What you can do with a master's degree in criminal justice

  • You can make a significant impact in your community as a criminal justice or criminology professional.
    You can make a significant impact in your community as a criminal justice or criminology professional.

    What you can do with a master's degree in criminal justice

    If you are interested in expanding your understanding of the justice system, you may consider a master’s degree in Criminal Justice & Criminology. These advanced degree programs prepare students to pursue fulfilling careers in law enforcement, legislation, academia and the federal government.

    The difference between criminal justice and criminology

    There are two popular advanced degree programs in the field that you may consider. When deciding between these distinct subjects, it’s important to know what you can learn from each field of study.

    Criminology refers to the study of crime, derived from the Latin translation, “ology” (study of) “crimen” (crime). Like psychology, sociology and anthropology, criminology is considered a social science. Individuals in this area of study pursue the research and analysis of different aspects of deviant behavior, tracing back to the causes of various crimes and looking forward to the consequences of these actions. Criminology provides government, law enforcement and other industries with insight of how, when, why and where crimes occur.

    Meanwhile, criminal justice refers to the practical application of criminology. Individuals pursuing this area will investigate crimes, create laws and policies and perform other societal responses to crimes. Unlike criminology, which focuses on the study of crime, criminal justice focuses on taking action and responding to criminal behavior.

    When deciding whether you’d prefer to enroll in a program in criminal justice or criminology, it’s important to consider how you’d like to contribute to society. If you’d rather invoke change through research, observation and analysis, you might be better suited for criminology. However, if you’d like to impact your community by taking action against criminals, you may be more fulfilled in criminal justice.

    Job prospects in criminal justice and criminology

    Careers that investigate and produce action against criminal activity are, and have always been, essential in producing and maintaining a safe society. Although violent crime rates have decreased in the past two decades, according to FBI statistics, it is essential that law enforcement professionals, as well as individuals in criminology, legislation and policymaking, are effective defenders and advocates.

    Here is a handful of the careers you can pursue with a degree in criminal justice or criminology:

    • Forensic psychologists
    • Criminal profilers
    • Police officers
    • Detectives/investigators
    • Wardens
    • Probation officers
    • Information security analysts
    • Postsecondary instructors of criminal justice/criminology

    Salary expectations for law enforcement professionals

    Investigators, detectives and police officers make up the largest percentage of workers in criminal justice. Although some police officers can begin their careers with a high school degree, certain agencies will only hire individuals with a minimum of a bachelor’s degree. Other more competitive careers will primarily consider individuals with advanced degrees in criminal justice or criminology.

    The large variation of educational attainment in this field leads to a wide difference in expected earnings for different branches and agencies of law enforcement. For instance, here is a breakdown of the median salaries of police and detectives in the following industries, as reported by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics:

    • Federal government: $84,660
    • State government: $65,880
    • Local government: $61,340
    • Educational services: $52,080

    It is evident that the environment in which you work has a large impact on your expected earnings in this profession. Law enforcement professionals working for the federal government may work for agencies such as the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), U.S. Secret Service or U.S. Border Control, which typically require relocation and extensive travel as needed.

    Sample graduate programs

    If you know you’d like to pursue a master’s degree in criminal justice or criminology but don’t know where to start, you should try reviewing different universities’ program requirements and subject areas of expertise.

    Some noteworthy master’s degrees in criminal justice include the following:

    • Michigan State University
      • Security Management specialization
      • Thesis and non-thesis tracks
    • Boston University
      • Concentrations in Strategic Management and Cybercrime Investigation & Cybersecurity
      • 24 credits of core requirements and 16 credits of electives in specific areas of crime
    • University of Colorado Denver
      • Concentration choices include Crime Analyst, Gender-Based Violence and Emergency Management and Homeland Security

    If you’d rather pursue an advanced degree in criminology, you may consider one of these programs:

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