How to Get a PhD in Intelligence Studies

Intelligence has guided military and political action for generations. Today, the threat of terrorism and weapons of mass destruction guarantee a central role for intelligence experts in international policy. Intelligence experts monitor the international sphere, gathering and analyzing information relevant to U.S. security interests. They track key countries, people, and events, on alert for developments with policy implications for the nation.

As intelligence analysis grows increasingly sophisticated, government agencies and private contractors are looking to universities for highly trained intelligence experts. A PhD in law and criminal justice with a specialization in intelligence studies earns you the opportunity to lead 21st century intelligence analysis. Graduates advance the field through theoretical scholarship, applied research, and university teaching.’s guide to the PhD in intelligence studies helps you prepare for the doctoral degree. Follow these steps to develop both a broad vision and a practical plan for your future in intelligence studies.

A Guide to the PhD in Intelligence Studies

Intelligence studies is a relatively recent addition to academic study, emerging as an independent discipline in the 1970s. The degree brings together the fields of criminal justice and political science, with a dose of high tech development in the area of information collection. The breadth of the discipline is illustrated by this definition, advanced by the Chair of the IAFIE (International Association for Intelligence Education) Educational Practices Committee:

Intelligence studies is the study of the theory and practice of applying information gathered by both open and clandestine methods for the purpose of strategic planning, criminal investigation, and policy implementation by governments, law enforcement agencies, and business.

To learn more about the field, visit’s guide to Intelligence Studies Degrees Online. You can also get a sense of the criminal investigation field in general at the Guide to Majors, which offers descriptions of criminal justice and homeland security.

Doctoral Degrees in Intelligence Studies

As the intelligence studies discipline comes of age, more and more universities will develop doctoral programs. As yet, only a handful of institutions offer the PhD in intelligence studies. For the full selection of your doctoral degree options, consider PhD programs in related fields such as foreign affairs, international relations, political science, strategic studies, homeland security, or criminal justice. Many of these doctoral programs offer a specialized concentration in intelligence studies or intelligence analysis.


A PhD in intelligence studies allows vast opportunities to specialize. You can focus your research on a particular stage in the intelligence cycle, a type of intelligence collection or analysis, or intelligence policy applications.

The methods and technologies involved in intelligence collection and analysis include:

  • Human Intelligence (espionage, ground reconnaissance)
  • Signals Intelligence and Cryptanalysis (interception of signals)
  • Imagery and Geospatial Intelligence (satellite or aerial photography)
  • Measurement and Signature Intelligence (radar, nuclear, materials)
  • Open Source Intelligence

The contexts and applications of intelligence analysis include:

  • Law Enforcement Intelligence
  • Military Intelligence
  • Emergency Preparedness and Homeland Security
  • Counterterrorism
  • Intelligence and Foreign Policy
  • Risk and vulnerability assessment

Since intelligence studies is an emerging discipline, you can expect to take an active role in defining your research specialization.

Career Track

As a PhD graduate in intelligence studies, you’ll have the option to pursue either an academic or professional career.

Academic careers focus on scholarship and teaching roles. As a university professor, you’ll pursue original research in theoretical or applied intelligence and develop courses to train the next generation of intelligence experts and analysts.

Professional careers emphasize research, consulting, and leadership roles at government agencies and private-sector companies. Major government employers include the Central Intelligence Agency, the Defense Intelligence Agency, and the Department of Homeland Security. Major government contractors involved in intelligence analysis include Lockheed Martin and Booz Allen Hamilton.

PhD-level careers in professional intelligence include intelligence analyst, agency director, security officer, intelligence trainer, and a range of subject-matter expert (SME) consulting roles (threat reduction program lead, counterterrorism analyst, critical infrastructure analyst, Iranian intelligence analyst, etc.)

Plan for a PhD in Intelligence Studies

Once you’ve explored your research and career interests, you’re in a position to evaluate PhD programs in intelligence studies and produce a strong application for your chosen schools. Here’s a step-by-step guide to the PhD program research and application process.

Step One: Find the Right Graduate Intelligence Studies Program

While undergraduate degrees focus on basic coursework, PhD programs emphasize independent research under the guidance of a faculty advisor. It’s important to find a degree program with the resources and resident expertise to support your particular area of study.

To find a program aligned with your research interests, follow these steps.

1. List Accredited PhD Programs

First, create a list of all accredited PhD programs in intelligence studies or a related field. Since many universities offer intelligence studies as a doctoral concentration rather than a degree program, consider PhD programs in fields such as criminal justice, homeland security, political science, and international affairs.

Make sure any school you consider is accredited by an independent authority. The U.S. Department of Education publishes a database of approved regional and national accreditation agencies. Accreditation ensures the value of your degree and the quality of your education, and can factor into your eligibility for federal financial aid.

Resources represents a selection of accredited doctoral programs in criminal justice and political science. Search Degrees by Subject to find an online or campus PhD program in intelligence studies or a related field. You’ll also find a list of accredited university partners.

The Center for Homeland Defense and Security publishes an online list of colleges and universities offering homeland security programs. Some of these programs offer concentrations in intelligence studies.

In addition, an Internet search can lead you to universities with PhD programs in intelligence studies.

2. Choose Campus or Online Format

If you’re like many aspiring doctoral students, program format is a top consideration. Though many PhD programs still require full-time campus residency, a growing number of universities are implementing online or hybrid programs.

The traditional campus PhD program accommodates aspiring academics, who benefit from access to faculty advisors, campus research facilities, and the academic community. If you’re aiming for a career as a university professor, a campus PhD program is the best bet.

The online PhD program in intelligence studies is designed to remove the logistical challenges of campus education. Mid-career adults benefit from a flexible program that allows them to balance work and family obligations. Online programs typically require temporary campus residencies to foster community and access to local resources. The online PhD in intelligence studies is best suited to students headed into professional practice rather than academia.

Hybrid campus-online PhD programs allow students to complete some of the doctoral requirements online, but emphasize access to campus resources for research and scholarship.

The decision to study online or on campus depends on your life circumstances, research requirements, and career objective.


Explore your program format options using the following Online Degree Programs and Campus Education pages.

3. Explore Academic Programs

This critical stage in your doctoral program research takes you into the unique features of each school’s academic program. Pay particular attention to the presence of faculty experts in your field of interest. Not only can resident scholars serve as mentors for your research, but they also give you a sense of the program’s academic orientation.

Factors to consider in evaluating a program’s academic resources include, in order of importance:

  • Faculty scholarship
  • Research facilities, including technology labs and library collections
  • Areas of specialization and curriculum
  • Special programs (conferences, publications, research centers, etc.)
  • Relationships with industry leaders or government agencies (internships, research partnerships, etc.)
  • Funding and research grants
Resources facilitates the initial legwork of academic program research by matching you with schools that fit your research interests. Fill out an online form indicating your academic program criteria, and the system automatically puts you in touch with school representatives. Discuss program features and requirements with an academic counselor or admissions administrator.

School Websites publish detailed program information. Look for links to professor CVs and research publications, graduate student dissertation topics, course catalogs, and special programs.

Academic Journals help you identify professors and universities leading scholarship in your field. Major intelligence studies journals include:

  • Studies in Intelligence
  • Defense Intelligence Journal
  • American Intelligence Journal
  • International Journal of Intelligence and Counterintelligence
  • Intelligence and National Security
  • National Reconnaissance: Journal of Discipline and Practice
  • Journal of Intelligence History

4. Evaluate Program Quality

Finally, evaluate the quality and competitiveness of the online or campus PhD programs on your list. Your goal is to find respected intelligence studies programs that admit applicants with your academic background.

Factors to consider in your assessment include:

  • Reputation
  • Selectivity
  • Graduation Rate
  • Job Placement
  • Admissions Statistics

Rankings offer an easy way to compare the reputation and selectivity of different PhD programs in intelligence studies and related fields. Since there are no rankings focusing on intelligence studies specifically, refer to general rankings in political science, criminal justice, or a related social science. Some rankings to consider include:

Departmental Data Sheets offer admissions statistics (average applicant GPA, GRE scores); job placement statistics (academic or professional careers; average salary; academic tenure); and student body demographics

Campus Visits to your top schools give you the best sense of the PhD program. Meet intelligence studies faculty, audit a graduate course, and tour campus facilities.

Step Two: Apply to PhD Programs in Intelligence Studies

Once you’ve determined which online or campus PhD programs in intelligence studies match your goals, you’re ready to make the case for your admission. Each university’s admissions committee develops its own requirements for the PhD program. Standard steps in the application process include:

1. Complete PhD Program Prerequisites

Before submitting your applications, make sure you’re eligible for the PhD program. Prerequisites include:

  • A bachelor’s or master’s degree in intelligence studies or a related social science field. If your degree is not in a related field such as political science, international affairs, or criminal justice, you can supplement your background with basic courses in intelligence studies.
  • Standardized tests such as the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) and the TOEFL, for international students
  • Work experience and publications (preferred by some schools)

2. Submit Application Materials

In addition to a general information form, the intelligence studies PhD application typically requires these supporting materials:

  • Faculty or professional letters of recommendation
  • Academic transcripts
  • Test scores
  • Personal statement of research interests
  • Resume, if applicable

3. Complete Financial Aid Applications

Finally, submit applications for financial aid to individual university programs, private sponsors, and public student aid programs. Sources of doctoral funding include:

  • Private or university scholarships
  • Teaching and research assistantships
  • Government or employer sponsorship, including debt forgiveness programs
  • Federal research grants
  • Federal or private loans

The following Education Resources Guide offers information on test preparation, online prerequisite courses, and financial aid.

Step Three: Join the Academic Community

There’s no need to wait until enrollment day to begin your life as an academic. Take advantage of these resources to start building relationships within the academic community:

1. Subscribe to journals

Read the publications listed above to get a sense of the trends and trend-setters in your field of interest. Academic and professional journals give you insight into ongoing conversations within the intelligence community.

2. Attend conferences

Participate in the conversation by attending conferences. You’ll have the opportunity to meet your peers and future mentors face-to-face.

3. Join professional organizations

Professional organizations offer another avenue for connecting with academics and professionals who share your passion for intelligence issues. Major associations include:

Applying to an online or campus PhD program in intelligence studies marks the beginning of an exciting new chapter in your professional life. Doctoral study represents a challenge and a unique opportunity to make a difference in intelligence analysis. Armed with a clear objective and a solid academic plan, you’ll emerge from the PhD program as a 21st century intelligence leader.


  • Assessment of Research Doctorate Programs, National Research Council.
  • 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).
  • Colleges and Universities Offering Homeland Security Programs, Center for Homeland Defense and Security.
  • Cooperative PhD Program with the Joint Military Intelligence College, University of Maryland.
  • Criminal Justice and Intelligence Studies, Point Park University.
  • Database of Accredited Postsecondary Institutions and Programs, U.S. Department of Education.
  • Department of Intelligence Studies, Mercyhurst College.
  • Doctorate Degree Program in Strategic Studies From Henley-Putnam University, Military News Network.
  • Goodman, Michael S. “Studying and Teaching About Intelligence: The Approach in the United Kingdom.” Studies in Intelligence. Central Intelligence Agency. Vol. 50, no. 2.
  • Intelligence Studies Section, International Studies Association.
  • International Association for Intelligence Education.
  • International Association of Law Enforcement Intelligence Analysts.
  • Law Enforcement Intelligence: A Guide for State, Local, and Tribal Law Enforcement Agencies. U.S. Department of Justice.
  • Law Enforcement Intelligence, Michigan State University.
  • The Center for Intelligence Studies.
  • The Top American Research Universities, 2008 Annual Report. The Center for Measuring University Performance.
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