For most of recent history, the only way to obtain a degree in security and intelligence studies was through a military college. While military colleges still exist and continue to provide an excellent education, seats are limited, and not available to those who cannot serve in the armed forces. Fortunately for students who would like to specialize in security and intelligence studies, many private colleges have begun to offer programs in the past few decades. While the quality of these programs varies, a motivated student can find several good options to explore when looking to advance his or her career.
A degree or certificate in security and intelligence studies can take several forms. Students can choose to study traditional majors such as international relations or political science, or choose from targeted programs that focus on areas such as counterterrorism or intelligence. Degrees may be earned from online or brick-and-mortar institutions. Students should examine their personal situations before deciding what program would be best, and research available schools. While researching, it is important to consider whether a school possesses accreditation from an agency that is recognized by the Secretary of Education. Additionally, military students should determine whether their chosen school is eligible for VA benefits.
A background in security and intelligence studies can open the door to several exciting fields. Students may choose to work in hands-on careers as intelligence agents or investigators, or may instead work in think tanks or intelligence agencies as analysts or managers. Careers may require extensive foreign travel, or may allow work from home. They may be clandestine, or overt. The options are very broad, as there is a great deal of demand for security and intelligence specialists in the post-9/11 world. Regardless of which career a student eventually chooses, he or she will have many options for defending and serving the country.
While the career options are very broad, careers in security and intelligence studies can be difficult to break into. They are usually prestigious and dynamic, and attract many qualified candidates. A degree in security and intelligence studies can help a candidate stand out from the field. A candidate should also be drug-free, and possess no criminal record. However, these qualifications will often not be sufficient alone. While military, government, or private-sector experience may provide an edge, most will need good networking skills and resources in order to break into the field, or in order to advance to promotion while competing with other highly qualified candidates. Therefore, it is important to consider whether an educational institution will provide networking options in addition to a degree or certificate. When researching this, some questions to ask are whether many of the current students are active professionals in the field, and what sort of backgrounds and qualifications the faculty members hold. Have they actually worked for the agencies their courses discuss? Do they keep in touch with their old colleagues, and keep an eye on current events? Does the school go a step further and provide a mentoring program? While these may initially seem like minor considerations, they will become critical as a student completes the program and moves on to a career.
A good degree in security and intelligence studies will not be easy, and will likely lead to careers that are demanding and possibly dangerous. However, many people who currently work in the field would do it all over again if given the choice, and find their chosen careers highly rewarding. With hard work and well-planned decisions, breaking into or advancing within the field is very possible.