Master’s Degrees in Criminal Justice

A master’s degree in criminal justice is the highest form of criminal justice a person can study and will prepare them for a future career that is at the top tier of law enforcement. Those who earn a master’s degree tend to pursue a job that is in upper-level law enforcement and/or in a more particular division. The core curriculum of a master’s program in criminal justice is grounded in research. Some of the concentrations that a student may choose to study include terrorism & homeland security, public administration and public safety management and leadership.

Consider online Criminal Justice programs currently accepting applicants:

A master’s degree in criminal justice provides you with a focused, in-depth study in a division of your choosing, which leads to a profound understanding of your field and opens the door to new advancement and career opportunities. Those who wish to work at the top of law enforcement and pursue specific, upper-level positions benefit most from a master’s degree.

Why a Master’s in Criminal Justice?

If you have completed an undergraduate program in criminal justice and want to improve upon what you learned, as well as focus on a particular area within the legal system, then a master’s in criminal justice can not just provide you with a more refined education, but also a plethora of career opportunities that wouldn’t be available otherwise.

Featured Master’s in Criminal Justice Programs

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Core Curriculum

Since a master’s degree in criminal justice is particular to a student’s chosen field within criminal justice, the curriculum is heavily rooted in research. The research itself will very depending on the concentration that you choose to study, such as Terrorism & Homeland Security. Regardless of your concentration, a master’s program will prepare you to work in that division and give you not just knowledge, but first-hand experience which you can later apply to your career.

While the concentrations and programs vary, nearly all master’s of criminal justice students will study a core curriculum that introduces them to the subjects of criminal psychology, criminology and behavior, more profound studies in terrorism and violence and aggression among society and public safety.

Specializations and Concentrations

The area of concentration you choose will strongly influence the careers you qualify for post-graduation, though a student who has already earned a bachelor’s in criminal justice is able to begin working after completing additional training at a police academy. Someone who wishes to just be a police officer wouldn’t benefit from pursuing a master’s as much as someone who was more specific career goals that require an additional set of skills and knowledge not taught exclusively in an undergraduate program.

Terrorism and Homeland Security

One of the most popular choices for a master’s in criminal justice specialization is terrorism and homeland security. The increased tensions between the United States and Middle East over the past decade has given rise to a strong need for competent workers well-versed in not just the threats that our government and nation faces, but ways in which these threats can be identified, monitored and confronted with as little damage as possible.

Forensic Psychology

Those who want to get inside the minds of criminals will enjoy a master’s in forensic psychology. This degree path takes students down a long journey into the head of those who commit crime, and prepare them for a future working alongside detectives and other law enforcement officials, inside corrections facilities and possibly inside court rooms.

Paralegal Studies

A focus in paralegal studies during a master’s program in criminal justice will prepare students to assist lawyers and attorneys in the delivery of legal services, and work as a paralegal, legal assistant, legal secretary or a court reporter.

Public Administration

The criminal justice system requires leaders who are as ethical as they are capable of making tough decisions that will affect thousands of people. A master’s of criminal justice with a concentration in public administration is intended to give students a deeper understanding of the inner-workings of the American legal system, justice research and similar topics.

Those with a strong desire to help criminals, keep the public safe and uphold the American judicial system will find themselves well suited for this major.

Educational Requirements

In order to pursue the various master’s degrees in criminal justice throughout the United States, a students must have first successfully completed an undergraduate program in criminal justice and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice.

A good undergraduate program provides students will all of the core credentials that they will need to complete a rigorous master’s degree curriculum. The fundamentals of an undergraduate criminal justice degree such as the American legal system, policing and corrections, humanities and introductions to various types of crime won’t be covered in a master’s program. These advance degrees are intended for those who have already learned the basics and discovered a passion for a particular division of the legal system that they wish to expand upon.

School Spotlight: Master’s Degrees in Criminal Justice

John Jay College of Criminal Justice

Located in New York City, the John Jay College of Criminal Justice was rated tenth among the best criminology graduate schools by US News & World Report. The school is a part of the City University of New York (CUNY). Master’s programs include an M.A. in Forensic Psychology and focuses on subjects such as psychopathology, personality assessment and therapeutic techniques. As a student, you can choose to perform a thesis or to conduct a 300-hour externship under the supervision of a licensed psychologist. There is also an opportunity for those who have decided to pursue a master’s in psychology to earn certification in forensic psychology. Some of the coursework includes classes such as Crime Scene Analysis, Eyewitness Identification, Violence and Aggression and Terrorism.

Kaplan University

Kaplan University is one of the world’s leading online colleges and offers over 20 criminal justice programs ranging from undergraduate all the way to doctoral degrees. Potential concentrations for incoming students include Criminal Justice, Crime Scene Investigation, Corrections, Cyber Crime Forensics, Homeland Security and Law Enforcement and Paralegal.

Students can choose from two tracks: comprehensive exam or applied research. Both include a core curriculum that includes classes such as Criminology Theory, Research Methodology, Organizational Behavior, Critical Issues in Criminal Justice, Academic and Professional Communications in Public Safety and Comprehensive Examination.

Liberty University Online

Liberty University offers a Master of Science in Criminal Justice – Public Administration that prepares students for a career as a top leader and decision maker in the justice system. Liberty University is an accredited college that also implements its Christian beliefs into its coursework, which makes for an interesting approach to the master’s program that stresses the importance of ethical criminal justice.

Walden University International

Walden University strives to give its master’s in criminal justice students a modern edge by combining modern technology, information on homeland security and criminology as well as management skills to help them be as informed as possible when making decisions in law enforcement.

There are nine different specializations of the master’s program to choose from. A self-designed option allows a student to propose their own unique course of study and deepen their understanding and knowledge of the criminal justice system across a spectrum of field that interest them most, such as policy analysis, terrorism and homeland security or mediation and peace. In this program, a student chooses any three specialization courses and must complete 61 quarter credits to graduate.

Walden also offers a general program, and some more unique options such as a Master of Science in Criminal Justice and Emergency Management, Global Leadership, Law and Public Policy or Terrorism, Mediation and Peace.

Questions to Ask to Find the Right Master of Criminal Justice Program

Deciding on a university for your master’s is a major life decision that is influenced by multiple factors. You should ask yourself the following questions and use the answers to help guide you in your research.

  • Do I want to complete my program on campus, online or both?
  • Will I be working while I earn my master’s? If so, how much time could I dedicate to an on campus program?
  • What fields of criminal justice do I enjoy the most?
  • Do I want my master’s for knowledge, job advancement or additional career opportunities?

If you have already secured an entry-level position with your undergraduate degree, studying for your master’s online may be easier than attending classes in person. Many students who work full-time complete their master’s at online universities, and these accredited institutions have come to be as accepted and sought after as physical campuses.

The particular field of interest you wish to study for your master’s will have the largest impact on your decision of where to study. A general Master of Science in Criminal Justice is available in many major universities, but there are some schools that are revered for their specializations in master’s degrees in Homeland Security or Criminal Psychology. Deciding on your concentration will make facilitate the process of locating schools.

Top Careers for those with a Master’s in Criminal Justice

Some of the careers that a person with a master’s degree in criminal justice may consider are an FBI agent (there are dozens of divisions in the FBI with different objectives, responsibilities and requirements), a probation officer, a crime analyst, a criminologist, a forensic psychologist and a policy researcher. Because the majority of careers in criminal justice are with the government, applicants will also have to meet the state and federal regulations. Research pursuits in criminal justice offer more office-based career opportunities that will work well for a person who is interested in the psychological and technical sides of law enforcement. The salaries vary depending on the career, but criminal investigators and detectives were earning $40,780-$127,400 in May 2014 (BLS).

As with most jobs, education, experience, location and the agency itself will have an impact on the salary that one receives.

The majority of students who choose to pursue a master’s of criminal justice do so because they dream of one day working in an upper-level law enforcement position that can only be obtained with a higher degree. Likewise, the following careers are considered to be the top choices of those who have studied criminal justice extensively and are looking to put all of their dedication, research and passion for the field to good use.

Criminal justice graduates can work in labs, schools, offices or for the federal or state government.


A criminologist study the various contributory factors of crime such as demographics, criminal and social behavior, psychology and statistics. The analyses and predictions of a criminologist are reported in order to come up with preventative measures that will ensure public safety, lead toward the arrest and persecution of criminals and help determine how an individual crime fits into a larger pattern.

Criminologists can work in many different environments, from academic settings such as colleges to government offices to various law enforcement agencies.

FBI Special Agent

The Federal Bureau of Investigation offers many careers across all branches of criminal justice, but one of the most sought after position for master’s of criminal justice students is a special agent. Special agents in the FBI can work in a variety of different sectors, such as Counterterrorism, Counterintelligence and Criminal Investigation.

Forensic Psychologist

A forensic psychologist is such an extremely specialized profession that requires determination and passion to make it through years of study and often times difficult work experiences. A forensic psychologist is tasked with assisting various members of the justice system, from lawyers to detectives, in cases and apprehending criminals.

As with most jobs in criminal justice, the location of a forensic physiologist can vary from universities and public institutions as a professor to federal offices, where they may travel and interview criminals, work with detectives on active cases and appear in court rooms during trials.