Criminal justice is the practice of enforcing the law and penalizing citizens who violate it. At the master's degree level, it is understood that you already have a background in criminal justice and are ready to discuss theories and ethical issues at play in the criminal justice system. While undergraduate criminal justice programs discuss procedures and logistics in law enforcement, graduate programs discuss why these processes are in place. A master's program examines advanced concepts in the discipline and prepares you for the most senior positions in the field.
Why a Master’s Degree?
The master’s is usually geared toward criminal justice professionals who want to take their careers to the next level. The degree is ideal if you want to transition out of a law enforcement role and into an administrative one. The advanced coursework in a master’s prepares you for the kind of decision-making and program design that is part of many criminal justice administrative positions. Also, when you get an online master’s in criminal justice, you have the option to continue working while completing your degree. If you already have a bachelor’s and want to begin a career in criminal justice, a master’s can also help you make that transition.
Inside a Criminal Justice Master’s Degree Program
Criminal justice master’s programs usually require 30-60 course credit hours. As a result, the length of a criminal justice master’s can take between one to three years. Some may take longer to complete if you enroll part time, but many online programs in the field allow for flexible scheduling, a major benefit to the online format for working professionals. You can expect to attend classes in an online program by logging into or watching video lectures each week. These lectures are often paired with reading assignments and other projects, like research papers or exams. These projects are designed to exercise your research, analysis, and critical thinking techniques and test your knowledge of the material covered in class.
Unlike undergraduate curricula that include general education courses, a master’s curriculum jumps right into the intermediate and advanced coursework of criminal justice. You can expect to take a combination of major courses and related electives. Major classes include coursework in policy analysis, program evaluation, research methods, statistical analysis, and advanced criminology. You will also take a capstone class in many programs, in which you will focus on an independent research topic that you present in a final paper called a thesis. Some online programs may have a non-thesis option, in which you take a comprehensive exam instead of presenting your thesis research.
What’s Next for Criminal Justice Master’s Degree Holders?
If you don’t have experience working in crime control or the justice system, a master’s can lead you to a career in high level law enforcement or corrections. With experience, it can position you to move into administration. For experienced criminal justice or law enforcement professionals, the master’s can advance your career into leadership positions in policy and program development. It can also lead to a career in academia.
After completing a master’s in criminal justice, you still have options for further education. Post-master’s certificate programs allow you to specialize in specific areas of criminal justice and usually take less than a year to complete. However, if you want to pursue a career in academic research and teaching, you can also complete a doctorate in criminal justice.