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Master's Degree in Criminal Justice or Criminology

What are the Benefits to Earning an Advanced Degree?

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There's little debate that earning college education is beneficial to any criminal justice career, even if the particular job you want doesn't require it. After completing your undergraduate studies, though, should you work to earn a master's degree in criminal justice or criminology?

To be overly simplistic, there's really no such thing as too much education. Every day presents opportunities to learn new things and improve both yourself and your career. A master's degree, though, requires a special commitment of both time and money.

In order to figure out whether or not you should earn a master's degree, you should first find the criminal justice career that's best for you and then set career goals within that field. After you've determined your career path, you can evaluate whether or not a master's degree in criminology will be worth your time or your hard-earned cash.

Evaluate Return on Investment

Making the decision to earn an advanced degree should be based primarily on return on investment. Remember that it will probably take you at least two years and thousands of dollars or more to earn your degree, so serious consideration should be given to how much it will be worth your while in the long run. A master's degree requires a serious investment of time and can be very expensive. Because of this, it would be wise to make sure there's a payoff for you on the other end.

How do you decide whether or not a master's degree will be worth your while? It all goes back to career planning. Some careers within criminal justice and criminology expect and reward advanced degrees, whereas others do not.

Jobs in criminology that typically require an advanced degree include:

On the other hand, many jobs won't require a master's degree, in which case you may be spending time and money that could be put to better use. These include:

Here are some other reasons you may want to consider a master's degree:

  • Career advancement: If you have no intention of advancing your career or promoting, there will be little need for you to earn an advanced degree. If, however, you want to move up the rank and into a high level management or executive position, a master's degree can be just the thing that can give you the edge.  The diploma alone will set you apart, but the extra knowledge and expertise you gained through your degree program will really help you shine in any promotional assessment process.

  • College instruction: If you have any designs on teaching at a university, an advanced degree will almost certainly be required. In fact, instructing at the university level for any length of time will often lead to the need for a doctorate. In any case, though, if you would like to become even an adjunct college professor in your spare time, it will be worth your while to pursue a master's degree in criminal justice. As an adjunct instructor, you might be able to earn a respectable extra income in addition to your full-time job.

  • Public policy advisory positions:  Every legislative body has an army of staffers backing it up, doing research and advising lawmakers on matters ranging from fiscal policy to education and yes, even criminal justice. Working as a legislative staffer can be financially lucrative, as criminal justice issues are often hot-button issues. In most cases, though, a master's degree or higher will be expected in order for you to have any credibility in advising representatives and senators on forming criminal justice policy.

    If working for a state legislature or congress isn't for you, there's still opportunities to influence public policy. Criminal justice think tanks, such as the Justice Research Association and the Center for Court Innovation, perform independent research to help make positive changes within the criminal justice system. As careers in these organizations are necessarily research heavy, a master's degree would be vary beneficial to landing a job.

  • Edging out the competition: Though many careers in criminal justice don't require an advanced degree, some place more value on it than others. For example, if your goal is to become a local or state police officer, there will be little need for a master's degree, and local agencies will probably pay no attention to it unless you look to promote. However, if you are looking to get hired by the Federal Bureau of Investigations, a master's degree may likely be the thing that puts you over the edge and above the other candidates.

Making a Good Decision

Choosing whether or not to earn a master's degree in criminal justice or criminology is a huge decision, and one that should not be taken lightly. The right choice will be different for every individual, and should start with deciding on a career path. Plan your educational objectives around your career goals.

If you are geared more toward academics, instruction, planning or administration, than a master's degree should definitely be part of your long-term plan. If you have no desire to promote or you are more interested in field work, you will do just fine with a bachelor's or associate degree.

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