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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 legal, protective service, and social service 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 National Center for Education Statistics, the average cost of graduate school tuition is $12,596 at public institutions and $28,017 at private institutions. Completing this degree takes between one to two years of full-time study.

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

Choose your area of study

Some programs offer this degree as a Master of Arts (MA), while others offer it as a Master of Science (MS). MA programs are centered on social studies, while MS programs focus more on topics such as math, biology, and physics.

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.

You should only consider institutions that have been approved by a DOE-recognized regional accrediting organization, such as the New England Commission of Higher Education or Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities. These organizations evaluate schools to ensure they provide students with a high-quality education. Those who attend a school that isn’t regionally accredited may be unable to access financial aid or transfer credits to another institution if needed.

Also, you should think about the following factors as well:

  • What is the cost of the program? Price should 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.
  • 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.

To learn more about any schools that you’re interested in, you can visit the school’s website, contact an admissions counselor, follow the school on social media, or attend an in-person or virtual open house.

Prepare for tests and applications

Application requirements vary by school and program. 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. A personal statement, letters of recommendation, and undergraduate transcripts may be required as well.

Before submitting an application, always contact an admissions counselor to ensure you have the most accurate information regarding requirements and deadlines.

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.

Before making your final decision, review your needs and goals again. Do you plan to attend school full-time or part-time? Are you only interested in 100% online programs, or are you fine with a hybrid program that has a few in-person requirements? Some programs offer asynchronous courses, which can be completed at your own pace, while others only offer synchronous courses, which involve remotely attending lectures and completing assignments at the same time as other students — which of these two online learning formats do you prefer? Your school should accommodate your scheduling needs and learning preferences.

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. 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. And those who already work in the field should see if their employer offers tuition assistance benefits as well.

Be sure to speak to financial aid counselors at the schools you’re interested in for the most accurate and specific information about program cost.

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
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Saint Joseph's University
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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
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DeSales University
01

University of New Haven
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Mercer University
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NMSU Global Campus
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University of Cincinnati
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Sam Houston State University
01

Trine University
01

Florida State University
01

Saint Leo University
01

Southeast Missouri State University
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University of Michigan - Dearborn
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University of Oklahoma
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Texas Christian University
01

Webster University
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Tiffin University
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Eastern Kentucky University
01

University of Central Missouri
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University of Louisville
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UMass Lowell
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Florida International University
01

Monmouth University
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Franklin University
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University of Wisconsin - Platteville
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Columbia College
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CUNY John Jay College of Criminal Justice
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Liberty University
01

Penn State World Campus
01

Washburn University
01

Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis
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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
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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 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 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 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. 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 of 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.

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:

  • Police officer or detective — Conduct patrols, respond to emergency calls, and investigate crimes.
    • Median annual salary: $69,160
    • Projected employment growth (through 2032): 3%
    • New job openings projected: 64,500 annually
  • Probation officer or correctional treatment specialist — Assist criminal offenders through the rehabilitation process while they are on probation or parole.
    • Median annual salary: $59,860
    • Projected employment growth (through 2032): 3%
    • New job openings projected: 7,400 annually
  • Private detective or investigator — Conduct surveillance and collect evidence for attorneys, individuals, and businesses.
    • Median annual salary: $52,120
    • Projected employment growth (through 2032): 6%
    • New job openings projected: 3,800 annually

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 postsecondary 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 usually costs between $10,000 to $24,000 in total tuition. Plan on additional fees for technology and software, books, and certain university services.

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. It will take longer if you study part-time, and 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.

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. Online programs may also allow for extensive networking with professors, peers, and others in the professional community through internships and other innovative study options.