What Can You Do With a Master's Degree in Criminal Justice?

A master's in criminal justice can prepare students for police management careers.

A master’s degree in criminal justice enables students to pursue in-depth study of issues related to law enforcement, corrections and criminal behavior. Students also learn and apply the basic research methods used in criminal justice research. Master’s degree recipients face a variety of career options. Many pursue management-level positions in the criminal justice system, while others pursue academic careers.

1 Function

Master’s degree programs in criminal justice help illustrate the trend toward more professionalism in law enforcement and other elements of the criminal justice system. Many criminal justice professionals--such as police officers, correctional officers, probation officials and others--pursue a master’s degree to further their careers, advancing to management-level positions.

2 Identification

Some master’s degree programs emphasize management and administration issues, and identify themselves as degrees in criminal justice management or administration. Many of these programs, such as the one at Sam Houston State University in Texas, limit enrollment to working professionals in the criminal justice system.

3 Features

Required courses leading to a master’s degree in criminal justice vary by university, but many of them include criminal justice administration and management, emerging issues in criminal justice, criminal behavior, research methods and computer techniques for criminal justice. Some programs require completion of a thesis. Students also must complete a series of elective courses and can tailor their selections to match their career interests. A student interested in law enforcement administration, for example, might focus on courses related to police work and management.

4 Effects

Law enforcement officers and other criminal justice professionals are not the only people who pursue graduate-level studies. Students interested in academic careers studying criminal justice issues and criminal behavior may pursue a master’s degree as well. Coursework in social science research methods and statistical techniques provide an understanding of how criminologists and other social scientists conduct research and study issues of crime and justice scientifically. Although a faculty position at a university generally requires a doctorate, most community college teaching positions require only a master’s degree.

5 Potential

A master’s degree in criminal justice also prepares students to assume active roles in the shaping and implementation of state and national policy toward crime and criminals. The criminal justice program at Florida State University, rated by the Journal of Criminal Justice Education as one of the nation’s best, emphasizes research that informs the debate over anti-crime policies.

Shane Hall is a writer and research analyst with more than 20 years of experience. His work has appeared in "Brookings Papers on Education Policy," "Population and Development" and various Texas newspapers. Hall has a Doctor of Philosophy in political economy and is a former college instructor of economics and political science.