If you’re interested in furthering your homeland security career, you might be considering earning an advanced degree. But you probably have a number of questions, including: What can you actually do with a master’s degree in homeland security?
Ultimately, you’re trying to decide if this is truly the right education that will prepare you for your personal and professional goals.
Below, we define homeland security as an idea and a field of study, explore the different types of work that homeland security professionals perform, examine the value of earning a homeland security degree, and provide a number of alternatives so that you will be better prepared to make this important decision for yourself.
What is Homeland Security?
The term homeland security has a number of definitions depending upon the context in which it is used.
In the broadest sense of the word, homeland security refers to the various efforts that are undertaken on a national level to ensure that the United States homeland is “safe, secure, and resilient” against a range of potential threats, such as terrorism, natural, and manmade disaster. As a field of study and a field of work, homeland security refers to the specific roles that individuals play to further this mission.
Much (but not all) of the work that we now consider to fall under the realm of “homeland security” owes its existence to the establishment of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), which was created in 2002 in response to the September 11 terrorist attacks. Its creation merged 22 separate federal agencies into a single, unified entity working towards a single goal.
John Terpinas, professor of the practice and lead faculty for Northeastern’s security programs notes, “The Department of Homeland Security is a huge piece of the field—but it’s only a piece.”
It is important to remember that homeland security functions take place at the national, state, local, and corporate levels, and those who specialize in this field are not limited to working with the DHS and other government agencies.
What Do Homeland Security Professionals Do?
Homeland security professionals work in a range of industries and organizations, including federal agencies like the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), Secret Service, and Department of State; state and local governments; and the private sector, in industries such as banking, manufacturing, transportation, and private security.
In these capacities, homeland security professionals perform a range of duties depending on their specific career and job description. At a high level, these tasks are all related in some way to helping a business or government prepare for and mitigate damage from a variety of security threats.
At the more granular level, the work that homeland security professionals perform tends to fall into certain areas of focus, including, but not limited to:
- Emergency Management: While many others run away from an emergency, emergency management professionals are trained to respond to an emergency by charging forward and doing what they can to bring the emergency to a speedy resolution. Their duties include everything from preemptively planning for potential emergencies to the logistics of emergency response in the heat of the moment.
- Disaster Preparation and Mitigation: By understanding the anatomy of past disasters (such as natural disasters, mass shootings, and other types of security threats), it is possible to preemptively prepare for and reduce the risk of future disasters. This is what those involved in disaster mitigation work toward.
- Counterterrorism: Those involved in counterterrorism perform a range of duties designed to keep the American homeland safe from domestic and international attacks. This might include information gathering, monitoring potential threats, data analysis and assessment, and much more.
- Cybersecurity: A subset of homeland security workers specialize in the field of cybersecurity, where they use their knowledge and skills to identify potential areas of weakness within a business or government and, ultimately, make networks stronger and more secure.
Is an MA in Homeland Security Worth It?
For those who would like to make a difference in the world around them, and who would like to play their part in making the world a safer place, earning a master’s degree in homeland security can be a great way to jumpstart or advance your career. The degree has the potential to provide you with the knowledge, skills, experience, and network that you will leverage throughout your career.
When evaluating potential programs to enroll in, there are a few factors that can indicate a high-quality education:
- A focus on skills: In order to be successful in your homeland security career, it is critical that your education helps you develop the skills that you will use every day on the job. While these skills will, of course, vary depending on your area of focus, any program should prioritize analytics, critical thinking, communication, and interpersonal skills, which will be essential regardless of your specific focus.
- Industry-sourced faculty: When it comes to learning the skills and information necessary to excel in the field, there are no better educators than those who have actually spent time working in the field, who can speak to the unique challenges that students should expect and prepare for.
- Experiential learning opportunities: Hands-on education allows students to put their learning into practice solving real-world challenges and problems.
- Multiple areas of focus: If you already know the specific industry or type of homeland security work that you would like to perform after graduating, it’s important that you choose a program that allows you to explore this area of focus.
At Northeastern, for example, the MA in Security and Intelligence Studies program offers concentrations in Emergency Management, Geospatial Services, Port Security, and Organization and Infrastructure Continuity.
At Northeastern, the program is designed to combine each of these factors in order to prepare the next generation of homeland security professionals for leadership roles in the public and private sectors.
Terpinas says, “Our program takes a holistic approach to homeland security. Our approach builds leaders who use their expertise to make a difference in their specific area of interest.”
Ultimately, however, only you can decide if a security-related master’s degree is the best one to help you reach your goals.
Alternatives to a Homeland Security Degree
While a graduate degree in homeland security can prepare you for a number of career options like the ones listed above, it isn’t the only degree that can help you reach your goals. Depending on your particular interests, it might make more sense for you to pursue a different degree which will allow you to hone in on a particular area of study.
Some potential alternatives to a master’s degree in homeland security might include:
- Security and Resilience Studies, which prepares students to address the transnational risk, systemic vulnerabilities, and environmental challenges faced by today’s society.
- Criminal Justice, which prepares students to work more specifically as leaders in law enforcement, the legal system, and security.
- Cybersecurity, which prepares students for the more technical roles associated with homeland security.
Ready to learn more about advancing your career in homeland security? Download our free guide below, or learn more about the Master of Arts in Security and Intelligence Studies program at Northeastern University.