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Criminal justice offers many career opportunities, depending on your interests and undergraduate background. Graduates with a master’s degree in criminal justice go on to have careers as cybersecurity analysts, criminologists, psychologists, sociologists, policy analysts, research associates, public health professionals, and various law enforcement positions.The job outlook in most fields is positive, with higher than average demand. In 2022, the average salary of a criminal justice master’s degree graduate ranged from $63,740 for a forensic science technician to $98,590 for a sociologist.

Depending on the program, a master’s in criminal justice degree usually requires 30 to 40 credits and can take 12 to 15 months of full-time study to complete. The average yearly cost at a public institution is $12,596.

How to Choose a Master’s in Criminal Justice Degree Program

Choose your area of study

Having a clear direction before you begin your studies is essential, as this will influence your program choice, class selection, and career pathway.

Concentrations include crime analysis, cybercrime, strategic management, public safety administration, and advanced counterterrorism. Most programs offer criminal justice as a specialization of a Master of Science or a Master of Arts degree.

As your personal and career goals become clear, it’s also important to consider your logistical needs, such as whether you can attend in-person full-time or part-time or utilize online or hybrid options.

Research schools and programs

As you research, focus on accredited institutions and programs to maximize your likelihood of achieving your career goals. Accredited institutions meet a high standard of academic quality and are recognized by employers and government agencies. Course credits from these programs are also more likely to transfer to another institution.

Research the school and faculty to understand the campus and school culture better. Visit the school or attend an in-person or virtual open house or information session.

Prepare for tests and applications

Application requirements for a master’s in criminal justice degree vary by program and institution, so it’s important to review the application process thoroughly. Common required materials are:

  • School transcripts
  • Graduation from a related bachelor’s degree program
  • GRE and GMAT scores
  • Letters of recommendation from internships or current employers
  • Professional resume with relevant work experience

Most programs have an online admissions portal where you can upload most of your materials. However, some schools require the issuing institution to send your official transcripts directly and don’t accept an uploaded PDF. For the most accurate information, contact the admissions counselor or program coordinator.

Select your program

Your chosen program should align with your personal and career goals. Before making your final decision, review your needs and goals again. Ensure you’ve considered your logistics, lifestyle, and employment status.

You can also examine your learning style. Consider your biorhythm — do you learn better in the morning or at night? Would you like to work in a group or independently? Do you prefer lectures or hands-on applied learning? Use these factors to decide whether a synchronous, asynchronous, or hybrid learning program is a better fit.

Determine how you’ll pay for your degree

A final factor in program choice for many postgraduates is financing. Many employers offer tuition reimbursement programs to help advance their employees. These programs might have eligibility requirements based on your work performance or a written commitment to remain with the company after course completion.

Complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Schools and programs use the results to determine your eligibility for funding options.

Research non-profit and community organizations that offer need or merit-based funding. Learn about their ethos and submit a letter detailing why you are a good candidate for funding and how your goals align with theirs.

Best 50 Accredited Master’s in Criminal Justice Degree Programs

Best Master’s in Criminal Justice Degree Programs_2024 badge

Boston University

University of South Florida

California State University, Long Beach

University of Central Florida

Northeastern University

University of Maryland

Rutgers University

Florida International University

University of West Florida

East Carolina University

University of Missouri–St. Louis

Michigan State University

California State University, San Bernardino

University at Albany

Sam Houston State University

University of Cincinnati: Home

University of Colorado Denver

Georgia Southern University

Rowan University

Bowling Green State University

University of Massachusetts Lowell

Indiana State University

University of Wisconsin Platteville

Troy University

North Carolina Central University

University of Central Missouri

University of Louisville

Tarleton State University

Indiana University of Pennsylvania

Texas A&M University - Central Texas

Slippery Rock University of Pennsylvania

Saint Leo University

Coppin State University

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How we rank schools

This list features some of the best master’s in criminal justice degree programs at top colleges across the country. Each school featured is a nonprofit, accredited institution — either public or private — with a high standard of academic quality for postsecondary education.

We evaluated each school’s program on admission, retention, and graduation rates as well as tuition costs, faculty, reputation, and the resources provided for on-campus students. Then, we calculated the Intelligent Score on a scale of 0 to 100. Read more about our ranking methodology.Next, we compared this comprehensive list of master’s in criminal justice degree programs to a list of aggregated college rankings from reputable publications like U.S. News & World Report, among others, to simplify a student’s college search. We pored through these rankings so students don’t have to.

What Can You Expect From a Master’s in Criminal Justice Degree Program?

Graduates of master’s in criminal justice programs can expect to develop high-level skills in communication, analysis, judicial studies, policing, and quantitative research. Students develop and apply criminological theories and leadership strategies that influence decision-making in the United States justice system.

While not standard in every program and specialization, research is a core component of most criminal justice programs. A research project or thesis typically accounts for a significant portion of the program.

Most programs require 30 to 40 credits in addition to your undergraduate studies. Some programs allow registrants to transfer up to 12 graduate credits, which can shorten the length of study. You can generally expect to complete the program in 12 to 18 months or at your own pace if you select a hybrid or online program.

Potential courses you’ll take in a criminal justice master’s program

  • Policing and Corrections. Students learn an overview of the U.S. criminal justice system. This course focuses on the process of arrest, probation, and parole, alternatives to incarceration, and corrections issues.
  • Research Design and Methods. Students learn the guidelines and processes to formulate research questions and testable hypotheses, data analysis strategies, and how to compile the information into a written report. This course also explores experiment design, data collection, and how to carry out surveys.
  • Courts and the Judicial Process. This course explores the roles of criminal justice professionals in the judicial process. Students navigate procedural issues and challenges that move through the initial crime to the appeals phases and examine controversial court cases and inequalities within the judicial process.
  • Ethical Leadership in Criminal Justice. Ethical leadership courses focus on students’ development of leadership qualities, with an emphasis on community involvement and strategic management as they relate to the criminal justice system and public safety. Students will address complex scenarios such as budgetary constraints and risk management.
  • Assessing Organizational Performance. Students learn to assess an organization and evaluate its performance using applicable methods, data, and real-world scenarios. These techniques identify impactful factors, including the organization’s mission, goals, policies, and structure.

Master’s in Criminal Justice Degree Frequently Asked Questions

How do I apply to a criminal justice master's degree program?

To apply for a criminal justice master’s program, visit the school and program website. Be prepared to submit your test scores, transcripts, a completed application, and necessary fees. Some programs also request letters of recommendation or a personal essay.

Have your materials ready by uploading them to your desktop in PDF format. Most schools provide clear instructions on their application portals, and admissions counselors can answer any questions about the process.

How much does a criminal justice master's degree cost?

The average yearly cost of tuition and fees to complete a master’s program at a public institution is $12,596, and $28,017 at a private institution. This amount is in addition to your undergraduate degree. Some schools offer a fast-track program that combines the studies into a five-year program.

These expenses do not include housing, transportation, materials, or online access fees. Most schools also offer different tuition costs for out-of-state students. Before making your final decision, confirm all the associated program fees with the admissions advisor.

How long does it take to earn a criminal justice master's degree?

It can take between 12 and 18 months to complete a 36-credit criminal justice master’s degree program. Factors that influence the program length include:

  • Online vs. in-person programs
  • Part-time vs. full-time attendance
  • Transferable credits

It’s important to note that this program length only pertains to the master’s portion of your studies. Most programs list an undergraduate degree in arts or sciences as a prerequisite for their master’s in criminal justice program.

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