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A User's Guide to National Security Affairs


This document is intended to assist you in managing your course of study in the NSA Department. It answers the questions the faculty and staff are most frequently asked and disentangles some of the puzzles that arise because of the way NPS operates.

The NPS Catalogue

The NPS catalogue is the basic source of information about NSA degree requirements. The program description that is in place during your first quarter establishes the requirements you must meet to graduate. Subsequent changes to those requirements will usually apply to the next group of students who enter the program, not to you. 

Academic Associates

Every NSA curriculum is supervised by a member of the faculty known as the Academic Associate (AA). The AA is the only person who can grant exceptions to formal academic requirements and is, in general, your principal source of advice about program planning once you arrive at NPS. NSA departmental rules are basically simple, and exceptions are not hard to obtain if they are sought in advance and for good reason.

Course Selection

The NSA department course schedule—an Excel spreadsheet—is the single most authoritative source of information both about what will be taught, and about what counts for what in terms of curricular requirements. This spreadsheet is maintained more frequently than the NPS catalogue, and will reflect changes that have not yet been incorporated there. The NPS catalogue lists more courses than can be taught each year, so be careful not to sign up for course that aren’t going to be taught. You will work closely with your Education Technician (Ed Tech) to fill out your course matrix.  

The first draft of each year’s academic schedule is generally available for planning purposes toward the end of Winter quarter of the preceding year. It will inevitably change, sometimes at short notice, in response to competing demands on faculty time. The on-line schedule is regularly maintained to reflect these changes, and you should always consult the posted list before adding or dropping courses. 

The Perfect Matrix

There is no perfect course matrix. There are, however, some general concepts that can help you develop a coherent program.

At the end of this document there is a schematic diagram of NSA curricula that illustrates what well-designed matrices look like. These are ideal types, which must be adapted to a wide range of circumstances, and often end up looking very different in practice. You should not go to any great trouble to duplicate them. But let them provide inspiration if possible. They show the natural and logical progression of work in any academic program, which is from less specialized/introductory to more specialized/advanced work. .

  • Departmental (also known as Disciplinary) Core Courses are those required of every student in the department, and they are best taken toward the beginning of your program. NS3011 in particular only makes sense if you take it in the first (or, at worst, the second) quarter. As for the others, it is best to take them early, but in this matter as in all others reality will impose itself on any set of rules. You may end up pushing core courses downstream in order to take courses in your curriculum that aren’t going to come around again during your stay with us. Keep in mind that departmental core course are sometimes prerequisites for 4000-level seminars—another reason to get them done early if you can.  
  • Curricular Core and Elective Courses are about the particular subject you are studying, which may be a region (e.g. Middle East) or a generic topic in security studies (e.g. Counterterrorism). Curricular core courses are required of everyone in a particular curriculum, and are taught at least annually. Curricular electives vary from year to year, and are seldom taught more than once in twelve months. The fact that many courses are only taught once per year is especially important if you will only be here for four quarters. Never assume that a course you need or wish to take will come around again unless it is actually on the published schedule. Particularly if you will be writing a thesis, you should take curricular core and elective courses right from start, because you will want as much background as possible in your subject when the time comes to develop your thesis topic. Part of your AA’s job is to provide advice in choosing among our course offerings, and you should not hesitate to ask for assistance if you need it.

The on-line course schedule provides up-to-date information about what courses satisfy requirements in each curriculum, including new courses that may not be in the catalogue. If you see a course being offered that you believe is appropriate as a curricular elective (perhaps because it matches up to your specific interests), and it is not identified as such, ask your AA if it can count.

  • General electives can be chosen from among the courses offered at NSA or other departments within NPS, provided you are fulfilling course requirements for your curriculum. You are limited to two courses from outside the NSA department with the approval of your Academic Associate prior to enrollment. General electives should make some kind of sense in relation to your research or other professional interests. They tend to make more sense toward the end of your program than at the beginning.   



PYTHON is the system NPS uses to create the schedule and manage academic records. In general you should think of PYTHON as a record-keeping system, not a communications system. There is a little box in PYTHON that allows you to comment on or explain your course choices. There is no need to explain choices that fall within the rules. Conversely, if you wish to do anything substantially out of the ordinary, and you need more than a few words to explain what you are up to, always send an email or make an appointment to discuss what you have in mind with your AA first. PYTHON is not the place to seek exceptions to standard curricular requirements.

When you enter a course in PYTHON it requires you to characterize it in one of three categories: required, curricular elective, or general elective. These categories resemble those we use in the department, but they are not identical, and have a different purpose. PYTHON’s categories are intended to prioritize inputs to the scheduling process, not to describe the role of a course in your academic program. For that reason it is not always obvious how to characterize NSA courses when you input them PYTHON. The following match-ups are best:

NSA Category

PYTHON Category

 Disciplinary core courses


 Curricular core courses


 Thesis courses (NS4080 / NS0810)


 Comprehensive exam (NS0811)


 English language courses for int’l students


 NS4059 for Navy Intel officers


 Follow-on language at DLI


 Curricular electives

Curricular Elective

 2000-level foreign language courses

General Elective

 General electives

General Elective

 JPME courses

General Elective

 Courses in other NPS Departments [unless required]

General Elective


Enrollment Caps

Many courses in NSA have limits on enrollment. This is a management tool for us, and is not intended to present unreasonable hurdles for you—though it is true that some courses get maxed out occasionally. If, after following the procedures described below, you end up being denied admission to a course that is required for your program, be sure to let your AA know. Otherwise, if you cannot persuade the professor to admit you, you just have to pick something else.

If you can persuade the professor to admit you, then you can be added to the course despite the presence of the cap. The only people in the department who can do this are the Associate Chair for Instruction and an Ed Tech. The best procedure is to have the professor concerned send an email to the Associate Chair giving his permission for you to be added to the course.


The Naval War College teaches a four-course sequence at NPS that conveys JPME Phase I certification. If you are required by your sponsor to complete the sequence while you are here, time will have been built into your program for it. If your sponsor does not require you to take JPME, however, you cannot do so as a matter of convenience. JPME courses may not be taken as overloads, nor in lieu of general electives. They do not convey credit toward an NPS degree.

Language Study at the Defense Language Institute

NPS's close proximity to the Defense Language Institute provides opportunities for synergy between the two institutions. All of NSA's Regional Security curricula (681-84) allow students to substitute successful completion of language training, combined with successful passage of a comprehensive examination, for the Master's thesis that is a normal graduation requirement at NPS. For purposes of obtaining an NPS degree, successful completion of language training means that you have achieved either a 3.0 GPA in course work at DLI, or that you have passed the Defense Language Proficiency Test (DLPT) with a minimum score of 2 / 2 / 1+ upon completion of a language program at DLI.

Directed Reading and Directed Research

NS3079: Directed Reading, and NS4079: Directed Research, are intended to allow you to pursue specialized interests under the supervision of one of our faculty. Directed Reading and Research courses are arranged via a paper form that can be obtained from one of our Ed Techs, or from a rack near the NSA main office. Requests to take either NS3079 or NS4079 will rarely be granted more than once. Directed reading and research courses can only be taught by the department’s full-time faculty.

Special Topics

NSA offers a number of “Special Topics” courses, whose contents vary from one quarter to the next. These exist to allow faculty to teach courses on subjects of immediate topical interest, or that derive from current research, or are simply too new to have made it into the catalogue. Special Topics courses count as curricular electives if their contents are relevant to your area of concentration. This information is noted on the schedule posted on the NSA web site, which is also the only place where you can find out what the “special topic” actually is. PYTHON has no means of communicating that information. You are allowed to take Special Topics courses multiple times even if the number is the same, provided the topic is different.


An “Incomplete” is a place-holder grade indicating that a professor has allowed you extra time to satisfy course requirements. Professors are not required to give Incompletes, and may impose a grade penalty for doing so. An “Incomplete” must be cleared by graduation day of the next quarter. After that it automatically turns into a failing grade (“X”), which cannot be altered unless it is awarded as the result of a mistake by the professor. You are allowed to retake a course you have failed, and if you pass it the second time around it is the second grade that counts in calculating your QPR (your grade point average); but the recorded failure is permanent, just the same.

Validating Courses

Validating a course means you are excused from taking it because you have already taken a substantially similar graduate-level course at another university. Validation is only worthwhile, and is only allowed, if there is some other course you can take that makes more sense than the one you are validating. A validated course does not convey academic credit, and does not alter the requirement to maintain a full-time load. Only graduate courses taken in the last five years, and in which you received an above-average grade (A or A-), can be used to validate NSA courses. Courses taken at other DoD schools, or in other NPS departments, do not count.

Course validation is accomplished administratively via PYTHON. As a practical matter, however, the first step is to provide your AA with a syllabus of your earlier course and a transcript showing your grade. He or she will also want to know what you intend to take in lieu of the course you wish to validate. If the overall plan sounds reasonable the AA will send your materials to the professor who is teaching the course to be validated. If the professor agrees that your prior work is comparable to the NSA course in question, then you can enter the request in PYTHON.  

Comprehensive Exams

If you are taking comps you must enroll in NS0811 in your final quarter. NS0811 is not intended to be taken as an overload, but is intended to provide time for you to prepare for the exam.

Thesis Extensions

If you must write a thesis and fail to finish on time you are entitled to apply for a one-year extension. The first extension is normally granted, but it requires paperwork and justification. If one year is insufficient, you can apply to the department for two more one-year extensions; they are not automatic, and require evidence of significant progress as well as justification for why you have not been able to finish so far. If, after three years, you are still not done, you can apply for a fourth (final) extension, which is only granted by exception and requires Academic Council approval. 

Academic Certificates

Some master’s students may be able to study for a certificate outside of their primary degree area but only with advance approval of their primary AA, the AA for the certificate, and their program officer.  This option is normally only available to select students in 15-month and 18-month tracks whose course schedule allows them three general electives with which to develop a certificate course of study. Students interested in this option should discuss it with both AAs involved no later than their second quarter.