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Intelligence analysts use information to detect and deter threats to homeland security, track criminals, or simply manage an organization's information assets. As an intelligence professional, you may shield the nation from terrorist attacks, protect U.S. strategic interests abroad, investigate crimes, or apply information to shape domestic and international policy.

Technological advances in intelligence equipment and methods have raised the educational bar for intelligence analysts. A master's degree in business in intelligence studies is quickly becoming the industry standard. The one- to two-year program blends intelligence theory and hands-on training in intelligence analysis. Many programs are designed for working professionals, with the option to earn a master's degree online.

WorldWideLearn.com takes you through the important first steps leading to your degree. Use this guide to learn about the master's program, find the right school, and prepare for admission.

Guide to Master's Degrees in Intelligence Studies

Intelligence studies arose in the late-20th century as a means of accessing and coordinating information for strategic purposes. The discipline draws on criminal justice, political science, and information technology to manage and interpret critical information. National security, law enforcement, and businesses rely on intelligence analysis to plan effectively and implement policy.

As an emerging field, intelligence studies often resides under the auspices of another discipline. Look for intelligence studies degrees in foreign affairs, international relations, political science, strategic studies, homeland security, and criminal justice departments.

Professional and Academic Master's Degrees

Intelligence studies exists at the intersection of academic research and applied practice. Master's degrees in intelligence studies reflect this dual identity, emphasizing different aspects of the discipline.

Master of Science or Master of Arts: These traditional academic degrees emphasize the theory and scholarly research underlying intelligence analysis. Generally, the MS culminates in an independent research project and the MA in a written master's thesis.

Professional Master in Intelligence Studies: The professional master's degree focuses on the advanced practice of intelligence analysis, from technology-driven collection methods to applications. Programs focus on the synergy between classroom learning and hands-on training, incorporating internships, clinics, and applied work projects. Intended for career-minded adults, professional programs often feature flexible scheduling and the option to earn a master's degree online.

Specializations

A graduate intelligence studies degree offers you the opportunity to pursue specialized coursework or research in a topic of your choice. Key fields in intelligence studies include:

  • Criminal intelligence focuses on the applications of information management for law enforcement. Analysts gather, analyze, report, and share information about crime and criminals using information technology networks.
  • Strategic intelligence focuses on the political and military applications of information analysis. Strategic intelligence experts collect information and use it to develop policy and military plans at the domestic and international level. Specific fields within strategic intelligence include public policy, national security abroad, homeland security, emergency preparedness, risk assessment, and counterterrorism.
  • Business intelligence is a unique niche of intelligence analysis more closely identified with information technology than the social sciences. Business and competitive intelligence experts focus on managing business data within or outside of the organization. For example, BI may track sales revenue, evaluate costs and income generated, perform market research, or investigate the competitive landscape. Key technologies in this effort include online analytical processing, data and text mining, business performance management, benchmarking, and predictive analytics.

    Alternatively, you may choose to specialize in a generally applicable intelligence techniques. Key methods of intelligence gathering and analysis include:

    • Espionage
    • Signals Intelligence
    • Cryptanalysis
    • Geospatial Intelligence (satellite or aerial photography)
    • Intelligence Software

    Most intelligence studies emphasize a specific application area, reflecting the program's departmental or institutional affiliations. A military school may feature different specialization opportunities than an academic political science department or a Master of Science in business. Your choice of program determines the scope of your specialization options.

    Career Paths in Intelligence

    A master's degree in intelligence studies typically leads to a career as an intelligence analyst in your chosen field (criminal justice, foreign or domestic policy, military, or business applications). Potential employers include government agencies, private government contractors, consulting firms, political campaigns, and police departments. Military and strategic analysts, for example, might find jobs at the CIA, the Department of Homeland Security, or strategic consultants such as Booz Allen Hamilton. Business intelligence analysts are in demand at most large enterprises.

    Some job titles for intelligence experts include:

    • Agency director
    • Security officer
    • Intelligence trainer
    • Counterterrorism analyst
    • Critical infrastructure analyst
    • Risk assessment expert

    Advances in intelligence technology are driving opportunity for experts skilled in mining and leveraging information. According to the Department of Labor, some of the best opportunities for information analysts exist in technical consulting roles.

    Plan for a Master's Degree in Intelligence Studies

    Once you have a sense of the academic resources available today, you're ready to start the application process. The following steps can take you from here to the graduate classroom.

    Step One: Find the Right Graduate Intelligence Studies Program

    The secret to success in graduate school is finding a program aligned with your interests and career goals.

    1. List Accredited Programs

    Begin your quest for the right degree by surveying all available programs in intelligence studies and related disciplines. WorldWideLearn.com directs you to campus and online master's degrees in intelligence studies, homeland security, or criminal justice. The Center for Homeland Defense and Security publishes an online list of colleges and universities offering homeland security programs, some of which offer degrees or concentrations in intelligence studies.

    Accreditation status is the key criterion at the outset of your program search. A baseline measurement of educational quality, accreditation also impacts the value of your degree on the job market and your eligibility for financial aid. All WorldWideLearn.com education partners are accredited by a recognized accreditation authority. Check with the U.S. Department of Education Web site for approved regional and national accreditation agencies.

    2. Choose Program Format: Campus or Online Master's Degree?

    Advances in education technology have broadened the graduate program formats available today: It's now possible to earn a master's degree online or on campus. Choose the program that best suits your life circumstances, career goals, and learning style:

    • Campus programs take the traditional approach of full-time instruction and close mentorship by resident faculty. These programs are ideal for students who learn through one-on-one interaction and collaborative project work. Easy access to campus research facilities also argue for a campus degree. WorldWideLearn.com's Campus Education guide discusses the benefits of this degree option. To find a campus program near you, search Degrees by Location.
    • The online master's degree in intelligence studies offers convenience and a career-focused curriculum. A student body drawn from a worldwide network of professionals creates a rich learning experience. The digital learning format supports virtual collaboration and discussion, creating an interactive "classroom" experience. See Online Degree Programs for a description of the format and suggested online intelligence studies degree programs.

    Some master's degree programs in intelligence studies seek the best of both worlds by combining online coursework with temporary campus residencies and hands-on internships with local employers.

    3. Explore Academic Programs

    The crux of your program research challenges you to match your interests with each program's unique resources. WorldWideLearn.com features an interactive search tool to streamline the research process: Simply input your program criteria and the system generates a list of matching schools. Add your contact information to speak directly with a school representative.

    Evaluate the following resources to find the perfect fit:

    • Department and Institutional Affiliation
    • Curriculum
    • Degree Format and Requirements
    • Faculty
    • Employer Relationships
    • Career Support Services
    • Learning Environment

    Most of this information is accessible via the school's Web site. You can find detailed information about degree requirements, course descriptions, campus facilities, and faculty areas of interest. For an inside perspective on the academic environment and value of the degree, set up informational interviews with faculty, alumni, and current graduate students.

    4. Evaluate Program Quality

    The final pass through your list allows you to evaluate program quality and selectivity. Key factors at this stage of your review include:

    • Reputation. Program rankings give you a general sense of the program's reputation. For a general sense of intelligence studies program reputations, see U.S. News & World Report's Political Science Specialty Rankings: International Politics and Public Affairs Specialty Rankings: Public-Policy Analysis
    • Selectivity. Look for several schools within your range as an applicant, as well as a few safety schools and dream schools. You can gauge your competitiveness by asking an admissions counselor for information about the average GPA and test scores of admitted applicants.
    • Graduate Student Metrics. Ask an admissions counselor for key metrics such as job placement rate, starting salaries, average years of student work experience, proportion of international students, etc.

    Your final list should include five or six programs that fit your academic background and offer you the best value for your educational investment.

    Step Two: Apply to Graduate Intelligence Studies Programs

    The next stage of the application process--preparing your grad school applications--is the most straightforward and the most logistically complicated. Follow these steps to gain admission to your top intelligence studies programs.

    1. Complete Master's Degree Prerequisites

    Most graduate intelligence studies programs require:

    • A bachelor's degree in criminal justice, international affairs, political science, or a related field.
    • Prerequisite courses in basic competency areas. Course requirements and transfer policies vary widely from program to program.
    • Standardized tests such as the GRE and the TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language, for international students).
    • Work experience is a plus if you're applying to a professional master's degree program in intelligence studies.

    2. Prepare Application Materials

    In most cases, your application begins online. Fill out an information form and submit the following documents to support your admission:

    • Academic transcripts
    • Letters of recommendation
    • Test scores
    • Personal statement
    • Resume

    Most of these materials arrive from external sources, so be sure to set the ball in motion early to ensure that each part of the application arrives before the deadline.

    3. Finance Your Master's Degree in Intelligence Studies

    Your graduate education may prove to be the best investment you ever make, but in the meantime you must pay the tuition bills. Many students manage their finances by keeping their job while they earn a master's degree online. Other options for student financial aid include:

    • University fellowships, scholarships, and grants
    • Private scholarships and research grants
    • Federal Pell grants and Stafford loans
    • Scholarships from federal and state agencies
    • University teaching and research assistantships
    • Employer tuition assistance and other educational incentives
    • Private student loans

    To secure your share of graduate school funding, fill out a university financial aid application and/or the FAFSA. The FAFSA, or Free Application for Federal Student Aid, represents all federal financial aid programs, from Pell Grants to Stafford Loans. For more information, consult with a financial aid counselor or visit the WorldWideLearn.com resource page on graduate education funding.

    Step Three: Network, Network, Network

    With the details ironed out, you're free to turn your attention to what really matters: Discussing ideas with colleagues who share your interest in intelligence analysis. Build your academic network now by:

    1. Joining Professional Associations. Major organizations include The Center for Intelligence Studies, Intelligence Studies Section (ISS) of the International Studies Association, and, for criminal justice specialists, International Association of Law Enforcement Intelligence Analysts.
    2. Attending Networking Events and Conferences. Look for opportunities to meet your peers and future mentors at lectures, networking events, and conferences. The associations listed above all sponsor major conferences, as do many universities and federal agencies.
    3. Reading Journals. Get up to speed and stay current in your field by reading intelligence journals. Major publications include Studies in Intelligence, Defense Intelligence Journal, American Intelligence Journal, International Journal of Intelligence and Counterintelligence, and Intelligence and National Security.

      Invent yourself as an academic now, and you can hit the ground running once your graduate school classes begin. Networking helps you develop a support system and specialty area, easing the transition into academic life.

      A master's degree in intelligence studies brings you up to speed on the specialized techniques and technologies driving information analytics. At the same time, you gain connections and a powerful credential to advance your professional standing in the field. Set yourself up for a career-focused academic journey today, and you can emerge a leader in strategic intelligence tomorrow.

      Sources

      • Best Graduate Schools, U.S. News & World Report, 2009.
      • Bruce, James B. and Roger Z. George. "Intelligence Analysis: The Emergence of a Discipline." Georgetown University Press (2008).
      • Center for Intelligence Studies.
      • Colleges and Universities Offering Homeland Security Programs, Center for Homeland Defense and Security.
      • Careers in Homeland Security: Many Jobs, One Mission," Occupational Outlook Quarterly (202). Bureau of Labor Statistics.
      • Database of Accredited Postsecondary Institutions and Programs, U.S. Department of Education.
      • Graduate Schools in Biological Sciences Ranking, U.S. News & World Report (2009).
      • "Police and Detectives," Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2010-2011. Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Education.

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