Criminal Investigations Degrees: Master's, PhD & Online Class Info

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Criminal investigation master's and PhD degrees can lead to a variety of careers opportunities in public administration, law enforcement and academia. Get the truth about the requirements, courses and career options, and find out what you can do with your degree in criminal investigation.
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Studying Criminal Investigation: Degrees at a Glance

Criminal investigation degree graduates may work in various positions in law enforcement, investigation, public safety and education, which means salary and education requirements can vary. Some positions may not require a college degree; however, most applicants will be well-served with a degree in criminology, criminal justice, criminal investigation or a related field. Most states require private detectives and investigators to be licensed, and licensing requirements vary from one state to another.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of private detectives and investigators was expected to grow 21% from 2010 to 2020, faster than the average for all occupations, due to increased security concerns and business needs to protect confidential information and property.

Careers requiring technical or medical knowledge, such as forensics, may have higher salaries but also require additional education. Regardless of the position, job applicants who possess a strong educational background and relevant work experience are poised for success.

Master's PhD
Who is this degree for? - Experienced law enforcement and information security professionals who want management positions
- Students with bachelor degrees who want to enhance or specialize their skills
- Students who want to work in law enforcement policy or research
- Master's or bachelor degree holders, particularly those with a background or interest in social justice, public safety, security or law
- People who want to teach at the post-secondary level
Common Career Paths (with approximate mean annual salary) - Police officer ($56,200)*
- Private detectives and investigators ($48,600)*
- Criminal investigator ($75,700)*
- Information security analyst ($81,700)*
- Postsecondary criminal justice/law enforcement teacher ($65,700)*
Time to Completion Typically 2 years (full-time) Typically 5-6 years (full time) or 3-4 years beyond the master's
Common Graduation Requirements - Approximately 36 credits
- Maintain GPA standards
- Thesis
- Pass examinations
- Internship, if applicable
- Approximately 72 credits
- Internship
- Dissertation
- Workshops/seminars, if applicable)
- Pass qualifying exams
Prerequisites - Undergraduate transcripts
- GPA requirements
- Resume
- Letter(s) of recommendation
- Personal statement
- Recent GRE scores
- Prerequisite courses, if applicable
All of the master's requirements plus
- Resume
- Master's thesis, if applicable
Online Availability Yes Rare to non-existent; courses may be available

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2011 figures).

Criminal Investigation Master's Degrees

Criminal investigation master's degree programs emphasize practical and theoretical applications of criminal justice and criminal behavior. Degree programs are usually structured as a Master of Arts or Master of Science in Criminal Investigation (or other related majors, such as criminology and criminal justice). Students in a typical master's degree program will acquire skills in information technology, business, research science and criminal justice.

Students may have the opportunity to specialize in a particular concentration, such as cyber-security or law. Additionally, some master's degree programs may require students to complete a master's thesis.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Master's programs are typically taught by respected faculty who bring their real-world professional experiences into the classroom.
  • Although it will likely be helpful to have an understanding of criminal justice, you do not need a related undergraduate degree to attend most master's degree programs.
  • Law enforcement and governmental agencies often provide tuition assistance benefits for employees who want to advance their careers.

Cons

  • Some careers, including those in law enforcement, may not require a graduate degree.
  • Experience is an important qualification for employment as a criminal investigator; attending a master's program immediately after undergraduate studies may neglect valuable on-the-job experience.
  • The job can be stressful, particularly when conducting surveillance - private detectives and investigators may work irregular hours, including nights and weekends.

Common Courses and Requirements

A typical criminal investigation master's degree program consists of approximately 36 credits, including general education courses, core required courses and electives. In addition to completing required courses and passing master's examinations, students may need to complete a research proposal (called a thesis) and participate in a relevant internship.

Sample courses in a criminal investigation master's degree program may include:

  • Photography and documentation
  • Fingerprint analysis
  • Ethics in criminology
  • Protection of information systems
  • Project management for security professionals
  • Computer forensics
  • Punishment and society

Online Class Options

Online degrees and distance learning courses in criminal investigation topics are widely available. Some schools may offer a fully online option or a hybrid option (a combination of online and on-campus classes). Online degree programs are generally very similar to traditional on-campus programs, but may be more reading-heavy and writing-intensive because of a focus on independent coursework and online lectures. Some programs may require students to complete an internship in their local area.

Getting Ahead with This Degree

Criminal investigators can stand out from their peers with a certification from a nationally recognized professional organization, such as the National Association of Legal Investigators or the American Board of Criminalistics. To become certified, applicants must provide proof of state licensure, meet minimum experience requirements, submit an original paper and pass a written and oral examination. Members must maintain their certification by satisfying continuing education requirements (for example, attending seminars or completing coursework).

Criminal Investigation PhD Degrees

Students in criminal investigation PhD program will study and critically evaluate current topics in the field. Studies are generally based on a multidisciplinary approach, with a mixture of classes in psychology, criminal justice, biology and chemistry, among others.

The purpose of criminal investigation doctoral program is to produce future academics and social scientists who will develop and further the pursuit of independent research. Graduates with a PhD in criminal investigation, criminology or a related field often seek careers in research, private industry, academia and government.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Due to the independent nature of doctoral programs, you will likely have the opportunity to specialize in a topic of particular interest to you.
  • The PhD is widely recognized as the best option for pursuing a postsecondary teaching career.
  • Small class sizes are designed to encourage close interaction between students and faculty.

Cons

  • In academia, job security is typically only available through tenured positions, which are highly coveted and very competitive.
  • Graduates of PhD programs may find themselves overqualified for careers outside of academia.
  • Some PhD programs may require doctoral candidates to have an undergraduate or graduate degree in a related field.

Common Courses and Requirements

Doctoral candidates in a criminal investigation program will complete approximately 72 hours of academic coursework; research, write, and present a dissertation; pass qualifying examination; attend workshops/seminars; and satisfy internship requirements, if applicable.

If you're on a research track, you will learn how to research and write for academic publications, while a teaching track will teach you to develop methods of classroom instruction. If you're on a teaching track, you will likely need to work as a teaching assistant while enrolled in the program.

You can expect courses on the following topics in a typical criminal investigation PhD program:

  • Issues in criminal justice
  • Seminar in advanced management topics
  • Law and forensic science
  • Assessment of law enforcement policies and operations
  • Legal issues in criminal justice
  • Research methods and statistics

Online Class Options

Online doctoral programs in criminal investigation are rare to non-existent, mainly because of the research and teaching components required by the field. Online courses in criminal investigation are available, though, and may count towards your credits. Having to be on-campus though may enable you to network with faculty and other students, which can help you succeed in getting involved in research projects and other academic endeavors.

Stand Out with this Degree

If you plan to work in academia, you can begin to pursue teaching opportunities while you are enrolled in your PhD program. Schools typically offer paid teaching opportunities, though they may be limited and competitive. Alternatively, if you decide to pursue research, take advantage of your school's literary journals and publications because published research will set you apart from other candidates in your field.

Additionally, stay abreast of developments in technology because potential employers may expect you to stay on top of industry trends. There are numerous criminal justice and investigation professional associations that regularly post articles on the state of information security, technology and news in the field.

Popular Schools

  • Online Programs Available
    1. Regis University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master of Science in Criminology
      • Master of Science in Criminology - Cybercrime and Terrorism Focus
      • Master of Science in Criminology - Human Behavior Focus
      • Master of Science in Criminology - Leadership Focus
  • Online Programs Available
    2. Lewis University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • MS in Criminal Justice
      • MS in Public Safety Administration
      • MS in Computer Science - Cyber Security
  • Online Programs Available
    3. Northcentral University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master of Science in Organizational Leadership - Criminal Justice
      • MBA - Criminal Justice
      • MBA - Homeland Security
      • MSTIM - Cybersecurity
  • Online Programs Available
    4. Benedictine University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • MPH - Emergency Preparedness Focus
  • Online Programs Available
    5. Colorado Technical University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • M.S. - Criminal Justice
      • Master: Management - Homeland Security
      • Master of Science in Cybersecurity Policy
      • Master of Science in Homeland Security
      • Master of Science in Criminal Justice - Homeland Security
      • Master of Science in Homeland Security - Cybersecurity Policy
  • Online Programs Available
    6. Herzing University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • MBA Dual Concentration: Project Management and Public Safety Leadership
      • MBA Dual Concentration: Healthcare Management and Public Safety Leadership
  • Online Programs Available
    7. Saint Joseph's University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • MS - Criminal Justice
      • MS in Criminal Justice - Intelligence & Crime Analysis Track
      • MS Criminal Justice with Behavior Analysis Specialization
      • MS Criminal Justice with Homeland Security Specialization
      • MS in Criminal Justice - Federal Law Enforcement Track
      • MS in Criminal Justice - Behavior Management Track
  • Online Programs Available
    8. University of Delaware

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master of Science in Cybersecurity
  • Online Programs Available
    9. Southern New Hampshire University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • MS in Criminal Justice
      • MS in Criminal Justice: Public Safety Administration concentration
      • MS in Cyber Security
      • MS in Criminal Justice: Advanced Counterterrorism & Homeland Security concentration
      • MSM in Emergency Management
  • Online Programs Available
    10. Utica College

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master of Professional Studies in Cyber Policy and Risk Analysis
      • MS in Data Science: Financial Crime
      • MBA - Cyber Policy
      • MBA - Cybersecurity
      • MBA Economic Crime and Fraud Management
      • MS in Cybersecurity - Computer Forensics

Featured Schools

Regis University

  • Master of Science in Criminology
  • Master of Science in Criminology - Cybercrime and Terrorism Focus
  • Master of Science in Criminology - Human Behavior Focus

What is your highest level of education completed?

Lewis University

  • MS in Criminal Justice
  • MS in Public Safety Administration
  • MS in Computer Science - Cyber Security

What is your highest level of education?

Northcentral University

  • Master of Science in Organizational Leadership - Criminal Justice
  • MBA - Criminal Justice
  • MBA - Homeland Security

What is your highest level of education?

Benedictine University

  • MPH - Emergency Preparedness Focus

What is your highest level of education?

Colorado Technical University

  • M.S. - Criminal Justice
  • Master: Management - Homeland Security
  • Master of Science in Cybersecurity Policy

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Herzing University

  • MBA Dual Concentration: Project Management and Public Safety Leadership
  • MBA Dual Concentration: Healthcare Management and Public Safety Leadership

What is your highest level of education?

Saint Joseph's University

  • MS - Criminal Justice
  • MS in Criminal Justice - Intelligence & Crime Analysis Track
  • MS Criminal Justice with Behavior Analysis Specialization

What is your highest level of education completed?

University of Delaware

  • Master of Science in Cybersecurity

What is your highest level of education completed?