More than 30 years ago, when I first started my career in law enforcement, a high school degree or associate’s degree in criminal justice was the way to go. As the years have gone by, however, law enforcement agencies have increasingly realized that a college degree is desirable. Today, the requirements range from a high school diploma to a bachelor’s degree as more and more agencies come to understand the increased critical thinking skills and professionalism that college graduates tend to demonstrate. So, why get a master’s degree in criminal justice?
Moving from a baccalaureate degree to a graduate degree requires time, funding and an expectation of higher orders of thinking. This fact is not lost on many law enforcement agencies, especially in difficult times like these. Some agencies offer promotion points for individuals looking to move ahead (Soriano, 2019). Even before that, a graduate degree in criminal justice can provide more employment possibilities and the chance for higher salaries (Bestcolleges.com).
Many graduates from undergraduate programs aspire to join a federal agency right away or at some point in their careers. Having a masters degree in criminal justice can make someone stand out among those with only a bachelors degree. Even if the degree doesn’t result in immediate promotion, it can still make a difference. The level of critical thinking required and the research skills obtained can give a graduate or law enforcement professional the skills to understand the theory and research behind evidence-based policy or procedure changes (Soriano, 2019). In addition, most masters programs, like Salem’s, offer specializations that can provide even more focused skills in areas like criminal justice management, cybersecurity and forensic science. Coupled with a specialization from the undergraduate level, these can provide a wider range of skills for an officer to offer their agency, thus widening the opportunities for advancement. Police officers can find a clearer path toward supervisory or administrative positions like lieutenant, deputy chief or even chief. Correctional workers can find themselves better positioned for opportunities like department head, associate warden or warden.
At a time when critical thinking, professionalism and evidence-based decision making are becoming more critical than ever in the various fields of criminal justice, getting an advanced degree begins to make more and more sense for students, current professionals and the agencies who need them.
Bestcolleges.com (2021). Master’s in criminal justice program guide. https://www.bestcolleges.com/features/masters-criminal-justice-programs/
Soriano, D. (2019). What can you do with a Master’s degree in criminal justice? US News & World Report: https://www.usnews.com/education/best-graduate-schools/articles/2019-04-03/what-can-you-do-with-a-masters-degree-in-criminal-justice.