Master’s in Criminal Justice Career Guide

Master's in Criminal Justice Student Xing Chen

What Can a Masters in Criminal Justice Do?

A Master’s in Criminal Justice opens doors to many careers in law enforcement, corrections and the legal system. This advanced degree equips you with the knowledge and skills to become a leader in the field, from detective or probation officer to forensic psychologist or FBI agent. Contrary to what you may think, criminal justice graduates are not limited to careers in law enforcement. However, law enforcement careers are varied and diverse.

In today’s dynamic and complex world, master’s in criminal justice careers are versatile and plentiful for degree holders. With the fast-paced advancements in technology and the increasing complexities of criminal activities, the demand for highly skilled and knowledgeable professionals in the criminal justice field is on the rise.

Criminal justice graduates positively impact their communities by preventing crime, protecting citizens, upholding the law, and ensuring justice. Below, we outline some jobs you can pursue with a graduate degree in this meaningful field.

Master’s in Criminal Justice Careers 

Law Enforcement Officers

When most people think of criminal justice degrees, they imagine uniformed police officers who respond to emergency calls, make traffic stops and engage in community relations. Although patrol officers are the backbone of all law enforcement agencies, the day-to-day lives of different enforcement officers are varied and exciting.

Law enforcement professionals work within K9 units handling specially trained dogs, mounted units riding horses, or on bike patrol in congested cities. Officers may be rangers at state or national parks, bailiffs securing courtrooms, or mentoring young people in their communities as school resource officers or youth program coordinators. Some are highly trained specialty officers working within law enforcement agencies as crisis negotiators, SWAT operators, and defense tactics instructors. Others work as parole and probation officers to help former offenders reintegrate into society.

A master’s degree in criminal justice will position you for promotions and salary increases. In fact, UMass Lowell’s M.A. in Criminal Justice program is Quinn Bill certified by the Massachusetts Department of Higher Education, which ensures full-time officers in participating cities and towns throughout the state qualify for salary increases. Earning an advanced degree will prepare you to manage teams, develop policies, and make critical decisions.

Investigators and Researchers

Whether you want to be an intelligence analyst, a crime scene investigator, or a detective, a master’s in criminal justice can be your ticket to unlocking a fascinating and versatile career. Although every detective begins their career as a police officer, they eventually manage much more complex investigations. Crime scene investigators, or evidence technicians, collect, mark, and store evidence seized during an investigation. By contrast, intelligence analysts focus on the data. They compile reports to link perpetrators to crimes at different dates and times. Another popular research-based career for those with a background in criminal justice is forensic analysis. Forensic analysts work in labs, so if this role interests you, a dual degree in a scientific field, such as chemistry or molecular biology, is also required.

Corrections and Rehabilitation Specialists

Correctional or detention officers often hold master’s degrees in criminal justice. They work in federal, state, and city prisons, jails, and penitentiaries. They oversee prisoners and escort them to appointments. Similarly, you will find many criminal rehabilitation specialists, social workers, and penologists with backgrounds in criminal justice. A master’s in criminal justice helps develop advanced communication, conflict resolution, and empathy skills to work with incarcerated individuals.

Criminal justice reform is another area that master’s degree graduates often pursue. These roles include criminal justice researcher, policy analyst, and advocacy coordinator. A master’s program will help you develop the critical thinking and analytical skills necessary to identify problems in the system and develop solutions.

Homeland Security and Emergency Management Professionals

Some criminal justice graduates explore careers in security studies and emergency management. A master’s in criminal justice can help you develop the skills to respond to large-scale crises and make critical decisions in high-pressure situations. Security studies professionals often find work in state and federal departments. They may work as air marshals riding covertly on planes, border patrol agents of land and waterways, customs officers at U.S. points of entry, FBI special agents, or Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) technicians. Many criminal justice graduates find work in national security as counterterrorism analysts, intelligence officers, cybersecurity analysts, and more.

A master’s in criminal justice will help you develop the skills to identify threats, analyze data, and protect national security. However, if the field of security studies is your calling, you may choose to pursue a targeted graduate degree in Homeland Defense, Cybersecurity, International Security, Industrial and Economic Security, Critical Infrastructure Protection, or Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear, and Explosives (CBRNE) Security.

According to labor analytics firm Lightcast, security studies professionals can expect median national earnings of $104K annually (2022).

Many attorneys, prosecutors, and judges hold master’s degrees in criminal justice. However, you should research your state’s requirements if you want to pursue a legal career. Lawyers are required to pass the bar exam and often hold a Juris Doctor (J.D.) degree. That said, a background in criminal justice will provide you with a deep understanding of the legal system, including criminal law and procedure, which is essential to counseling victims and criminals.

Also, a master’s degree in criminal justice can equip you with the skills to work in legal research and policymaking. These roles include legal researcher, policy analyst, and legislative aide. A master’s will help you develop the ability to analyze laws and policies, conduct research, and develop solutions to complex legal problems. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, “The median annual wage for lawyers was $135,740 in May 2022.”

Academic Careers

With a master’s in criminal justice, you will be eligible to work in academia, especially at community colleges. You can teach courses as a professor, guide students as an academic advisor, develop curricula, or conduct academic-based research. Master’s degree holders possess the ability to analyze data, develop theories, and design and deliver engaging and informative courses.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook, “The median annual wage for postsecondary teachers was $80,840 in May 2022.” However, what you earn depends on where you live and your professional experience.

Choosing the Right Master’s in Criminal Justice Program

A master’s in criminal justice is a gateway into many different professions. You’ll find yourself in a position to make a meaningful impact in your community and throughout society. Choosing the right master’s program is essential to achieve your goals. It’s important to consider factors such as the program’s reputation, faculty, and curriculum. UMass Lowell’s flexible and affordable online Master’s in Criminal Justice is top-ranked by U.S. News & World Report, and courses are taught by faculty members who are experts in the field.

Whether you want to become a crime scene investigator, a lawyer, or a SWAT operator, UMass Lowell will equip you with the skills and knowledge you need to succeed in your chosen career path. Pursue your passion for justice and make a positive impact with a Master’s in Criminal Justice.

Learn more about the online Master of Arts in Criminal Justice at UMass Lowell.