Master's Degree

After earning a college degree in criminal justice, most students decide to enter the workforce. They want to take the knowledge they have gained over the past four years and begin fighting crime. Most entry to mid-level criminal justice jobs will require you to have a bachelor's degree. At some point in your career, you may decide that you want to advance even further. You may want to become the head of the local crime lab or manage a team of federal agents. You have plenty of experience, but need to gain more technical and theoretical knowledge. So, you decide to earn a master's degree.

Most people will earn a master's degree in criminal administration or criminology. A criminal administration master's degree focuses on investigations, procedures, and forensics. A criminology master's degree is geared more towards ethics, rehabilitation, prevention, and the behavioral science aspect of the field. A master's degree usually takes between one to two years to complete, depending on the program and school you attend. If a college or university offers a bachelor's degree program in criminal justice, they will typically offer a master's program too.


Potential students need to have successfully completed an undergraduate degree to be considered for a master's program. Most schools require that degree be earned from an accredited university. Schools will also exam your undergraduate GPA to make sure it meets their minimum standards. They may exclude the general education classes you took during your first two years and only look at your GPA in core criminal justice classes.

Some schools will require you to pass the GRE or GMAT. These standardized tests are similar to the ACT and SAT you had to take to be accepted into an undergraduate program. The tests do not measure your criminal justice knowledge. They measure the general knowledge you gained throughout college. Each school determines the tests scores it will accept.

Schools often require you to have some sort of criminal justice work experience. This experience will help you get the most out of the program. Letters of recommendation detailing your abilities may be required. A brief statement explaining why you should be considered for the program may also be part of the application process.


Depending on the school that you attend, you may be required to take a few refresher classes in Math and English as part of the overall program. Then the majority of your time will focus on criminal justice topics. These classes may be delivered through lectures, seminars, and directed study. Some schools also offer internships or graduate assistantships as part of their programs.

Criminal administration programs offer classes on current issues in law enforcement, theoretical approaches to criminal behavior, research methods, public administration, and other specialized topics. Criminology programs teach classes on quantitative analysis, evaluation research, and criminological theory.

Pros and Cons of a Master's Degree

The biggest advantage of earning a master's degree is the increase in job opportunities and income potential. The U.S. Census Bureau has determined that people with master's degrees can anticipate earning $500,000 more throughout their lifetimes than those with bachelor's degrees. The knowledge and experience you gain with a master's degree makes you more eligible for managerial positions and promotions.

Master's degrees are expensive and take time to earn. Programs can exceed $20,000 a year just for tuition. Plus, you will have to take time out of your schedule to attend classes, study, and complete class projects. Not all criminal justice jobs require a master's degree. If you want to become the county sheriff, experience is much more important than an advanced college degree. However, if you want to become the head of a crime lab, a master's degree may be invaluable. Take the time to think through why you want to earn an advanced degree. Make sure you will be able to get a return on your investment based on your career goals.

Last Updated: 04/29/2014