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Master of Professional Studies inHomeland Security - Counterterrorism Option

Program summary

Build an understanding of terrorist organizations and their motives, threats, recruitment strategies, and operational tactics. This online master's degree program option also covers the evolution of counterterrorism in the U.S. and abroad.

Application deadline

Apply by August 1 to start August 26

Credits and costs

33 Credits$1,017 per credit

Gain Skills and Knowledge to Work in the Field of Counterterrorism 

The growth of global and domestic terrorism has brought about a heightened demand for educated professionals who can proactively create counterterrorism policies and swiftly respond to potential or realized acts of terror. As a student in the MPS in Homeland Security - Counterterrorism option program, you can gain understanding of strategic, policy-based, and practical solutions for terrorism that are appropriate for government and the private and nonprofit sectors. You can learn such core skills as terrorism data analysis, security and intelligence assessment, report writing, threat management, counterterrorism briefing, and anti-terrorism assessment strategies.

Who Should Apply?

The MPS in Homeland Security Degree - Counterterrorism option, offered in partnership with the Penn State College of the Liberal Arts' Department of Political Science, is open to candidates who hold a bachelor's degree. It can provide federal, state, and local emergency management officials, law enforcement personnel, members of the military, and employees connected with the Department of Homeland Security and other federal agencies with the knowledge and training to more effectively respond to the threat of terrorism. Individuals in the private sector — including finance corporations, insurance agencies, and security consultants — may also find the program relevant and valuable to their careers.

Penn State's Counterterrorism Curriculum

The MPS in Homeland Security - Counterterrorism option can provide you with a broad base of knowledge relevant to the current policies and programs of the Homeland Security administration. Courses in the option are designed to give students a detailed understanding of terrorist organizations, along with their motives, threats, recruitment strategies, and operational tactics. The program also covers the evolution of, and issues related to, counterterrorism in the U.S. and other contexts. It can further provide you with a focus on understanding terrorist organizations in detail, along with their motives, threats, recruitment strategies, and operational tactics. As a graduate of this program, you should be able to:

  • understand the conditions that give rise to terrorism
  • identify and evaluate basic counterterrorism operations
  • plan and execute programs for intelligence gathering
  • collect and analyze data and turn it into actionable information

Information for Military and Veterans

Are you a member of the military, a veteran, or a military spouse? Please visit our military website for additional information regarding financial aid, transfer credits, or application instructions.

The appearance of U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) visual information does not imply or constitute DoD endorsement.


The Counterterrorism option within the 33-credit online Master of Professional Studies in Homeland Security degree program provides students with a focused understanding of terrorism, terrorist threats, and counterterrorism strategies and polices. 

The Counterterrorism option offers course work on the cause and sources of contemporary terrorism and terrorist groups; the history of counterterrorism and its contemporary application; the data, tools, and methods used to study and evaluate terrorism and counterterrorism; and radicalization and de-radicalization, as well as a culminating experience in which students apply their skills and knowledge to investigate and better understand a policy topic of their choosing (the Capstone course experience).

All students are required to complete the HLS Orientation (non-credit) as part of the HLS core curriculum before the end of their first semester. This orientation provides an overview of the HLS program and the field of homeland security. 

Required Courses (9 credits)

  • 3

    Foundation for understanding homeland security history, the development of homeland security policies and organizations, and current management approaches.

  • 3

    This course will examine the social, political, legal, and ethical issues that arise in the context of homeland security.

  • 3

    Provides an overview of the domestic and global issues related to homeland security.

Counterterrorism Option Prescribed Courses (12 credits)

  • 3

    Investigates the role economic, political, and social factors play in determining patterns of international and domestic terrorism and terrorist activity.

  • 3

    Surveys the history, evolution, strategies, techniques, tools, and contemporary issues related to counterterrorism in the world today. The course has a comparative focus, examining both U.S. counterterrorism and counterterrorism in other states and contexts. The course makes use of specific case examples of counterterrorism and engages normative/ethical debates on counterterrorism.

  • 3

    Introduces students to the various resources and analytical techniques available to terrorism and counterterrorism experts today. It introduces them to the major sources of data on terrorist groups, terrorist incident reports, risk climates, and legal and criminal justice data surrounding terrorism and counterterrorism. It provides students with critical data-gathering and analysis skills useful to practitioners and engages them in reporting and threat-briefing exercises.

    • Prerequisite

      Students must complete PLSC 569 or PLSC 836 or PLSC 837 BEFORE taking PLSC 838

  • 3

    Provides a comprehensive summary of the factors that promote the radicalization process, as well as the theoretical and practical foundations of efforts at counter-radicalization and de-radicalization.

Electives (select 9 credits)

Students choose 9 credits from an approved elective list in consultation with adviser.

  • 3

    Analysis of political terrorism as a violent alternative for peaceful change and traditional warfare in the nuclear age.

  • 3

    Fundamentals of Homeland Security provides foundational knowledge about homeland security policy, strategy, organization, and legal issues in the U.S. context.

  • 3

    A survey of traditional and contemporary conceptual frameworks and theoretical approaches for the analysis of international relations.

  • 3

    Principles of American foreign policy; processes of policy formulation; roles of the President, Congress, the State Department, and other government agencies.

  • 3

    The course will address international cooperation in homeland security, compare select national approaches, and teach related practical methods of analysis.

  • 3

    Provides an overview of the homeland defense mission and defense support of civil authorities during disasters, and the distinctions between the two.

    • Prerequisite

      HLS 801

  • 3

    This course assesses the controlling authorities that pertain to homeland security, from the U.S. Constitution to major federal statutes, court decisions, and executive directives.

  • 3

    The application of cultural geography in the intelligence analysis and synthesis process by identifying prominent threats to civil security.

  • 3

    This seminar provides students with a comprehensive understanding of the multifaceted nature of disaster communication across phases of a disaster.

Capstone Experience (3 credits)

  • 3

    The Capstone serves as the culmination experience for the option. Students work closely with the capstone course instructor to write an original research paper on a counterterrorism topic of their choice. Each student is responsible for creating a project that articulates a research question, surveys relevant literature and scholarship, and analyzes data to test hypotheses. In addition, students work closely with the other students enrolled in the course through collaborative activities and extensive peer review.

Course Availability

If you're ready to see when your courses will be offered, visit our public LionPATH course search (opens in new window) to start planning ahead.

Costs and Financial Aid

Graduate Tuition

Graduate tuition is calculated based on the number of credits for which you register. Tuition is due shortly after each semester begins and rates are assessed every semester of enrollment.

2023–24 Academic Year Rates

Tuition rates for the fall 2023, spring 2024, and summer 2024 semesters.

How many credits do you plan to take per semester?Cost
11 or fewer$1,017 per credit
12 or more$12,203 per semester

2024–25 Academic Year Rates

Tuition rates for the fall 2024, spring 2025, and summer 2025 semesters.

How many credits do you plan to take per semester?Cost
11 or fewer$1,027 per credit
12 or more$12,325 per semester

Financial Aid and Military Benefits

Some students may qualify for financial aid. Take the time to research financial aid, scholarships, and payment options as you prepare to apply. Military service members, veterans, and their spouses or dependents should explore these potential military education benefits and financial aid opportunities, as well.

To view the detailed list of cost of attendance elements, select “World Campus” as the location on the tuition site.

How to Apply

Deadlines and Important Dates

We must receive your completed degree application, including all application materials, by the following deadlines:

  • Fall DeadlineApply by August 1 to start August 26
  • Spring DeadlineApply by December 1 to start January 13
  • Summer DeadlineApply by April 15, 2025, to start May 19, 2025

Decisions will follow shortly after these semester deadlines.

Admissions Help

If you have questions about the admissions process, contact our admissions counselors.


Admission Requirements 

For admission to the Graduate School, an applicant must hold either (1) a baccalaureate degree from a regionally accredited U.S. institution or (2) a tertiary (postsecondary) degree that is deemed comparable to a four-year bachelor's degree from a regionally accredited U.S. institution. This degree must be from an officially recognized degree-granting institution in the country in which it operates.

What You Need

Applications are submitted electronically and include a nonrefundable application fee. You will need to upload the following items as part of your application:

Official transcripts from each institution attended, regardless of the number of credits or semesters completed. Transcripts not in English must be accompanied by a certified translation. Penn State alumni do not need to request transcripts for credits earned at Penn State, but must list Penn State as part of your academic history. If you are admitted, you will be asked to send an additional official transcript. You will receive instructions at that time.

GPA and Test Scores — Official Graduate Record Exam (GRE) scores are not required.

English Proficiency — The language of instruction at Penn State is English. With some exceptions, international applicants must take and submit scores for the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) or International English Language Testing System (IELTS). Minimum test scores and exceptions are found in the English Proficiency section on the Graduate School's "Requirements for Graduate Admission" page. Visit the TOEFL website for testing information. Penn State's institutional code is 2660.

References (3) — you will need to initiate the process through the online application by entering names, email addresses, and mailing addresses of three references. Upon submission of your application, an email will be sent to each reference requesting they complete a brief online recommendation regarding your commitment for success in an online program. Please inform all recommenders they must submit the form in order for your application to be complete. 

References should come from current or former academic instructors, managers or supervisors, and/or professional peers. Family and friend references are not acceptable.

Program-Specific Questions/Materials

Résumé — Upload your résumé to the online application.

Statement of Purpose — A statement of no more than 500 words explaining to the admissions committee how your professional experience and goals relate to the program to which you are applying. Your statement could include aspects such as the following: Your reasons for pursuing the degree; why you feel you are a good candidate for the program; and any information you would like the admissions committee to know about you personally and/or professionally.

Start Your Application

You can begin your online application at any time. Your progress within the online application system will be saved as you go, allowing you to return at any point as you gather additional information and required materials.

Begin the graduate school application

  • Choose Enrollment Type: "Degree Admission"
  • Choose "WORLD CAMPUS" as the campus
  • Choose "HOMELAND SECURITY" as the major
  • Choose “MASTER OF PROFESSIONAL STUDIES” as the degree
  • Choose “COUNTERTERRORISM OPTION” as the option

Checking Your Status

You can check the status of your application by using the same login information established for the online application form.

Technical Requirements 

Review the technical requirements for this program.

Ready to Learn More?

Get the resources you need to make informed decisions about your education. Request information on this program and other programs of interest by completing this form.

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Ready to take the next step toward your Penn State master's degree?

Apply by August 1 to start August 26. How to Apply 

Start or Advance Your Career

A homeland security professional working at a computer

You can use the knowledge gained from this program and the support of Penn State career resources to pursue careers in a variety of fields, depending on your goals.

Job Titles Related to This Degree

The following roles are often held by people with this type of degree:

  • Anti-Terrorist Analyst
  • Counterintelligence Analyst
  • Emergency Preparedness Coordinator
  • Public Safety Director
  • Threat Intelligence Analyst

Employment Outlook for Occupational Fields Related to This Degree

Estimates of employment growth and total employment are provided by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and are subject to change. While these occupations are often pursued by graduates with this degree, individual outcomes may vary depending on a variety of factors. Penn State World Campus cannot guarantee employment in a given occupation.

Detectives and Criminal Investigators

employment growth (10 years)
total employment

Emergency Management Directors

employment growth (10 years)
total employment

Career Services to Set You Up for Success

Student having a virtual meeting on a laptop with a career counselor

From the day you're accepted as a student, you can access resources and tools provided by Penn State World Campus Career Services to further your career. These resources are beneficial whether you're searching for a job or advancing in an established career.

  • Opportunities to connect with employers
  • Career counselor/coach support
  • Occupation and salary information
  • Internships
  • Graduate school resources 

Earn a Valuable Credential along the Way

A figure walking on a path that includes a certificate part of the way through their progress

Show mastery of specific subjects before your degree is complete. Thanks to shared courses across programs, students can often earn a certificate along with their degree in less time than if they earned them separately.

Certificate Program Related to This Degree

The following certificate can be earned while completing this degree program:

Gain the skills to implement proactive counterterrorism policies and effectively respond to potential or realized acts of terror with the course work offered through this online counterterrorism graduate certificate program.

Learn more about the Graduate Certificate in Counterterrorism

Contact Us

For questions related to the Master of Professional Studies in Homeland Security — Counterterrorism Option, offered in partnership with the Department of Political Science, College of the Liberal Arts, please contact:

Andrew Vitek, Ph.D.
Assistant Teaching Professor, Counterterrorism Option Director
Political Science Department
217 Pond Laboratories
University Park, PA 16802
Email: [email protected]

Allison Haas
Political Science Department
220 Pond Laboratories
University Park, PA 16802
Phone: 814-863-8110
Email: [email protected]



  • Nazli Avdan

    • Degree
      Ph.D., Political Science, Duke University
    • Degree
      M.A., Political Science, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
    • Degree
      B.A., Political Science and International Relations, Bosphorus University, Istanbul

    Dr. Nazli Avdan is an associate professor of political science at the University of Kansas, where she also directs the graduate program. She studies international migration and border policies, the security migration nexus, and international security and political violence, including specifically the causes and consequences of terrorism. Dr. Avdan’s work has been published in many of the leading political science and international relations journals. She teaches courses on foreign policy, terrorism, and migration policies.

  • Justin Conrad

    • Degree
      Ph.D., Political Science, Florida State University
    • Degree
      M.A., Latin American Studies, University of California
    • Degree
      B.A., International Affairs, Florida State University

    Dr. Justin Conrad is an associate professor of international affairs. He studies international security issues, including terrorism and interstate conflict, and his research has been funded by the National Science Foundation and the Department of Defense. Dr. Conrad's work has been published in many of the leading political science, security studies, and international relations journals. He has also worked in the international private sector and served as a U.S. military officer.

  • Paul Gill

    • Degree
      Ph.D., Political Science, University College Dublin
    • Degree
      M.A., International Social Science, University College Dublin
    • Degree
      B.S., International Social Science, University College Dublin and Uppsala University

    Dr. Paul Gill's research focuses on violent extremist behavior. It is interdisciplinary in nature, with publications in leading political science, psychology, criminology, mathematics, and general science journals. He teaches on the causes and correlates of terrorism.

  • Amira Jadoon

    • Degree
      Ph.D., Philosophy, Political Science, International Relations, Public Policy and Quantitative Methods; State University of New York, Albany
    • Degree
      M.S., Economic Development, Distinction in Applied Quantitative Methods; London School of Economics and Political Science
    • Degree
      B.A., Economics, and Journalism & Mass Communications

    Dr. Amira Jadoon is an assistant professor in the Department of Social Sciences and a research associate in the Combating Terrorism Center at the United States Military Academy at West Point. She specializes in international security, economic statecraft, and political violence, with a regional focus on South and Central Asia. Prior to beginning her career in academia and research, Dr. Jadoon worked as a consultant for Deloitte London (U.K.) between 2006-2011.

  • John Morrison

    • Degree
      Ph.D., International Relations, St. Andrews University
    • Degree
      MA, Forensic Psychology, University College Cork
    • Degree
      BA., Psychology, University College Dublin

    John Morrison has an interdisciplinary background in psychology, international relations and criminology. His teaching and research interests reflect this. He is particularly interested in the role of trust in terrorist involvement, and the broader psychology of terrorism.

  • James Piazza

    • Degree
      Ph.D., Politics, New York University
    • Degree
      M.A., Middle East Studies, University of Michigan
    • Degree
      B.A., Political Science, Loyola University

    Dr. James Piazza is a liberal arts professor of political science at Penn State. His research and teaching focus on terrorism, counterterrorism, and the politics of the Islamic world.

  • Itai N. Sneh

    • Degree
      Ph.D., American History, Columbia University
    • Degree
      LL.B., Faculty of Law, McGill University
    • Degree
      M.A., Eastern European Jewish Studies, McGill University
    • Degree
      B.A., Jewish History, Hebrew University, Israel

    Dr. Itai N. Sneh's research and teaching focuses on the history of human rights; American presidential, diplomatic, legal, and political history; international law; terrorism; genocide; Israel; and the Middle East. He is currently working on two books:Torture through Ages of Injustice: Oppressive Power Regimes, Anti Reconciliation, and Untruthsand The Encrusted Underside of Glory: Injustice, Inequality, and Struggles in American Legal History.

  • Andrew Vitek

    • Degree
      Ph.D., Political Science, State University of New York at Albany
    • Degree
      M.A., Political Science, State University of New York at Albany
    • Degree
      B.A., Political Science and Philosophy, McGill University

    Dr. Andrew Vitek is the director of the Counterterrorism Option and an assistant teaching professor in the Department of Political Science. His research focuses on terrorism, political violence, security studies, and pedagogy. He teaches courses on terrorism, homeland security, and comparative politics.

  • James Walsh

    • Degree
      Ph.D., International Relations, American University
    • Degree
      B.A., Political Science, Trinity College

    Dr. James Walsh's research and teaching interests include political violence and terrorism, civil war, human rights violations, and intelligence and national security. He is the author of three books, including Drones and Support for the Use of Force, available from The University of Michigan Press. His work has been supported by the Army Corps of Engineers, the Department of Homeland Security, the Army Research Office, and the Minerva Research Initiative.

  • Jason Warner

    • Degree
      Ph.D., African Studies, Harvard University
    • Degree
      M.A., Government, Harvard University
    • Degree
      M.A., African Studies, Yale University
    • Degree
      B.A., International Studies, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

    Dr. Jason Warner, assistant professor at the Military Academy at West Point, teaches in the Department of Social Sciences and is an associate in the Combating Terrorism Center, where he directs research on terrorism and counterterrorism in Africa. His research focuses on terrorist groups affiliated with Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State in Africa, terrorism, counterterrorism, and political violence. He is the co-author or co-editor of three books and has published in leading academic journals in political science, security studies, and African studies.

Ready to take the next step toward your Penn State master's degree?

Apply by August 1 to start August 26. How to Apply