United States Criminal Justice Masters Degree Programs

Criminal Justice Masters Programs focus on the practice of law, criminology, public policy and related issues and can overlap into other subject areas such as criminology, forensic psychology, cybersecurity, forensic technology, fraud,  sociology, social work, population studies and political science. Whether you are currently working in the field of criminal justice (CJ) or want to prepare for a career, earning a Criminal Justice Masters Degree may lead to possible positions of leadership and responsibility in government organizations or non-profits, dealing with issues of crime, justice and law-enforcement. 

Criminal Justice Masters Programs Overview

Potential applicants to Criminal Justice Masters Programs are required to have a Bachelor’s degree. In addition to instructional coursework, many Criminal Justice Masters degree programs may require students to participate in hands-on courtroom training, internships, or other practical experiences. At the end of the program, students may have to complete a capstone thesis.

Masters Degree in Criminal Justice Program Information

Earn an online Criminal Justice Masters Degree or study on-campus?

GradSchools.com makes it easy for prospective students to find the Criminal Justice Masters Degree Program that aligns with their interests as well as their schedules. If you are looking into some of the best criminal justice graduate schools so that you can find a campus-based program, initiate a location search. This will bring up listings in the city, state or country that you have chosen. If distance-learning is a more convenient learning format for you, you can click through to the Criminal Justice Masters Programs Online. In both cases, listings will be generated such as: Master of Science in Criminology and Criminal justice, Master of Public Administration: Criminal Justice Concentration, Criminal Justice MS, Master of Business Administration – Criminal Justice or Master of Arts: Criminal Justice. Click through to request information from each school.

Fun Fact: many applicants for homeland security jobs must undergo security clearances or background checks[i]

What Types of Criminal Justice Masters Programs are there?

Criminal Justice Masters Degree Programs may be available as Master of Arts (MA), Master of Science (MS) and Masters of Business Administration (MBA) formats. Criminal Justice Masters students may also enroll in a dual-degree program that allows them to simultaneously study law and earn a Juris Doctor degree, a law degree that is usually completed by those who wish to take state bar exams and become licensed, practicing lawyers. If you plan to continue onto a doctorate degree in Criminal Justice, make sure that you select a master’s program that supports continued education.

SEARCH TIP: It is highly recommended to research the specific requirements for your desired career in Criminal Justice as agency requirements vary broadly.

What is the difference between Criminology and Criminalistics?

Criminology and criminalistics are both focused in law enforcement. However, criminology explores the nature of crime and its prevention, while criminalistics involves the collection and analysis of evidence, and is often referred to as forensic science. Most Criminal Justice Masters programs include coursework in criminology. The scientific study of the nature and basic elements of crime, criminology is generally the foundation upon which graduate education in the criminal justice field is built. The behavioral, sociological, and legal aspects of crime all intersect in the study of criminology.

MS | MA | MBA in Criminal Justice: Find the Right Masters Degree in Criminal Justice For You

Master of Science in Criminal Justice Programs tend to include more science in the curriculum and fewer liberal arts courses. Specializations such as forensic science, criminology, cyber-crime and behavior analysis and forensic psychology are usually offered as part of a Master of Science degree in CJ.

Master of Arts in Criminal Justice Programs tend to center around the larger context of crime, why it exists and its impact on society, as well as gain a detailed understanding of the concept of justice and how it’s applied. Students are trained in research methods and statistics, program planning and management, policy analysis, and program evaluation. Law enforcement administration, organizational security, legal studies, homeland security, terrorism and mediation and public policy usually are offered as a Master of Arts degree

Master of Business Administration (MBA) Criminal Justice Programs are typically intended to help students develop advanced competencies and analytical capabilities needed for management and leadership positions in correctional institutions, law enforcement and the court system.

Criminal Justice Masters Programs and Curriculum

Masters in Criminal Justice Degree Programs vary with regard to specific course requirements but common courses might include subjects such as:

  • Criminal justice foundations
  • Criminology Statistics
  • Research methods
  • Program organization and analysis
  • Corrections
  • Juvenile justice
  • Victimization
  • Policing
  • Policies, practices, and politics in criminal justice
  • Nature of crime/Theories of social deviancy
  • Terrorism
  • Cyber security

Potential Careers For Masters in Criminal Justice Graduates

There are a variety of potential careers for Criminal Justice Masters Graduates, with different types of jobs gaining in popularity, as homeland security and cyber security become more prominent concerns. Many homeland security jobs are offered in government – state, local and Federal, although other opportunities in private companies and nonprofit organizations exist. Naturally, earning a degree isn’t a guarantee for employment, but sometimes it helps to look at the types of careers ‘out there’ to then determine the educational path that you need to follow to prepare yourself for it. Some of these jobs might include:

  • Police Officer
  • Immigration Officer
  • Information Security Specialist
  • Telecommunications Specialist
  • Criminal Investigator
  • Attorney/Auditor: Office of the Inspector General
  • Forensic Chemist
  • U.S. Secret Service Agent

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of attorneys is projected to grow 6% from 2014 to 2014. They also report that “the federal government is likely to continue to need lawyers to prosecute or defend civil cases on behalf of the United States, prosecute criminal cases brought by the federal government, and collect money owed to the federal government[ii]."

While employment growth for police officers and detectives is projected to be slow (4% : 2014-2024), it is interesting to note that education requirements differ depending on the type of career in law enforcement one aspires to[iii].

FUN FACT: FBI special agent applicants typically must have at least 3 years of professional work experience in areas ranging from computer science to accounting[iv].

Ready to Pursue a Masters Degree in Criminal Justice?

Whether you are interested in digital forensics, international crime, public policy and administration, law enforcement, violence prevention, or security management, Criminal Justice Masters Programs offer exciting choices to consider. Why not spend some time to figure out which academic direction is right for you using the search tools on our site!


Sources: [i]  bls.gov/careeroutlook/2006/summer/art01.pdf | [ii] bls.gov/ooh/legal/lawyers.htm | [iii] bls.gov/ooh/protective-service/police-and-detectives.htm | [iv]  bls.gov/ooh/protective-service/police-and-detectives.htm | bls.gov/ooh/community-and-social-service/probation-officers-and-correctional-treatment-specialists.htm

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