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Careers with a Master’s in Criminal Justice

Careers with a Master’s in Criminal Justice

Criminal Justice (CJ) professionals have always been an essential part of civilization, upholding the law and a citizen’s rights while ensuring public safety. Whether working as a police officer, detective, advocate, corrections officer, or any of the many occupations available to trained criminal justice experts, those with advanced training in the proper enforcement of the law can be of invaluable service to their community and their country.

With the problematic developments related to law enforcement and the public discord resulting from potentially questionable and highly publicized police activity, it’s become even more important for those tasked with upholding social justice to have a keen, thorough understanding of their work’s impact, and how best to interact with the citizens they serve. Police forces need to be led by those with a broad perspective, and a grasp of not only public perception, but also the sociological forces that influence criminal behavior – or that can incite demonstrations of civil fury on par with the demonstrations in Ferguson. Officers need to be well-versed in the proper responses to given situations, a challenge that often falls to leaders and educators within the field.

This is one of the many paths available to an aspiring professional looking to earn a master’s degree in criminal justice. Shaping the future of law enforcement and criminology requires both practical skills and extensive research aimed at understanding law enforcement’s place in American (and global) culture. Specialized, advanced education in criminal justice can help you learn to influence the way the law’s upheld and explore entirely new opportunities as a leader in the field.

Master’s in Criminal Justice Career Fields

Advancement in law enforcement

In recent years, police departments around the country have begun examining their leadership structure to account for the shifting demands and challenges of the field. While most police precincts still make use of a military-inspired, hierarchical approach to leadership, that doesn’t necessarily mean that those in positions of authority automatically inherit the attributes necessary to manage effectively and gain the respect of their officers. Developing a complete understanding of the criminal justice system and the sociological principles that shape it can transform an experienced police officer or government agent into an excellent leader. Several studies cite the need for specialized leadership training in law enforcement. Graduate education in criminal justice can offer that and a high degree of professional credibility upon completing your degree.

Specialized positions in victim advocacy

Victim advocates perform a much-needed function within the criminal justice system, offering resources, aid, and support to the victims of crime, especially children. Some also serve as members of private organizations, including sexual and domestic assault shelters and other protective nonprofits. These advocates, well-versed in both interaction with potentially traumatized individuals and legal proceedings, act to help families and individuals return as closely as possible to normal life following a criminal encounter. They frequently serve as a legal liaison as well, connecting the victim with courts and attorneys if any charges are to be made following the crime. In effect, victim advocates are complete representatives of victims in all personal and legal matters, supporting them as they find their way back to normalcy.

As the position demands both a detailed understanding of the legal system, a specialized brand of empathy, and experience with the effects of trauma, graduate education can provide a favorable advantage in the job market, along with the skills necessary to be effective.

Law enforcement education

As mentioned above, training and education are becoming fundamental parts of law enforcement initiatives nationwide. This necessitates law enforcement educators that can provide both focused and broad insight into the world of criminal justice. A master’s in criminal justice can open the doors to a wide array of teaching positions, including those at a two-year college. As education becomes a greater part of police training across the nation, it’s expected that this occupation will grow steadily in the coming years.


Criminology, a branch of sociology that focuses specifically on criminal behavior, is always in need of knowledgeable researchers to contribute to our understanding of illegal activity. The field demands strong analysis skills, as it often works with existing incarceration data – alongside social and economic factors – to determine connections between certain influences and crime. Armed with a master’s in criminal justice, an aspiring law enforcement professional can work towards making groundbreaking discoveries in this area. Some of these findings might even lend themselves to the refinement of the criminal justice system, giving researchers an opportunity to drive public policy.

Master’s in Criminal Justice Job Titles

Law Enforcement Educator

Teachers, trainers, and professors (both at the university and community college level) provide much-needed education to aspiring and current law enforcement professionals. Though many university positions require a Ph.D. to qualify, community and junior colleges seek out master’s degree graduates to help them develop and teach vocational courses. Whether for the purposes of continuing education or to prepare students for active duty, educational programs in law enforcement are necessary to help CJ professionals do their jobs effectively and safely. Because they bring such an essential service to the field, this profession was projected by the Bureau of Labor Statistics to grow by 8-14% between 2012-2022, roughly the same as the national average for all occupations.


Criminology involves the detailed analysis of case records and other data to recognize patterns and contribute to our understanding of the criminal element in modern society. Their research can vary widely in scale, with some choosing to identify areas that are particularly prone to crime in a particular location, and others working to understand the motivations behind criminal behavior as a larger, human concern. This presents a number of unique opportunities for involvement to those with graduate-level education in criminal justice. Additionally, sociology is a growing field, with available jobs projected to expand by 15%, which is faster than the national average.

Criminal Investigator

Criminal investigators are charged with finding intricacies in a case to help police officers and courts uphold the law in the most accurate manner possible. Responsibilities include preparing reports that explain investigation findings, obtaining evidence by interviewing suspects and witnesses, analyzing records, and investigating various violations of federal or state law. Jobs similar to a criminal investigator include private detectives and undercover agents. One key skill for criminal investigators is social perceptiveness. It is important to think critically, listen to what others are saying, and solve problems based on gathered information.

Careers in criminal investigation are expected to grow 5% between 2014 and 2024, slightly less than the national average. The BLS states that the estimated annual salary criminal investigators was $44,570 in 2014. A master’s degree in criminal justice isn’t typically required to become a criminal investigator, but it can help candidates seeking career advancement by training them to think at a higher level and see connections between seemingly unrelated sets of information.

Deputy Sheriff

Deputy Sheriffs are elected to their positions by the communities they serve, meaning that they act as a liaison between the people and the police department. Responsibilities include working with all law enforcement agents within a state to ensure compliance with the law, a thorough understanding of the legal system, and effective administration skills. A deputy sheriff must be organized enough to manage others, have the ability to delegate tasks, and be able to see the bigger picture while keeping track of the details of any particular project. The job outlook for deputy sheriffs is approximately 4% growth, which is slightly below the national average. According to the BLS, the estimated salary for deputy sheriffs was $58,630 as of 2014. A master’s degree in criminal justice isn’t typically required to become a sheriff, but it can help show others that you are dedicated to mastering a life of service.

Federal Agent

A federal agent works for an agency like the FBI, CIA, DEA, or the Secret Service. An agent’s prime responsibilities are the same as a police officer’s. However, their jurisdiction spans the entire country rather than just a county or a precinct. Federal agents require social perceptiveness, a strong desire to serve, sharp critical thinking skills, and speaking skills to convey information as accurately as possible. As a government position, the job outlook for a federal agent is relatively stable. Payscale.com lists the estimated salary for freshly-minted federal agents as $59,000. A master’s degree in criminal justice isn’t typically required to become a federal agent, but recruits need to pass rigorous exams and training as part of the initiation process. A master’s degree can help prepare you for this intellectually-demanding career.

Federal Agency Director

Federal agency directors rank higher than federal agents within an agency environment. They are responsible for delegating tasks, supervising operations, and approving the actions of various divisions within the organization. As high-level leaders, agency directors need to have strong critical thinking skills, a deep understanding of law enforcement, and an education that allows them to see the interconnectedness of various situations, allowing them to think of creative solutions to problems. The job outlook for federal agency directors looks like this. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that the annual salary for agency directors is upwards of $86,000. Depending on the needs and demands of the agency, a master’s degree in criminal justice may be required to become a federal agent.

Correctional Officer Supervisor

A first-line supervisor at a correctional agency requires overseeing the daily operations of correctional officers and jailers. A supervisor’s primary concerns are discipline and safety for all the prisoners and staff under their watch. They must be able to correctly identify the need for training within their organization and implement programs that will fulfill this need. In addition, supervisors are required to respond to incidents, file reports, and keep staff and inmate records. Correctional officer supervisors need to be organized, strong leaders with a global understanding of criminal justice and social issues.

The demand for correctional officer supervisors is expected to grow at a steady rate of 4% until 2024. The BLS notes that, on average, correction officer supervisors make about $61,790 per year. A master’s degree in criminal justice is not required, but it can make a substantial difference in pay and advancement within the field. In many cases, candidate with a master’s degree in criminal justice will be more favorable for promotion than someone with equivalent work experience.

Forensic Scientist

Forensic scientists analyze physical evidence from crime scene investigations, performing tests to confirm whether certain pieces of evidence are significant to a particular case. Responsibilities include collecting and storing evidence from the scene of a crime, visiting morgues, and testifying in court about various test results and scientific findings. Forensic scientists may use cameras to document their work, so technical skills are important to this position. In addition, knowledge of chemistry, legal codes, and computer software are all important skills for those looking to become forensic scientists. An analytical mind and attention to detail will also help you thrive in this role.

The job outlook for forensic scientists is strong; the number of job opportunities is growing by 27%, and the median salary in 2014 was $55,360 per year. A master’s degree in criminal justice isn’t typically required to become a forensic scientist, but if your background is not scientific or law-focused, you may want to consider a master’s degree in criminal justice to help your application stand out.

Emergency Management Director

An emergency management director coordinates disaster response activities before, during and after a disaster, whether natural or man-made. This means that terrorist attacks and hurricanes are all within the jurisdiction of this role. Emergency management directors must evaluate the resources, staff, and equipment that are available to effectively mitigate the negative effects of a disaster. This job requires someone that works well under pressure, has strong interpersonal skills, and is an effective leader during stressful times.

The job outlook for emergency management directors is strong due to the increase in terrorist attacks in recent years. Demand for directors is increasing by 6% between 2014 and 2024. The median annual salary for this position was $69,810 in 2014, as listed by the BLS. A master’s degree in criminal justice or a related discipline may be required to become an emergency director, depending on the agency or organization for which you are applying.

Overall, the criminal justice job outlook is promising for those with the credentials and knowledge necessary to move into advanced positions. Whether you’re looking to pursue leadership as a sworn officer of the law or exploring the possibilities of a career in research, education, or victim advocacy, earning a master’s in criminal justice can help you reach your goals and serve your community.

To pursue your master’s degree in criminal justice online with a national leader in the field, explore University of Wisconsin-Platteville’s affordable program. For those specifically interested in youth victim advocacy, the program also offers a Certificate in Child Advocacy Studies (CAST), which can be earned while students complete their master’s degrees.

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