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A master’s in criminology degree equips students with the knowledge and skills necessary for advanced roles in law enforcement, forensic psychology, criminal justice, and corrections. Students understand the impact and influence of crime, develop analytical skills, and learn about the economic, social, and psychological factors of crime in society. A master’s in criminology degree leads to career opportunities as police chiefs, victim witness advocates, forensic psychologists, or criminologists.

The median annual salary for police and detectives is $74,910. Wages vary depending on the position, industry, and location. In 2023, the top ten percent of detectives earned more than $117,100 annually, while the lowest ten percent earned less than $45,790. A master’s degree can lead to advancement to higher-paying leadership positions.

Most master’s in criminology programs require the completion of between 30 and 40 credits and take two years of full-time study to complete. Part-time and asynchronous options are also available, allowing students to complete the degree at their own pace. The average annual cost for a master’s program is $19,749, but it will vary depending on the institution, program, and student living requirements.

How to Choose a Master’s in Criminology Program

Choose your area of study

Institutions often offer master’s degrees in criminology as either a Master of Arts or a Master of Science. The best option depends on the student’s academic and career goals. A Master of Arts degree often focuses on humanities and includes primarily discussion-based learning. A Master of Science degree focuses on scientific and technical subjects, including lab work, research, and analysis.

Students can also choose between a thesis-track or non-thesis-track master’s program in criminology. Thesis-track programs require students to complete and present a thesis that discusses the results of a research project related to criminology. Thesis-track programs are best for those who wish to continue their studies to pursue a Ph.D. in criminology.

Non-thesis-track programs do not include the completion of a thesis and often conclude with a research project or internship.

Many master’s programs in criminology also offer specialization areas where students can tailor their elective coursework to their interests and career goals. Specializations include law and public policy, homeland security, terrorism, and public management.

Research schools and programs

When researching schools and programs, look for those that have received accreditation from a recognized organization. Accreditors for master’s in criminology programs include the Higher Learning Commission (HLC), the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC), and the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (NWCCU).

Accreditation ensures that these institutions meet a set quality standard and will adequately prepare students for their future careers. Attending a school with regional accreditation will assist in transferring credits, being hired, and receiving government aid.

Students can learn more about prospective schools and programs by browsing the website, visiting campus, attending open houses, and following on social media. Students can also contact admissions advisors and program representatives to ask any questions and gain additional insights.

Prepare for tests and applications

Application requirements for master’s in criminology programs vary by institution. However, most will require applicants to submit the following:

  • Undergraduate transcripts
  • GRE test scores
  • Letters of recommendation
  • A personal essay
  • Proof of English proficiency

Before applying, speak with the school’s admissions advisor. They’ll review the application process and ensure you have all the required materials.

Select your program

If accepted to multiple programs, narrow your options by considering your career goals and logistical needs. Ask the following questions:

  • Is the program in-person or online?
  • Is it full-time or part-time?
  • Are there asynchronous learning options available?
  • Do they offer on-campus housing?
  • What is the cost of the program?

Choose the institution that best suits your needs and will set you up for success. If you’re having trouble choosing, speak with an academic advisor. They’ll review your options and help you find the best fit.

Determine how you’ll pay for your degree

Create a budget outlining your annual costs to determine whether you’ll pay for your degree independently or require financial aid. Include the following:

  • Tuition
  • Fees
  • Supplies
  • Housing
  • Transportation
  • Living expenses

Complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid Submit (FAFSA) to assess the amount of financial aid you’re eligible to receive, including scholarships, grants, work-study funds, and loans. If you’re employed, ask your employer if they offer tuition assistance benefits.

Best 50 Accredited Master’s in Criminology Programs

Best Master's in Criminology Degree Programs_2024 badge

University of Pennsylvania

University of Maryland

Florida State University

University of South Florida

University of Illinois Chicago - Department of Criminology, Law, and Justice

University of Miami

Northern Arizona University

Northeastern University

George Mason University

The University of Alabama

Saint Vincent College

University of Missouri–St. Louis

Discover More Options

How we rank schools

We reviewed many master’s in criminology degree programs, including both Master of Arts (MA) and Master of Science (MS) programs. MA programs tend to be more rooted in humanities, while MS programs are usually research-based. Consider your personal preferences and career aspirations as you choose between these two options.

Our list includes online, traditional, and hybrid options. Online programs sometimes have a brief in-person component. All of the programs listed are from regionally accredited schools.

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.

What Can You Expect From a Master’s in Criminology Program?

A master’s in criminology degree provides students with an advanced understanding of the causes, acts, punishments, and rehabilitation of crime in society. Coursework focuses on topics including criminological theory, policing, restorative justice, and the sociology of law. Graduates gain the analytical, critical thinking, problem-solving, and communication skills required to succeed in leadership roles in the field.

Various learning methods include coursework, seminars, labs, exams, research, and essays. Depending on the program, the degree will conclude with an in-depth research project, internship, or thesis that demonstrates the skills and knowledge gained by the student during the program.

Potential courses you’ll take in a master’s in criminology program

  • Legal Issues in Criminology. Students will learn about the legal issues that criminal justice professionals face, focusing on criminal constitutional problems and the administrative decisions of criminal justice organizations.
  • The Dynamics of Cybercrimes. This course examines the issue of cybercrimes, including topics related to law enforcement, criminals and victims, federal laws, and the development of research topics on cybercrimes.
  • Criminal Violence: Theory, Research, and Issues. This course provides an overview and application of theories related to criminal violence. Students will cover research, policy, and issues related to predicting dangerousness.
  • Methods and Techniques of Research in Criminology. Students will study the role of research in analyzing, interpreting, and clarifying criminology.
  • Quantitative Strategies for Analysis in Criminology. This course covers the logic of data analysis and the fundamentals of statistical procedures used in criminological analysis.

Master’s in Criminology Degree Frequently Asked Questions

How do I apply to a master's in criminology degree program?

To apply for a master’s program in criminology, visit the prospective program’s application page and review the application deadline, fees, and required materials. Requirements will vary by program, but you will likely need to submit your undergraduate transcripts, GRE test scores, letters of recommendation, and a personal essay. Speak to an admissions advisor before finalizing your application to ensure you submit the correct materials.

How much does a master's in criminology degree cost?

The average annual cost of a master’s degree in criminology is $19,749, but it will vary by program and institution. Consider additional expenses that will increase the annual cost, such as supplies, housing, transportation, and extracurriculars. Yearly costs may also be lower for students who study online or are enrolled part-time.

How long does it take to earn a master's in criminology degree?

Most master’s in criminology degrees require 30 to 40 credits and two years of full-time study. Some programs are available online or part-time for students who don’t have full-time or in-person availability, but these options often take longer to complete.