Master’s in Criminal Justice Overview 

Pursuing a master’s in criminal justice can provide individuals with the knowledge, skills, and credentials needed to advance their careers and make meaningful contributions to the field of criminal justice. By completing core courses, networking with classmates and faculty, and advancing skills in the field, students who earn a criminal justice master’s degree are setting themselves up for new career opportunities and a higher earning potential.  

What Is a Master’s in Criminal Justice? 

A master’s in criminal justice is a graduate-level degree program focused on the study of the criminal justice system, such as law enforcement, corrections, criminal law, criminology, criminal justice policy, forensic science, and homeland security. The goal of a master’s in criminal justice program is to provide students with a comprehensive understanding of the theory, research, and practice related to the criminal justice field. 

Why Pursue a Master’s in Criminal Justice? 

While every individual’s reasons for pursuing an advanced degree may be different, there are a few common reasons that people choose to pursue a master’s in criminal justice. Many people who choose a master’s in criminal justice path have already started their careers in the field and want to pursue an advanced degree for career advancement. Others may decide to take this path for skill development and networking opportunities.  

Career Advancement 

A master’s degree can open up opportunities for career advancement within the criminal justice field. Many supervisory and management positions in law enforcement, corrections, and other criminal justice agencies require advanced education. In many cases, individuals with a master’s degree in criminal justice may also command higher salaries than those with only a bachelor’s degree, particularly in leadership or specialized roles. 


Graduate programs provide opportunities to network with professors, professionals, and peers in the criminal justice field, which can lead to job opportunities, internships, and professional collaborations. Prospective students should keep in mind that even online programs can provide rich opportunities for networking with class participation, engagement with synchronous learning programs such as video chats, and both official and unofficial offline events.  

Key Components of a Master’s in Criminal Justice Program 

The purpose of any master’s degree is to further your knowledge in a specific field. In the case of earning a master’s in criminal justice, this often means building on the foundation of a criminal justice bachelor’s degree or an undergraduate degree in a related discipline. To complete a master’s degree, you must complete course work, electives, and typically some type of hands-on project, practicum, or internship.  

Core Courses 

The core courses for a master’s degree in criminal justice may vary somewhat, depending on the school, but some common core topics include:  

  • Institutional corrections and offender rehabilitation 
  • Offender reentry and reintegration 
  • Community corrections 
  • Restorative justice 
  • Abnormal psychology 
  • Addiction 


Many people who complete master’s degree programs also maintain jobs while in school. Because many students are busy, working professionals who are eager to complete their degree requirements need to focus on elective course opportunities that are not as broad as typical in undergraduate programs. Some master’s in criminal justice programs do offer electives in topics such as: 

  • Terrorism 
  • Homeland security 
  • Organized crime 
  • Juvenile justice 
  • Victimology 
  • Criminalistics 

Internships or Practicum 

A criminal justice education in New York should prepare the graduate to hold a position in the criminal justice field. While classroom work is essential in learning theory and history, practical experience is also critical. Most master’s in criminal justice programs include an internship, externship, or practicum experience as part of their graduation requirements.  

Practical experiences may take place at local or federal law enforcement agencies or non-governmental organizations. At Russell Sage, for example, students design a culminating project with a faculty member or complete an externship in consultation with their academic advisors. 

Research and Capstone Projects 

A capstone project for a master’s degree in criminal justice is a culminating academic endeavor that allows students to integrate and apply the knowledge and skills they have gained throughout their graduate studies to address a real-world issue or problem in the field of criminal justice. Capstone projects typically require students to conduct original research, analyze data, and present their findings in a comprehensive report or presentation. Not all master’s programs require a capstone project.  

Career Opportunities with a Master’s in Criminal Justice 

Graduates of master’s in criminal justice programs may pursue careers in various fields within the criminal justice system, including law enforcement agencies, corrections facilities, government agencies, nonprofit organizations, research institutions, and private sector security firms. Additionally, some graduates may choose to pursue further education or certifications in specialized areas of criminal justice. 

Law Enforcement 

While most law enforcement jobs do not require a master’s degree, earning an advanced degree in criminal justice can be one way to improve career advancement opportunities in law enforcement. Law enforcement jobs that involve leadership, specialized roles, or advanced responsibilities such as police chief or sheriff, federal law enforcement agent, or detective may all benefit from further education.  

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the average median pay for police officers and detectives was $69,160 per year in 2022, and many police departments also offer overtime and generous benefits, such as pensions.  


As with law enforcement positions, jobs in corrections that include administrative responsibilities or leadership roles can benefit from a master’s degree in criminal justice, although it is rarely a requirement. Aspiring correctional administrators, program directors, and probation or parole officer supervisors may all learn important skills in a master’s in criminal justice program. Notably, at Sage Russell, Albany County Probation employees receive a 10% tuition discount on the master’s in criminal justice program.  

According to the BLS, the median salary for corrections officers in 2022 was $49,610 per year, although an advanced degree may improve earning potential in this position.  

Legal Services 

A master’s degree program can serve as a stepping stone for advancing education. For instance, someone with an undergraduate degree unrelated to criminal justice may choose to pursue a master’s degree in criminal justice prior to applying to law school. Even without a legal degree, graduates of a master’s program may be able to find work in legal-adjacent work, such as mediator roles, court bailiff positions, paralegal jobs, or administrative legal work.  

Security and Homeland Defense 

There are a wide range of positions under the homeland security umbrella that may benefit from a master’s degree in criminal justice. For instance, homeland security analysts work for government agencies, research institutions, or private organizations to assess threats to national security, analyze intelligence data, and develop strategies for preventing and responding to terrorist threats. A master’s degree in criminal justice can provide the analytical skills and knowledge of terrorism and counterterrorism strategies needed for these roles. 

Research and Policy Analysis 

Individuals with a master’s degree in criminal justice may work as policy analysts or advisors for government agencies, nonprofit organizations, or advocacy groups. These roles involve analyzing criminal justice policies, evaluating their effectiveness, and making recommendations for reform or improvement.  

According to the BLS, policy analysts collect information, analyze potential policies, evaluate the outcomes of existing policies, and communicate their findings to government and policy stakeholders. Criminal justice policy analysts may study anything from juvenile justice policies to prison and bail reform along with advocating for changes to make their communities safer.  

Are you ready to take the next step toward a rewarding career in criminal justice? The Sage master’s in criminal justice program could be the perfect option. With asynchronous online courses, working professionals can complete their master’s degree with just 36 credits and start the next phase of their careers. Reach out for more information or start an application today.