homeland security has a rank-structured culture. In other words, following orders is typically a part of the job.

Adaptability and Stress Management
Individuals who work in law enforcement need to be flexible and able to adapt to changing social climates and demanding, unexpected, and high-pressure situations.

Working in homeland security calls for the ability to communicate in various ways. Tone, facial expressions, and gestures are without doubt as important as verbal messages. Writing clear and concise reports is also a requirement of many jobs in the field.

Conflict Resolution
Encountering and dealing with conflict is part of working in homeland security. Students of the field learn to listen actively and assess, de-escalate, and resolve situations.

Critical Thinking and Problem Solving
The capacity to gauge situations by thinking critically to solve problems is an integral part of working in homeland security. It is the foundation of what is known as the SARA model of problem solving: scanning, analysis, response, assessment.

Respect, Empathy, and Compassion
Even in their positions of authority, homeland security officers must remain respectful, be able to place themselves in someone else’s shoes, and show compassion to people in challenging situations.

What Can You Do with a Homeland Security Degree?

Government / Government Agencies / Law Enforcement
This sector offers homeland security graduates a large cross section of possible careers:

  • Secret Service Agent
  • Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Civil Engineer
  • U.S. Postal Inspector
  • FEMA Fraud Investigator
  • Enforcement Security Agent for the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA)
  • Federal Law Enforcement Training Advisor/Instructor (FLETA)
  • Cybercrimes Agent (FBI)
  • Federal Air Marshal (FBI)
  • Surveillance Agent (FBI)
  • Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Agent
  • Crime Prevention Specialist for the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA)
  • Intelligence Analyst for the National Security Agency (NSA)
  • U.S. Customs Agent for the U.S. Customs and Border (CBP) Agency
  • Cybersecurity Analyst
  • Intergovernmental Affairs
  • Border Patrol Agent
  • CIA Agent
  • Emergency Management Specialist
  • Counter Terrorism Analyst (CIA)
  • FBI Agent
  • NSA Police Officer
  • National Park Ranger
  • Financial Crimes Specialist
  • Transportation Security Officer for the Transportation Security Agency (TSA)
  • Federal Protective Service Guard at federal U.S. government facilities
  • U.S. Coast Guard
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

Other sectors in which homeland security grads find work include:

Private Security Companies
Educational Institutions
Scientific Research / Disease and Bioterrorism Prevention


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