Masters Homeland Security vs Criminal JusticeIf you are deciding whether to pursue a master’s in homeland security or a master’s in criminal justice, consider this: how do you want to use your degree to serve your country and community?

Both fields draw people who are committed to protecting the lives of others. They want a career where the work they do makes a difference. They are unafraid of making decisions that have life-or-death consequences. They also know that pursuing additional education does more than advance their career — it also helps them keep their communities safer.

To help you decide which degree is the best fit, we’ll start with an overview of the homeland security field and the criminal justice field. Then we’ll compare their corresponding master’s programs. Finally, we’ll look at possible career outcomes and salaries.

Homeland Security: Defend against Life-Threatening Events

In the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, the US government established the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in 2002, and the first master’s program began the following year.

The Department of Homeland Security Strategic Plan defines their mission as: “dedicated operators and personnel will safeguard against threats both foreign and domestic, respond to national emergencies and contingencies, and preserve the Nation’s prosperity and economic security.”

In addition to directly defending lives, homeland security is also responsible for protecting national infrastructure, which includes power plants, water supplies, public health services, transportation networks, and banking services.

Criminal Justice: Understand and Prevent Crime

Criminal justice is an older academic field than homeland security. It dates to the 1910s with beginnings in police education programs. Today, it has expanded to study the legal and societal systems that decide how we define and respond to wrongdoing. In light of 9/11, it became recognized that the criminal justice field is one of the tools needed to secure one’s country and community.

Those who work in and study criminal justice are interested in crime prevention and control. They examine behaviors that cause harm to lives and livelihoods.


How Is an MA in Homeland Security Different from an MA in Criminal Justice?

In general, the content of a homeland security degree is broader than a criminal justice degree. For example, you might see courses in juvenile law or white-collar crime or public policy in a criminal justice curriculum.

A homeland security degree is better suited for those who know they want a job related to security, public safety, or emergency management. However, the actual master’s curriculum of each school varies and depends on conditions such as how research-oriented the program is or the areas of faculty expertise.

Overview of Homeland Security Master’s Programs

Homeland security degree programs teach students to prevent and respond to multi-faceted threats, such as crime and life-threatening emergencies, whether they are terrorist attacks, natural disasters, or other dangerous event.

Students learn to assess risks, collect intelligence, and plan strategic responses. They also study management principles so that they can effectively manage people and resources in rapidly changing situations. Many homeland security programs also include emergency management courses.

Example program outcomes:

  • Gain in-depth knowledge of homeland security strategies.
  • Learn how to prevent crime and disrupt terrorist attacks.
  • Be able to rapidly respond to human and natural hazards.
  • Create and manage large-scale public safety plans.
  • Understand management areas such as organizational theory and persuasive communication.
  • Expand critical thinking and analytical skills.

Learn more about the difference between a master’s in homeland security vs. a master’s in emergency management.


Overview of Criminal Justice Master’s Programs

Criminal justice degree programs focus on the theories, policies, and ethics of crime and crime prevention. Students learn about law enforcement, courts, and corrections. They study different approaches to crime deterrence and punishment. They also study what causes criminal behavior and how this behavior is affected by social, cultural, and economic factors.

Example program outcomes:

  • Know the theories, laws, and institutions that support the criminal justice process.
  • Understand the effects of the criminal justice system on individuals, communities, and society.
  • Learn how to interpret legal documents such as court cases.
  • Be able to use research and statistical data.
  • Be empowered to apply ethics to decision-making.
  • Develop effective written and oral communication skills.

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

It is easiest to divide homeland security careers into two categories: (1) jobs that fall under the umbrella of the Department of Homeland Security, and (2) jobs that are not part of the DHS but support its mission of protecting the country.

Careers at the Department of Homeland Security

More than a quarter million people are employed by the DHS, making it one of the largest departments within the nation’s largest employer. In addition to jobs at DHS headquarters, it promotes five mission areas, which includes the largest law enforcement population in the Federal Government, and 11 component career areas.

While these jobs include frontline roles, such as a uniformed officer in the U.S. Secret Service or an agent with the Customs and Border Protection Office, the department relies on thousands of “mission support careers” such as:

  • Human resources
  • Facilities
  • Budget and procurement
  • Training
  • Public affairs
  • Communication
  • Planning and coordination
  • Research and development
  • Civil rights
  • Fraud detection

Want a more in-depth look at career options and salary expectations at the DHS? Read about “What Can You Do With a Master’s In Homeland Security?”


Masters in Homeland Security Careers Go Beyond the DHS

Not everyone who earns a graduate degree in homeland security works at the DHS and their related agencies. The degree’s unique combination of defense analysis, disaster response, and management training draws career-driven professionals in law enforcement, emergency management, fire service, public health, the military, and beyond.

According to labor database Burning Glass, jobs with a master’s degree in homeland security include:

  • Security specialist
  • Surveillance investigator
  • Private investigator
  • Intelligence analyst
  • Emergency management specialist
  • Fire investigator
  • Lieutenant, sergeant, and chief of police rankings

What Salary Can You Earn with a Homeland Security Master’s?

The average base salary for a master’s in homeland security graduate is $61,000, according to Payscale.

Many people use their master’s in homeland security for careers with government agencies, and so their salaries are determined by the General Schedule. This classification system ties pay to what’s called a GS grade. In order to qualify for top positions, and earn a higher salary, employees must have a master’s degree.

For instance, search for a Department of Homeland Security job at the GS-8 level and the salary band sits at $42,641 to $55,430. Move up one level to GS-9, the first level that requires a master’s degree, and the salary jumps to $47,097 to $61,227 — a more than 10% increase.


What Can You Do with a Master’s in Criminal Justice?

As we mentioned earlier, the field of criminal justice is broad, and so the career options with a masters in criminal justice are equally wide-ranging. Here are just some of the top job titles requesting a criminal justice degree, according to BurningGlass.

  • Law enforcement officer
  • Criminal investigator
  • Surveillance investigator
  • Private investigator
  • Security specialist
  • Crime/fraud analyst
  • Correctional Officer
  • Probation officer
  • Case manager
  • Paralegal
  • Social worker

As with homeland security graduates, the US government is a major source of master’s in criminal justice jobs, especially within the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Defense, and the Department of Justice. On the DHS guide, “How to Turn Your Education and Experience into a Career with DHS,” they point to the following positions as good matches for a criminal justice degree:

  • Border patrol agent
  • Criminal investigator
  • General inspection, investigation, enforcement and compliance
  • Compliance inspection and support

What Salary Can You Earn with a Criminal Justice Master’s?

The average base salary for an MS in criminal justice is $57,000, according to Payscale. However, actual salaries can vary extensively, again due to the wide range of careers associated with a criminal justice degree. For example, Payscale lists the average salary for a probation officer is $44,807 a year, while the average salary for an information security officer is $94,296.

For police and detectives, a common career path for criminal justice graduates, their median pay is $67,290, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Private detectives and investigators make a median salary of $53,320 while probation officers and correctional treatment specialists make $55,690 per year, according to the BLS.


A Master’s Shows Dedication and Prepares You for Leadership

The most notable outcome of earning a master’s degree in homeland security or criminal justice may not be a specific job title, but instead the potential for advancement.

The list of leadership competencies.

You will find those competencies and more in the Pace online MA in Homeland Security. This fully online graduate program combines essential leadership and management skills with in-depth knowledge of homeland security strategies. Graduates are prepared to respond to and aid in the recovery from natural and man-made disasters as well as mitigate the impact of terrorist attacks. With a curriculum approved by the Center for Homeland Defense and Security and faculty with longtime experience in agencies such as the FBI and FEMA, students can be confident they are getting a field-tested education.

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