The job of professionals working for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is to secure our nation’s borders, waterways, airports, and seaports, and to protect U.S. citizens from attack, both abroad and at home. DHS professionals are also responsible for testing and developing modern security technology, responding to natural disasters, analyzing intelligence reports, and responding to terrorist threats.
Students who plan on entering the diverse field of homeland security must master the analytical and technical skills required to navigate an increasingly complex and data-driven landscape, as well as acquire a broad base of knowledge relevant to crime control, criminology, emergency preparedness, and public safety administration. A homeland security degree can help you develop a 360-degree perspective of homeland security issues and build a wide range of skills that are applicable to both the private and public sector.
Unlike similar degrees in criminal justice, a homeland security degree program will focus on subject areas such as: cyber intelligence, man-made and natural threats, recruitment strategies, motives, and operational tactics of terrorist organizations, counterterrorism, intelligence operations, risk assessment, and homeland security administration.
Career Path Options for Homeland Security Majors
Careers in homeland security span a vast array of different occupations and disciplines that will challenge your mind and reward you with exciting growth opportunities. The DHS, and entities in the private sector, hire thousands of people each year to prevent terrorism, ensure the safety and security of our infrastructure, enforce our borders, combat cyberattacks, and prepare for natural disasters such as hurricanes and floods.
The DHS, by itself, employs 240,000 people across four different divisions and 22 different federal departments and agencies, while employers in the private sector hire countless more. Private sector jobs include multiple career fields that interlink with other industries, such as cybersecurity, information technology, and software development, often in public-private partnerships with homeland security.
Types of Jobs with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS)
As you plan for a career in homeland security, it helps to know what type of work you want to do, so you can determine the best path to pursue. Homeland security professionals have many options to choose from in a variety of activity sectors and disciplines, including law enforcement, immigration and travel security, prevention and response, and mission support. Careers in each of these divisions involve unique responsibilities and specialized skills, so it is wise to familiarize yourself with the roles of each division and the responsibilities of employees within them.
Law Enforcement Careers
Law enforcement professionals play a vital role in preserving our freedoms, safety, and protecting our country from a variety of threats. Careers in law enforcement involve securing the nation’s borders, protecting the President, Vice President, their families, heads of state, and select individuals, as well as protecting critical infrastructure, agriculture, economic, and transportation security, and other related national security components. Law enforcement agencies within the DHS include:
- S. Immigration & Border Enforcement
- S. Customs & Border Protection
- Federal Protective Service
- Federal Law Enforcement Training Center
- U.S. Secret Service
Immigration & Travel Security Careers
Homeland security professionals working in immigration and travel security careers oversee lawful immigration to the United States and are responsible for safeguarding the nation’s transportation systems. This includes working around the world, with other nations, to maintain global aviation security and the inspection of thousands of miles of railroad track, roadways, bridges, and tunnels. DHS components of immigration and travel security include:
Prevention & Response Careers
Prevention and response careers work to protect the nation from natural and man-made hazards. This includes security for the public, environment, and U.S. economic interests in times of emergency. Professionals in these careers work to provide security, emergency preparedness, response, and recovery to save lives and protect property in crisis and emergency situations. The related components in this division include:
Mission Support Careers
Mission support is comprised of over a dozen administrative service departments that support critical functions of the DHS and the efficient use of it’s resources. Careers involve the fields of public affairs, communications, medical, human resources, facilities management, budget, financial management, internal control activities, procurement, civil rights, and more . For a complete list of related components, visit the Homeland Security Careers page.
Popular Homeland Security Careers
Homeland security careers can be both challenging and extremely rewarding. Many individuals pursue careers in homeland security out of a desire to serve their country and keep it safe. Others enjoy the excitement of being in the field where no two workdays are exactly the same. Whatever your reason for exploring homeland security jobs, this quick list can help give you an idea of the most popular careers in homeland security.
Border Patrol Agent
A border patrol agent is responsible for securing land borders and coastal waters for the United States. They help protect Americans from the threat of drug trafficking, smuggling, terrorists, and the entrance of illegal aliens. The duties of a border patrol agent include but are not limited to surveilling an assigned border, responding to border alarms in remote areas, tracking the activity of undocumented aliens, and conducting traffic checkpoints and vehicle scans. Many border patrol agents are multilingual to help facilitate communication with non-English speaking aliens.
A CIA special agent is a highly ranked law enforcement career with the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency. CIA special agents are responsible for conducting high-profile investigations, often into white-collar and political crimes. They may work autonomously, potentially undercover, or lead investigative teams to conduct high-profile inquiries into sensitive cases. Agents must display diplomacy and discretion at all times, and are often called upon to utilize negotiation skills to interact with individuals and potential criminals from a wide variety of ethnic backgrounds.
Cyber Security Officer
A cyber security officer with the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) is responsible for protecting extremely sensitive data for the agency. Cyber security officers must use highly advanced equipment to protect from, detect, and eliminate threats from outside networks at all times. A great deal of technical expertise is required for this position, as the data stored on agency networks is not only top-secret, but also highly sought after. A CIA Cyber Security officer must continuously monitor networks for the most sophisticated threats.
Emergency Management Specialist
Emergency management specialists may work on the federal or state level to coordinate, deploy, and monitor disaster and emergency response. An emergency management specialist is required to provide emergency preparedness and disaster response training to crisis management teams, create emergency evacuation, exit, and relief plans, and manage hostage scenarios. Specialists are responsible for handling both natural disasters like earthquakes, hurricanes, and floods, as well as technological or wartime emergencies, such as large-scale hazardous materials exposure or nuclear power plant emergencies.
FBI Special Agent
An FBI special agent is a highly coveted law enforcement position that is also one of the most challenging. A special Agent must be prepared for assignment anywhere in the world and is considered on call 24/7/365. A 50-hour minimum work week is required, and special agents are generally very physically active in the field. Special agents need to be fit and able to keep up with the demands of the job, which may include dangerous investigations and assignments where the risk of using or being on the receiving end of deadly force is high.
Federal Air Marshal
A federal air marshal is a law enforcement officer employed with the U.S. Transportation Security Administration (TSA). Marshals are responsible for maintaining the safety of United States aviation and guard the flight crews and passengers of domestic and international flights. They protect against terrorism and criminal activity in the air and may work alongside other federal and state law enforcement agencies to conduct investigations involving air travel. Federal air marshals also work to educate the public about aviation safety and act as a deterrent to terroristic activity.
An intelligence analyst for the FBI is an agent that primarily works with data and information behind the scenes to help agents responsible make informed decisions when preventing, detecting, and eliminating threats. Intelligence analysts will review and assess raw data to develop strategies or make recommendations that help investigative teams to mitigate threats. They are also responsible for analyzing obtained data to look for trends and developing statistics and reports to help field agents take proactive measures to reduce risk.
Law Enforcement Training Advisor
A law enforcement training advisor works for the Federal Law Enforcement Training Centers (FLETC) and is responsible for developing education and training modules for law enforcement officers-to-be. Law enforcement training advisors conduct research and uses available data to create educational and training materials, programs, and courses used to prepare many types of law enforcement officers for their careers. An advisor may also be responsible for identifying knowledge and experience gaps within a team and developing tailored training modules to meet those specific needs.
Secret Service Agent
A secret service agent works for the U.S. Secret Service, a division of the federal government dedicated to protecting the nation's leaders. Agents are well known for working in the field to provide executive protection to leaders during various functions, however, they also conduct a great deal of behind-the-scenes investigative work. A secret service agent may investigate high-level financial crimes, technologically advanced attacks on U.S. telecommunications and banking, and access device, check, and credit card fraud. When in the field, an agent must be prepared to use deadly force if necessary, to protect the executive they are assigned to.
U.S. Coast Guard Officer
A U.S. Coast Guard officer is responsible for maritime mobility, safety, and security, as well as the protection of natural resources. Essentially, the Coast Guard is the maritime arm of federal law enforcement. The Coast Guard often works closely with border patrol agents who monitor U.S. coastal waters for terrorism threats and the entry of illegal aliens. Coast guard officers who work in maritime safety and security are required to respond to calls for assistance, complaints, and other safety matters.
Benefits of a Homeland Security Degree
Earning a degree in homeland security opens doors that will have long-term positive effects for you personally, financially, and professionally, including job security, salary growth, and professional mobility. It is well established that graduates who complete a bachelor’s or master’s degree earn more over the course of their career than do individuals with only a high school diploma. Simply put, the more you learn, the more you will typically earn. This is especially true if you continue to stay abreast of changes in technology and focus on building your analytical and problem-solving skills. Holding a degree from a master's degree program provides you with the higher education credentials you need to pursue employment opportunities on many levels within the Department of Homeland Security, federal agencies, and private companies who share the same mission.
Criminal justice degrees that provide you with the necessary skills and abilities needed to manage law enforcement teams and other security professionals can offer advancement opportunities within the private sector. With the right degree program, your ability to advance is limited only by your desire to succeed. Online homeleand security programs allow you to pursue your educational goals while continuing to work in your chosen career field. This added convenience makes it possible for you to get hands-on experience while you complete your degree in Homeland Security.
Job Security & Career Stability
Homeland Security degrees are well worth the cost if you consider what doors this type of degree will open for you. Individuals who take the time to earn this type of degree often specialize in specific areas where their skills and expertise make them valuable assets. Having the knowledge and skills that are needed to create effective protocols and manage systems in both the public and private sectors will make you a valuable asset in multiple industries. For example, intelligence personnel who have an intimate understanding of both technology and the critical infrastructure of the organization or department that they work for are almost guaranteed future opportunities for advancement. This is especially true if they choose to continue their education and pursue a graduate degree program.
Transferrable Skills Across Industries
Homeland Security is a very diverse field. In terms of security, graduates learn how to identify potential threats, create safety protocols, create strategies to isolate potential threats and be able to put together a plan of action if an emergency occurs. In addition to valuable problem-solving skills, students also study ethics and take various courses in management. They must also be able to analyze data and categorize threats according to their potential to do harm. Threats can be natural or man-made, but each must be effectively neutralized and contain to reduce any risk of harm to the country or its citizens.
Homeland Security studies often include courses that involve working with technology. Cybersecurity is just one area in which graduates with a Master's degree in Homeland Security can thrive. The ability to analyze digital data and contain possible threats through the use of two-step authentication, fingerprint identification, or face recognition are just a few of the ways that technology is being used to keep not only our country secure but also confidential information commonly found in the private sector.
Top Homeland Security Degree Programs
The top homeland security degree programs in the U.S. offer specialized curriculum that teaches students the practical and theoretical skills to thrive in long-term careers. Employers in the industries of criminal justice, cybersecurity, law enforcement, information technology (IT), and public safety are looking for students with advanced problem-solving skills, the ability to effectively manage a team, and a solid foundation in criminal justice.
Homeland Security courses provide valuable information and exercises that test each student's skills and abilities when it comes to identifying particular situations and finding solutions that both protect and secure individuals and property. Homeland Security programs also include courses in criminal justice, psychology, behavioral sciences, technology, and data analytics. Courses demand that students test strategies and create policies and protocols that can be used in crisis situations as well as peace time.
Affordable Online Homeland Security Degree Programs
The trend of rising post-secondary education costs are expected to continue for the foreseeable future, making it increasingly difficult to find quality programs at an affordable price. According to the most recent estimates by the Department of Education, students can expect to pay over $20,000 for an in-state, public education and close to $50,000 per year for tuition at a private college or university.
Rising costs, are therefore, one of the primary factors that influence students pursuing a career in law enforcement to forego a college education altogether, in favor of entry-level police careers where a degree may not be a requirement. However, there are many schools that maintain high academic standards, have an established track record of graduate success, and also demonstrate a commitment to affordability… you just have to do a little research to find them.
Listed below are a hand-picked set of colleges that meet our strict requirements for quality and affordability. To qualify for this list, a college or university must have estimated annual costs of less than $30,000, demonstrate a high rate of job placement in the student’s area of study, and provide degrees that lead to careers with a starting salary over $50,000 per year. For a complete list of affordable online homeland security programs, visit our page, here.
Frequently Asked Questions about Homeland Security Degrees
What Is the Job Outlook for Careers in Homeland Security?
Over the past three decades, the need for individuals who specialize in security and intelligence operations has been on the rise. Even though the Department of Homeland Security is funded by the government, keeping our country secure requires professionals with intimate knowledge of the critical infrastructure of our defense systems, as well as management and emergency preparedness.
Homeland security courses offered by educational institutions provide graduates who specialize in homeland defense, the problem-solving skills they need to keep our nation secure and its citizens protected. The employment outlook for individuals who specialize in careers associated with homeland security is outstanding and the need for qualified applicants will continue to grow. This includes opportunities in both the public as well as the private sector.
How Much Money Can You Earn with a Homeland Security Major?
As with any industry and area of employment, pay scales range from entry-level to upper management. In most sectors, both public and private, entry-level pay for a degree in criminal justice or homeland security starts at approximately $20,000 a year and may go as high as $24,000. Starting pay for someone who has advanced to upper management can be as high as $105,000 with advancements and pay increases raising that number to as much as $138,572.
The pay you earn will depend on multiple factors. The amount of experience you bring to the table, as well as the degree programs you have completed, will have a significant effect on what type of pay you will be offered to start. If you are negotiating future pay, your level of experience and willingness to continue your education and complete a higher Homeland Security degree program will play into what is put on the table as an offering.
How Long Does It Take to Get a Homeland Security Degree?
Homeland Security degree programs can be obtained by taking a two-year program for your Associates' degree. There are also four-year programs for individuals who want to pursue their Master's degree. Post-graduate and doctoral programs are also available. Traditional classroom and online homeland security courses are available through most colleges and universities. There are certain situations in which taking a full course load is not possible. Both traditional classroom degree programs and those online can be taken over an extended period of time allowing the student to work at their own pace. Some students may be able to complete their coursework in an average amount of time, while it may take others twice as long.
If you want to attend a particular university but live too far away, online degree programs are available. These programs will allow you to attend the school of your choice, even if you live hundreds of miles away. Online programs allow students to attend classes at their own pace. Being able to limit their class time allows them to continue to work and support their families. If the student is already working in their chosen career field, they can take online classes and continue to gain valuable work experience that will help them continue to move forward while they are earning their degree.
How Much Do Online Homeland Security Degree Programs Cost?
On average, the tuition for a Homeland Security associates' program that lasts two years can cost approximately $15,000 for each year. This brings the total cost for a two-year Homeland Security program up to almost $30,000. The school that is chosen may be more or less, depending on any additional course materials or laboratory items that may be needed or requested by the student. As the degree programs become more advanced, the cost per year will also increase. Through financial aid and the use of scholarships and grants, students can complete their education and step into the life they want as a professional in their field.
Scholarships and grants are available for students who choose to enroll in an online Homeland Security degree program. Some scholarships are offered for academic excellence while others may be offered for excellence in athletics. Others are offered for community service that goes above and beyond normal expectations. Grants are normally offered to students who are trying to achieve a specific goal. Many corporations will offer grants to students who will eventually come to work for them once they have earned their degrees.
What Will You Learn in an Online Homeland Security Degree Program?
Students who enroll in an online Homeland Security program at an accredited university will learn the same lessons and have the same study guides as those who attend a physical classroom. Online coursework is just as rigorous and intense as assignments provided in an on-campus setting. Students who take classes online have an opportunity to advance their careers by receiving the same education as they would have received if they were able to attend a campus. In most cases, the exact same course outline is used for online classes like the one used in the classroom.
There is one primary difference between an online Homeland Security degree program and a degree program offered in a classroom and that is convenience. Online courses make it possible for the student to take the classes no matter where they are. Both online students and those who attend the classroom will receive the same education and overall learning opportunities. Although internships and mentorships are often reserved for students who attend class on campus, there are online programs that offer them. Not every degree program will require an internship, especially if the student is already working in the field. Work experience is a valuable resource and it can be earned in a variety of ways.
Homeland Security degree programs provide students with the knowledge and skills they need to succeed in fields related to management, law enforcement, security systems, and intelligence. Whether students choose online degree programs or traditional campus classrooms, degree programs in Homeland Security offer graduates an opportunity to advance in their careers.
Students can use their degree in the field of homeland defense or any number of other fields that require criminal justice or behavioral sciences degrees. The employment opportunities are endless. A student who is considering a Homeland Security degree program should sit down and take the time to look carefully at what their goals are. In some cases, one degree program can start them on a journey that has multiple options as they get closer to receiving their degree. By choosing to add a few extra classes here and there, the student has the potential to choose from several career options once they graduate.
What Are the Benefits of an Online Homeland Security Degree Program?
There are several benefits to choosing an online Homeland Security degree program. Students who take their classes online get the same course options as those who attend a traditional classroom at approximately the same cost. Not only do you get the same course programs, you also have access to the same professors and advisors as you would if you took your classes on campus. Taking classes online will also reduce the pressure of having to complete something in class. Some students take more time when they read assignments. Online classes allow them the time they need to read and fully understand the course material being presented.
Four-year college online classes allow students to earn their degrees from the college/university of their choice, even if the school is hundreds of miles away. This ability to attend school at a distance also allows the student to choose classes that fit into their regular schedule. They can attend school, go to work, take care of family obligations, and other tasks that require their time throughout the day. A degree in Homeland Security will open many doors for the graduate, especially if they have hands-on experience in their field.
Do Homeland Security Degree Programs Offer Internships?
Schools that require internships of fieldwork for Homeland Security degree programs do so because providing hands-on experience is one of the best learning tools available. Internships allow students to learn by actually doing the work they are interested in doing after they graduate. Schools that offer IT courses, criminal justice, and emergency preparedness classes often require these internships to provide hands-on training to reinforce classroom lessons. Students who are offered the opportunity to participate in an internship get valuable experience working with professionals who are already established in their careers.
Interns are given an opportunity to work side by side with other professionals in their chosen field. This puts them in real-time situations that will allow them to use their knowledge and problem-solving skills. They are able to hone their skills in terms of identifying potential threats and creating specific protocols that are needed in different situations. A Homeland Security program is designed to teach graduates how to handle complex situations while maintaining a level of professionalism and authority.