Why This Matters


    Though at faster-than-average growth, the 5% increase projected in law enforcement and emergency management means you’ll still need to stand out from the competition if you want to land top-paying positions.


    Criminal justice is a broad term that encompasses law enforcement, emergency management, corrections, forensics, and security. Join a prestigious organization or law enforcement team — or write your own ticket as a private investigator — with this degree.


    The FBI employs about 35,000 people, or roughly .0001% of the U.S. population. A master’s degree in criminal justice makes you uniquely prepared to enter this elite government agency.

Our Research

We researched graduate programs that offer a master of science in criminal justice, master of arts in criminal justice, and master’s degree in criminology. All the degree programs we reviewed are offered online, which provides maximum flexibility for working professionals. A graduate-level criminal justice degree gives you the opportunity to obtain specialized knowledge and training in a specific sector of the field, such as forensics or corrections.

The programs we reviewed are accredited by regional entities, including the Higher Learning Commission (HLC), the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC), and the Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE). These organizations only accredit programs that meet strict requirements and demonstrate excellence in graduate education.

We evaluated each program on the basis of flexibility, faculty, course strength, cost, and reputation. Then we calculated the Intelligent Score for each program on a scale from 0 to 100. For a more extensive explanation, check out Our Ranking Methodology.

  • 51 hours to write this article
  • 208 universities and colleges we assessed
  • 365 education programs we compared

The Top 50 Master’s in Criminal Justice Degree Programs

Best Master's in Criminal Justice Degree Programs
loader Image

What You Should Know About This Degree

A graduate criminal justice degree provides a spectrum of educational content relevant to the U.S. legal system, including the advanced study of sociology, criminal justice systems and policies, and in-depth research into crime and violence. Similar graduate programs include master’s and doctoral degrees in forensic science and psychology, homeland security, and law enforcement administration.

When you research prospective programs, look for active accreditations from HLC, SACSCOC, or MSCHE. These bodies lend credibility to the degree program’s content and ensure credits are transferable. Graduation from an accredited program shows potential employers that the quality of your education is verifiable.

The job outlook for individuals who complete this degree is positive. Nearly all published data supports faster-than-average growth through 2029. The most common professions sought by graduates of a master’s program in criminal justice include upper-level law enforcement (for example, chief of police or county sheriff), private investigators, victim advocates, and emergency management administrators.

There are no certification or licensing requirements for the degree itself, but some positions might ask for licensing as a condition of employment. Depending on your state of residence, you may need a license to be a private investigator, security instructor, or analyst. Some certifications to consider include Certified Law Enforcement Analyst (CLEA), Criminal Justice Addiction Professional (CJAP), and Global Certified Forensic Examiner (GCFE).

What’s Next?

Ask the following questions when researching criminal justice degree programs:

  • Am I eligible for this program? A master’s degree program requires that you hold a bachelor’s degree upon admission. Depending on the school, you might also need to have a minimum undergraduate GPA and passing score on the Graduate Record Examination (GRE). Though an undergraduate degree in criminal justice isn’t required, it can help your chances of acceptance to a master’s degree program.
  • How long does it take to complete this degree? Most master’s degree programs require completion of 30 to 36 credits of graduate-level coursework. Full-time students can complete this degree in about two years, while part-time students can expect to complete the program in three or four years.

During your research into the master’s degree in criminal justice, note any important dates, such as financial aid or application deadlines. Gather as many materials as possible to prepare for multiple application submissions. You will need official transcripts, GRE test scores, and written admission essays tailored to the school to which you’re applying.

Don’t forget to find out what financial aid may be available by completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) as early as possible. Also, contact the financial aid department at each college to inquire about school-specific scholarships and graduate assistantships that might help you pay for your degree.