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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 a graduate the chance to become an asset to his or her community, 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, 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 at the front lines of justice.

Featured Online Master's in CJ Programs

St. Joseph's University

Online Master of Science in Criminal Justice (MSCJ)

  • Behavior Analysis
  • Behavior Management
  • Federal Law Enforcement
  • Intelligence & Crime Analysis
  • Homeland Security
Regis University

Online MS in Criminology

  • Cybercrime/Terrorism Focus
  • Human Behavior Focus
  • Leadership Focus

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 an employment opportunity is critical, and for many openings, the highest level of education achieved by an applicant is often 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, and in some cases, a higher degree is often 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.
  • Master’s Degree holders often reap a number of less tangible rewards.


3) Higher Pay

  • The more prestigious the title, the higher the earnings.
  • According to, the average salary of master’s degree holders is $17,000 more per year than their bachelor’s degree counterparts.


For some, a Master’s in Criminal Justice (MCJ) is not the first step. Often, graduates of associate degree programs, or those holding a B.A. or B.S., 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 Master’s in Criminal Justice 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’s important to understand what those are and how well they align to your interests and aspirations.

What are the Most Common MSCJ Concentrations?

Students pursuing an M.S. in Criminal Justice (MSCJ) degree can often select an emphasis: 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 3-4 focused courses in the selected subject area, to be taken along with 3-4 core Criminal Justice courses and 1-2 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?

Have you ever wondered how one becomes a DEA Agent, what it takes to work in the CIA or FBI, or envisioned yourself working within The Department of Homeland Security – a program developed in response to the September 11th attacks and the rising threat of terrorism? If so, a Master’s Degree in Criminal Justice might be the logical next 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
  • Forensic Psychologist
  • DEA Agent
  • College-Level Instructor
  • U.S. Marshal

Once obtained, a Master’s Degree in this field could pave the way to 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 projects slower than 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 Agents enforce drug laws, investigate drug related crimes, and actively combat the manufacture and distribution of illegal narcotics. The starting salary for a DEA Agent is estimated at approximately $45,00, but earning potential of upwards of $90,000 or more per year after a few short years of service is possible; 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 opportunity for growth within a number of positions, for others this degree is indispensable.


As with most psychologists, forensic psychologists study the behavior of others. In this field, the study occurs within the context of the criminal justice system. According to the American Psychological Association, “Forensic psychology is the professional practice by psychologists within the areas of clinical psychology, counseling psychology, school psychology… in an activity primarily intended to provide professional psychological expertise to the judicial system.” As such, those practicing in this field often address issues that arise during investigations and proceedings, both civil and criminal. This is a new and exciting field, and estimates for the occupation in general are quite promising. Similarly, O*NET projects growth for this field to be much higher than the national average, over 14%, while others project even greater growth. At a minimum (a Ph.D. or Psy.D. may also be required), a Master’s Degree is essential for work in this field.


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 $72K per year, and according to both the BLS and O*NET, projected growth for college-level criminal justice professors is much higher (14% or more expected) than average; both sources agree this trend is likely to continue through 2024. A number of related jobs are posted regularly on job search websites, indicating the availability of related positions nationally. To further illustrate, the job site also includes a number of current positions that are presently open.


According to the Federal Bureau of Prisons, Case Managers (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 at the Federal Bureau of Prisons.


Criminal and Intelligence Analysts work primarily for “…government agencies, and companies which work with the government, in order to provide information about security threats.” While a Bachelor’s Degree may initially qualify an applicant for an entry level position at the FBI, a job candidate holding a Master’s Degree in Criminal Justice may be eligible for a higher grade or pay scale. Yearly average wages are estimated at $69K, though Senior Intelligence Analysts may earn upwards of $90K 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 criminologist 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. According to, “Criminologists usually hold post-graduate degrees in sociology, psychology, criminology or criminal justice.” Criminology is a relatively new and specialized occupation, so the field of sociology offers the most accurate and up-to-date indicator of the positive growth anticipated in the coming years.

Moving Forward

We live in uncertain times, and we rely 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.