A master’s in criminal justice gives you a professional advantage in an increasingly competitive field. National University’s online criminal justice degree prepares you for a range of careers at the more than 18,000 local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies in the United States.
So What Can You Do With a Master’s In Criminal Justice?
A master’s degree isn’t required to pursue a career in law enforcement, but it’s becoming increasingly common among criminal justice professionals, says Dr. Ponzio Oliverio, a professor at National University. For anyone in law enforcement or the broader criminal justice field, earning a master’s in criminal justice will open up opportunities for promotion to leadership positions.
Oliverio, who is the academic program director for NU’s master’s in criminal justice, says the minimum requirement for entry-level law enforcement positions is typically a high school diploma. “Almost no street cop jobs, whether it’s a municipal police department or the deputy sheriff, require a bachelor’s degree,” he says.
Most federal agencies and some county and state agencies require bachelor’s degrees. “But the criminal justice field is so competitive that you almost need a master’s degree for a lot of these jobs,” Oliverio says, using the FBI as an example.
“The FBI hires very few people with only a bachelor’s degree unless they have some very specific skills, maybe some language skills or they were part of an anti-terrorism task force in the military,” he says.
In the case of local police departments, many candidates already have a bachelor’s degree when they apply. In California, for example, almost 40 percent of police officers have earned a bachelor’s degree. “Police departments hire people with bachelor’s all the time because that’s who applies and they can pick and choose,” Oliverio says.
Before he became a full-time faculty member at National, Oliverio worked as a deputy sheriff and recruiting officer in San Diego. His department would often tell strong candidates who weren’t initially hired to consider going back to school and then reapplying once they’ve earned a bachelor’s degree.
He also says it’s often difficult to get promoted without a master’s degree. “Having a master’s degree makes you that much more competitive. If you don’t have a higher degree, you’re going to have a hard time moving through the command ranks of most municipal police departments and sheriff’s departments,” Oliverio says. “You’re going to find almost all of the lieutenants, captains, and commanders have master’s degrees.”
Another benefit of earning a master’s degree is the ability to earn more, even without a promotion. Oliverio says many police departments also offer pay incentives for anyone who completes a graduate program.
Finally, for those already working in law enforcement, an advantage of obtaining a master’s in criminal justice is staying current in the field. For example, Oliverio explains the subject matter and case studies in graduate school are going to be much more relevant to their current jobs.
Beyond law enforcement, Oliverio says a master’s in criminal justice can also lead to careers in community corrections, such as in probation and parole or juvenile justice.
Earning Potential and Demand for Master’s in Criminal Justice Graduates
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual wage for police officers and detectives nationwide was $62,960 in 2017. Police and detective supervisors can make significantly more: a mean annual wage of $91,590. 2017. California police officers have some of the highest salaries in the country, with an annual mean wage of $100,090.
The median annual pay for probation officers and correctional treatment specialists was $51,410 in 2017.
Overall, employment of police and detectives is expected to grow 7 percent between 2016 and 2026.
Earning Your Master’s in Criminal Justice
National University’s master’s in criminal justice program combines coursework in criminology and criminal justice. Understanding both the theory of behavior and practical aspects of the U.S. justice system will prepare you for various responsibilities in the field.
You can earn your master’s degree in less time than you might think. National’s online criminal justice be completed in as few as 12 months. Students who earn an online degree or in-person degree through National’s bachelor’s in criminal justice are also eligible for a transition program, which allows them to take two graduate-level courses that can later be applied to the master’s in criminal justice, allowing for quicker completion.
If you are a current law enforcement professional, you may be eligible to receive financial assistance through National University’s law enforcement scholarships.
To learn more about what you can do with a master’s in criminal justice from National University, check out our program page for details.