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Most schools have rolling admissions and financial help so you can start your degree in a few weeks!

Students who graduate with a master’s degree in criminal justice are qualified to work in many protective service, legal, and community occupations. They can pursue a career as police supervisors, detective supervisors, victim’s advocates, forensic psychologists, cybercrime specialists, and other jobs in law enforcement and criminal justice management. If they currently work in law enforcement or the justice system, a master’s degree can lead to promotion and a higher salary.

According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, the median pay for police and detectives in 2021 was $66,020, while psychologists made an average of $81,040. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the average cost of a master’s program at a private institution in 2020-21 was $26,621, and $12,394 at a public institution. Completing this degree takes between one and two years of full-time study.

How to Choose an Online Master’s in Criminal Justice Degree Program

Choose your area of study

Since those holding this degree are qualified to work in many different areas of criminal justice, students should know what career they’d like to pursue after graduation and then choose a concentration that aligns with those goals. For example, some programs offer concentrations in homeland security, cybercrime, public policy, crime analysis, public administration, law enforcement leadership, and more. Additionally, other programs offer or require an internship or field experience, so potential applicants should check to make sure such opportunities are available where they live.

Research schools and programs

Once you’ve chosen an area of study, it’s time to research various schools and their programs. Focus on those that offer courses and specializations that correspond with your desired career path. You can find most information on the program’s page on the school’s website. Some schools may require students to complete an online form to receive additional information, or you may need to speak with an admissions counselor at the university to get answers to all your questions.

In addition to the academic aspects of the program, think about the following factors as well:

  • Is the school accredited? Accreditation is where you should start. Regionally accredited institutions provide the best programs and education. Additionally, you won’t be eligible for federal financial aid if the school isn’t accredited. Furthermore, if you want to pursue post-secondary education, such as a doctorate, most universities will only accept a master’s degree from an accredited school. Finally, a degree from an accredited school will give you many more employment opportunities if you plan to enter the workforce after graduating. Be sure to apply only to institutions accredited by agencies recognized by the U.S. Department of Education.
  • What is the cost of the program? Price should also be one of the first factors you consider. Focus on programs within your budget so you don’t waste time researching those that won’t work for you financially. Find a balance between staying within your budget and finding a program you’ll enjoy participating in.
  • What is the learning format? Students should decide if they want a format that is synchronous, asynchronous, or a combination of the two. Those with family or work responsibilities who will do most of their studying evenings and weekends may prefer an asynchronous format. Those who can study during the day and would like to interact more closely with fellow students and instructors may opt for a synchronous program. Some universities require students to be online at specific times for certain courses. Still, most studying can be done at the student’s convenience as long as all necessary deadlines are met.
  • Where is the school located? Even if the program is 100% online, various campus events may be held on campus, such as career fairs, meet-and-greets, in-person orientations, sporting events, and various student clubs, organizations, and other activities. If you would like to participate in any of these, choose a school close to your home.

Prepare for tests and applications

Each university has admissions requirements, so check the school’s website for details. Some institutions offer rolling admissions, while others have specific deadlines for submitting applications and supporting documentation. The program’s start date may be a factor, as online programs don’t always start at the same time as their on-campus counterparts. Also, some universities require GRE scores for admittance to graduate degree programs.

Select your program

After you’ve completed your research into various schools and programs, take some time to examine what you found. Consider the pros and cons of each program, eliminate the ones that won’t work for you, and then make a list, in order of preference, of all the remaining programs. It’s a good idea to apply to all the schools on the list since you don’t know the responses. Keep your options open. If you receive several acceptance letters, choose the school that ranks highest on your list.

Determine how you’ll pay for your degree

Financial aid is available to eligible students from the U.S. government in the form of grants, loans, and work-study programs. Fill out and submit the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to receive such assistance. Many schools offer various financing options, or you may be able to pay for a course at a time as you work through the program. If you have previously earned college credits beyond a bachelor’s degree, it may be possible to transfer them; this can reduce the number of courses you need to take for the degree. Past and current military members can usually get a discount on their tuition. Beyond that, a part-time job can help pay for your degree if you have room in your schedule.

Best 50 Accredited Online Master’s in Criminal Justice Degree Programs

Best Master's in Criminal Justice Programs
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Boston University
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Lewis University
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Concordia University at St. Paul
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Michigan State University
01

Saint Joseph's University
01

Xavier University
01

Salve Regina University
01

Arizona State University
01

Norwich University
01

University of Colorado Denver
01

University of California at Irvine
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University of San Diego
01

DeSales University
01

University of New Haven
01

Mercer University
01

NMSU Global Campus
01

University of Cincinnati
01

Sam Houston State University
01

Trine University
01

Florida State University
01

Saint Leo University
01

Southeast Missouri State University
01

University of Michigan - Dearborn
01

University of Oklahoma
01

Texas Christian University
01

Webster University
01

Tiffin University
01

Eastern Kentucky University
01

University of Central Missouri
01

University of Louisville
01

UMass Lowell
01

Florida International University
01

Monmouth University
01

Franklin University
01

University of Wisconsin - Platteville
01

Columbia College
01

CUNY John Jay College of Criminal Justice
01

Liberty University
01

Penn State World Campus
01

Washburn University
01

Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis
01

Georgia Southern University
01

Bellevue University
01

University of Houston - Downtown
01

University of the Cumberlands
01

University of North Georgia
01

University of Alaska Fairbanks
01

University of Central Florida
01

Washington State University
01

Texas Southern University

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How We Rank Schools

This list features some of the best online master’s in criminal justice programs at top colleges nationwide. Each school featured is a nonprofit, accredited institution — either public or private — with a high standard of academic quality for post-secondary institutions.

We evaluated each school’s program on tuition costs, admission, retention and graduation rates, faculty, reputation, and the student resources provided for online 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 online master’s in criminal justice programs to a list of aggregated college rankings from reputable publications like the 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 an Online Master’s in Criminal Justice Degree Program?

Each criminal justice program has its own curriculum, and the different programs can vary quite a bit. Nevertheless, students generally study subjects such as law enforcement, courts and the justice system, criminal behavior, research methods, public policies, data analytics, and others.

Online students receive course material via an online learning management system (LMS) such as Moodle, Canvas, D2L Brightspace, or Blackboard. Some institutions have developed their own LMS. While each LMS has unique features, students can usually log in to a student portal to view the course syllabus, class schedules, audio-video material, reading material, course assignments, grades, and more. Students also have access, via the LMS, to chats and message boards where they can view announcements and communicate with fellow students and instructors.

Potential courses you’ll take in an online master’s in criminal justice degree program

  • Crime analysis in policing. This course examines methods and techniques police employ when collecting and collating data, along with the software and technology used. It also covers theory and research on crime analysis and how police use these to reduce crime.
  • Analysis of criminal justice systems. In this course, students learn about the evolution of criminal justice theory and how various criminal justice systems have developed. They also examine how these systems respond to criminality and how to explain and evaluate these different responses.
  • Courts, sentencing, and the judicial process. Students learn about the U.S. judicial process, including courtroom decision-making models and how they take into account politics, race, sex, and various bureaucratic issues and influences. It also examines social policies and their effect on courts and sentencing.
  • Ethical and legal issues. Ethical issues are challenging the justice system more than ever, from local courts to the nation’s highest court. In this course, students examine such issues as abortion, same-sex marriage, gender issues, euthanasia, environmental concerns, and other topics that are shaping the legal landscape in the 21st century.

What Can You Do With an Online Master’s in Criminal Justice?

Career outlook

The criminal justice field is dynamic and ever-evolving, with a constant need for well-trained professionals who can navigate the complex world of law enforcement, legal processes, and public safety. Pursuing an online master’s degree in criminal justice can open the door to a wide range of rewarding career opportunities.

Based on data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the need for private detectives and investigators is growing at a rate of roughly six percent, which is faster than the economy as a whole. Professionals in these fields earn a median salary of $52,120 a year, but those with a master’s degree are likely to earn more.

Career paths

Individuals with an online master’s in criminal justice have a broad range of career paths open to them. Growth in the field is driven by factors such as evolving criminal behaviors, changes in legislation, and the ongoing need for public safety. Although entry-level positions are available in many cases for those with a high school diploma or undergraduate degree, those with a master’s-level education are likely to be eligible for leadership positions with complex responsibilities and commensurate salary ranges.

Here are a few of the possible jobs open to those with training in this field:

  • Forensic psychologist — provides evaluations of defendants, offers expert testimony, and works in rehabilitation programs.
  • Homeland security specialist — collaborates with federal, state, and local agencies to develop and implement security measures.
  • Legal services — works as a paralegal or legal consultant.
  • Law enforcement leadership — leads law enforcement agencies as police chief or sheriff.
  • Criminal justice educator — serves as professor, researcher, or policy analyst in higher education.

Criminal Investigator

Earning Potential: $40,000-$100,000 annually

Education Required: Bachelor’s or master’s degree in criminal justice

A criminal investigator, often referred to as a detective, is responsible for solving crimes and bringing perpetrators to justice. They play a crucial role in law enforcement by gathering evidence, conducting interviews, and analyzing information to piece together the facts of a case. Criminal investigators work to uncover leads, identify suspects, and collaborate with forensic experts. Their duties include maintaining meticulous records, presenting findings in court, and working closely with prosecutors to build strong cases. Their pursuit of justice helps ensure the safety and security of communities.

Corrections Manager/Administrator

Earning Potential: $45,000-$100,000 annually

Education Required: Master’s degree in criminal justice

A corrections manager/administrator oversees the daily operations of correctional facilities, such as prisons and jails. They play a critical role in maintaining the safety and security of inmates and staff. Their duties include managing facility budgets, staffing and resources, implementing rehabilitation programs, and ensuring compliance with policies and procedures. Corrections managers also handle issues related to inmate discipline, overcrowding, and facility maintenance. They work to create a rehabilitative and secure environment, promoting successful reintegration of inmates into society. Additionally, they may liaise with external agencies, such as parole boards and law enforcement, to coordinate inmate releases and transfers.

Criminologist

Earning Potential: $35,000-$100,000+ annually

Education Required: Master’s or Ph.D. in criminal justice

A criminologist studies the causes, consequences, and patterns of criminal behavior and the criminal justice system. They conduct extensive research and analysis to understand the complexities of crime, its social and psychological factors, and its impact on society. Criminologists gather and examine data, develop theories, and often collaborate with law enforcement agencies and policymakers to devise strategies for crime prevention and criminal justice reform. Their work includes evaluating the effectiveness of policies and programs, providing expert opinions, and contributing to the development of evidence-based practices that help shape a safer society.

Online Master’s in Criminal Justice Degree Program Frequently Asked Questions

How do I apply to an online master’s in criminal justice degree program?

Most universities provide for application submission online via their websites. Paper applications can be submitted through the mail. Applicants should have a bachelor’s degree from an accredited institution, but it doesn’t necessarily need to be in a related field. If the applicant does not have a bachelor’s degree, prior work experience in law enforcement or criminal justice may be accepted. Transcripts from all post-secondary institutions should be submitted; each university has a minimum GPA requirement, but these can vary. Most graduate programs also require applicants to submit resumes, a personal statement or letter of intent, and one or more letters of recommendation. Applicants should always contact an admissions counselor before applying.

How much does an online master’s in criminal justice degree program cost?

An online master’s in criminal justice costs between $10,000 and $24,000. Plan on additional fees for technology and software, books, and certain university services. Often, the tuition is higher for out-of-state residents, but this is not always the case for online students.

How long does it take to earn an online master’s in criminal justice degree?

Depending on the program, an online master’s in criminal justice requires 30-45 credits and can be completed in one or two years with full-time study. Some universities offer an option to study part-time, but students are generally required to complete the degree in five years or less.

Is an online master's in criminal justice worth it?

An online master’s in criminal justice provides a pathway to various career opportunities and offers a strong foundation for professional growth and specialization in this dynamic field. The career outlook is promising, and graduates can choose from many career paths, including criminal investigation, corrections management, criminology, law enforcement leadership, legal services, academia, public administration, and private sector security.

According to Salary.com, the salary range for a master’s-level detective is roughly $44,348-$98,052. The amount of money you make can fluctuate depending on your location, years of experience, and other factors.

Earning your degree online can be an excellent choice for many students. It offers a level of flexibility that is not found in on-campus programs, as students are often able to choose when and where they wish to attend class and study. They can complete coursework at their own pace, which can be a benefit to those who have other professional or personal commitments. Online programs allow for extensive networking with professors, peers, and others in the professional community through internships and other innovative study options.