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Students in an online master’s in emergency management program explore how disasters impact communities, the environment, and finances. The curriculum equips them to build and apply emergency response plans and policies to recover from these events and mitigate damage.

Graduates work for federal, state, or local governments, private companies, and nonprofit organizations as emergency management directors, medical or health service managers, consultants, logisticians, operations specialists, and training coordinators. The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts jobs for emergency management directors will increase by 3% through 2031. These professionals earn a median yearly salary of $76,730.

Specific costs of an online master’s in emergency management differ for schools due to institution status (private versus public), program duration, and additional fees. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, during the 2020-21 academic year, the average graduate tuition was $12,394 at public colleges and $26,621 at private institutions.

How to Choose an Online Master’s in Emergency Management Program

Choose your area of study

Clarifying your educational and career goals early in the research process can be helpful, as it will enable you to set parameters for the type of program and experience you’re seeking.

Within the field of emergency management, there are a number of areas of specialization, including public health and safety, homeland security, information systems, law enforcement, logistics, and fire protection. Establishing what specialization, if any,  you’d like to focus on will help you narrow your search to programs that offer that option.

Students can earn several types of degrees in emergency management, including Master of Science (MS), Master of Arts, and Master of Public Administration (MPA). Each type of degree varies slightly in its theoretical and practical approaches to the curriculum as well as its graduation requirements, such as a thesis or capstone project.

This is also when students should consider whether they’re seeking a full-time, part-time, or accelerated program and if they want a synchronous program with live virtual classes or an asynchronous program that allows students to complete lessons on their own time.

Research schools and programs

When researching schools, an important thing to consider is accreditation status. Schools and programs accredited by recognized accrediting bodies provide a high-quality education. Attending an accredited school is a prerequisite for receiving federal student loans, and many employers seek candidates with a degree from an accredited school.

Create a list of questions about the schools and programs you’re considering, including:

  • What is the program’s curriculum, and does it align with your interests and goals?
  • What are the experiential learning requirements, if any?
  • What support services do online students have access to?
  • Who are the faculty, and what are their qualifications?
  • How do online students interact with classmates and faculty?
  • Are courses delivered synchronously or asynchronously?
  • Is a field study or a capstone project necessary?

Most schools will publish this information on their websites. Students can also learn more and get questions answered by attending virtual open houses and information sessions, contacting program representatives and admissions counselors, and following schools and programs on social media.

Prepare for tests and applications

Confirm the application requirements, procedures, and deadlines with an admissions counselor before starting your application. Requirements may vary by school, but in general, applicants to an online master’s in emergency management program will be expected to have a bachelor’s degree and a minimum undergraduate GPA. Some programs may seek candidates with previous professional experience in emergency management or a related field.

A standard application packet includes:

  • Completed application and fee
  • Official transcripts from undergraduate institution
  • Letters of recommendation from former or current professors, academic advisors, employers, and community or faith leaders.
  • Essay or personal statement
  • Resume/CV
  • GRE scores

Select your program

Once you’ve gathered all the necessary information, consider the following factors:

  • The program’s curriculum: Ensure that the curriculum aligns with personal needs and career objectives.
  • The school’s culture and feeling of community: Does it seem like the faculty and staff will be supportive?
  • Your budget: How affordable are the tuition, living expenses, and fees?
  • The student-teacher ratio: A lower ratio means more likelihood of getting to know the teachers and getting help with coursework.
  • Undergraduate prerequisite courses: Do you have the necessary prerequisite courses to be eligible for this program?

Based on these factors, students should narrow their list to the schools they’ll apply to.  There’s no right or wrong number of schools to apply to, but keep in mind that most schools charge application fees, which can quickly add up. Students who intend to apply to multiple schools should budget accordingly.

Determine how you’ll pay for your degree

Before taking out private loans, review every financial aid option, including federal loans, grants, fellowships, assistantships, scholarships, and work-study. Complete the FAFSA form for financial aid eligibility. After the form is assessed, depending on the level of income, you might qualify for income-based grants. If employed, examine Employee Tuition Assistance, which might reimburse the class cost paid by the student. High academic achievers and extracurricular activities participants might qualify for merit-based aid for tuition in addition to income-based funds in the same school year.

The Top 39 Online Master’s in Emergency Management Programs

Best Online Master's in Emergency Management Degree Programs

Arkansas State University

Arizona State University

Jacksonville State University

Virginia Commonwealth University

California State University at Long Beach

National University

Liberty University

Saint Leo University

Georgetown University School of Continuing Studies

Adelphi University

University of Nevada at Las Vegas

Nova Southeastern University

Arkansas Tech University

Millersville University

Southern New Hampshire University

John Jay College of Criminal Justice

Eastern Kentucky University

American University

Angelo State University

Sam Houston State University

Wilmington University

Northwestern State University of Louisiana

University of Nebraska

Pace University

University of Maryland Global Campus

Towson University

Anna Maria College

Bellevue University

University of South Florida

Tulane University

Mississippi College

Endicott College

Lander University

Lasell University

Thomas Edison State University

University of Florida

Regent University

Thomas Jefferson University

University of Alaska Fairbanks

University of New Haven

St. John's University

Penn State World Campus

George Washington University

Discover More Options

How We Rank Schools

There are various degree options for emergency management programs, including a Master of Science (MS), Master of Arts (MA), and Master of Professional Studies (MPS). Each degree type has a different pedagogical approach, but they will all prepare you for advancement in emergency management.

This list primarily consists of online programs, although there are also in-person and hybrid programs to offer you a range of options for your lifestyle and learning preferences.

All of the ranked programs have regional accreditation to ensure a quality standard of education. A number of programs are also accredited by the Council for the Accreditation of Emergency Management Education (CAEME).

Our team evaluated each program’s cost, course strength, reputation, faculty, and flexibility. Then, we assigned each program an Intelligent Score on a scale of 0 to 100. For a more extensive explanation, check out Our Ranking Methodology.

What Can You Expect from an Online Master’s in Emergency Management Program?

A standard master’s in emergency management program requires 35 to 40 credit hours, which full-time students normally complete in two years. Part-time students may take longer to complete this degree.

Core courses in a master’s in emergency management degree include ethics, critical decision-making, risk assessment, public health implications of disasters, disaster recovery, and theory of emergency management. Students learn skills in leadership, communication, management, emergency planning, critical thinking analysis, and global awareness. They dedicate much of their time to real-world case studies where they plan for possible emergencies and disasters.

Some programs may offer a more general curriculum, while others include specializations in areas like homeland security, public safety, or fire science.

Many emergency management degree programs require a capstone project or thesis at the program’s end. A capstone project allows students to draw on the knowledge and skills attained from prior coursework and design a comprehensive plan with real-world applications. A thesis is a research-based paper focusing on a theory or practice related to emergency management. Programs may also require a practicum or internship in an emergency management setting.

Potential courses you’ll take in an online master’s in emergency management degree program

  • Community Collaboration. The course presents an overview of how communities respond to disaster situations.
  • Disaster Planning. The class focuses on how to prepare and deal with the aftermath of a disaster competently.
  • Threat Management. In this class, students will learn about common threats and their proper assessment.
  • Practical Application. The class deals with real-life scenarios and functions as a type of internship.
  • Homeland Security. The course gives students a basic understanding of what the U.S. Department of Homeland Security does.

What Can You Do With an Online Master’s Degree in Emergency Management?

Career outlook

The career outlook for graduates with emergency management degrees may not be as strong as more tech-based degrees, but this sector is still expected to have average job growth through 2032. Job openings for emergency management directors are expected to grow by 3% in that time. The average annual salary for this position is $79,180. Those who also have a background in public administration or project management may see more opportunities and higher wages. The average annual salary for a project management specialist is $95,370.

Career paths

A background in emergency management prepares you for a career in business, healthcare, and public administration. Cities and urban infrastructures require emergency management to preserve operations if disaster strikes. Corporations often employ these professionals to ensure the business can continue to operate and mitigate losses in an emergency situation.

Here are a few of the top career paths in emergency management:

  • Emergency management director — oversee emergency preparedness operations for businesses or cities
  • Director of public safety — be responsible for oversight of emergency services, first responders, building inspection, and other departments
  • Disaster recovery specialist — develop disaster recovery plans and provide preparedness training
  • Business continuity planner — create strategies for a business to continue operations in the event of a disaster
  • Safety coordinator — support companies in complying with industry safety guidelines and practices

Emergency Management Director

Earning Potential: $47,000-$148,000 annually

Education Required: Master’s degree in Emergency Management, Public Administration, Public Health, and related fields

The job of an emergency management director focuses on preparing and responding to natural disasters and emergencies. They proactively assess risks and identify vulnerable areas to create and implement loss-mitigation strategies if an emergency were to occur. They focus on ensuring business or public service operations can continue as seamlessly as possible and that everyone involved is safe and protected.

Emergency management directors have to engage in interdepartmental collaboration and liaise with local, state, and federal agencies. They ensure that pertinent information is quickly dispersed to relevant personnel and the public when necessary.

Director of Public Safety

Earning Potential: $47,000-$79,000 annually

Education Required: Master’s degree in Emergency Management, Public Safety and Homeland Security Management, and related fields

The director of public safety is tasked with ensuring the well-being, safety, and smooth operation of a specific community. They may work at the local, state, or federal level and will need to collaborate with other public administration officials. They are responsible for coordinating first and emergency response teams, including firefighters and law enforcement. They work proactively to identify crime, safety, and security risks and supervise the personnel who fix those issues.

Directors of public safety are executives who must also lead and manage multiple departments across the community or organization. This includes managing the budget and dealing with personnel issues.

Disaster Recovery Specialist

Earning Potential: $51,000-$96,000 annually

Education Required: Master’s degree in Emergency Management, Public Safety and Homeland Security Management, and related fields

Disaster recovery specialists are focused on immediate response, cleanup, and ongoing management of disaster scenarios. They analyze the probabilities of specific situations, including natural disasters, and create and advise on preparedness plans. They are responsible for immediate disaster response for weather emergencies, such as hurricanes, earthquakes, and tornados, and public safety incidents, such as hostage situations or hazmat spills.

Disaster recovery specialists work with the directors and top-level executives of other departments, such as the Chief of Police or Fire Marshal, to ensure swift responses to emergencies that help prevent loss of life and property.

Online Master’s in Emergency Management Degree Frequently Asked Questions

How do I apply to an online master’s in emergency management degree program?

Most schools accept applications and supplemental materials electronically. An admissions counselor can provide application requirement details and confirm application due dates.

Gather the following materials:

  • Official transcripts from your previous school by contacting their registrar’s office
  • Two to three letters of recommendation from academics and professionals who know you well
  • Test scores from the GRE or other standardized tests as required
  • Resume or CV highlighting the skills and experiences most relevant to the program
  • Graduate school essay for the admissions committee to get to know you better and understand your motivations for pursuing a degree

How much does an online master’s degree in emergency management cost?

This will vary based on factors unique to the student and the school. The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) reports that in the 2021-21 school year,  the average tuition for graduate programs was $26,621 at private institutions and $12,394 at public universities.

However, students should also budget for additional costs besides tuition, including school-assessed fees for technical and academic support services, a reliable computer and internet, books, and other school supplies.

There are some money-saving aspects to earning a degree online. This includes not having to pay for gas, parking, or public transportation to campus and having more flexibility to live in affordable areas and manage their living expenses.

How long does it take to earn an online master’s in emergency management degree?

The total number of required credits ultimately determines how long it takes to complete an online master’s in emergency management. A 35-40 credit program typically takes full-time students two years to complete. However, several factors can lengthen or shorten that time.

Some students might finish quicker than others, depending on their individual pace and learning style. Learners who can work independently and efficiently might finish in less time than those who require more support or take longer to complete assignments. If a program requires experiential learning or an internship, expect added time.

Is an online master’s in emergency management degree worth it?

A master’s degree is generally required for those who wish to take on management or director-level positions. This increase in responsibilities also opens up higher salary opportunities. The average salary for an emergency management director is $79,180. However, the professional, scientific, and technical services industries pay significantly higher on average, at $106,000.

Obtaining an online master’s degree in emergency management isn’t just about the end paycheck. Your experiences and connections in graduate school can also set the stage for professional success and a higher degree of work satisfaction. The research and internship opportunities in graduate school can help you discover a particular area of interest or build a professional network that can help you get a job after graduation.

The remote environment that comes with an online master’s in emergency management degree fosters a higher level of self-discipline, time management, and organization — all of which are critical to success in this field.

Learn More About Emergency Management Degrees