If you are interested in protecting lives and property at the federal, state, or local levels, a law enforcement master's degree is a great academic pathway for you. Experienced enforcement professionals and those with advanced degrees have strong job prospects and stand out against competition when searching for a job.
It is a great time to get into the field of law enforcement. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects job growth in many law enforcement-related positions. Protective service occupations are expected to grow 5% over the next eight years, resulting in approximately 158,200 new jobs. Private detectives and investigators are projected to grow 11%, which is faster than the national average.
Earning a master's in law enforcement can help you accelerate your career as a forensic investigator, private detective, loss prevention agent, detective sergeant, or financial investigator. The anticipated job growth in law enforcement administration jobs makes getting into the field even more exciting right now.
The following guide will answer many of the questions those interested in this program have, including why to choose a master's in law enforcement and administration, how to choose the best program for you, what to expect of the admissions process and the program itself, and some related resources and organizations that present professional growth and networking opportunities.
Should I Get a Master's in Law Enforcement Administration?
Law enforcement professionals provide safety, enforce the law, and solve crimes. A law enforcement master's degree opens the door to many opportunities, including jobs as forensic investigators, private detectives, loss prevention agents, detective sergeants, or financial investigators. While not all positions in law enforcement administration require an advanced degree, you will gain a competitive edge with your graduate education. You will also be prepared for leadership positions and can pursue a career as a border patrol officer, criminal investigator, or intelligence analyst.
Earning a master's degree in law enforcement administration gives you a strong background and understanding of protective services and homeland security. You have the option to earn your law enforcement administration degree online or on campus; if you want more flexibility, you can opt for a distance-learning web-based program. Online colleges offer many self-paced asynchronous elements that allow students to complete work at their own paces. This is ideal for working professionals and those who want extra time for personal commitments. On the other hand, if you just earned your undergraduate degree, you may choose on-campus enrollment for the networking opportunities.
In your law enforcement administration program, you will study constitutional law, resource allocation, community engagement, and crime trend evaluation. You will take courses in criminal justice research, court planning, policy analysis, and cyber intelligence. Your school may offer specializations in judicial administration, business intelligence, or federal law enforcement. Graduate school provides you with many career-related resources such as resume-writing tips, interviewing techniques, job-placement assistance programs, and professional networking events.
What Can I Do With a Master's in Law Enforcement Administration?
Law enforcement administrators must have excellent communication and teamwork skills, plus the ability to quickly respond to stressful situations. A law enforcement master's degree sets you up for a rewarding career in the protective services field. With an advanced degree, you have many options for leadership positions within a variety of workplace settings, including local police administration, emergency response teams, fire departments, prisons, and government agencies.
- Police and Detectives
Police officers and detectives serve the public as part of the criminal justice system. They work hard to protect people, enforce the law, and deter criminal activity. Police officers and detectives patrol neighborhoods, respond to incidents, make arrests, and collect evidence surrounding crimes. Those with advanced degrees may work as forensic investigators, private detectives, border patrol officers, or intelligence analysts.
Median Annual Salary: $62,960*
- Police Chiefs and Lieutenants
Police chiefs, detective sergeants, lieutenants, and police captains, also known as first-line police and detective supervisors, manage police department personnel and enforce police procedures. They supervise and coordinate criminal investigations, assigns cases to staff, write and file reports, and train new employees. Supervisors must provide guidance to their subordinates.
Median Annual Salary: $87,910*
- Emergency Management Directors
Emergency management directors lead the response to emergencies and natural disasters. They are responsible for ordering evacuations to minimize damage and disruptions. They may work closely with law enforcement and government agencies, fire departments, hospitals, and public shelters. Emergency managers have administrative responsibilities, including preparing plans and coordinating procedures.
Median Annual Salary: $72,760*
- Forensic Science Technicians
Forensic science technicians find and interpret evidence of crime. At the scene of the crime, forensic scientists take photographs, collect evidence, and record observations. They work in laboratories to analyze their findings, catalog and preserve evidence, and reconstruct crime scenes. In hospital settings, they are responsible for conducting diagnostic tests.
Median Annual Salary: $57,850*
- Battalion Chiefs and Fire Captains
Battalion chiefs, fire captains, fire chiefs, fire lieutenants, and fire marshals, also called first-line supervisors of firefighters, oversee firefighters and fire prevention officers. As a supervisor, they must assess the nature of the emergency and assign jobs to subordinates. They are responsible for training and managing staff and investigating and addressing any issues that arise.
Median Annual Salary: $76,170*
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics
How to Choose a Master's Program in Law Enforcement Administration
There are many important components to think about when choosing the right school and program for you. You should research a variety of master's in law enforcement administration programs, considering the program structure, class offerings, and how they align with your academic and career goals. Look into specialization options such as cybersecurity, counterterrorism, emergency management, corrections, and homeland security.
In addition, find out if there are any final capstone projects, thesis requirements, internships, or practicums. Practicum and internships allow you to gain practical skills in the field. Consider the length and credit requirements of multiple programs, as these components will affect the amount of time it takes for you to complete your degree. Find out if classes must be taken on a part- or full-time basis or if you have the option to work at your own pace.
Be sure to ask about flexible learning environments such as online courses. Graduating from an online school gives you the same opportunities as attending a brick-and-mortar college. Many online master's in law enforcement management programs offer flexible scheduling, and some programs are entirely self-paced so you can complete your degree based on your unique timeline and personal commitments.
If you enroll in an online or a hybrid program that combines on-campus and off-campus elements, make sure you find out about any in-person requirements. There may also be synchronous components that include live video conferences in which you and your professors interact in real time.
Ask each school's financial aid office about tuition and financial aid options, and make sure the programs you are looking into are accredited. Accreditation demonstrates a school's dedication to continual academic improvement. The best online master's in law enforcement programs will prepare you for a leadership position within the field of law enforcement and protective services.
Accreditation for Master's Programs in Law Enforcement Administration
Consider the accreditation status of each law enforcement master's degree in which you are interested. Accreditation is a comprehensive review of an institution of higher education that demonstrates that a school is credible and dedicated to high-quality education.
There are three types of accreditation: national, regional, and programmatic. Regional accreditation entails the most rigorous, demanding standards. National accreditation tends to apply to trade or for-profit schools, while programmatic accreditation is specific to certain disciplines or departments housed within colleges or universities. Check your prospective schools' accreditation standing using the Council on Higher Education Accreditation database of accredited schools.
If you plan to transfer any of your credits in the future or be reimbursed by your employer for tuition, it is especially important to attend an accredited school. Most schools will not accept credits from programs or schools that are not accredited. Additionally, employers typically only offer tuition reimbursement for coursework that was completed at a regionally accredited institution.
Master's in Law Enforcement Administration Program Admissions
Graduate admissions is competitive, and the process for on-campus and online programs is similar; however, the process may be more involved for online programs. The first step is to ensure the programs you are looking into offer the classes and specialization you are most interested in. You must also make sure that you meet the admissions requirements and should consider the school's location and options for online learning.
- Bachelor's Degree: A bachelor's degree from an accredited institution is typically required to enroll in graduate school. However, some law enforcement administration programs will accept former police or military service experience.
- Professional Experience: Previous work experience is not a standard requirement, but many law enforcement degree students have military or police experience. Schools may expect applicants who do not have work-related experience to have a strong academic undergraduate standing.
- Minimum GPA: Applicants typically need a minimum GPA of 2.5 in undergraduate work or 3.0 in previously earned graduate coursework. Some schools encourage applicants with low GPAs to submit standardized test scores.
- Application: The application will request information about your educational and professional background, and you may be required to write a personal statement and submit a resume.
- Transcripts: You must submit official transcripts from all colleges and universities you attended to apply for graduate school. You can mail in official paper transcripts in sealed envelopes or email digital PDF versions directly to the school's graduate admissions office.
- Letters of Recommendation: Colleges will likely ask that you submit up to three letters of recommendation with your college application. You should request letters of recommendation from professors, managers, or supervisors. The letters should explain why you are an ideal candidate for a master's degree in law enforcement administration.
- Test Scores: Many master's programs in law enforcement administration do not require standardized test scores. However, some schools encourage students with GPAs lower than 3.0 to submit GRE scores as evidence of academic merit.
- Application Fee: College application fees range from $60-$150, and you can pay the fee online when you submit the application. Some schools waive application fees for alumni, employees, service members, veterans, and military spouses.
What Else Can I Expect From a Master's Program in Law Enforcement Administration?
The best master's in law enforcement administration programs will prepare you for a leadership career in the field of protective services by teaching you how to apply organizational management to criminal justice administration. The details of your law enforcement master's degree will depend on the school you attend. Your program may offer unique specialization options. Five popular concentrations have been listed below.
|Crime Prevention||A concentration in crime prevention deepens your understanding of enforcement and how to deter criminal activity. You will learn how to develop programs to help communities respond to local crime and disorder problems. Topics in this concentration range from basic crime prevention theory, police effectiveness, police ethics, and the relationship between police and the communities.||Some career options include positions in federal, state, or local law enforcement and employment as a criminologist, DEA agent, or FBI agent.|
|Corrections||A concentration in corrections is ideal if you are interested in the prison system. In this concentration, you study the history of correctional institutions. Topics include rehabilitation, probation, parole, prison reform, and the different types of correctional programs. You also explore how correctional officers interact with inmates.||Graduates often pursue careers in federal, state, or local law enforcement and as probation officers, parole officers, and correctional treatment specialists.|
|Homeland Security||A homeland security concentration helps you understand the development, nature, impact, and response to domestic and international terrorism. You explore theoretical, practical, and ethics issues as well as emergency management and how to protect critical infrastructure. Topics range from crisis management to legal and public policy concerns.||Options include positions in federal, state, or local law enforcement and emergency managers.|
|Criminal Behavior||A criminal behavior concentration gives you a strong understanding of the the psychological causes of crime. You study the relationship between crime and psychology while exploring crime trends, causes, and different types of criminal offenders. Topics include psychopathology, personality assessment, justice agencies, crisis intervention, and counseling.||Career options include positions in federal, state, and local law enforcement, as well as criminologist, behavioral health specialist, mental health worker, and social services worker.|
|Crime Analysis and Investigation||A concentration in crime analysis and investigation takes a deep dive into the intricacies of crime. Topics include cold cases, death investigations, national security, international crime, cyber crimes, and white collar and financial crime. You will gain an understanding of how to use photographs and computer applications in crime analysis and digital forensic investigations.||Options include federal, state, and local law enforcement; forensic science technician; crime scene technician; investigator; forensic analyst; and criminologist.|
Courses in a Master's in Law Enforcement Administration Program
When pursuing your law enforcement master's degree, you will take courses in criminal justice, criminology, criminological theory, police management, and police systems administration. The details of your master's in law enforcement administration program will vary depending on the school. A few sample courses have been listed below.
- Research Methods in Criminal Justice
In a research course, you explore the scientific methods used to study crime, criminal justice, and criminal justice organization administration. You examine different methodological design theories such as survey research, experimental research, and qualitative research. Topics include theory, hypotheses, sampling, the interpretation of data, criminal justice statistics, ethics, and issues with confidentiality.
Corrections courses examine both the history and current trends of the field of correctional policy and practice. Topics include punishment, rehabilitation, deterrence, institutional management, offender supervision, physical and mental health problems of prisoners, and restorative justice. You examine the laws that govern correctional institutions and practices, including justifications, social and political contexts, and privatization.
- Police Operations and Leadership
In this course, you explore the application of law enforcement policies. Topics include supervision of police personnel, internal management concerns, technology for law enforcement, and critical incident management. You study the decision-making process as well as the organizational theory, effectiveness, and design of all aspects related to police leadership.
- Homeland Security and Counterterrorism
Homeland security and counterterrorism courses provide you with a strong understanding of domestic and international political terrorism. Topics include risk analysis, intelligence, anti-terrorism, extremism, and counterterrorist technology. You explore cultural and religious foundations of terrorism, tactical and strategic solutions, and the legal and ethical considerations of counterterrorism.
In a criminology course, you explore various explanations of criminal behavior and the role of law enforcement in the criminal justice system. Topics include criminological theories, criminal behavior patterns, victims of crime, socioeconomic and sociocultural influences of crime, crime rates, and crime prevention.
How Long Does It Take to Get a Master's in Law Enforcement Administration?
The average master's degree in law enforcement administration is 36 credits made up of required core coursework, electives, and a final capstone or thesis project. Many programs follow a year-round structure with terms that are between 7-14 weeks long. Programs that are offered on an accelerated basis can often be completed in one year, while other programs are cohort-based, meaning students are required to take courses in a set chronological order.
The time required to complete your master's in law enforcement program depends on the program's credit requirements and whether you are transferring in with any previously earned credits. If you study on a full-time basis, you can likely finish your master's program in under two years. There are also options for students who prefer to study on a part-time basis.
How Much Is a Master's in Law Enforcement Administration?
Many colleges and universities charge higher tuition for out-of-state students, and some schools charge online learners the same tuition regardless of residency -- though distance learners are sometimes charged extra technology fees. The cost of tuition for a master's degree in law enforcement administration can range from $325 to $1,000 per credit. Some schools charge per course taken, which may cost between $1,000 to $4,500 per course. You can expect to pay between $15,000 and $65,000 in total tuition. You should also consider the cost of books, learning materials, housing, and any applicable commuting and parking expenses.
Financial aid such as loans, grants, and scholarships are helpful when thinking about how you will pay for your degree. Keep in mind you are only eligible for federal financial aid if you enrolled in a regionally accredited school. Some schools cut off financial aid eligibility for students who enroll in fewer than 6 credits per semester.
Certifications and Licenses a Master's in Law Enforcement Administration Prepares For
- Private Investigator License
In all but five states, you must be licensed to become a private investigator, and in most states, you need a few years of related experience before obtaining this license. Each state has its own licensing requirements, and all require you to meet certain educational standards.
- Firearms License
Many law enforcement professionals carry a gun and therefore need special firearms training. Gun licenses are issued by state jurisdictions, so specific requirements for licensure vary. You will likely need to take a firearms safety course and pass a background check.
- CPR Certification
As a first responder to emergency situations, those in law enforcement often have their cardiopulmonary resuscitation certification. This certification demonstrates the ability to problem-solve through a life threatening cardiac emergency and provide help to those whose lives are at risk. CPR training is often combined with automated external defibrillator (AED) training.
Resources for Graduate Law Enforcement Administration Students
In addition to an internship program, the department also boasts a recent graduates program as well as many fellowship opportunities.
The U.S. Department of Education offers many useful resources for individuals who are interested in pursuing graduate school. The website lists accredited schools and provides up-to-date information about financial aid options.
The website lists and describes several opportunities for law enforcement graduate students to pay for the cost of education.
FOP is the largest organization of sworn law enforcement officers in the world. The group works to improve the safety and working conditions of police officers. FOP offers tuition reimbursement scholarships for members.
After graduating from a law enforcement program, many students go on to pursue jobs with the FBI. This website offers helpful information for those interested in a career path with the FBI as well as current job listings.
Professional Organizations in Law Enforcement Administration
Law enforcement associations foster a sense of collegiality across the field. Within a professional organization, members collaborate and create a collective voice to advocate for their profession. Professional organizations and associations provide valuable resources for law enforcement professionals, including students working towards their degrees and recent graduates. Benefits of membership include access to professional development opportunities, continuing education programs, in-person networking events and conferences, online journals and trade publications, and employment resources such as job listings.
ACJS is an international association that promotes criminal justice research and education. With a focus on policy analysis, ACJS is a great resource for law enforcement professionals, and members benefit from an employment bulletin, journals, newsletters, and many networking opportunities.
NAPO is a coalition of 241,000 law enforcement officers based in the U.S. NAPO influences legislative and political action, sponsors research, and administers awards for police officers. Members benefit from charitable events and a legal assistance center.
IACP is a worldwide association for law enforcement professionals. IACP sponsors the Fallen Officer Fund, which is part of a foundation designed to improve the lives of police officers. There are many benefits of membership, including networking opportunities, educational programs, conferences, and job listings.
IPA is an organization with a mission to provide an opportunity for active and retired police officers to forge friendships. Law enforcement officers benefit from a discrimination-free environment, recreational and educational programs, and study groups.
FLEOA is a nonpartisan, nonprofit professional association of federal law enforcement officers. The main goal of FLEOA is to provide legal assistance, representation, and a legislative voice for the federal law enforcement community.