Is a Homeland Security Degree for You?
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In an effort to increase national security and respond to ongoing terrorist attacks and threats, colleges have begun offering homeland security degree programs to draw more people to this expanding field. If you like being a leader and protecting others, you should consider earning a homeland security degree. Homeland security encompasses several aspects of protection from terrorists, illegal immigrants and smugglers. Most homeland security programs focus on threat analysis, homeland defense, and emergency planning and response. Students will receive a comprehensive overview of homeland security policies, objectives and countermeasures to offset potential attacks.
Students will also learn about the legal and political issues of homeland security, specifically surveillance, personal privacy and redress, citizens' rights and personal identity verification. They'll learn how to plan, implement and manage security operations during emergencies to increase protection along U.S. borders and coasts. Homeland security students will be prepared to work at numerous law enforcement and government agencies, including Border Patrol, the Secret Service, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, FEMA and the Coast Guard.
Advice for Earning Your Homeland Security Degree Online
Online homeland security programs give students the flexibility to attend school and work while balancing other life demands. A growing call for trained homeland security employees has increased the amount and availability of online homeland security degree programs, which have in turn become more widely accepted and respected within the job market. Aside from face-to-face instruction, online and traditional homeland security degree programs are very similar. Online students complete the same rigorous curriculum as traditional, on-campus ones, and they are subject to the same grading procedures.
Online students will get to choose from a wide range of classes and concentrations within the area of criminal justice and homeland security. Many programs offer electives and capstone courses to increase your understanding of homeland security and help you find a niche within the field. The first and most important step in applying to an online college is checking to make sure it is accredited. Accredited schools are reviewed by organizations that are backed by the U.S. Department of Education, which ensures that the program is being held to strict standards.
The homeland security curriculum varies from school to school, but most online students will take courses in criminal law, corrections, criminology, law enforcement, courts and judicial process, and disaster response. Some programs emphasize classes in criminal justice management and administration of government organizations. Online homeland security majors may also be required to take classes in computer information systems and security to explore the technical aspect of homeland security and terrorism investigations.
Common Career Paths
Homeland security majors have various job opportunities from which to choose after graduation. Common positions include (but are not limited to):
- Border Patrol Agent: These federal law enforcement officers play a crucial role in homeland security by protecting the nation's borders. Since there are 8,000 miles of international land and water boundaries surrounding the U.S., this is no easy task. It requires constant vigilance and observance of protocol. Border patrol agents are responsible for preventing people from entering the country illegally. Of particular importance is the threat of human trafficking. Border patrol agents also help maintain the flow of legal entry into the country. They are often tasked with line watches, where they perform surveillance of the border from a covert position, keeping an eye out for undocumented immigrants entering the country. The yearly salary of a border patrol agent varies, depending on an individual's education and experience in law enforcement and homeland security. New agents are hired on at one of three different levels of base salary—the first at $38,619, the second at $43,964 and the third at $49,029, according to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Border patrol agents can also often supplement their salary by working overtime, the CBP notes. Federal government benefits also include health and life insurance, retirement benefits and 401(k) plans.
- Police and Detectives: Many jobs in federal homeland security require a solid background in law enforcement, which is why many individuals start their careers as police officers, sheriff's deputies, state troopers or highway patrol officers. The experience gained in law enforcement can be crucial for moving up into federal jobs in homeland security. Police officers are responsible for protecting lives and property within their jurisdiction, although they often work with other law enforcement agencies to combat widespread regional crime. They respond to calls for service; investigate crimes, such as shootings, burglaries and assaults; patrol for traffic and criminal violations; provide security at events; write police reports; and issue citations when necessary. Police officers are often separated into task forces, such as drug enforcement, animal control, crimes against children, domestic violence and cybercrimes. If you seek out a career in homeland security, you should pursue placement on a task force related to the area you wish to pursue at the federal level. In the world of law enforcement, there are also opportunities to advance to various supervisory and detective positions. Employment of police officers and detectives is expected to increase 7 percent between 2010 and 2020, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Their median salary was $55,010 in 2010.
- FBI Agent: Agents who work for the Federal Bureau of Investigations are law enforcement officers who serve as the chief investigators for the federal government. They also play a crucial role in homeland security. FBI agents are tasked with investigating more than 200 categories of federal law and are behind the nation's most sensitive investigations affecting national security. They have a wide variety of assignments, which might include listening in on wiretapped conversations, getting to the bottom of white-collar crime, negotiating the extradition of criminals who have fled to other countries, and going undercover or taking part in covert surveillance in foreign countries to gather intelligence on groups that wish to jeopardize American safety. FBI agents also investigate organized crime, kidnappings and public corruption, and are involved in counterterrorism, espionage and combating cybercrime. The yearly salaries of FBI agents ranged from $37,353 to $122,039 as of June 2012, according to Payscale.com.