Saint Joseph's University

5 Things You Should Know Before Enrolling in a Criminal Justice Master’s Program

A Master of Science in Criminal Justice can open many doors in law enforcement and other criminal justice fields, even if you don’t have a criminal justice bachelor’s.

However, law enforcement careers are far from your only option with an MS in CJ. Focus on developing your writing skills; you’ll need them more than you think. Some training in psychology can be useful in most criminal-justice related careers, but work experience in a relevant field can help you give you an edge over the competition when it comes time to get a job. If you’re thinking of enrolling in an MS in CJ program, there are some things you should know before you submit your application.

1. You Need a Clean Criminal Record to Work in Law Enforcement

If you’re hoping that a criminal justice master’s will lead you to a career in law enforcement, you’d better have a fairly clean criminal record. Many police departments will overlook a minor misdemeanor or even a drunk driving charge. This is especially true if it’s been a while since the offense and you can show proof that you’ve turned your life around and are unlikely to reoffend.

However, a felony conviction or drug charge will usually be enough to disqualify you from employment in law enforcement.

2. Law Enforcement Jobs Aren’t Your Only Option With a Criminal Justice Degree

So, let’s say you do have a criminal conviction that disqualifies you from law enforcement. Or maybe you’re getting close to or have passed age 36, the average cut-off age for police recruitment. Or maybe you’re simply not interested in law enforcement.

That’s okay, because an MS in CJ can prepare you for a range of criminal justice careers, including careers in research, private security, or the court system. You could go on to earn a doctorate in the field and teach criminal justice or criminology at the university level.

3. Writing Ability Is More Important Than You Might Think

Criminal justice professionals need to have a pretty substantial repertoire of skills at hand if they hope to succeed, and writing ability is one of those skills. Writing is a vital form of communication that comes in handy at every level and in every field of the criminal justice system, whether you’re a police officer writing a report, a forensic scientist publishing a paper on some of his or her findings, or a criminologist making public policy recommendations.

Your written words may be the only means you’ll have to communicate with some very important colleagues. They could ultimately be seen by the press and public, judges, lawyers, and politicians, so you’ll need to know how to make them count.

4. Some Psychology Courses Wouldn’t Go Amiss

When you understand psychology, you know what makes people do the things they do, and that means you’ll be in a position to better understand the motivations, fears, desires, and needs of the people you’ll encounter in the course of your work.

That’s especially important because many criminals act not out of desperation, but out of mental illness. Forty-five states provide Crisis Intervention Training, or CIT, designed to help police officers respond appropriately to criminals who are acting out of mental illness.

An understanding of mental illness and how it can influence criminal behavior can help you get sick people the help they need, and can also help you protect yourself and your colleagues from the actions of criminals acting out due to mental health symptoms. Our Behavior Analysis Track can help you learn how to apply psychology principles in your criminal justice work.

5. Desirable Candidates Have Work Experience, Too

An advanced education in criminal justice can broaden and deepen your knowledge of the field and give you a competitive edge over those with only a bachelor’s degree. But even though the MS in CJ is valuable, employers want candidates who have work experience, too.

Since many agencies hire entry-level candidates with only a bachelor’s degree or even just a high school diploma, it is not uncommon for people applying to MS in CJ degrees to have several years of prior work experience in a relevant field. Many people enter criminal justice master’s programs after several years in law enforcement or a related field. You might be one of those people, but if you aren’t, you can start to build the experience you need through volunteer work and internships.

If you think a career in criminal justice might be right for you, consider a Master of Science in Criminal Justice. With some writing skills, knowledge of psychology, and a little relevant work experience, a master’s degree in criminal justice can help you further a satisfying career. For more information about our Criminal Justice program, request more information below.

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