What Can I Do With a Master’s Degree in Criminal Justice?

What Can I Do With a Master’s Degree in Criminal Justice?

A master’s degree in criminal justice can significantly improve your eligibility for federal law enforcement positions and leadership roles, and can help you advance and improve your earnings within a specific area of law enforcement, jurisprudence, or corrections. Read on to find out what you can expect as a criminal justice graduate student.

Criminal justice encompasses three primary areas—law enforcement, corrections, and the courts. These subject areas form the core of the criminal justice discipline. As a master of criminal justice, you’ll have an opportunity to narrow your focus to a specialization within one of these areas. This could include an array of subjects including criminal psychology, forensics, cybersecurity, rehabilitation, counter-terrorism and much more.

The criminal justice master’s degree is a highly popular option for working professionals who are seeking ways to expand their knowledge and improve their opportunities for career growth. It could also be a good educational building block on your way to law school, and a career as a criminal attorney.

Just getting started in the field? Check out our look at the criminal justice major to find out how you can get an undergraduate degree in criminal justice.

If you’re ready to earn your graduate degree at one of the most prestigious schools in the world, get started with a look at the Most Influential Schools in Criminal Justice.

Or read on to find out what you can expect as a criminal justice graduate student.

Featured Programs

Why Get a Master’s Degree in Criminal Justice?

Lorraine Mazerolle, editor-in-chief of the Journal of Experimental Criminology, professor at the School of Social Science at the University of Queensland, and one of our top influencers in the field of criminology describes the amazing opportunity that her graduate degree program provided for collaboration with working professionals facing real-world challenges.

She told us that, “I was incredibly influenced by my PhD supervisor, David Weisburd, who is actually on your top 10 academic influencers in criminology. And David Weisburd and I ran a randomized controlled trial on street-level drug law enforcement. And it was one of the very first experiments where academics worked in partnership with police to look at different ways that they could transform the way that they were doing their policies and practices. So that was my entry point into really understanding the machinations of how police worked and what was working and what really was not working and what needed to be changed at the time.”

In addition to creating amazing hands-on opportunities, a graduate degree in criminology can qualify you for one of an extremely wide range of specializations in the connected areas of law, law enforcement, criminology, and corrections. In addition to substantially improving your qualifications for a wide range of jobs in policing, rehabilitation and the administration of criminal justice, a master’s degree can provide you with valuable credentials in areas like cybersecurity, homeland security, forensics, and much more.

Find out more from our interview with Dr. Mazerolle, or learn about these top influencers in the criminal justice field today!

How Can I Qualify To Get a Master’s Degree in Criminal Justice?

The requirements for entering into a criminal justice master’s degree program will vary from one school to the next. Some programs may require you to complete a Graduate Record Examination (GRE). If the GRE is needed, your program may either require a general exam, or a GRE specific to the subject of criminal justice. Some programs may require you to meet a certain scoring threshold while others may merely require that you complete the exam. These requirements will vary from one criminal justice master’s program to the next. It’s also worth noting that if you plan to jump from an undergraduate degree in criminal justice to a graduate law school program, you would likely need to pass the Law School Admission Test (LSAT).

If no GRE or LSAT is required, the primary requirement for gaining eligibility into a criminal justice master’s program is completion of a bachelor’s degree from a properly accredited undergraduate school. While programmatic accreditation is not specifically required in this field, most regionally-accredited graduate schools will require that your bachelor’s degree be granted by a regionally-accredited college or university.

Some colleges may offer bundled bachelor’s and master’s degree programs, where you could earn your advanced degree in one continuous five-year program. This option could save you time and money if you already know that you’ll be pursuing your advanced degree. However, the accelerated pace of such a program may make this a challenging way to earn both degrees. Find out if your school offers this bundling option and ask about eligibility requirements. But be sure you’re up to the added challenge!

For any additional questions about eligibility, refer to your intended program and learn more about application requirements and any additional requirements such as work experience, academic performance thresholds, and referrals.

If you’re still working on building your qualifications, check out our look at the criminal justice major to find out how you can get an undergraduate degree in criminal justice.

What Kinds of Advanced Criminal Justice Degrees Are There?

  • Master of Criminal Justice: Because many jobs are accessible with a bachelor’s degree, a master’s degree in Criminal Justice is valuable for those pursuing highly specialized law enforcement roles. For instance, if you wish to work in criminal psychology or forensics psychology, you would likely need to earn a master’s degree. The same is true if you’re interested in a leadership role in a law enforcement, security, or terror prevention agency. Master’s degrees in criminal justice come in many forms, with many names. Some may identify as Master of Arts (MA) programs and others as Master of Science (MS) programs. MS degrees will likely place a greater emphasis on the acquisition of technical skills while the former will focus on the philosophical and structural aspects of the field.
  • Doctorate in Criminal Justice: A PhD in law enforcement will qualify you to teach as a professor or work as a researcher for a university, think tank, or government agency.
  • Juris Doctor of Law: Depending on your area of concentration, your master’s degree in criminal justice may be a pathway into law school. In order to sit for the bar exam and become a practicing criminalattorney in your state, you must earn your Juris Doctor of Law (JDLaw) from a law school.

What are Some Popular Criminal Justice Specializations?

The type of criminal justice master’s degree you earn will likely depend on your career goals. You may choose your specialization based on the desire to expand your knowledge into a new area, to qualify for a specific role in federal law enforcement, to update your skill sets, or to improve your earning potential. Possible specializations may include the following:

  • Homeland Security
  • Cybercrime
  • Legal Studies
  • Criminology
  • Public Safety Administration
  • Crisis Management
  • Policing and Law Enforcement

Students may also consider the career growth potential a CISSP certificate can unlock.

What Courses Will I Take as a Criminal Justice Master?

Your specialization will determine many of the courses you’ll take as part of your criminal justice master’s program. Likewise, you will likely be required to take a number of requisite courses on foundational topics such as Corrections and Policing. But you’ll also have a chance to select from an array of courses around cutting edge topics and leadership training in criminal justice:

Common criminal justice courses include:

  • Criminology and Public Policy
  • Ethical Leadership in Criminal Justice
  • Global Crime Control
  • Intelligence Analysis
  • Counterterrorism methods
  • Diversity and Law Enforcement
  • Crime Mapping
  • Administration of Corrections Organizations
  • Statistics in Criminal Justice
  • Organizational Leadership

Is a Master’s Degree in Criminal Justice Worth It?

A master’s degree in criminal justice significantly improves both your opportunity for career growth and your earning potential. Though you can enter into many law enforcement and corrections roles with an undergraduate degree, a master’s degree can provide you with a valuable specialization, or help you make the leap from one role to another. For instance, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, a bachelor’s degree may qualify you to work as a ”Police Officer or Detective“, for whom the average median pay in 2019 was $65,170. However, a master’s degree could qualify you to make the jump to ”Detective or Criminal Investigator“, whom the BLS notes earned a median salary of that figure was $81,920 in 2018.

Career Outlook for Students with Criminal Justice Degree

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Criminal Justice/Law Enforcement Administration

Degree Level: Master's

  • Location: The U.S. (Private Schools)
  • Avg. Cost of Degree*: $10,814
  • Avg. Expenses*: $16,395
  • Avg. Starting Salary*: $48,906
  • Avg. Salary after 4 Years*: $56,089
  • Avg. Cost Recoup Time**: 6 years
  • Job Growth: 3.31%
  • Number of Jobs: 1,382,700
  • * denotes ‘annually’
  • ** denotes ‘at 15% of annual salary’

Career Salaries

CareerJob GrowthAvg. Salary
Managers, All Other3.35%$106,040
First-Line Supervisors of Police and Detectives3.12%$84,600
Transit and Railroad Police2.94%$75,399
Detectives and Criminal Investigators1.49%$73,715
Criminal Justice and Law Enforcement Teachers, Postsecondary2.43%$70,208

Average Career Salaries

Bottom 10%MedianTop 10%

Promising Job Markets

StateCost of LivingAvg. Salary
#2 California26% higher than average$108,645
#3 Illinois7% higher than average$78,640
#4 New York5% higher than average$84,489
#5 Ohio14% higher than average$67,925
#6 Michigan15% higher than average$66,857

Top Industries

IndustryAvg. Salary
Managers, All Other$106,040
First-Line Supervisors of Police and Detectives$84,600
Transit and Railroad Police$75,399

What Are The Top Jobs With a Master’s In Criminal Justice Degree?

An advanced degree in criminal justice could qualify you for a wide range of career opportunities in a wider array of law enforcement or corrections settings. The master’s degree in criminal justice could also improve your chances of landing a more exclusive role in a federal law enforcement agency or of becoming an administrative leader in your current organization. The following are among the top jobs you could earn, or advance within, as a master of criminal justice:

Curious how far you could go with a master’s degree in criminal justice? Start with a look at the top influencers in the field today!


Now that you know how to earn a master’s degree in the field, check out:

Check out the full list here and get started on your path to a criminal justice master’s degree.

And if you’re still shopping for the right college, be sure to bookmark our Resources on critical issues like Accreditation, Scholarships, Financial Aid, and more!

Student Submitted Questions on Master’s Degrees in Criminal Justice

Clara asks, “How do master’s degree programs in criminal justice prepare students for leadership roles within the criminal justice system?”

Dr. James Barham’s answer: A master’s program in criminal justice should prepare a student for leadership roles through a combination of advanced coursework, practical experience, and skill development. Exactly what this looks like depends on the program itself, so talk with your advisor or a department head to see how they plan on preparing you and what you can do to prepare yourself as well.

Lee asks, “Does the program offer a global perspective on criminal justice issues, including comparative justice systems, international law, and transnational crime?”

Dr. Jed Macosko’s answer: Most programs should, but make sure to check with your program. There will be some programs that allow for a concentration in global justice issues, so my advice is to look out for one of these. See what course you will take and if those will give you the information you want in regards to these issues.

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