Why This Matters

  • CHOOSE FROM OVER 20 DIFFERENT CAREER PATHS

    Criminal justice is a versatile degree, preparing you for jobs in law enforcement, government, cybersecurity, education, and more. A master’s degree will also qualify you for management positions.

  • DEMAND FOR FORENSIC TECHS UP 17% BY 2026

    One of the fastest growing areas of criminal justice is the use of forensics in crime scene investigations. Specializing in forensics can prepare you for one of 2,600 new jobs expected in this field.

  • EARN $34,890 MORE ANNUALLY WITH A DEGREE


    The median annual salary for police officers and detectives, who typically have degrees, is $63,380. Security guards, who usually only need a high school diploma, earn $28,490 per year.

Our Research

Students studying criminal justice at the graduate level can earn either a Master of Arts or a Master of Science degree. Both will prepare you for advancement in the criminal justice field, with different approaches. Some programs allow you to tailor your experience by offering thesis and non-thesis tracks. Review your options to find the program that best suits your career goals and schedule.

Our list includes programs delivered online, on-campus, and in hybrid formats. Some online programs have optional internships, which would require in-person attendance.

All of the ranked programs have regional accreditation, meaning that they are recognized for meeting quality education standards.

We reviewed each program’s course offerings, cost, flexibility, and reputation. We then calculated the Intelligent Score for each program on a scale from 0 to 100. The top picks for best online master’s in criminal justice are respected, flexible, and affordable.(For a more extensive explanation, check out Our Ranking Methodology.)

  • 56 hours to write this article
  • 156 universities and colleges we assessed
  • 267 education programs we compared

The Top 50 Master’s Degree in Criminal Justice

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What You Should Know About This Degree

Law enforcement jobs such as a police officer, correctional officer, or crime scene investigator are physically demanding, mentally stressful, and often dangerous. Individuals working in criminal justice need a blend of aptitudes and qualities, including physical stamina, perceptiveness, communication and critical thinking skills, and the ability to remain calm in high-stress situations.

Because of the demanding nature of these jobs, specialized training programs beyond formal education are often required. For example, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) requires 12 weeks of training for agents, and 21 weeks of training for intelligence analysts. Even if you have a master’s degree, be prepared for additional training before entering the workforce.

Certain jobs within the criminal justice field are expected to experience a decline in employment over the next few years. The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that employment of correctional officers will drop 7% by 2026, as changes in laws and state budgets impact the number of prisoners in the U.S., and the length of their sentences. Be sure to research your area of interest within criminal justice, to understand your job prospects post-graduation.

You should also find out if a master’s degree is required for the job you seek. In some areas of criminal justice, a bachelor’s degree and on-the-job training are sufficient for employment and promotions.

What’s Next?

Here are some questions to ask when researching Masters in Criminal Justice programs:

  • Am I eligible for this degree? Depending on the master’s program, you may need a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice or a related field. If you do not have this specific educational background, some programs may let you complete prerequisite coursework in order to enroll.
  • Does this program have the specialization that I want? As the field of criminal justice is so diverse, many programs offer concentrations to help you master skills for particular jobs. Specializations include crime analysis, cybercrime investigation and cybersecurity, fraud management, and more. If you are considering a concentration, make sure you select a program that offers that area of focus.

During your research process, you should also be sure to investigate the school’s admissions process and requirements. You can typically find this information on the school’s website, or by contacting their admissions department. Also consider your financing options for graduate school, including financial aid, scholarships, assistantships, and tuition remission or reimbursement from your employer.