Earning a master’s degree in criminal justice is a good career move for criminal justice professionals who want to advance in the field. Moving beyond a bachelor’s degree to a master’s degree will expose students to forensic behavior analysis, criminology and white collar crime. Students may be required to complete a thesis or practicum as a prerequisite for graduation. Students who are interested in conducting research related to criminology, upon completion of a master’s in criminal justice, may choose to continue their education through an online PhD in criminal justice.
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There are several types of master’s degrees that students can pursue in the field of criminal justice.
- Forensics offers students an overview of forensic science in criminal investigations. Graduates of the program will gain extensive knowledge in crime scene investigation, laboratory analysis and the proper methods for protecting physical evidence.
- Criminology focuses on societal factors that influence criminal behavior. In this concentration, students will study criminology theory, applied statistics and the relationship between race, ethnicity and crime.
- Corrections offers students an overview of rehabilitation methods for treating criminals. Graduates of the program will acquire knowledge of theoretical and philosophical frameworks of corrections, as well as the theory behind current corrections practices and the latest developments in offender rehabilitation.
- Law Enforcement teaches fundamental skills related to crime prevention and law enforcement. Graduates of the program will be well versed in criminal law, methods of investigation and prosecution.
- Administration prepares criminal justice professionals for careers in advanced management and leadership positions at criminal justice agencies and organizations. Management, organizational leadership and strategic planning skills will be studied in relation to law enforcement and corrections.
Length of Study
It takes between two to three years to finish a master’s in criminal justice. This is about 48 quarter-credit hours of coursework.
Criminal justice programs teach students enhanced critical thinking, decision-making and leadership ability. Students also gain the investigative and analytical skills necessary for a career in criminal justice.
Some classes that you may take as part of your degree program include:
- History of Criminal Justiceprovides students with an overview of the evolution of the American criminal justice system. Students become familiar with correctional methods dating from the 18th century to the present day.
- Criminology provides theoretical frameworks for the roots of crime in society. Students explore the complex sociological, biological, psychological and political hypotheses for the existence of crime.
- Victimology gives students an understanding of victims’ rights and the impact of crime on its targets. Topics for study typically include models for restorative justice, victim assistance programs and the benefits and challenges of victim repayment.
A majority criminal justice master’s degree programs require applicants to submit the following:
- Application form
- Undergraduate transcripts
- Revised Graduate Records Exam Scores (Revised GRE)
- Personal statement or essay
- Letters of recommendation
Candidates should generally have a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice or in a related field, including: Psychology, Social Work, Psychiatry, Public Administration and Law.
Most criminal justice programs that offer master’s (and sometimes even PhD level studies) are heavily research-focused. Two of the most lucrative careers are security director and criminal investigator – both paying about $80,000/year. A criminal investigator must be a skilled researcher and keen to discover details first and foremost. The right graduate program can help professionals move into research within law enforcement or at a university or private institute. Criminal Justice doesn’t only lead to a career as a police officer. With a master’s degree, many doors will open in government, non-profit and research institutes. These jobs typically pay better and are often safer than jobs for people who only have undergraduate degrees.
The job market for a criminal justice graduate is wide and varied. Typical career paths include state and local law enforcement, department of corrections, judicial system, federal law enforcement, probation and parole officers and more. For those who are already professionals in the criminal justice system and are looking to get a promotion, move sectors, or just become more marketable in the field, a master’s in criminal justice is a great way to go. Many mid-level professionals choose to go back to earn their master’s to get a promotion into higher rankings of law enforcement, advance their career in the legal field or get into the exciting and essential world of research.
Graduates can choose from a variety of different job options, including:
- Security Managers design and implement security and safety plans at businesses, organizations or government agencies. The annual median salary for security managers is $65,686. Jobs in the field are expected to grow between 3 and 9 percent.
- Intelligence Analysts collect data from a network of sources to anticipate and intercept criminal activity. In 2011, the median salary for intelligence analysts was $71,770. Growth of intelligence analyst employment is expected to be slower than the average for other professions, at a rate of 3 to 9 percent by 2020.
- Criminal Investigators analyze evidence of criminal activity at local, state and federal levels to determine whether sufficient evidence exists to prosecute suspects. The average salary for a criminal investigator in 2011 was $71,770. The job forecast for this field is slower than average, at 3 to 9 percent, with total job openings between now and 2020 anticipated to be just over 30,000.