Are You Ready for an Online Degree in Homeland Security?

By combining aspects of criminal justice, social sciences, and emergency management, earning a homeland security degree online teaches how to keep America safe through techniques, research, and best practices in counter-terrorism and cybersecurity.

On this page you’ll find out if homeland security is a good fit for you, some careers you can pursue in the field, and even find the perfect program for you.

Homeland Security Graduates

In 2015, a there were a total of 7,067 degrees in homeland security awarded. This included 2,777 bachelor’s degrees and 2,025 masters.

3 Ways You Know Homeland Security Is for You

Homeland security, which takes aspects of a criminal justice degree and an emergency management degree, is not for everyone.


Because it’s not a regular job. Most of those who work for the Department of Homeland Security (only one of many careers you can pursue in the field, but one of the most well-known) don’t work regular hours.

This can include working in shifts, staying late or coming in early. This can be especially true for investigators, who may need to be on call and respond to crimes.

Other roles may include(also) working in shifts, plus holidays and weekends. Plus, there may be extensive training or traveling for different positions. In fact, some roles may include relocating a number of times during your career.i

Some people find these roles thrilling, while others are better suited for other types of work. Below are three ways you can tell if a homeland security degree is perfect for you.

#1: You’re interested in helping others.

According to O*NET, an online career database, many of the roles in homeland security require a service orientation, which means you actively look for ways to help others.ii

Part of your responsibility, regardless of your specific title or level, is keeping the country or organization you work for safe. Without a burning desire to help others, you may lack the passion necessary to be successful in the field.

#2: You like solving complex problems.

In a fast-paced environment with many factors to consider, many of the problems facing those in homeland security have serious consequences, potentially including legal ramifications and foreign relations.

But you also have to identify situations that could lead to problems and be able to come up with solutions quickly.iii

#3: You handle stress well.

Whether starting out or pursuing a career as an emergency director, people who work in homeland security have to tackle problems that may result in major issues.

This type of stress isn’t for everyone, but homeland security could be a good option for those who can handle stress well. This is why some positions require stress tests or other ways of measuring how you handle stressful situations.iii

Did You Know?

More than 240,000 employees work for the Department of Homeland Security. These jobs range from aviation and border security to emergency response to cybersecurity analysts to chemical facility inspectors.

Top 9 FAQs About Homeland Security Online Degrees

Earning a homeland security degree online can teach you the different components of keeping America, companies, and organizations safe from various threats. This includes combining investigative skills, technology, and ways of mitigating risk.

Below are some of the most common questions about homeland security.

#1: What year was the Department of Homeland Security created?

The Department of Homeland Security was created on November 25, 2002 after the Homeland Security Act was passed. It officially opened its doors on March 1, 2003.

#2: How does homeland security protect us?

Whereas the Department of Defense is charged with keeping us safe from foreign threats, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) works to protect the United States within, at, and outside its borders.

Every day, the DHS secures our nation and counters the evolving threats we face by preparing for, preventing, responding to, and recovering from terrorism and other threats.

U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) Enforcement 

In 2016, the CBP identified 14,293 high-risk travelers who would have been found inadmissible had they traveled to the United States and who were instead prevented from boarding flights destined for the U.S.

#3: What is the purpose of the Homeland Security Act?

The primary mission of the Homeland Security Act of 2002 was to prevent terrorist attacks, reduce the vulnerability to terrorism, and minimize damage from and assist in recovery from terrorist attacks that occur in the United States.

In order to succeed at this mission, the Act also created the DHS, implemented it with a cabinet position, and armed it with the authority to control investigations that require access to information needed to pursue and prevent terrorism.

#4: What are the duties of a homeland security officer?

The Department of Homeland Security combined 22 different agencies, all with different responsibilities, but with the common mission of keeping America safe.

Though the specific responsibilities for officers vary depending on the position, level of leadership, and the department which they work for, most work at one or more of the following five goals of the DHS:

  1. Preventing terrorism and enhancing security
  2. Securing and managing our borders
  3. Enforcing and administering immigration laws
  4. Safeguarding and securing cyberspace
  5. Ensuring resilience to disasters

#5: Is the Secret Service part of the DHS?

Yes, the Secret Service is part of the Department of Homeland Security. The Secret Service unit was created in 1865 as part of the Department of Treasury.

Did You Know?

It wasn’t until 1902, after the assassination of President McKinley, that the Secret Service assumed full-time responsibility of protecting the President.

#6: Is the FBI part of the Department of Homeland Security?

No, the FBI is not part of the Department of Homeland Security. While some of the responsibilities may overlap, the FBI operates as part of the Department of Justice.

#7: Why is border patrol important to homeland security?

The priority mission of the Border Patrol is preventing terrorists and weapons, such as weapons of mass destruction, from entering the United States.

The Border Patrol is specifically responsible for patrolling nearly 6,000 miles of Mexican and Canadian borders and over 2,000 miles of coastal waters surrounding Florida and Puerto Rico.

The Port of Los Angeles 

As America’s largest port, it’s estimated that the $1.2 billion worth of cargo is shipped to or from the Port of Los Angeles every day.

#8: What is the role of local law enforcement in homeland security?

The DHS believes that law enforcement partners at the federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial levels are the backbone of our nation’s domestic defense against terrorist attacks.

This vital partnership to ensure public safety in every American community is one of the reasons that 90% of the DHS employees are stationed outside of Washington, D.C.

As partners, the DHS helps local law enforcement have a clear understanding of tactics, behaviors, and other indicators that could point to terrorist activity.

#9: What is a Transportation Security Officer (TSO)?

A Transportation Security Officer, or TSO, provides security for travelers at airports by scanning for weapons or other illegal materials. As the frontline of protecting our nation’s transportation systems, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is an integral part of the DHS.

Entering Through Customs 

The worst average wait times to get through customs in the U.S. are August (average wait time 17.66 minutes) and July (17.14 minutes). The best months are February (13.97 minutes) and March (14.53 minutes).

Concentrations for Your Homeland Security Degree

Whereas most schools have homeland security as a concentration for your criminal justice bachelor’s degree, graduate degrees usually offer homeland security as its own degree.

Then, at some schools, you choose a concentration to tailor your curriculum for a more in-depth analysis in a specific area.

Some available concentrations include:

  • Computer Forensics
  • Cyber Operations
  • Electronic Crime
  • Counter-Terrorism
  • Public Policy

Each of these concentrations will have a similar core curriculum. Then, additional courses will vary depending on your field. To find the perfect concentration for you, check out a bunch of schools and the differences in courses.

Did You Know?

DHS is the third largest cabinet department, after the Department of Defense and the Department of Veteran Affairs.

Common Courses in Homeland Security

When studying homeland security, some of the courses you may take include:

  • Legal Issues in Counter-Terrorism
  • Critical Incident Planning and Leadership
  • Public Policy Implications of Terrorism Legislation and Policies
  • Technology for the Police Executive
  • Terrorism: Threats and Strategies

In addition to these courses, an understanding of technology and the various components are desirable. This includes computer science, programming, and information technology.iv

Understanding business concepts, such as accounting, finance, or management, can be important for leadership positions. Usually, graduate degrees, and especially doctoral degrees, focus on these elements.v

What's the Difference Between Homeland Security and Emergency Management?

Typically, emergency management represents a more local, operationally oriented field, whereas homeland security tends to be more strategic.

In other words, emergency management is planning for, responding to, and recovering from emergencies and homeland security is usually more focused on preventing terroristic and other man-made threats.

Is FEMA Part of the DHS? 

Yes, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA, was absorbed into the Department of Homeland Security effective March 1, 2003.

What Can You Do with a Homeland Security Degree?

Some of the careers you can pursue after earning a homeland security degree, and the 2016 median annual salary according to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), are:

  • Detectives and Criminal Investigators: $78,120vi
  • Police and Sheriff’s Patrol Officers (Including Border Patrol Agents)vii: $59,680viii
  • Transportation Security Screeners: $39,680ix
  • Information Security Analysts (Cybersecurity Professionals): $92,600x
  • Emergency Management Directors: $70,500xi

Each of these positions have varying requirements, including expected degree level. In fact, most of these you can pursue with only a bachelor’s degree, though advanced positions usually look for candidates with a certain number of years of experience as well.iv

In addition, some advanced roles look for candidates with graduate degrees. This is especially true in technology and management positions.x

What documents do you need to work in homeland security?

While there are many career opportunities for private businesses and organizations, most of the homeland security degrees involve working for or with the government, whether at the local, state, or federal level.

In order to earn these positions, these departments run an extensive background check, and you’ll have to submit a number of documents. For example, you must:

  • Be a U.S. citizen
  • Take and pass a medical exam
  • Pass a psychological exam
  • Sit for and pass a polygraph test
  • Undergo an extensive background check
  • Take and pass a drug test

Regardless of what job you apply for, don’t forget to check the educational requirements and the documents you’ll need for that position.

Did You Know?

By far the largest component of DHS is the Directorate of Border and Transportation Security (BTS), which is responsible for maintaining the security of the nation’s borders and transportation systems. BTS accounts for 58% of DHS employees, along with nearly half of its operation budget.

Find the Perfect Homeland Security Program for You!

Ready to pursue a homeland security degree? Check out some of the sponsored listings below or use the form on the top of the page to find the perfect program for you and apply today!

Homeland Security Bachelor’s Degrees

Many bachelor’s degree programs in homeland security are tied in to criminal justice degrees and offer homeland security as a concentration to introduce topics in criminal justice.

These include the development of criminal justice in America, applied research and theories of the field, and the development of law.

Then, your concentration in homeland security will cover topics such as:

  • Origins of terrorism
  • Response methods to weapons of mass destruction
  • Crisis negotiation
  • Conflict resolution

While working for the Department of Homeland Security is one of the most common aspirations of many students, there are many opportunities outside of the DHS, including working at the local level or for multinational corporations.

American InterContinental University

As employer needs continue to evolve, American InterContinental University adjusts its programs to provide competitive skills to students. This includes powerful, specialized curriculum taught by industry specialists.

The BS in Criminal Justice – Homeland Security and Crisis Management offers students an opportunity to work with simulated models from FEMA and other agencies to understand:

  • Techniques for protecting critical infrastructures
  • Intelligence gathering
  • Technologies in homeland security and crisis management

Kaplan University

Dedicated to providing innovative programs, Kaplan University fosters student learning with opportunities to launch, enhance, or change careers in today’s global society.

Public safety is a top concern in today’s society, which is why the BS in Criminal Justice – Homeland Security from Kaplan combines professional skills training with applied research to develop a solid foundation of knowledge.

Saint Leo University

As a Catholic university designed for students of all faiths, Saint Leo University now serves more than 13,000 students from all 50 states, Washington D.C., three U.S. territories, and 92 countries.

The BA in Criminal Justice – Homeland Security Specialization degree from St. Leo helps you understand the inner workings of the Department of Homeland Security, with special emphasis on federal, state, and local counter-terrorism efforts.

Master’s Degrees in Homeland Security

If you choose to pursue an online master’s degree in homeland security, you’ll more than likely have an option of further narrowing your focus.

For instance, master’s degree programs cover general topics of protecting organizations and citizens through the different levels of government.

However, many programs usually offer either specialized programs or concentrations, such as cybersecurity or counter-terrorism. Depending on your goals and interests, choosing which concentration or type of master’s can significantly vary your course of study.

For example, cybersecurity programs will focus heavily on technology, computer forensics, and maintaining the integrity of cyber evidence.

On the other hand, counter-terrorism includes more of a focus on developing strategic, policy-based security solutions through social science and theories in criminology. While they may cover cybersecurity as one of the topics or as a course, it will not be the main focus.

Instead, counter-terrorism or homeland security master’s degrees build upon a bachelor’s degree to go more in-depth and examine key topics of criminal justice, public policy, and intelligence.

Utica College

As a comprehensive, independent, and private institution founded in 1946, Utica College offers all the advantages of a large university but with the intimacy and personal attention of smaller, private colleges.

The master’s programs in cybersecurity at Utica address:

  • The ever-changing attack and infiltration techniques
  • How to proactively protect against them
  • State-of-the-art practices in intelligence, forensics, and cyber operations

Utica offers five concentrations of its online master of science in cybersecurity, one of which is:

Saint Joseph’s University

In its pursuit of the greatest good, the desire to strive relentlessly, and the determination to give one’s absolute best, Saint Joseph’s University, a Jesuit Catholic school, offers a rigorous, student-centered education.

In order to prepare graduates to effectively respond to threats, the MS in Criminal Justice – Homeland Security Specialization addresses the causes and effects of terrorism from political, religious, and historical perspectives.

American University

With highly-ranked schools and colleges, internationally renowned faculty, and a reputation for creating meaningful change, American University helps students distinguish themselves and rethink challenges and opportunities.

In order to teach the problems of terrorism and other threats that endanger the United States, the curriculum of the MS in Counter-Terrorism and Homeland Security uses aspects of social science, criminal justice, and criminology.

Homeland Security PhD Programs

Earning a PhD in Homeland Security dives even deeper into the field and includes analyzing:

  • How the field of homeland security has evolved
  • The principles of global terrorism
  • Risk-based analysis strategies
  • Emerging organizational and policy challenges

Many doctoral programs are tied into management or even business degrees because of the emphasis on leadership. These programs cover all aspects of managing and leading organizations to address security issues, risk mitigation, and protecting business infrastructure.

This can include all of the factors of running an organization, such as budgeting, information systems, and qualitative and quantitative methodology and research.

Walden University

Walden University has spent the last 45 years serving the higher education needs of adult learners. Now, with students from all 50 states and more than 150 countries, Walden teaches current market trends and positive social change.

The Doctor of Business Administration DBA – Homeland Security is designed for leaders in the private and public sectors interested in analyzing homeland security and crisis planning from a business perspective.

Northcentral University

As a regionally accredited online university, Northcentral University teaches professionals throughout the world and mentors students one-to-one to help you achieve academic success and become a valuable contributor to your community.

Under the one-to-one mentorship of NCU’s professors, the Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Business Administration – Homeland Security – Leadership and Policy teaches counter-terrorism, strategy, intelligence, emergency management, and critical infrastructure security issues.

Colorado Technical University

Since 1965 Colorado Technical University has been proud to educate career focuses students and help them earn their education and achieve their goals.

Created to help upper level managers prepare to answer the call for expertise, the Doctor of Management – Homeland Security (Executive Format) features an “all-threat” curriculum intended to help professionals develop knowledge in the fields of:

  • Law enforcement
  • Government
  • Security
  • Military
  • Healthcare

[i] [ii] [iii] [iv] [v] [vi] [vii] [viii] [ix] [x] [xi]

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