What Can You Do with a Masters in Criminal Justice?

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What can you do with a masters in criminal justice? A criminal justice graduate degree may open many job opportunities for you in this field.

Masters in Criminal Justice

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Prospects are on the rise within the field of criminal justice, so it may a strategic time to build your skills and get yourself qualified for high-level jobs.

What Can You Do with a Masters in Criminal Justice?

Police Detective during interrogation

At the master’s level, many people choose to specialize in a specific area of this field. These might include forensics, law enforcement, public policy, and even homeland security. Depending on your school, there could be many more to choose from.

As for careers, it all depends on where you want to go and what you want to do. If you’re good with data and computers, for example, you might enjoy working as an intelligence analyst or cybersecurity expert.

If you’d rather be in the field, you may pursue a career path as a detective or criminal investigator. If you love the lab, you may study within a scientific branch of criminal justice, such as biology, pathology or toxicology. If you already have a job in this field, a master’s degree may help you as well.

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Many people in the field turn to higher education when they want to qualify for promotions. With police officers, for example, a sergeant or a lieutenant might go back to school when they’re aiming to qualify for detective or deputy chief.

A master’s degree may also be a useful tool if you want to work with the government. While a bachelor’s degree is the minimum requirement for many federal jobs, increasing competition means that a master’s degree might help you stand out from other applicants.

Are you interested in catching, securing, guarding, or rehabilitating criminals? Are you good with computers? Do you like science? What you do with your criminal justice degree ultimately depends on your interests and career goals.

Plus, if you are interested in furthering your education after earning your masters, you may want to look into earning either an on-campus or online doctorate in criminal justice.

5 Things You Can Do with a Masters in Criminal Justice

Criminal Investigator working on the crime scene

There are various types of jobs within the field of criminal justice. While some might be familiar to you, such as law enforcement officer, others might be more of a surprise. Here are just a few paths that you might pursue with a graduate degree in this field.

1. Criminal Investigator

Criminal investigator is a broad term that can cover many different careers, including profiler, police officer, private detective, and even specialty careers like fire inspector. This line of work often requires strong investigative skills.

Depending on your exact career path, your duties might involve analyzing crime scenes, collecting evidence, interviewing witnesses, making arrests, and testifying in court.

2. Forensic Examiner

Forensic Examiner working in lab

If you’re more interested in the “how” of a crime as opposed to the “why,” you might like forensics.

This field utilizes subjects like biology, chemistry, pathology, and toxicology for everything from examining fingerprints to analyzing blood spatters and clothing fibers. Forensic examiner is just one of the career options available in the field. You may also become a crime lab analyst, crime scene investigator (CSI), and more.

3. Case Worker

Case worker with a couple

Case workers operate on the rehabilitative side of the criminal justice system. They might help people rebuild their lives after prison, or they might mentor and monitor at-risk youth to help them avoid prison in the first place.

Their work has a strong human services element. They might also double as mediators, courtroom advocates, social workers, or substance abuse counselors.

4. Special Agent

Special agent investigating

If you’re inspired by the letters FBI, ATF, or DEA, you might enjoy working as a special agent at a federal agency. Agents may have many different responsibilities, depending on the department.

A bachelor’s degree is the minimum for most entry-level training programs, but you might distinguish yourself from other candidates with a master’s degree. A master’s degree may also be substituted for the necessary years of work experience.

5. Lawyer

There are many different types of lawyers, including prosecutors, defense attorneys, public defenders, trial lawyers, immigration lawyers, and more.

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A background in criminal justice may help you prepare for the realities of the courtroom while also deepening your understanding of the correctional system. In order to become a lawyer, though, it is necessary to attend law school, obtain a law degree, and pass the bar exam.

Criminal Justice Careers & Salaries

Criminal Justice Careers & Salaries

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, protective service occupations make an average of $43,710 per year. This salary data, though, includes entry-level jobs for a criminal justice career, such as bailiffs and security guards, along with lucrative, high-paying jobs, like police detectives.

To get an accurate idea of relevant salaries at the master’s degree level, you may need to expand your scope to the fields of law, science, psychology, and social services.

Careers Annual Median Salaries
Lawyers $126,930
Information Security Analysts $103,590
First-Line Supervisors of Police and Detectives $92,970
Detectives and Criminal Investigators $86,940
Police and Detectives $67,290
Arbitrators, Mediators, and Conciliators $66,130
First-Line Supervisors of Correctional Officers $60,910
Forensic Science Technicians $60,590
Probation Officers and Correctional Treatment Specialists $55,690
Private Detectives and Investigators $53,320
Social Worker $51,760

There’s a wide variety of masters in criminal justice careers that you may pursue, depending on your interests. Many of the above positions require additional certifications, further education, or evaluations.

Is Financial Aid Available?

Masters in Criminal Justice Financial Aid

Many criminal justice graduate programs are eligible for financial aid. You can still fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). There may also be grants, loans, scholarships, and fellowships available for graduate students who qualify.

Your work might offer tuition reimbursement programs for employees who want to qualify for higher-level jobs. This may especially apply if you’re already working for a legal, social services, or law enforcement agency.

What Is Criminal Justice?

police officers on patrol

Criminal justice is a field devoted to law, order, crime, punishment, and rehabilitation. Careers range from law enforcement officer and forensic analysts to social workers and courtroom judges.

As a criminal justice major, you might study everything from wide-sweeping legal and criminal justice administration to meticulous documentation of every stage of a local evidence chain.

What Is a Masters in Criminal Justice Good For?

A master’s degree in the field can help prepare you for work in a variety of fields. If you want to carry a gun and handcuffs, you may become a detective, police officer, or federal agent.

If you’re interested in fingerprints and DNA phenotyping, you might become a forensic technician or crime scene analyst. Those with a legal mind may also pursue further education to become a prosecutor or defense attorney.

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If you want to focus on rehabilitation, you may study to be a case manager, parole officer, victim advocate, or human services administrator.

What Do You Learn in a Criminal Justice Masters Program?

police in operation

While every college is different, you can expect to take the same types of core classes in any Master of Science in Criminal Justice program. You may take courses that cover the theory and practice in criminal justice, criminal behavior, and the fundamentals of criminal justice structures.

Once you’re finished with the basics or your criminal justice program, you may have the chance to choose a concentration. Potential specialties might include everything from cybersecurity to leadership within law enforcement.

Every school is different, so their electives and degree concentrations may be different as well. If you have your heart set on a certain specialty, like fire science, you may want to make sure that your chosen college offers it.

How Much Can You Make with a Masters in Criminal Justice?

police officers in a parade

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average salary for protective service occupations is $43,710. This data includes workers of all types, including those without degrees who are working in entry-level jobs.

With a masters in the criminal justice field, you may pursue a career as an information security analyst, depending on your concentration and interests. This position earns an average salary of $103,590 each year.

With a masters, you may also qualify for leadership positions, such as a supervisor of police or correctional officers. Supervisors of police and detectives make an average salary of $92,970 while supervisors of correctional officers make an average of $60,910.

Your particular salary will greatly depend on your employer, your position, and your industry.

What Are the Highest Paying Criminal Justice Careers?

information security analysts in meeting

At the master’s level, you may earn a higher starting salary and be afforded more opportunities. One high-paying position you may pursue with a criminal justice degree is information security analyst, which pays an average annual salary of $103,590 (Bureau of Labor Statistics).

Criminal investigators may also make a pretty penny. Their average salary is $86,940 per year, and depending on where they work, that number can rise even higher. For example, federal investigators may earn an average of $92,080 per year.

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High-level law enforcement officers may also enjoy high salaries when they make the level of detective, chief, deputy chief, or department supervisor. The top 10% of police and detectives earn around $113,860 per year.

What Is the Difference Between Criminology vs Criminal Justice?

While they have a lot of overlap, there are some important distinctions between criminology and criminal justice.

Criminology Criminal Justice
  • Studies criminals and why they turn to crime
  • Emphasis on data and statistics as well as psychology
  • Research focused
  • Studies the criminal justice system itself
  • Doesn’t necessarily involve data or research
  • Broader and more wide-ranging subjects than criminology

Criminology can be considered a form of criminal justice but not the other way around. Some schools even have criminology as a subset or specialty of the criminal justice field.

Is a Masters Degree in Criminal Justice Worth It?

police traffic enforcer working

Yes, a master’s degree in criminal justice is worth it for many students. The Bureau of Labor Statistics is projecting 3% job growth in protective service occupations over the next 10 years.

Common criminal justice careers in this field include criminologist, police detective, federal agent, social worker, forensic examiner, and intelligence officer.

Getting Your Masters in Criminal Justice Online

Masters in Criminal Justice Online

An online criminal justice masters degree may be a strategic way to jumpstart your career in legal or law enforcement fields.

It may also open doors to more opportunities or higher earning potential if you want to rise out of an entry-level or mid-level position. This degree may also be versatile, helping to qualify you for jobs in various settings, including labs, courtrooms, and federal agencies.

If you’re interested in advancing your career in this rewarding field, you may start by exploring online criminal justice degree programs from accredited universities.

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Jordan Meeks
Jordan is pursuing a Ph.D. in Public Policy and earned her Master of Business Administration in Strategic Management and her Bachelor's in Business Administration. Jordan's research focuses on adults returning to college and online degree programs.