What Can I Do with a Master’s in Criminal Justice (MCJ/MSCJ)?

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With recent advancements in technology, the growing threat of terrorism, and more sophisticated criminal methodology, the need for advocates of justice is clear. The criminal justice field is evolving in its attempts to keep up with and counter these threats, and as a result, a wide-range of career possibilities, many beyond the ordinary, are emerging. For many, a degree in criminal justice offers the graduate a chance to become an asset to his or her community and an opportunity to make the kind of tangible difference society relies upon for a sense of safety and well-being.

While it is a common assumption that a degree in the criminal justice field leads to a career in law enforcement, this is only the tip of the iceberg. A number of in-demand jobs exist that a degree in criminal justice affords (imagine working for the Department of Homeland Security, or as an FBI or DEA agent).

And though a bachelor’s degree may be just enough to get the proverbial foot in the door – offering access to an entry-level position – a more advanced and specialized post-graduate degree, such as a master’s degree in criminal justice (MCJ), often paves the way to fulfilling careers that offer opportunity for growth and advancement, as well as providing the integral and cutting-edge tools required to those who hope one day to operate on the front lines of justice.

Why Pursue a Master’s Degree in Criminal Justice?

In a growing number of fields and industries, a master’s degree is now commonplace and a necessity for many jobs that once required only an associate’s or bachelor’s degree; in fact, it is often said that today’s master’s is yesterday’s bachelor’s. With this degree comes greater opportunity and access to positions that may previously have seemed out of reach, those with the possibility of growth, advancement, excellent benefits, and ongoing financial security. In considering an advanced degree in the field, prospective students will often pursue a master’s degree in criminal justice for three primary reasons:


1. Opportunity

  • Initial access to employment opportunities is critical, and for many openings, the highest level of education achieved by an applicant is a determining factor in the hiring process. Simply put, a candidate with a master’s degree in criminal justice often beats out the candidate without one.
  • A master’s degree often leads to some of the most coveted positions in law enforcement such as supervisory roles, and in some cases, a higher degree is seen as equivalent to valuable work experience.


2. Career mobility and satisfaction

  • Those with advanced degrees are often promoted more quickly to management and leadership positions.
  • According to US News and World Report, master’s degree holders also often reap a number of less tangible rewards such as a sense of accomplishment and personal growth.


3) Higher pay

  • According to a Georgetown University study, the average salary of master’s degree holders is $17,000 more per year than their bachelor’s degree counterparts.
  • When it comes to criminal justice in particular, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer reports that law enforcement officers holding a master’s degree can earn around $74,834 while one that holds only a bachelor’s degree may earn just $48,532 per year.


For some, a master’s in criminal justice is not the first step. Often, graduates of associate degree programs, or those holding a bachelor of arts (BA) or bachelor of science (BS), were already advancing down their respective career paths when they considered a post-graduate degree. Why? Because they saw the potential these degrees afford – primarily, a path toward increased earning potential and an opportunity for personal and professional growth. For others, a MCJ is the next step toward a new and rewarding career.

Fortunately, obtaining a master’s in criminal justice is now more convenient than ever, with a number of both traditional and online programs available nationwide. While there is no “one-size-fits-all” version of the degree, there is a diverse array of graduate-level concentrations from which to choose, so it is important for potential applicants to understand what those are and how well they align to their interests and aspirations.

What are the Most Common MSCJ Concentrations?

Students pursuing a master of science in criminal justice (MSCJ) degree can often select a hyper-specialized concentration focus such as corrections, criminal behavior, cybercrime, forensic psychology, forensic science, homeland security, intelligence or law enforcement, amongst others. Oftentimes these emphases or concentrations manifest themselves as a set of three to four focused courses in the selected subject area, to be taken along with three to four core criminal justice courses and one to two additional elective courses of the student’s choosing. So, while the master’s degree in criminal justice is a social science degree, the student can often pursue a specialized set of more technical, legal or analytical courses, depending on his or her selected concentration.

What Roles and Jobs Require an MCJ or MSCJ Degree?

For those who have ever wondered how one becomes a DEA Agent, what it takes to work in the CIA or FBI, or envisioned themselves working within the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), a master’s degree in criminal justice might be a logical step. Once earned, a degree in this field offers the graduate a chance at an exciting and promising career, widely based on the individual’s own interest and focus. A sampling of possible careers is included below.

  • Criminologist
  • Criminal profiler
  • DEA agent
  • Criminal justice instructor
  • U.S. Marshal

Once obtained, a master’s degree in this field could pave the way for a number of these careers, though the level of education required may vary based on position. Most full-time university professors, for instance, pursue additional schooling to earn a doctoral degree as opposed to a master’s degree.

Featured Criminal Justice Careers For MCJ/MSCJ-Prepared Graduates

While the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS 2017) projects average growth for several law enforcement related occupations over the next several years, it projects more rapid growth within certain specialized fields that prefer or require MCJ/MSCJ-prepared candidates.

DEA Agent

DEA agents enforce drug laws, investigate drug-related crimes, and actively combat the manufacture and distribution of illegal narcotics. According to the DEA, the starting salary for as agent is based on the federal law enforcement officer base pay, plus a locality payment (based on where the agent works) and a 25 percent Law Enforcement Available Pay (LEAP) addition. Becuase of these factors, starting pay can vary greatly, but some estimates give an average of around $49,000 per year with the potential to make more than $90,000 after a few years of service. A master’s degree in criminal justice often accelerates this process. And while an advanced degree in the field of criminal justice may provide access to, and offer the opportunity for growth within a number of positions, for others this degree is indispensable.

Criminal Justice Professor

Often overlooked are careers in the academic arena. Jobs in academia, an environment where experts in a certain field opt to instruct those who have recently chosen it, are offering promising growth. Commonly, postsecondary instructors are responsible for research, lectures, instruction, and the administering and grading of exams in a college setting. On average, they earn over $72,000 per year, and according to the BLS projected growth for college-level criminal justice professors is much higher (15 percent from 2016 to 2026) than average (BLS 2017). While many professor positions require a doctoral-level degree, there are instructor and adjunct positions that may be available to those holding a master’s. This type of work can be quite rewarding, sharing knowledge with students and inciting more interest in the field of criminal justice.

Case Manager

According to the Federal Bureau of Prisons, case managers or correctional treatment specialists “perform correctional casework in an institutional setting; develop, evaluate, and analyze program needs and other data about inmates; evaluate progress of individual offenders in the institution; coordinate and integrate inmate training programs; develop social histories; evaluate positive and negative aspects in each case situation, and develop release plans.” Although a bachelor’s degree often meets entry-level requirements, a master’s degree is essential for GS-09 pay level consideration in a federal job.

Criminal/Intelligence Analyst

Criminal and intelligence analysts work primarily for government agencies as well as contractors that work with the government to asses criminal and security threats. While a bachelor’s degree may initially qualify an applicant for an entry-level position at the FBI, a candidate holding a master’s degree in criminal justice may be eligible for a higher grade or pay scale. According to, yearly average wages are estimated at $66,773, though Senior Intelligence Analysts may earn upwards of $88,000 per year. Government agencies such as the FBI, DEA, or CIA all utilize the services of analysts.


Criminologists attempt to understand crime, its causes, and its effects. Much of what criminologists do is research-based. This research often influences strategies in hopes of understanding, reducing, and ultimately preventing crime. Criminologists are often employed by the government, law enforcement agencies, or colleges and universities. Criminology is a relatively new and specialized occupation, so the field of sociology offers the most accurate and up-to-date indicator of the growth possibilities, which according to the BLS are expected to be just 1 percent from 2016 to 2026 (BLS 2017). Still, as criminal investigator and forensic science roles grow, there is likely to be more positions available for criminologists as well.

Moving Forward

In uncertain times society relies on the vigilance and expertise of those in the field of criminal justice for security and protection. Twenty years ago, the general public was entirely unaware of the threats cybercrime and terrorism posed, while specific departments such as the Department of Homeland Security did not even exist.

Careers in criminal justice can be physically, mentally, and emotionally demanding. And while those working on the front-lines of action often face omnipresent danger, the rewards typically outweigh the risks involved. The criminal justice field is exciting, diverse, and essential, populated by devoted personnel all working to make a difference. For individuals wanting to be part of this collective effort, a master’s degree in criminal justice is a great place to start.