Your Complete Guide to

Masters in Criminal Justice

Online Masters Degree
on May 20, 2021

Why We Love It

  • Interesting Topics
  • Competitive Salaries
  • High Job Satisfaction
  • Many Career Options

What is an MCJ Degree?

Keeping people safe is the most important function of government, and it takes many people to ensure that our criminal justice system works properly.  These people include police officers, prosecutors, defense attorneys, judges, prison wardens, and those who help to rehabilitate and reintegrate reformed criminals into our society.

MCJ stands for Master of Criminal Justice, a professional degree in the field of criminal justice–which is related to but different from criminology, the study of crime as a social phenomenon.  Delivering justice to those who have committed crimes is an important service to society which involves various government agencies and institutions.  Other important aspects include the prevention of further crimes, the rehabilitation of convicted offenders, and support for victims.  In the US, the criminal justice system comprises three main parts: law enforcement agencies, courts and lawyers, and institutions that detain and supervise offenders (such as prisons and probation agencies).  Together, these three parts operate together to maintain the rule of law and make our society a safer place to live.

A Master of Criminal Justice will teach you about key discipline areas of criminal justice, which may include forensic psychology, justice administration, correctional counseling, homeland security, crime prevention, crime scene investigation, and public safety.

What Can You Do With a Master of Criminal Justice?

The possible futures for someone with an MCJ can be very fulfilling and even exciting!

An FBI agent investigates a crime scene, noting similarities to those from another scene left by a suspected serial killer.  A prison warden implements a new educational program in an effort to lower recidivism rates.  A victim advocate helps a victim return to some sense of normalcy after an armed robbery.  These are all potential futures for someone with a Master of Criminal Justice.

The criminal justice system is more complicated than ever.  An MCJ degree could prepare you for a career in law enforcement, corrections or victim advocacy.

These are only a few examples.  The possibilities are endless.  You get to choose what you’ll do, and you don’t have to know what that is right now.  An MCJ could give you the tools you need to do a wide variety of jobs, so you’re not committing to a career before you even finish your degree.

Best Programs for Master of Criminal Justice

Here’s the best part: We’re going to give you the secrets to finding the best programs for adults, programs that could help you get your MCJ degree faster and with as few headaches as possible.  We know planning for college can be confusing, and is dedicated to helping you find the right path for you so that you can complete your degree and start your new career as soon as possible.

Why We Love an MCJ Degree

  1. Competitive salary: Criminal justice professionals with master’s degrees are often better-paid than their counterparts with bachelor’s degrees.
  2. Excellent growth potential: There will always be a need for criminal justice professionals.  This is a growing field with plenty of room for advancement.
  3. Feeling good about yourself: An MCJ is a great way to give back to the community and help ensure the safety of those you care about.
  4. Lots of options: An MCJ degree could be your gateway to a wide variety of career paths.

Online vs. Traditional Campus

Most people who think about going back to school and getting their MCJ never even get started.  Not only are there various entrance hurdles like exams and application fees, but it’s also tough to make school work around your schedule.

Right?  Well, not exactly . . . Or, at least, it doesn’t have to be.

With adult-friendly schools, there is really no reason not to go back to school anymore.  What makes a school adult-friendly?  Here are a few key attributes:

  • Totally online.  Online learning is best for busy adults, who have to balance their ongoing education with work, kids, and everything else that comes with being a grownup.  Online schools allow you to work college around your life, not the other way around.
  • Can offer accelerated programs, with ongoing enrollment.  What’s better than getting your master’s in two years?  Getting it in fourteen months.  And with ongoing enrollment, you don’t have to wait until fall or spring to start on your new journey; many schools offer monthly enrollment periods, meaning you can start whenever it works for you.
  • Can offer more support than traditional schools.  This includes, but is not limited to, career services, making it easier for you to begin your new career.  Because, at the end of the day, isn’t that why you’re going back to school?

Admissions Requirements for Master of Criminal Justice

So what do you need to go to grad school?  You need to take the GRE or another entrance exam, right?

This is an old-fashioned way of thinking about it . . . which is great news for you!

Many adult-friendly schools do not require GRE or entrance exams.  Online programs generally require only a bachelor’s degree to get started, and there are no application fees to worry about.  You start when you’re ready.

Master of Criminal Justice Curriculum

As mentioned above, a Master of Criminal Justice degree will teach you about several key aspects of criminal justice.  These may include, but are not limited to, topics such as forensic psychology and anthropology, crime analysis, law, administration, and leadership and executive management.  These areas of knowledge are essential to helping keep people safe from crime, helping you to help others in your community.

What Courses Will I Take in My MCJ Program?

Because the criminal justice system is so crucial and complex, the core curriculum of an MCJ program will cover the major areas in the field.  Examples of courses include:

  1. Criminology: While criminology is generally considered distinct from criminal justice, it is important to understand the major criminological theories and how they are applied to the field of criminal justice.
  2. Correctional Theory: This would explore the basic theories of corrections and how they apply to prisons, probation programs, and other areas of our justice system.
  3. Crime Mapping: Geography can play an important part in crime, and the proper application of data analysis is important to making policy decisions.
  4. Juvenile Justice: This would likely provide an overview of the complete juvenile justice system, from arrest to trial to corrections.  At-risk children often need to be diverted and/or rehabilitated from criminal lifestyles in order to put them on the right track and lower the crime rate overall.
  5. Cybercrime: Technology has forever changed the face of crime, and it will continue to do so.  Digital forensics, international law, and cybercrime policy are all important to understand.
  6. Terrorism: Just as technology has changed the face of crime, terrorism has evolved in recent years, and homeland security is of the utmost importance.

Specializations and Concentrations 

While a Master of Criminal Justice (MCJ) is the most common professional degree of public health, there are other post-graduate degrees in the field with different specializations and concentrations.  These include:

  • Master of Arts in Criminal Justice (MACJ): This usually involves a more humanities-based curriculum, teaching you about the law, public policy, and the administration of law enforcement agencies.
  • Master of Science in Criminal Justice (MSCJ): As you can probably guess, this degree has a more scientific focus and may allow or require a specialization such as cybercrime, forensic anthropology, or crime scene investigation.

You may find that one of the above degrees is for you, but an MCJ will often combine both of these approaches into a more comprehensive degree, offering you the best of both worlds!

You could also find that a different, MCJ-related degree is a better fit for your career of choice.  Examples include:

  • MS in Counterterrorism: This specialized degree could focus on terrorism, cybercrime, and/or the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (WMDs).
  • MS in Forensic Psychology: This combines criminal justice with psychology in order to analyze, respond to, and hopefully predict criminal behavior.
  • MS in Corrections: With over two million people in jails and prisons in the US alone, there are correctional positions that require advanced training in law, management, and the rehabilitation of prisoners.

Master of Criminal Justice Program Length

Most Master of Criminal Justice programs require between 36 and 40 credits to graduate.  Normally, an MCJ program takes about two years to complete.  An accelerated plan, however, could take closer to half that time.  This is where adult-friendly schools really shine.  They know their students have jobs, kids, and other obligations that make a traditional school schedule unrealistic.  The best adult-friendly schools make the process as convenient as possible, and they could get you into the workforce as fast as possible, because they know that’s what adults want.

Choosing the Right University or College MCJ Program

Choosing the right school for you can be exciting, but it can also be a hassle.  Tuition costs, application fees, accreditation, enrollment windows, and entrance exams are just some of the variables to consider.

That’s why we created the Smartplan.  We want to help people go back to school, to make college more accessible and affordable for everyone.  With our Smartplan, we make it easy for you to start on your path towards your Master of Criminal Justice degree.  Here are just some of the benefits of your Smartplan:

  • No application fees
  • Accredited colleges and universities
  • No entrance exams or testing
  • Faculty and professors who understand adults
  • Discounts and scholarships available
  • Open enrollment dates

Best Jobs for Those With a Master of Criminal Justice

What can you do with an MCJ?  What kind of salary can you expect?  Here are some common careers for MCJ holders, with salary data estimates provided by the Bureau of Labor Statistics:

  • Police Detective: As you probably know, this is a specialized police officer who conducts investigations to solve or prevent crimes.  You could make anywhere from $37,710 to $109,620 per year.
  • Police Supervisor: This is someone who manages a police force.  You might be a lieutenant, detective sergeant, or even the chief of police.  You could make anywhere from $51,390 to $144,190 per year.
  • FBI Agent: The Federal Bureau of Investigation is one of the top crime-fighting and intelligence agencies in the world.  You could make anywhere from $42,880 to $135,530 per year.
  • Prison Warden: It is important that someone who understands prisoners’ problems is in charge of their welfare and rehabilitation. You could make anywhere from $45,180 to $82,900 per year.
  • Paralegal: Lawyers and law offices need educated people working for them, since lawyers are ultimately responsible for all of their work.  You could make anywhere from $32,160 to $82,500 per year.

We’ve compiled some of our favorite careers, but this master’s degree does provide you broad skills to work in a variety of criminal justice jobs, which will likely allow you to draw an excellent salary while helping to keep your community safe.  The best careers are those that pay well AND let you feel fulfilled by giving something back.  And again, you don’t need to know right now which job you want.  These are just some of the possibilities you can choose from.

Cost and Tuition

Cost and tuition vary from school to school, and you’ll want to speak with each of your prospective schools directly.  Fortunately, online schools are generally more affordable than their in-person counterparts.  Adult-friendly colleges understand that you want to save, and they could even help you with financial aid if you’re eligible.  You’ll definitely want to speak to a few schools, and can help you with that.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Q: Do I need to know what job I want before I start an MCJ program?

A: No!  An MCJ program could prepare you for a wide variety of careers.  You certainly don’t need to know what job you want today.

Q: Will I make more money with an MCJ?

A: That depends on a variety of factors.  But as you can see above in the “Best Jobs for Those With a Master of Criminal Justice” section, your MCJ could mean excellent earning potential.

Q: How long will I be in school?

A: That could depend on you, your current job, and any other obligations you might have.  An MCJ program could take anywhere from one to three years, but our Smartplan is designed to help you find the right degree for you, so could finish as quickly as possible!

Best Jobs for Masters in Criminal Justice Degrees

How to save time and money

Our mission is to help you to avoid paying full price for college. We want your Masters in Criminal Justice degree to be affordable and accessible. Here’s how you could save:

Create Your Free SmartPlan

There are many ways to make college affordable and accessible.

That’s why we created a helpful tool called SmartPlan.

It’s free, and helps you find potential ways to save and tons of information about each school you’re considering

Think of it as your “college blueprint”, to help you instantly craft a path to your degree:

  • Which Colleges Match Your Needs
  • Ways You Could Save Time & Money
  • Free Courses You Could Take for Credit
  • Valuable Data and Insights on Each College
  • Detailed Steps You Should Take!

See what’s possible for you and generate a free plan within just a few minutes

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About the Author
Grant founded with a purpose-driven mission: make college accessible and affordable for everyone. After graduating college with an overwhelming amount of debt, he was determined to change how students embark on their education. He's a frequent speaker and author in higher education, and has been featured in Forbes, Bloomberg Businessweek, Business Insider, American Express, AOL, MSN, Thrive Global, Reader's Digest, Inside Higher Ed, Evolllution, EducationDive, and nearly 100 radio shows and podcasts.

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