A graduate school degree can prepare you for an advanced career in criminal justice and law enforcement. Across the United States, criminal justice and law enforcement personnel enforce the safety of our communities. Law enforcement officers swear to protect and serve the citizens of the areas they police, while parole and probation officers and correctional treatment specialists monitor offenders to prevent them from committing future crimes.

A postsecondary education is not required in all branches of criminal justice and law enforcement, but may be necessary to qualify for advanced or highly specialized positions. A graduate degree can provide the strong framework that will help you launch a successful career within a competitive industry.

Providing proof that educated criminal justice professionals are of a high regard, the BLS states that a number of U.S. agencies will actually offer tuition reimbursement for current employees who are interested in pursuing a graduate degree an area of criminal justice.

Professionals in criminal justice and law enforcement lay the groundwork for their career with rigorous academic studies, beginning with a bachelor’s degree and often followed by a master’s degree. Some of the most common undergraduate majors earned by students advancing into criminal justice and law enforcement programs at the graduate level are:

  • Criminal Justice
  • Corrections
  • Law Enforcement Administration
  • Political Science
  • Administration of Justice
  • Public Administration
  • Accounting
  • Electrical Engineering
  • Information Technology
  • Computer Science
  • Social Work

Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Career Opportunities

Graduates of master’s programs in law enforcement and criminal justice may enter careers as probation and parole officers, correctional treatment specialists, or police officers. Graduate-level criminal justice degrees are also relevant for postsecondary criminal justice and law enforcement teachers, who instruct future professionals in these fields.

While employment growth depends on government funding, job opportunities are projected to be excellent in these fields. Job growth will be higher in urban areas than in rural communities.

Police and sheriff’s patrol officers held about 661,500 jobs in 2008, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Employment for police and sheriff’s patrol officers is expected to grow by 57,300 new openings, or a rate of 9 percent between 2008 and 2018, about as fast as the average for all occupations.


Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Probation officers and correctional treatment specialists held about 103,400 jobs in 2008,according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Employment for probation officers and correctional treatment specialists is expected to grow by 19,900 new openings, or a rate of about 19 percent, between 2008 and 2018, faster than the average for all occupations.


Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Postsecondary teachers of criminal justice and law enforcement held about 12,610 positions in May 2009,according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Earnings

Police and sheriff’s patrol officers had median annual wages of $51,410 in May 2008. The middle 50 percent earned between $38,850 and $64,940. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $30,070, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $79,680. Median annual wages were $46,620 in federal government; $57,270 in state government; $51,020 in local government; and $43,350 in educational services.


Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

BLS data show that probation officers and correctional treatment specialists earned a median salary of $45,910 a year in May 2008, with the middle 50 percent earning between $35,990 and $60,430. The highest-earning 10 percent made more than $78,210, and the lowest-earning 10 percent made less than $29,490.

Higher wages tend to be found in urban areas.


Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Postsecondary criminal justice and law enforcement teachers had median annual wages of $57,500 in May 2009. The middle 50 percent earned between $43,040 and $77,020. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $32,470, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $104,170.

Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Educational Benefits

Professionals in law enforcement and criminal justice generally have a bachelor’s degree, and many have master’s degrees. For candidates without related work experience, some employers require a graduate degree for probation officer and correctional treatment specialist positions.

Even with work experience, a master’s degree in criminal justice or law enforcement may be helpful or required for advancement in these fields.

Because state and local governments employ most of these workers, employer-provided benefits are more common than among workers employed in the private sector.

In law enforcement and criminal justice positions, as with all professions, a significant gap in earnings exists between bachelor’s and master’s degree graduates: Median earnings of $64,116 per year for master’s degree holders compared to $52,624 for bachelor’s degree holders, according to 2008 BLS numbers. That’s a difference of $11,492 a year; $852 a month; and $213 a week.

Criminal Justice and Law Enforcement Programs Online

Online criminal justice graduate degree programs offer a level of flexibility and convenience that is unmatched by their ground school counterparts. The best online degree programs will provide a high quality education, and are designed to simulate the same learning experience that can be found in a traditional classroom. The decision to pursue a graduate education is a significant and costly endeavor, so it is important to do your research and choose the online graduate program that best suits your needs. You will want to ask your admissions counselor questions such as:

  • Is the graduate school accredited?
  • Do credits transfer?
  • What are people saying about this criminal justice program specifically and this school in general?
  • Will this online master’s degree qualify me for the career I want?
  • What job placement and earnings data can you provide for graduates of this criminal justice program?
  • What career placement resources do you offer to graduate students in your program?
  • How many semester hours of graduate study are required in your master’s degree program?

Criminal Justice and Law Enforcement Skills and Abilities

Work within the criminal justice field involves complex, and at times dangerous responsibilities. For these reasons, it is necessary that professionals entering the field have a highly specialized set of skills.

All prospective specialists in criminal justice and law enforcement should be in a good position of physical and mental health. Agencies often require computer skills, due to the use of technology in probation and parole work, and knowledge of laws and regulations in the field of corrections.

Because they must prepare many reports, probation officers and correctional treatment specialists should have good writing skills. Excellent listening and interpersonal skills are also important when dealing with offenders.

Beyond the aforementioned physical and educational prerequisites, law enforcement personnel should be prepared to undergo extensive background checks, which may include polygraph tests and illegal drug screening.

Professionals pursuing a career as a police officer or detective must have excellent communication and listening skills because they will often experience adversarial scenarios. Leadership skills and the ability to work with a team are also important skills to possess because these professionals will work closely with partners and supervisors throughout their career.

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