Best Master's in Emergency Management Programs

Nov 05, 2021

What Is a Master's in Emergency Management Degree?

In today's world, disasters and emergencies come in all types of forms, and there is a growing need for leaders who know how to respond to these emergencies. Master's degree programs in emergency management help prepare these leaders for planning and overseeing the necessary response to these disasters.

Master's degree programs in the field go by various names, including emergency and disaster management, emergency management, and homeland security and emergency management. While Master of Arts (MA) and Master of Professional Studies (MPS) degrees are available in the field, Master of Science (MS) degrees are most common. Students can also choose from on-campus or online formats of these master's programs that aim to grow students' communication, leadership, critical-thinking, and problem-solving skills.

The Best Masters Degree Programs in Emergency Management

School Tuition* Acceptance Rate Graduation Rate Financial Aid % Placement Services Career Services Accepts
1 Georgetown University $51790 14% 95% 55% Yes Yes AP / NCCRS Credits
2 Thomas Jefferson University $21978 66% 70% 99% Yes Yes AP Credits
3 University of Delaware $34956 71% 81% 88% Yes Yes AP Credits
4 Florida International University $11106 58% 63% 90% Yes Yes AP Credits
5 North Dakota State University-Main Campus $7751 94% 60% 90% No Yes AP / NCCRS Credits
6 CUNY John Jay College of Criminal Justice $11532 41% 52% 85% Yes Yes AP Credits
7 The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley $7128 80% 46% 90% Yes Yes AP Credits
8 University of Alaska Fairbanks $12256 76% 35% 88% Yes Yes AP / ACE / NCCRS Credits
9 Arkansas Tech University $6737 95% 38% 96% Yes Yes AP / NCCRS Credits
10 Arkansas State University-Main Campus $6422 80% 53% 97% Yes Yes AP Credits
11 Saint Louis University $21534 58% 79% 97% Yes Yes AP / ACE Credits

To get a more in-depth look at our school ranking methodology, please visit our ranking methodology page.

*Tuition information is based on published tuition and required fees, per data by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES).

Common Undergraduate Degrees for Emergency Management

Master's programs in emergency management do not usually require students to have a background in any particular field. It can be more common for students to come with a background in emergency or disaster management or some of the natural sciences that are related to the natural disasters that cause emergencies, such as a major in meteorology or geography. Students may also have a background in some of the social sciences that can prepare them for working with people, such as a major in criminal justice, government and political affairs, or international studies.

Admissions Requirements for Emergency Management Master's Programs

Each postsecondary institution is likely to have their own specific set of admissions standards that students should be sure to follow. However, master's degree programs in emergency management typically require applicants to have at least a bachelor's degree, but this degree can be from any field. Many do not require students to submit GRE test scores with their application and some do not even require a minimum GPA for entrance. Applicants to master's degree programs in emergency management usually need to include items such as letters of recommendation, transcripts, a resume, and a statement of purpose with their application to the program.

Why Should I Get an Emergency Management Master's Degree?

Some students may decide to pursue a master's degree in emergency management to combine their passion for helping people with their natural abilities to plan, organize, and lead others. Emergencies come in all kinds of forms, so some students like the variability of the job and the chance to deal with new situations. In general, earning a master's degree can help further advance students' careers to higher leadership positions and can help increase one's salary. According to, graduates with an MS in Crisis and Emergency Management made a median annual salary of $65,003, as of January 2021.

How to Choose a Master's in Emergency Management Program

There are several factors to consider when choosing a master's degree in emergency management. Begin by choosing from an accredited institution, as this looks better to employers and will allow you to qualify for financial aid. Choosing a format may be the next step, i.e., full- and part-time programs, online and on-campus programs, etc.

Some programs also offer additional learning opportunities beyond a master's degree that students may be interested in, such as going on to earn an Executive Master's degree in emergency management. Finally, students could be interested in programs that include culminating experiences such as a capstone course that allows students to apply what they have learned throughout the program.

Emergency Management Master's Degree Courses

Master's degree programs in emergency management can require between 30 and 36 credits of coursework. Some allow students to finish their degree in as little as 12 to 17 months, but most take around 2 years to complete and may allow students up to 5 years to finish. Typically, these programs include some foundational and core courses in the subject and conclude with some elective courses, but some programs consist entirely of core courses in emergency management. Compare core and elective courses for these programs below.

Emergency Management Foundational Courses

Depending on the program, students can take 21 credits or more of core and foundational coursework in emergency management. These courses are designed to give the necessary background in foundational emergency planning and response theories, concepts, and techniques. Many programs include a final capstone course, seminar, or project that utilizes all of the skills and knowledge that students have gained throughout the program to help prepare them for their future career. Some programs may even offer a thesis option for students who would like to complete a more in-depth cumulative project.

While course titles vary by institution, students are likely to take core courses that discuss topics such as:

  • Principles of emergency management
  • Strategic planning
  • Catastrophe readiness and response
  • Project management and budgeting for emergencies
  • GIS for emergency and disaster management
  • Fundamentals of recovery
  • Legal issues/ethics

Emergency Management Specialist & Elective Courses

Programs that include elective courses usually allow around 12 credits of electives. Students can work with an advisor to choose electives that best fit with their interests and desired career goals. In general, these courses are intended to give students additional knowledge in emergency management or related areas of interest.

For example, students may be able to take an elective in advanced GIS to learn advanced skills and methods with software or take a course in climate change to learn how this phenomena affects natural disasters. Some programs have an emergency and disaster management internship option as an elective for students who wish to have more hands-on learning in the field.

Licensure & Certification in Emergency Management

There are several certifications that graduates in emergency management may be required to earn or may decide to pursue to demonstrate their expertise in the field. For example, some employers may require or prefer for emergency managers to earn the Certified Emergency Manager (CEM) certification from the International Association of Emergency Managers (IAEM). This certification requires applicants to have at least a bachelor's degree in the field, 3 years of experience, participation in 2 major events, and 6 professional contributions. Then, professionals must pass an exam and recertify as needed.

The IAEM also offers the Associate Emergency Manager (AEM) certification that requires less experience. Other organizations also provide certification options, such as the Disaster Recovery Institute International with their Certified Business Continuity Professional (CBCP) certification for those interested in the recovery side of the field.

Post-Graduate Options After Master's in Emergency Management

Students who would like to continue their studies in emergency management beyond a master's degree can pursue an Executive Master's degree in the field if they have some work experience in emergency management or a doctoral program. At the doctoral level, students can choose from a Doctor of Science (DSc) or Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Emergency Management, as well as related degrees, such as a PhD in Criminal Justice with a specialization in emergency management. Many of these doctoral programs are campus-based and help prepare students for advanced research or leadership positions within the field.

Emergency Management Professional Organizations

Professional organizations help connect professionals in a given field, which can be especially beneficial for a field like emergency management. Since emergencies commonly occur on a large scale, it can be helpful for professionals in the field to have a network of support through professional organizations, as well as access to resources. These organizations also provide professional development opportunities, news in the field, and events. Learn more about a couple emergency management groups here:

  • International Association of Emergency Managers- IAEM provides the AEM and CEM professional certifications for the field, but also offers membership and a wide range of resources. The organization aims to connect emergency managers from around the world and provide updated information and professional development opportunities. Professionals can take advantage of the group's conferences, webinars, job postings, scholarships, reference materials, and more.
  • National Emergency Management Association- involved in government relations to influence policy and holds various forums on topics for the field. NEMA operates on a national level and offers membership as well as webinars and reports on different topics to help keep professionals updated on current trends and news.

What Can I Do with an Emergency Management Master's Degree?

The salary and career information for a master's in disaster and emergency management varies by position. Some graduates in the field go on to become emergency management coordinators or emergency management specialists to gain experience and work their way into higher management positions.

However, those with a master's may be able to step into these leadership roles more quickly with their advanced knowledge and expertise. Graduates can work in the private or public sectors and may work for the federal or state government, security organizations, business continuity groups, and more. Some specific job titles for graduates can include:

  • Emergency management director
  • Social and community service manager
  • Emergency planner
  • Emergency manager instructor
  • Business continuity planner
  • Consultant
  • Business analyst
  • Project and program manager
  • Network and systems engineer

Job Outlook for a Master's in Emergency Management

In general, the career outlook for emergency management professionals is positive. Those with a master's degree are prepared for a range of mid-level careers with leadership and management responsibilities. Graduates can also apply the management, planning, and organizational skills that they obtained during their degree program to a variety of fields, which also increases job prospects.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the job outlook for emergency management directors is a growth of 4% from 2019 to 2029. This is as fast as the national average, but growth may be limited due to budget constraints especially for state and local governments.

Professionals with experience in the field have the best job prospects. Other closely related positions can have even greater job outlooks. For instance, social and community service managers have a job outlook of 17% growth from 2019 to 2029, which is much faster than average.

How to Become an Emergency Management Director

Emergency management directors help plan for and oversee the response to natural disasters and other public emergencies. This requires them to interact with public safety officials, share resources and equipment as needed, understand potential hazards and risk, and evaluate damage after an emergency. These directors also have the ability to apply for federal funding to help respond to an emergency and can review emergency plans from different organizations to ensure that they are as well prepared for an emergency as possible. Per the BLS, as of 2019 emergency management directors made a median annual salary of $74,590.

Emergency management directors usually need to hold at least a bachelor's degree, but some positions may only require a high school diploma and extensive experience. Those who have a bachelor's degree or higher may study emergency management, public health, computer science, or other business-related areas. Most of these directors do need to have some work experience, but this experience can come from emergency management and disaster planning or other related areas such as public administration, law enforcement, or the military. Certification in the field may be required or voluntary, depending on the position.

How to Become a Social and Community Service Manager

Social and community service managers work to oversee programs in a community that aim to improve and support public well-being. Managers may begin by identifying the needs of their communities and then developing programs. Once programs are established, these managers evaluate them for effectiveness, adjust them as needed, secure funding, and ensure that the public knows about available programs and resources. According to the BLS, social and community service managers made a median annual salary of $67,150, as of 2019.

Social and community service managers commonly have to have at least a bachelor's degree, but there are some positions that require a master's degree. These managers usually have a degree in public health, public administration, business administration, social work, or other related areas. Social and community service managers typically need work experience and may begin their careers as social workers or other positions that work closely with people in the community.

Master's in Emergency Management Program Financial Aid & Scholarship Resources

The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is a great starting point for undergraduate or graduate students looking for funding to help pay for their education. This form notifies students of state and federal loans and grants that they may be eligible for. Students can accept some or all of these awards and still apply for additional grants and scholarships to cover the rest of their costs, such as tuition, fees, and books and materials.

Scholarships are one of the best forms of financial aid because they do not have to be paid back. There are a wide range of diverse scholarships available for various subjects, talents, abilities, interests, and more. Usually scholarships are most commonly offered from schools that offer that particular degree and professional organizations or other groups related to the field. For example, a couple scholarship options for students pursuing a master's in emergency management include:

  • IAEM Graduate Student Scholarship- offers this award to full-time graduate students pursuing a degree in emergency management or a closely related field. Applicants must submit their transcripts, reference letters, and essay responses to compete.
  • Emerging Leaders in Emergency Preparedness Scholarship- Students at the University of Chicago can compete for this scholarship if they are enrolled in the school's Master of Science in Threat and Response Management. The scholarship is only available during students' first year of the program and applicants must have a 3.0 GPA or higher.
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