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What is Criminal Justice?

Are you interested in pursuing a criminal justice degree in Massachusetts? Choosing to major in criminal justice can lead to a wide variety of employment opportunities related to law enforcement and legal advocacy. There are, however, many career options available to graduates, who tend to develop a plethora of useful skills while enrolled. In fact, most academic programs in this field strive to help students establish and improve abilities that can be utilized in most individual and group safety settings.

Some of the most notable career paths in criminal justice include:

  • Criminology
  • Cyber Security
  • Emergency Management
  • Forensic Science
  • Fire Science
  • Homeland Security

It's important to realize that every state has and maintains its own criminal justice system. While state systems generally work in tandem with the United States government, prospective professionals need to become familiar with their local regulations prior to applying for employment. This does mean job descriptions are likely to vary significantly, even between counties. As a result, many colleges and universities strive to design criminal justice programs that instill students with easily transferrable skills such as communication, empathy, and leadership.

Successful criminal justice professionals tend to have good judgement and are highly perceptive. They are good problem solvers capable to addressing multiple issues quickly. Many professions in this field are rewarding, but those interested in pursuing these careers should be aware of the associated physical demands and potential dangers.

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Online Criminal Justice Education in Massachusetts

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment in protective service occupations is expected to increase by 8% from 2020 to 2030. This is about as fast as the average for all other professions and will likely result in approximately 286,400 new criminal justice jobs in the nation. This projected rise is due to a consistent demand for qualified professionals in the field. It’s worth noting that growth rates are more substantial for some professions than others. Fire inspectors, security guards, and private detectives are likely to see some of the most comparatively significant gains.

Protective service occupations accounted for local 73,490 Massachusetts jobs in 2020. The annual mean wage for these professionals was $61,980, which is higher than the national median. While protective services are not considered a large field in the state, professions within this sector are absolutely essential. Additionally, companies and organizations of all kinds often benefit from hiring employees who possess the knowledge and skills associated with this field.

While many colleges and universities around the country offer online criminal justice degree programs, those who intend to apply for employment in Massachusetts should strongly consider enrolling with schools in the state. Local institutions will be most familiar with the needs and expectations of potential employers in the region. Additionally, many schools develop relationships with nearby companies and organizations over time. This often allows them to funnel graduates into the best internships and professional opportunities available in the surrounding areas. Further, colleges and universities located in the state will be able to better prepare criminal justice majors to meet Massachusetts legal rules and regulations for obtaining any necessary licenses and certifications.

There are many different kinds of criminal justice professionals in Massachusetts. Graduates will have a wide variety of career opportunities to choose from, but most professions involve creating and upholding societal regulations and laws. Many professionals in this field also ensure that people are held accountable for their actions. Some of the most prominent career types include law enforcement, the court system, politics, advocacy, and corrections.

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Depending on the profession, formal education is not always necessary to find employment related to criminal justice. Some jobs require candidates have only high school diplomas or GEDs. Those interested in this field may benefit from enrolling in academic programs, however. Graduates tend to have better job prospects and often make more money than those who lack college degrees.

Because there are many career options available, prospective students should research requirements carefully in order to determine which type of education is necessary or preferred. Massachusetts offers criminal justice degree programs at every level: associate, bachelor’s, master’s, and doctorate. Each option has its own benefits and drawbacks, making it essential to base enrollment on your preferences and ultimate aspirations.

Online Associate Degree in Criminal Justice (AS)

Associate degrees in criminal justice generally consist of 60 credit hours of coursework and take full-time students approximately two years to complete. Some colleges also offer accelerated programs that condense instruction down into as little at 18 months. Curriculums vary, but most are designed to provide instruction on topics related to American government, law enforcement, judicial processes, and critical thinking.

This level of education is typically sufficient to gain a basic introduction to the field. Graduates often qualify for entry-level employment opportunities in the field such as police officer, correctional officer, and others. Additional professional options include working as security guards, surveillance specialists, fire inspectors, paralegals, or legal assistants.

Instead of entering the workforce, some graduates choose to transfer the credits they earn toward bachelor’s degrees. Community colleges offering associate degrees typically charge lower tuition rates than traditional institutions. This means students can complete the first two years of a four-year education with less financial hardship.

Online Bachelor's Degree in Criminal Justice (BS)

Bachelor’s degrees in criminal justice online generally consist of 120 credit hours of coursework and take full-time students approximately four years to complete. Curriculums vary from school to school, but most programs are designed to focus on topics relevant to the field such as criminology, judicial administration, and legal history. It’s also common for students to receive extensive instruction related to research guidelines and writing.

Many criminal justice professions require candidates to have bachelor’s degrees. Additionally, it’s common for employers to give preference to applicants who possess more than the minimum education. As a result, graduates at this level do tend to find employment easier than those with high school diplomas, GEDs, and associate degrees. The most common career options available include guidance counselor, child safety advocate, social worker, crime scene investigator, and homeland security specialist. Graduates can also choose to apply for federal positions with the FBI and/or CIA.

Alternatively, graduates may prefer to pursue more advanced degrees in criminal justice. Those who plan to enroll in graduate programs will need to meet minimum admittance grade point average (GPA) and GRE standards.

Online Master's Degree in Criminal Justice (MS or MC)

Master’s degrees in criminal justice generally range from 30 to 60 credit hours of coursework that full-time students typically complete within two years. Part-time students are likely to need three to five years to meet graduation requirements, however. Programs at this level tend to place a greater focus on management, data analytics, organizational strategies, and decision-making. Students should anticipate participating in more career-related electives, internships, and research projects.

This level of education is most appropriate for those interested in obtaining leadership roles in the field. Current professionals can also use these degrees to further advance their careers and to qualify for employment in supervisory roles. Overall, graduates with master’s degrees usually have more employment opportunities, promote quicker, and earn higher salaries.

Online PhD Degree in Criminal Justice (PhD)

Online doctorate degrees in criminal justice are typically consist of between 50 and 75 credit hours and take full-time students about five years to complete. Class requirements may be met relatively early, but students must conduct independent studies and defend dissertations prior to graduating. While not required for many jobs in the field, this level of education is optimal for those who intend to pursue careers that involve research and postsecondary instruction related to criminal justice.

Prospective students may also want to consider earning doctorates in business administration (DBA). This degree is better are preparing professionals for leadership and supervisory roles. Instruction varies, but most curriculums include classes related to leadership theory, strategic thinking, consulting, and intervention practices.

A doctoral degree of any kind is likely to qualify graduates for some of the best criminal justice employment opportunities available. Some of the most common career options include postsecondary criminal justice professor, social service director, information systems manager, forensic scientist, and police chief.

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Become a Criminal Justice Professional in Massachusetts

If you want to become criminal justice professional in Massachusetts, you should begin by determining which profession within the field is most appealing. As previously mentioned, there are numerous career options available to people who graduate with degrees in criminal justice. With so many options, it’s essential to narrow down your plans and identify specific goals.

Whatever your aspirations are, it’s important to realize that some level of formal education will likely be necessary. Identifying your ideal profession, however, will make it easier to select the most appropriate academic program.

Many colleges and universities also offer students opportunities to select concentrations, or specialties, within the criminal justice field. By doing this, you can further direct your learning to include content that aligns better with your specific interest. Courses often explore these topics in greater detail than the core curriculum.

Some of the most common options for criminal justice majors include:

  • Crime Scene Investigation
  • Homeland Security
  • Legal Studies

It’s also common for criminal justice students working toward bachelor’s and master’s degrees to participate in internships. In most cases, these internships are unpaid and are meant to provide hands-on experience working in the field. These positions also make great additions to professional resumes and can result in paid opportunities in the future.

In addition to a degree, you may also need to obtain some sort of licensure. Private investigators, for example, must file an application with the Colonel of the State Police. Additional application requirements include certification from three reputable state citizens and proof of relevant employment or experience in the field.

Other professions, however, may not require a license. Prospective police officers in Massachusetts, for example, must pass the written Municipal Police Officer and MBTA Transit Police Officer Examination instead. Candidates who pass are added to an eligibility list. Those selected must then complete an extensive employment packet, thorough background check, interview, and medical exam.

There are also many opportunities for criminal justice professionals to pursue certifications from field-specific organizations. You will need to research your area of interest to find out which credentials are most useful. Generally, having one or more certifications will make you more competitive for jobs. They can also increase your chances of promotion and qualify you for additional or higher pay.

Ultimately, requirements vary based on your intended profession. Review expectations closely to ensure you have the education, experience, and credentials necessary.

In addition to academic programs, licenses, and certifications, individuals in this field can benefit from joining professional organizations. Every organization is different but most provide members with ample opportunities to network, access field-related resources, buy discounted tickets to conferences, and participate in continuing education classes.

Some of the most prominent criminal justice associations, societies, and organizations include:

  • Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences
  • American Academy of Forensic Sciences
  • American Correctional Association
  • American Society of Criminology
  • International Association of Law Enforcement Planners
  • International Association for Correctional and Forensic Psychology
  • National Criminal Justice Association

Careers for Criminal Justice Graduates

Criminal justice degree graduates will be qualified for a wide variety of employment opportunities in Massachusetts. This may be particularly true for those who also acquire certifications.

While salaries and daily duties will vary, some of the most common career options in the state include:

  • Emergency Management Coordinator
  • Forensic Accountant
  • Forensic Psychologist
  • Paralegal
  • Social Worker
  • Conversation Officer
  • K9 Officer
  • Homeland Security Professional
  • State Trooper
  • Victim Advocate
  • Substance Abuse Counselor
  • Police Officer
  • Police Supervisor
  • Corrections Officer
  • Corrections Manager
  • Probation Officer
  • Parole Officer
  • Private Investigator
  • Crime Scene Investigator
  • Crime Scene / Forensic Science Technician
  • Lab Scientist
  • Crime Prevention Specialist
  • Secret Service Agent
  • Detective
  • State Trooper / State Highway Patrol
  • Criminal Justice Professor
  • Social Worker
    Social workers assist patients and their families with a wide variety of emotional and social problems. Their primary goal is to ensure that patients are adequately prepared to deal with issues in productive ways. This often necessitates making referrals to appropriate specialists and recommending potentially helpful resources. Social workers also function as advocates, often facilitating numerous education and support-related programs. According to PayScale, social workers make an average base salary of $48,900 per year.
  • Paralegal
    Paralegals work closely with lawyers, frequently performing various research that is relevant to assigned cases. When necessary, they also provide legal several support services such as meeting with clients, filing paperwork, and appearing in court. Other common tasks include conducting interviews, editing pleadings, and helping review legal documents related to assigned cases. According to PayScale, paralegals make an average base salary of $49,100 per year.
  • Private Investigator or Detective
    Private investigators find and analyze information based on independent employer needs. They may be hired to investigate financial dealings or to discover personal details about others. Duties generally consist of conducting surveillance, researching possible criminal activities, conducting background checks, and organizing important documentation. According to PayScale, private detectives and investigators make an average hourly wage of $23.71, which equates to an average of $58,500 per year.

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  • Crime Scene Investigator (CSI)
    Crime scene investigators are responsible for securing and thoroughly examining areas after a crime has been committed. They generally search for relevant evidence after unattended natural deaths, accidents, suicides, and homicide. There professionals also determine which scenes require further investigation and which pieces of evidence should be more closely examined. CSIs may also supervise and monitor work performed by forensic investigators. According to PayScale, crime scene investigators make an average base salary of $48,300 per year.
  • Probation Officer
    Probation officers help and support prior criminal offenders to ensure they do not commit additional crimes or misconduct in the future. They often identify the safest and fairest outcomes for convicts by working with local law enforcement, the courts, and sentencing judges. These professionals are also instrumental in ensuring truly dangerous criminals remain in prison. According to PayScale, probation officers make an average base salary of $44,450 per year.
  • Substance Abuse Counselor
    Substance abuse counselors diagnose and treat people who are addicted to drugs and/or alcohol. This generally entails working with patients to develop individualized treatment plans, as well as identifying and eliminating possible substance abuse triggers. Depending on patient need, these professionals may offer one-on-one or group counseling session. According to PayScale, substance abuse counselors make an average base hourly rate of $17.72, or $40,250 per year.
  • State Trooper
    State troopers have many of the same responsibilities as police officers. This includes but is not limited to performing property searches and making formal arrests. While these professionals spend a lot of time patrolling assigned areas, working to obtain information about alleged crimes, and completing related paperwork, they are also capable of taking suspects into custody. According to PayScale, state troopers make an average base salary of $56,150 per year.

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