Why This Matters


    Criminology is a branch of sociology that deals with the causes and prevention of crime. A master’s in criminology can lead to careers in law, public policy, criminal justice, non-profits, education, and more.


    Job growth for sociologists, including those who specialize in criminology, is expected to increase at a faster-than-average pace through 2028, as we continue seeking an understanding of the world.


    The average annual salary for criminologists with a master’s degree is $82,050. By comparison, individuals who only have a bachelor’s degree in criminology can expect to earn an average annual salary of $56,000.

Our Research

We focused our research for this list on master’s degrees in criminology and criminal justice. The list consists of both Master of Arts (MA) and Master of Science (MS) degrees in this field. Both types of degrees offer advanced training in this field, with slightly different theoretical approaches.

We also looked for top-quality programs that are offered online to ensure flexibility and accessibility for working professionals and those who cannot attend on-campus classes.

All of the schools are regionally accredited institutions, which means they meet the highest standards of quality in postsecondary education. Degrees and credits from regionally accredited institutions are more widely accepted by other schools and employers.

We evaluated each program on the basis of cost, course offerings, outcomes, flexibility, faculty, and reputation. We then calculated an Intelligent Score for each program on a scale of 0 to 100. For a more extensive explanation, check out Our Ranking Methodology.

  • 61 hours to write this article
  • 157 universities and colleges we assessed
  • 411 education programs we compared

The Top 13 Online Master’s in Criminology Programs

Best Online Master's in Criminology Degree Programs
Intelligent Pick
University of California, Irvine
Best Research University
Indiana University of Pennsylvania
Best for Transfer Students
Missouri State University
Best Public University
Florida State University
Best Applied Criminology Focus
California University of Pennsylvania
Best Global Criminology Focus
San Jose State University
Most Flexible
Indiana State University
Most Affordable
Delta State University
Best Jesuit University
Regis University
Alumni Recommended
Kent State University
Best Private University
Northeastern University
Most Specialization Options
Texas A&M University-Commerce
Most Experienced Faculty
The University of Texas at Dallas

What You Should Know About This Degree

The terms criminology and criminal justice are often used interchangeably, but there are important differences between the two fields. Understanding those differences is key at this stage so that you can select the right type of program for your interests and career goals.

Criminology is a subfield of sociology focusing on researching social behavior as it relates to crime and deviations from what is considered “normal” behavior. This is an ideal field for individuals who want to understand the psychological and sociological causes of crime, and you can use this knowledge to inform laws and assist in criminal investigations. Criminologists often go on to earn a PhD in criminology or a related field.

Criminal justice deals directly with the systems of law enforcement, courts, and corrections. A degree in criminal justice will prepare individuals for careers as law enforcement officers, detectives, corrections officers, and more. Consider what your career goals are when selecting the program you want to pursue.

Depending on your career goals, you may need additional education after earning your master’s degree. For example, if you are interested in pursuing a career as a lawyer, you will have to earn a law degree and pass the bar exam before being able to professionally practice law. Keep this extra commitment of time and money in mind when planning out your educational path.

What’s Next?

Here are some questions to ask when researching Online Master’s in Criminology programs:

  • Can I pass a background check? As a prerequisite for most jobs within the criminology field, candidates will undergo extensive background checks, drug testing, and other screenings. Individuals who have potentially problematic situations in their history should talk to an advisor about how this may impact their ability to enter the field and obtain work before enrolling in a program.
  • How are courses in this program delivered? Online courses are typically delivered either synchronously or asynchronously. Students attend synchronous courses remotely, but at set meeting times. In asynchronous courses, students can access lessons and assignments on their own time. Find out how the program delivers its courses so that you can choose the type of program that best fits into your schedule.

During your research process, you should also 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.