Is a Master’s Degree in Homeland Security Worth It?

Industry Advice Political Science & Security

From global pandemics to wildfires in California, hurricanes along the East Coast, and bombings at public events, it’s clear that America faces a number of threats to our national security each and every day. This reality has created a strong need for professionals who are prepared and equipped with the essential tools to address these and other threats to homeland security.

Whether you are considering a career in the homeland security field—or are looking to advance within your current role—a master’s degree in homeland security will help you to achieve your goals. Read on to explore some key considerations to help you decide if earning a master’s in homeland security is the right career move for you.

Homeland Security: A Growing Field

As we continue to learn when dealing with events like the COVID-19 pandemic, the field of homeland security includes numerous critical national security areas in both the private and public sectors. These areas include but are not limited to:

  • Pandemic preparedness and response
  • Critical infrastructure protection
  • Disaster preparedness and mitigation
  • Emergency management
  • Counterterrorism

For this reason, the homeland security field needs devoted, skilled leaders who are equipped to answer the call of protecting the United States. These leaders must have the ability to save lives by preparing for cataclysmic events—such as a wildfire or pandemic— and be ready to lead the efforts in protection, whether it be preventing acts of violence, responding to natural or man-made disasters, managing security risks, or directing response efforts.  

Keep in Mind: Working in the homeland security environment is an exciting ever-changing profession requiring a trusted partnership between the entire government (federal, state, local, and tribal), the private sector, and civil society. Careers in homeland security are diverse, challenging, and extremely important. 

With the ever-changing nature of the industry, the need for skilled security professionals continues to rise. For this reason, those looking to enter the field can typically expect steady job growth and competitive compensation. For example, the Department of Homeland Security alone employs more than 240,000 individuals with salaries ranging from roughly $42,106 to $128,216 per year.

Although the Department of Homeland Security is an obvious opportunity for employment in the field, it is by far not the only one. Almost every federal department and agency—including the Department of Justice, the FBI, the Department of Interior, the Department of Defense, and the Department of Treasury—alongside all 50 state governments and numerous private organizations, are hiring homeland security professionals at all levels.

Industry experts also predict an increase in the demand for homeland security professionals as a result of the recent COVID-19 pandemic that resulted in hundreds of thousands of deaths and shut down much of the nation and world economy.

As John Terpinas, professor of the practice and lead faculty for the security domain programs at Northeastern University, sees it, “the Department of Homeland Security is a huge piece of the [homeland security] field, but it is only a piece. There are many other vital pieces necessary to effectively conduct homeland security.”

Students hoping to land a job in this industry need to understand all of the different departments, agencies, and roles that are involved in homeland security efforts, and how they interact with one another. Understanding this more holistic approach will be essential when making strategic decisions on the job, no matter the specific title one may hope to achieve.

As the world continues to evolve, the issues that homeland security professionals face will continue to progress as well. Homeland security professionals must be capable of adapting to these changes in order to prepare, prevent, and respond to any situation that may arise.  

What Will You Learn in a Homeland Security Master’s Program?

Those who pursue their master’s in homeland security can expect to dive into many key concepts related to the security industry during their time in the program—many of which students will have the opportunity to leverage over the course of their careers. For example, emergency management, intelligence gathering and analysis, risk management, emergency planning and management, law, technological considerations, and social psychology are all considered important focus areas. 

At Northeastern University specifically, the faculty strives to provide their students with an in-depth understanding of the entire field of homeland security actors, as well as a road map of how these diverse organizations must cooperate to provide successful security practices to all community members. 

The Value of Hands-On Learning

Many of the challenges that a homeland security professional might face on the job, however, will be difficult to prepare for by only reading books and passing exams. That is why it is so important that students choose a master’s program that offers opportunities for hands-on learning within the field.

Programs like Northeastern’s, for example, emphasize the significance of experiential learning at every stage of students’ education. From co-ops at the undergraduate level to XN projects at the graduate level, these programs allow their students to gain real-world experience that can complement what is taught in the classroom. 

Did You Know: Alongside a more well-rounded education, experiential learning can also give graduates a competitive edge during hiring processes, and prepare them for the challenges they will face in the field.

Learning From Industry Leaders

Students hoping to pursue a master’s in security should also consider programs that source their faculty from professionals who have actually worked in the discipline. Learning from industry leaders allows students to gain insights that they may not be able to otherwise, and provides a valuable perspective that cannot be gained from simply reading a book. These scholar-practitioners have first-hand knowledge and experience that students can use to inform their education. Learning from industry leaders who have actually worked in the field will also give students a chance to really learn what to expect from their future careers.

What Can You Do With a Master’s in Homeland Security?

If you are considering earning a master’s degree in homeland security, you might also be wondering what you can do with your degree. A graduate degree in this field is designed to prepare the next generation of homeland security professionals for leadership positions across the public and private sectors. 

Keep in Mind: Though many consider the Department of Homeland Security to be the main source of positions in this field, there are many more job opportunities available outside of the DHS. Within the government sector, homeland security professionals are needed at the federal-, state-, and local-levels, and in the private sector, these professionals can be employed as private contractors or work for various private agencies or corporations.

Within these sectors, there is a wide array of homeland security careers that graduates can pursue. Some common job titles and average annual salaries include:

  • Intelligence Analysts: $69,502 
  • Cybersecurity Analysts: $75,712
  • Counterterrorism Analysts: $89,500
  • Disaster Recovery Specialists: $80,000
  • Business Continuity Managers: $95,510 

Although not every position will require a master’s degree for employment, those candidates who do have a degree stand out to employers and often stand a better chance of advancing.

Earning a graduate-level degree like Northeastern’s Master of Arts in Security and Intelligence Studies is also a great way for those looking to advance in the field of homeland security to demonstrate their qualifications. The curriculum, instructors, and holistic approach of this program provide students with the foundations that they need to make strategic decisions at a leadership level, which they can apply to any of the subfields within homeland security.

Is a Master’s in Homeland Security Right For You?

Before you make the decision as to whether or not to pursue a graduate degree, be sure to evaluate your personal and professional goals so that you can better determine the path you wish to follow to achieve them.

For some roles, you may not necessarily need a master’s degree to begin your career, but for those who wish to advance in the field, earn a leadership role, or stand out from the competition, obtaining your master’s from a top school like Northeastern can be key. 

Consider developing the skills that you will need to prepare for, prevent, and respond to homeland security threats at a more strategic level with a master’s degree from Northeastern.

Looking to become a leader in the field of homeland security? Consider how a security program like Northeastern’s can help you reach your goal.