Criminal Justice Master’s Degree Programs
Crime takes place in our neighborhoods, in the international sphere, in business, and in cyberspace. All these sectors need a host of well-trained professionals, including those who investigate crime, understand the criminal mind, create and uphold public policy and safety, and work in the legal systems. Pursuing a master’s degree in criminal justice may be a great fit if you are interested in advanced and relevant knowledge in any of these fascinating areas.
Master’s in Criminal Justice: Overview
Master’s in Criminal Justice programs comprise a host of possibilities. You might choose to study law enforcement, corrections, first responders, politics, or paralegal and legal fields. Each program may have its own prerequisites and admission requirements and may build on your prior undergraduate education. Graduate programs may be designed for current criminal justice administrators or those who seek a comprehensive understanding of legal procedures and how the judicial system operates. Some master’s degrees are used as stepping-stones to PhD in Criminal Justice and Legal Studies fields.
Popular Schools with Master’s in Criminal Justice Program
Types of Master’s Programs in Criminal Justice
Criminal justice master’s degree might involve pursuing either a Master of Arts (MA) or Master of Science (MS), with options in various concentrations.
Criminal justice and criminalistics: Within this category, there are a number of types of degrees you might pursue, such as:
- Master of Public Administration in Criminal Justice
- Master of Business Administration in Criminal Justice
- Master of Criminology
Forensic science: Prepares students to collect, identify, classify, and analyze physical evidence related to criminal investigations. Typical courses include:
- Physical Anthropology
- Forensic Toxicology
- Laboratory Science
Homeland security and national defense: Focuses on management and leadership skills, intelligence analysis, legal and technical issues, and risk management. Coursework might cover topics such as:
- The nature and sources of threats to social, political, and economic systems
- The creation of disaster (man-made or natural) response plans based on FEMA guidelines
- The assessment of risk susceptibility, resilience, resistance, and vulnerability among communities and organizations
- The application of leadership principles to improve management policy
- Research and developing trends in all aspects of homeland security
Law enforcement, policing, and investigation: Geared to enhancing qualifications in law enforcement by expanding an understanding of the law, social order, and justice. Concentrations might include:
- Law enforcement intelligence and analysis
- Information security management
- Public safety
- Law enforcement administration
- Global security
Legal studies: Designed to enrich a student’s comprehension of law, regulations, and legal issues as well as fine-tune critical thinking skills. Coursework might cover topics such as:
- Legal analysis of cases, laws, and regulations
- General and specialized knowledge of the U.S. legal system
- Legal procedures
- Constitutional law
- Philosophy of law
- Legal history and sociology
- Contemporary legal issues
Paralegal: Focuses on preparing students for a paralegal career or helping current paralegals enhance their career and take over more responsibilities. Paralegal duties might include:
- Analyzing and summarizing legal documents
- Performing legal research
- Communicating with clients
Master of Science in Criminal Justice program with an Emphasis in Legal Studies
There is typically a difference between a Master of Science in Criminal Justice with an Emphasis in Legal Studies versus other master’s degrees in the category of “Criminal Justice and Legal Studies.” What is a Master of Science in Criminal Justice program with an Emphasis in Legal Studies? This type of degree is designed for law enforcement, corrections, probation, and parole officers aspiring to other potential career opportunities, as well as individuals who want to learn about the law, social order, and justice in a more in-depth manner. Your program may involve a capstone project and/or final written proposal, coursework in legal studies such as international law, and methods of legal research.
Some of the other subjects that students in this type of criminal justice master’s degree program might study include:
- Law enforcement management
- Criminal justice theories and their applications
- Principles of police administration
- Leadership in the criminal justice system
- Restorative justice versus
- Traditional punishment
- Procedures for criminal investigations
- Psychology in the legal system, including crisis management, victimology, and understanding the roles of expert witnesses, jury consultants, and criminal profilers
Why Pursue a Master’s Degree in Criminal Justice?
A master’s degree in criminal justice could be a valuable asset for individuals interested in pursuing a career in one of the many areas of the field or who are looking to enhance their existing career.
Furthering your career in criminal justice
Many students pursue a master’s in criminal justice to further their current career or branch off into a new area. The skills and knowledge gained in a master’s degree program could help you move into a leadership position, make you a contender for a federal position, or branch off into areas such as criminal investigation and profiling, intelligence analysis, or cybersecurity. Earning a master’s in criminal science could also pave the way to a PhD program in criminal justice or legal systems.
Holding a master’s degree might also increase your earning potential. In general, those with a master’s degree earn more than those with a bachelor’s or high school diploma. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that in 2021, the median annual salary of those holding a master’s degree was $39,780 more than those with a high school diploma and $12,480 more than those with a bachelor’s degree.1 In addition, promotions might result in a salary increase or a bonus.
Gaining a deeper understanding of the criminal justice system
Another benefit of pursuing a master’s degree in criminal justice is that it could help you gain a deeper understanding of the criminal justice system. Through coursework and research, you could explore the history, policies, and practices of the criminal justice system in more depth, gaining a better understanding of the complexities and challenges faced by criminal justice professionals.
This deeper understanding might be particularly useful for individuals who are interested in pursuing a career in criminal justice reform or advocacy. By having a solid understanding of the issues facing the criminal justice system, you could be better equipped to propose and advocate for meaningful changes that might improve outcomes for individuals involved in the system.
How to Choose a Master’s Program in Criminal Justice
When choosing a master’s program in criminal justice, there are several factors to consider in order to find a program that might help you realize your career goals.
Accreditation and program reputation
A school’s reputation is an important factor to consider when choosing a master’s program in criminal justice is accreditation and program reputation. Accreditation ensures that the program meets high standards of quality and rigor and may be necessary for future job opportunities and further education. Additionally, a program’s reputation may be an important factor in the eyes of potential employers.
To research programs’ accreditation and reputation, consult resources such as the U.S. Department of Education’s database of accredited postsecondary institutions and programs, as well as the school’s website itself.
Also research a school’s ranking for master’s in criminal justice degree programs. You could find such rankings through sites such as U.S. News and World Report. However, take these with a grain of salt: they may not focus on the attributes of a school that are important to you. You could also talk to students and alumni to get a better handle on the qualities of a school that are relevant to you.
Concentrations and areas of focus
Criminal justice is a broad field with many different branches. As such, it could be important to ensure you choose a program that aligns with your interests and goals.
Common areas within the criminal justice field include law enforcement, corrections, juvenile justice, criminology, and legal studies. Some programs may offer concentrations in narrower areas of focus, such as forensic psychology, homeland security, or cybercrime.
Research the curriculum and research opportunities offered by different programs, as well as the career outcomes of their graduates. Additionally, speaking with current students or alumni of the program could provide valuable insights into their experiences and the strengths and weaknesses of the program.
Program format: campus or online master’s in criminal justice
Many graduate schools offer online degree programs. These programs could provide flexibility for students who need to balance their studies with work, family, or other commitments. Keep in mind, however:
If you are studying areas such as forensic Science or cybersecurity where there is likely some laboratory work, you may not get a fully online program. Campus programs could build interpersonal, team building, and other helpful skills.
What Could You Do with a Master’s in Criminal Justice?
Earning this degree could open the door to a variety of careers, including cybersecurity investigator, forensic examiner, FBI agent, lawyer, postsecondary teacher, cyber defensive operator, or intelligence analyst, depending on the focus of your educational path.
Following are typical salaries for some of these occupations:
- Forensic science technician: Median annual salary, $61,930
- FBI agent: Average salary range, $78K to $153K2
- Lawyer*: Median annual salary, $127,9903
- Criminal justice and law enforcement teacher, postsecondary: Median annual salary, $64,9904
GradSchools.com offers 515 Graduate Schools with Criminal Justice Master’s Programs
*Most states and jurisdictions require lawyers to complete a Juris Doctor (JD) degree from a law school accredited by the American Bar Association (ABA).
Sources: 1 – https://www.bls.gov/emp/chart-unemployment-earnings-education.htm. 2 – https://fbijobs.gov/special-agents?gclid=Cj0KCQjwpPKiBhDvARIsACn-gzB-YinVGKEP6XYDPCysN7CChsg_S_Tvyq1Em7T8RfNY_8zV6H1B3kcaAjSjEALw_wcB 3 – https://www.bls.gov/ooh/legal/lawyers.htm#tab-1 4 – https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes251111.htm Based on national data, not school-specific information. Conditions in your area may vary. Accessed 5/3/2023.
This is an offer for educational opportunities that may lead to employment and not an offer for nor a guarantee of employment. Students should consult with a representative from the school they select to learn more about career opportunities in that field. Program outcomes vary according to each institution’s specific program curriculum.
The University of Arizona Global Campus
Grand Canyon University
St. Thomas University
John F Kennedy University
Jacksonville State University
Institute for Law and Finance of Goethe University Frankfurt am Main