Law and order: Pursuing a career with a Master of Criminal Justice degree
Some people know from early on that they are destined to play the role of the good guy – or girl. They probably wanted to be the cop when playing with their friends in grade school, not the robber. Or the sheriff to their
friends’ outlaws. Maybe they enjoyed being the hall monitor, too. Or just understood why their classroom needed rules – and probably followed them.
More seriously, as they grew up, these same people were likely to understand the importance that order plays in any society. They could see that all people – young and old – had a right to feel safe as they went about their daily lives and deserved justice whenever that safety was intentionally violated by others.
Does any of this sound like you? Do you understand the vital role that laws and law enforcement play in our society? Then if you’re looking for a career, the field of criminal justice is where you belong.
Just what is the field of criminal justice?
The term “criminal justice” may bring to mind a vision of police officers and the court systems. Maybe even our prison system and probation officers, as well. But the field encompasses many more career paths. Areas of focus cover a broad range of protective-service occupations, covering all aspects of our lives and our society. These areas of concentration can include computer forensics, the corrections system, counter terrorism, homeland security, criminal investigations, emergency management, and cyber security.
Jobs for people with a master of criminal justice degree can be found with private businesses, the government – local, state and federal – and with the military. These jobs can be found within our prison system, of course, but also as part of the US border patrol and criminal rehabilitation. Other areas in the field include legal services, corporate safety training, private security, lawmaking, forensic investigations, even teaching, writing or lecturing.
Because the field encompasses such a wide range of activities, anyone with an interest in criminal justice can find the right fit for their own personal skill-set, life goals, salary requirements, interests, and even their fitness level.
But why pursue a Master of Criminal Justice Degree?
About now you may be asking, Couldn’t I get a job in criminal justice with a Bachelor Degree? Short answer, Of course. However, a master degree in criminal justice provides a stepping stone to career advancements as well as a wider range of employment opportunities. With a master degree, you will be better positioned to take on administrative or leadership roles, earn higher pay and, in some cases, qualify for jobs with less actual work experience.
Some criminal justice jobs, of course, simply won’t be available to you without that higher degree. Social work, for instance, often requires nothing less than a master degree, as do university-level teaching positions. If your career path takes you into writing, public speaking or politics, an advanced degree will give your words and ideas the authority of an expert.
Pure passion is another point to explore. If you are truly passionate about the field of criminal justice, simply getting a job might not be your only goal. You may want to understand the field inside and out. You may want to contribute your own ideas to the ever-growing database of research, statistics and theory, contributing that information to the well of information that other criminal-justice professionals – and even lawmakers - draw from when analyzing legal problems, public safety issues or law-enforcement logistics.
One last point: A master degree is the stepping stone to a Doctorate in Criminal Justice Degree. A doctorate can open the door to even more prestigious career opportunities, such as teaching at the university level, participating in governmental policy making, conducting research in the field or even serving as a member of our government’s judicial branch.
How can I choose the Master of Criminal Justice degree program that’s best for me?
Choosing the best master program is an important decision – it can literally affect the rest of your life. You want to find a quality program, of course, but also one that’s the best fit for you. Here are some factors to keep in mind:
- Location – Is the school I’m considering in a place I’d like to live? Your degree will take some time to earn – you want to be in a location that you find appealing. Ask yourself, what is the weather like? What recreational activities are available? How far will I have to travel to get to the campus at the start of each semester?
- Residency – The difference in college costs for someone who is a resident of the state where the school is found and someone who is coming from out of state can be profound. For that reason, you may want to consider schools in the state where you live before looking at others.
- Accreditation – This is an absolute must. Once more: An absolute must. A degree from a non-accredited program won’t be worth the paper it’s written on.
- Reviews – Check out reputable sites that rank universities and their programs, like this one from U.S. News and World Report, which lists the top 60 online graduate criminal justice programs in the nation.
- Online course work – Online learning is one of the hottest trends to hit education. And rightly so. It allows students to learn whenever and wherever is best for them, a real boon if you’re returning to school and already have a job or a family to take care of. When considering online classes, be sure to choose a program that allows you to mix and match. That is, take some classes online while taking others in a face-to-face classroom setting. This gives you the optimum combination of convenience and quality.
- Same classes, same teaching staff – If you plan on mixing and matching, make sure that the same teaching staff teaches in both venues. After all, just because you’re sitting at a computer instead of a school desk, doesn’t mean that you don’t deserve the best professors.