Online homeland security degrees prepare undergraduate students for entry-level positions in law enforcement, counterterrorism, and emergency management. Unsurprisingly, careers in the cybersecurity field greatly expanded after the September 11, 2001 attacks and the resulting formation of the Department of Homeland Security. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects that information security analyst positions will grow 28% through 2026, making it one of the fastest expanding careers in the country.
To help prospective students find the best online bachelor's in homeland security programs, this guide provides extensive academic information. Distance learners can gain insight on program structure, course selection, and accreditation. Students can also develop an understanding of the admissions process, including common application materials. Additionally, the guide covers career pathways and professional development opportunities.
Overview of Homeland Security Degrees
Homeland security includes the theories, strategies, programs, and laws that ensure the U.S. remains safe and resilient against terrorist attacks, natural disasters, and other hazards to American interests. Homeland security degree candidates can pursue diverse careers, including positions as police officers, state troopers, and coast guards. Students can also seek specialized occupations in disease prevention and disaster relief.
Many colleges and universities deliver standalone online homeland security degrees, while other colleges offer it as a concentration for criminal justice programs. Although these two fields sometimes overlap, noticeable differences exist between them. Criminal justice provides students with a general understanding of the theories and workings of law enforcement, court systems, and other structures that uphold a society's established codes of conduct. Homeland security specifically refers to the systems that protect U.S. residents and infracture from human-made threats (like terrorist bombings, mass shootings, and cyber attacks) and environmental disasters (such as hurricanes, earthquakes, and wildfires).
On top of effective communication and critical thinking skills, students must develop fast reaction times and work well under pressure and in collaborative environments. To help students cultivate these practical skills and characteristics, schools often require learners to complete internships or on-campus intensives. Active professionals may be able to opt out of practicum requirements by applying relevant work experience.
Colleges and universities that offer online homeland security degrees generally operate a conventional admissions process for first-time students. Common application materials include a personal essay, professional resume or CV, three letters of recommendation, and academic transcripts. Applicants also need to meet GPA requirements within the 2.0-3.0 range. Students who want to apply for competitive scholarships should display higher results. In addition, institutions may require prospective students to graduate within the top percentile of their high school class.
While online schools sometimes ignore standardized testing and prefer a holistic student evaluation method, many institutions still require candidates to submit SAT or ACT scores. College Board reports that the freshman class of 2018 earned a 1068 mean SAT score (536 on the evidence-based reading and writing sections and 531 on the math section).
Homeland security students usually need to complete general education and prerequisite coursework before pursuing their major degree plans. Preparatory classes include introduction to homeland security, administrative procedures, and critical inquiry and communication. Accelerated and degree-completion programs require applicants to transfer a designated number of credits into the curriculum.
As part of the admissions process, international applicants may need to obtain the F1 Student Visa. They also need to demonstrate English language proficiency by submitting adequate TOEFL or IELTS scores. All students should seek the expert guidance of their prospective schools' admissions counselors.
What Will I Learn?
Online homeland security degree plans total at least 120 credits and consist of general education requirements, prerequisite coursework, major classes, and electives. Most postsecondary schools allow nontraditional students to transfer up to 60 credits of prior college coursework toward program completion. These credits usually include general education topics like freshman composition, U.S. or world history, and introductory math and sciences. On top of introducing students to the liberal arts core of their curriculum, general education courses provide students with the writing and critical thinking skills needed for academic success.
Students can expect a minimum of 30 major classes in areas such as criminology, domestic/international terrorism, critical infrastructure protection, and risk analysis. Students pursue advanced topics in either a generalist track or a concentration area. Electives comprise the remainder of the degree plan, which students can use to complete a minor or second major. An online homeland security program usually culminates in project implementation, thesis research, and/or comprehensive exam.
Below, we provide common classes that you can expect to take for online homeland security degrees.
Introduction to Homeland Security
This perfunctory course provides an up-to-date overview of national security from all hazard perspectives, including natural catastrophes, technological disasters, and domestic and international terrorism. Students learn about the roles of government bodies, nonprofit organizations, and individual civilians in homeland security. They also delve into the challenges to diversity and civil liberties caused by national security measures.
Emergency Preparedness and Response
This core class explores fundamental concepts in emergency planning to minimize or altogether avoid the impact of disasters. Students develop the analytical skills to assess emergency situations for all levels of government action. They also learn to create, implement, and assess educational outreach and training programs that bolster community preparedness.
The Roles of First and Second Responders
Students begin by familiarizing themselves with the government principles, frameworks, and presidential directives related to managing emergency scenarios. The course trains students in general operational procedures for relevant local, state, and federal authorities. Additional topics include resource coordination, volunteer mobilization, and solutions to the challenges that arise during recovery operations.
History of Terrorism
This class offers an in-depth examination of terrorism and the associated violence from a historical perspective, with emphasis on U.S. interests. Students learn the social contexts of terrorism as it relates to individual countries and terrorist groups. They also learn about leaderless terrorism, defined as networks of loosely aligned groups working in isolation toward common objectives.
This specialized class familiarizes students with modern communication systems, focusing on their limitations and vulnerabilities. Students also learn about the history of computer hacking. They develop an understanding of how government agencies and private companies use these technologies for intelligence gathering. Additional topics include law and regulations associated with cyber communications, particularly laws that came about as a result of the National Security Act of 1947.
International Drug Trafficking
This advanced course provides an extensive discovery of legal and illegal drugs, with collateral topics in youth, violence, gang activity, and behavioral pathology. Students delve into law enforcement responses and the trends toward legalization/decriminalization. They develop their own educated opinions on contemporary drug trafficking challenges and resulting public policy issues.
What Can I Do with an Online Bachelor’s Degree in Homeland Security?
This section covers the aptitudes and skills students pursuing online degrees in homeland security develop through the course of their training. Undergraduate programs combine classroom instruction and practicum experiences, such as internships, to prepare students to tackle real-world challenges. This section also provides possible careers for bachelor's degree holders, such as geospatial analyst, legal assistant, and compliance officer. The profiles detail average salary, general job duties, and advancement options. Students should use this information as a starting point for their own research and career planning.
Because colleges and universities can structure online homeland security degrees as standalone tracks or concentrations for criminal justice and public administration programs, core skills vary drastically. However, students can expect general competencies in four broad areas: emergency management practice, organizational leadership, research and analytical thinking, and ethics. Depending on their program, students focus their training on a particular aspect of the field (like border security or global intelligence) or a threat type (such as natural disasters or terrorist attacks).
The bulk of a homeland security degree candidate's training goes into preparing for and responding to emergency situations as defined by governmental frameworks, specifically the FEMA National Preparedness Goal. To ensure success in these endeavours, students must develop the ability to manage teams, educate communities, and coordinate individuals in the face of disastrous situations. Organizational leadership also entails program budgeting and evaluation.
Homeland security students must cultivate analytical thinking skills that enable them to act effectively under duress. Students should uniformly support their actions and strategies with data and other evidence. Lastly, students work to concretize their professional ethics, which they apply when communicating with the public, engaging with authorities and persons of interest, and assessing a disaster's effects on communities and individuals.
Potential Careers & Salaries
Apart from entry-level careers in local, state, and national law enforcement, students pursuing online homeland security degrees may find diverse occupations in government agencies. Opportunities include intelligence analysts, counterterrorism agents, and infrastructure protection specialists. Students may also pursue emergency management, levying their skills as logisticians and program managers.
With the proper specialized training, students can access additional career paths. A cybersecurity concentration prepares learners for positions as information analysts, software testers, and security architects. With an academic focus on transportation security, students can work as border patrol agents, immigration specialists, and drug enforcement administrators. Students can even complete a seemingly unrelated concentration like business administration and pursue careers in the private sector as consultants and compliance analysts.
In addition to an online degree in homeland security, optional credentials strengthen a professional's skill set and overall desirability in the eyes of employers. Ample options exist, including the certificates offered by the Program Management Institute. The International Information System Security Certification Consortium operates general and specialized cybersecurity certificate programs.
Annual Median Salary: $58,210
These professionals develop ways to obtain data from geographic information systems useful to multifarious fields and industries. Using mapping technology and computer analytical methods, geospatial analysts render detailed maps, create corresponding metadata, and assess existing information. Employment opportunities exist with the government, military, and private firms.
Annual Median Salary: $66,939
Predominantly working for government agencies and associated organizations, intelligence analysts provide information on security threats. The nature of their work requires them to travel frequently to meet with contacts and expand their networks. On top of gathering intelligence, analysts must also discern the significance and reliability of incoming information.
Annual Median Salary: $56,203
Because compliance represents a vast field, these professionals can work in sectors such as government, business, healthcare, and education. Compliance analysts ensure their organization's projects and other internal/external actions meet professional standards and government laws and regulations. They also act as official communicators, gathering, distilling, and presenting compliance-related data.
Annual Median Salary: $44,657
While legal assistants do not need to hold law degrees, they must possess workable knowledge to analyze documents and help their firm's lawyers with case preparation. These professionals also act as administrators, overseeing everyday office duties like answering the phone, handling paperwork, and managing office databases.
Annual Median Salary: $50,371
These professionals work as part of a software development team, reviewing applications for stability, errors, and other quality assurance markers. They perform testing strategies to locate system flaws and debug scripts. In addition to possessing coding and programming skills, software testers must be highly detail-oriented, since they document performance trials at different times during the project cycle.
Will I Need a Graduate Degree for a Career in Homeland Security?
A bachelor's degree in homeland security empowers students to pursue entry-level careers in information technology, emergency management, law enforcement, counterterrorism, and public administration. For many students, advanced academics signify the next major step in professional development. Indeed, the higher an individual's education level, the larger their earning potential. BLS data shows that graduate degree holders earn, on average, $12,000 more in annual salary than professionals who hold bachelor's credentials. They also benefit from a lower unemployment rate.
Master's degree plans focus on leadership skills crucial to the duties of police chiefs, immigration directors, and emergency relief directors. These programs also allow students to pursue high-need concentrations like computer forensics, legal studies, and criminal psychology. For homeland security professionals who do not want to earn another degree, certification and licensure offer alternate paths to career advancement. For example, the National Sheriffs' Association offers the certified homeland protection professional designation to candidates with at least two years of relevant work experience.
Accreditation for Homeland Security Bachelor’s Programs
To obtain valid online homeland security degrees, undergraduate students should attend a postsecondary institution that maintains national or regional accreditation. The Council for Higher Education Accreditation and the U.S. Department of Education oversee national accreditation agencies. Colleges and universities may earn regional accreditation from one of seven organizations, based on location. For example, New York colleges become regionally accredited through the Middle States Commission on Higher Education. These stamps of approval reflect a school's adherence to governmental and professional regulations. Accreditation also allows schools to access federal and state funding, like grants and low-interest loans.
In addition to national or regional approval, online homeland security programs can hold specialized accreditation from the Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security designates their preferred schools as Centers of Excellence. By obtaining an accredited degree, students can ensure their educational training matches what employers desire in skilled applicants. Accredited credentials also enable professionals to sit for major certification and licensure exams.
Homeland Security Professional Organizations
By pursuing online homeland security degrees, students develop the theoretical knowledge, practical skills, and industry relationships necessary for career entry and advancement. To bolster these opportunities and connect to a network of like-minded individuals, students can engage with professional organizations. Membership often requires annual fees but allows access to local networking events and national or international conferences.
Professional organizations also offer financial support, including student scholarships and research grants. Additionally, homeland security associations deliver professional development opportunities, such as the certification programs facilitated by the International Associate of Law Enforcement Intelligence Analysts.
Global Society of Homeland and National Security Professionals
This organization supports government and private responders in participating nations with a full-service career center and comprehensive discount programs. Members also benefit from webinars and in-person training sessions on topics like developmental leadership, narcotics, the dark web, and social media for law enforcement. Furthermore, GSHNSP offers five levels of professional certification.
International Association of Law Enforcement Intelligence Analysts
Established in 1981, IALEIA is the largest professional organization for criminal justice analytical personnel in the world. Members can access mentorship programs, scholarships, and job listings. In addition to the aforementioned certification programs, which offer three tiers of recognition, the association offers topical training programs online and through its partners on the ground.
National Emergency Management Association
Founded in 1974, NEMA develops public safety initiatives and helps professionals prepare for and respond to critical situations. Members benefit from online educational tools, in-person workshops (including a program for new state directors), and up-to-date publications. Professionals collaborate through subject-specific committees. The association also maintains a vast career center.