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Careers in Counter Terrorism


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Since the terrorist attacks of September 11th, military and political leaders have continued to grapple with the strategies needed to combat terrorism and meet the demands of arising international security challenges. A degree in counter terrorism studies will help prepare students to better understand the challenges and complexities associated with this field.

Individuals with a background in counter terrorism studies may be interested in finding employment with federal agencies committed to national security, such as the National Security Agency, Central Intelligence Agency, and the Transportation Security Administration. Those interested in establishing a career within the private sector may find opportunities with government contracting firms.

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Useful Skills within the Counter Terrorism Field

Critical Thinking — Using logic and reasoning to identify the strengths and weaknesses of alternative solutions, conclusions, or approaches to problems.

Complex Problem Solving — Identifying complex problems and reviewing related information to develop and evaluate options and implement solutions.

Judgment and Decision Making — Considering the relative costs and benefits of potential actions to choose the most appropriate one.

Social Perceptiveness — Being aware of others' reactions and understanding why they react as they do.

Systems Analysis — Determining how a system should work and how changes in conditions, operations, and the environment will affect outcomes.

Active Listening — Giving full attention to what other people are saying, taking time to understand the points being made, asking questions as appropriate, and not interrupting at inappropriate times.

Writing — Communicating effectively in writing as appropriate for the needs of the audience.

Speaking — Talking to others to convey information effectively.

Active Learning — Understanding the implications of new information for both current and future problem-solving and decision-making.

Monitoring — Monitoring/Assessing the performance of yourself, other individuals, or organizations to make improvements or take corrective action.

Must-Know Information

Security Clearance: Although not required for all positions, obtaining a security clearance is important when trying to enter the field of counter terrorism. While not all positions require applicants to already have one in place, most do require that applicants be able to obtain a clearance. It is important to understand what is required to obtain a clearance, the limitations, and how one is obtained before beginning the job search; check out our guide to security clearances to get you started.

Never trust a company offering preapproval for a clearance, no matter how small the fee they are charging. This is almost certainly a scam.

Advanced Degrees Preferred: While your degree prepares you for a variety of career options, you may decide to use your degree as a foundation for advanced degrees or other career options. Often, advanced degrees beyond the undergraduate level include areas in International Relations, National Security, Middle Eastern Studies, Homeland Security, Intelligence Studies, Political Science, and Public Policy.

Desirable Backgrounds: To help our nation prevent acts of terrorism against the U.S. and U.S. targets, there is a preference for candidates with the following:

  • Knowledge of area studies in Central Asia and the Middle East
  • Comprehension of languages such as Chinese, Mandarin, Taiwanese, Arabic, Farsi, Persian, Urdu, Pashto, or Dari languages
  • Expertise in financial security, international banking, international migration, religious conflicts, international organizations, physical sciences, engineering, or computer science
  • Previous military experience


Career Options

To identify what education or training is typical for careers within the counter terrorism field, use the O*Net hyperlinks below and click on “Job Zone.” In addition, seek out the advice of fellow students and alumni working in the industry through our mentoring program on The Quad (for current students and alumni only) or speak with a career coach.

As with all majors, the education you receive serves as a foundation of knowledge that prepares you for what you may face in the professional world. The career field you chose may require additional education or experience.

Criminal Investigators and Special Agents
First-Line Supervisors of Police and Detectives
Immigration and Customs Inspectors

Police Detectives
Police Identification and Records Officers

As always, research is vital. Positions which will require students to seek additional education, certification, or credentials are listed below:

Business Continuity Planners
Business Intelligence Analysts
Compliance Managers
Financial Examiners
Fraud Examiners, Investigators and Analysts

Intelligence Analysts
Loss Prevention Managers
Regulatory Affairs Managers
Security Managers
Special Forces

Getting Started: Internships

Gaining real-life experience is an ideal way to start a new career. The career services website has an extensive list of internships and fellowships. Browse through the internships, organized by interest or by federal program, and review the list below of internships in the counter terrorism field.

Booz Allen Hamilton
Central Intelligence Agency (CIA)
Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI)
International Institute for Counter-Terrorism (ICT)
Inter-University Center for Terrorism Studies (IUCTS)
National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START)

There are also government-organized internship programs, many of which require students to maintain either a half-time or full-time student status. The best ways to identify potential opportunities such as these are to contact branch offices directly, to search, or to look at the agencies' career portals. Keep in mind that these positions are not always posted online, so direct contact with the agency is key.

The Pathways Program is a federal initiative that offers internship programs for current students as well as training and career development opportunities for recent graduates. Recent graduates must apply within two years of degree or certificate completion (except for veterans, who, due to their military service obligation, have up to six years to apply).The internship program for current students replaces the former Student Career Experience Program (SCEP) and Student Temporary Employment Program (STEP).

The Presidential Management Fellows Program (PMF)
PMF is designed to attract to outstanding federal service members from a wide variety of academic disciplines who have a clear interest in and commitment to a career in the analysis and management of public policies and programs. To be eligible for nomination, an individual must be a graduate student completing or expected to complete an advanced degree from a qualifying college or university during the current academic year. Graduate students who have had their degree conferred in the preceding two years from the opening of the vacancy announcement are also eligible for PMF.

The Workforce Recruitment Program (WRP)
WRP is coordinated by the Office of Disability Employment Policy and the U.S. Department of Defense and aims to provide summer work experience and, in some cases, full-time employment to college students with disabilities. The program develops partnerships with other federal agencies, each of which makes a commitment to provide summer jobs and a staff recruiter. Each year, recruiters interview about 1,500 students with disabilities at college and university campuses across the nation and develop a database listing the qualifications of each student.

Getting Hired: Government Agencies and Organizations

There are several government agencies and organizations that seek candidates with a foundation in counter terrorism, along with advanced degrees, experience, and other qualifications. The list below provides examples of such places.

Central Intelligence Agency
Defense Intelligence Agency
Department of Defense
Department of Homeland Security
Department of Justice
Department of State

Department of the Treasury
National Counterterrorism
National Security Agency
Nuclear Regulatory
Transportation Security Administration
U.S. Capitol Police


Keeping Current: Professional Organizations and Associations

Involvement in professional organizations is a great way to stay up-to-date on new technology, tools, and best practices in your field. Professional organizations are also a great networking opportunity. Below are a few professional organizations you may be interested in as a counter terrorism major.

Global Education Community Collaboration Online
International Association for Counterterrorism and Security Professionals (IACSP)
International Association of Bomb Technicians and Investigators (IABTI)
Leadership in Counter Terrorism Alumni Association (LinCT-AA)

Get Connected: Social Media

Global Center on Cooperative Security – LinkedIn
Institute of Defense and Government Advancement (IDGA) – Facebook, LinkedIn

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