What Can I Expect from an Online Master’s in Criminology Program?

Online master’s programs are available through traditional universities with the same academic quality and professionalism as on-campus classes. Also, the flexibility of online programs makes it easier to find time for work and family commitments, and you may be able to earn your degree faster than you would in an on-campus program. Remember that online master’s in criminology programs vary in many ways, so it’s essential to compare each option to find the one that best matches your career goals.

Available concentrations

If you already know what you want to do in the criminology field, you should find a program that allows you to focus on this specialty. Some of the most common concentration options for online master’s in criminology programs include:

    • Forensic Criminology: Focuses on the legal aspects of forensics and criminology, covering how to collect and analyze evidence and preparing graduates for a career in criminal investigation.
    • Cybercrime: In addition to digital forensic science and cybercrime investigation techniques, this concentration also reviews cybercrime’s social and behavioral aspects.
    • Human Behavior: Examines why people commit crimes or become victims, preparing graduates for roles such as criminal profiler, victimology expert, or victim advocate.

Common degree curriculum

No two online criminology master’s degree programs are exactly alike. Some focus on core subjects directly related to criminology, while others offer a combination of core courses and electives that may or may not relate to criminology. The core courses that you will find in most master’s in criminology programs include:

  • Research Methods in Criminology: Criminological studies focus on data collection methods and how to measure the validity and reliability of data.
  • Victimology: Scientific study of victims, including victim types, patterns, characteristics, and impacts.
  • Criminal Profiling: An overview of the development of perpetrators of violent crimes, often combined with an analytical understanding of serial criminals’ unique characteristics and methodologies.

Certification and license preparation

Some states and law enforcement agencies require criminologists to pass a licensure exam. Check with your local law enforcement agencies, secretary of state office, or professional licensing department to learn specific requirements in your state.

Also, if your criminology career goal is to become a private investigator, most states will require you to obtain a state-issued license. Earning a master’s in criminology can prepare you for this licensure exam.

Program accreditation

To protect yourself from fraudulent or subpar schools, always ensure the colleges you apply to are accredited. Accreditation demonstrates the school consistently provides quality education that prepares graduates for careers in their chosen field. Attending an unaccredited school will likely disqualify you from federal and state financial aid and prevent you from being able to transfer credits to another learning institution.

All legitimate universities, colleges, and online degree programs are approved by a DOE-recognized regional accrediting organization. While no single accreditation agency oversees criminology programs, some programs have obtained specialized accreditation through organizations like the Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences.

Program completion timeframe

The time it takes to earn an online master’s degree in criminology varies based on your chosen program and motivation level. 

Depending on the program, earning an online master’s in criminology could require completing anywhere from 30 to 56 credits. Most programs take about two years to complete; however, institutions that offer accelerated programs allow students to finish sooner. Full-time students may be able to earn their degree in just one year through an accelerated program. Professionals pursuing their degree part-time may take considerably longer, especially if their career or family obligations allow little time to dedicate to their studies.

It’s also worth noting that synchronous programs require all students to take classes as a group at scheduled times, while asynchronous programs allow students to progress at their own pace. Motivated students in an asynchronous program may be able to earn their degree faster.

Employment Outlook for Master’s in Criminology Graduates

You’ll likely need a graduate degree to access this field’s most attractive job opportunities.

For example, entry-level sociologist positions typically require applicants to have a master’s degree. The average salary for this occupation is nearly $100,000.

Even when a master’s degree isn’t required, this level of education can still help you advance your career. Some criminology jobs, such as criminal investigator, are only expected to see average growth over the next decade — this means there will likely be a lot of competition for each open position. A master’s degree will allow you to stand out from less educated applicants and generate more interview callbacks. 

Job Title Job Description Median Yearly Salary Projected Growth Rate (2022 – 2032)

Sociologist

Criminology is a discipline within the field of sociology. As a sociologist with a background in criminology, you would design research projects, collect data, and prepare reports to share your findings about criminal behavior.

$98,590

5%

Forensic Science Technician

Forensic science technicians aid criminal investigations by collecting and analyzing evidence for law enforcement agencies. They often specialize in either crime scene investigation or laboratory analysis.

$63,740

13%

Private Detectives & Investigators

Private detectives search for financial, legal, and personal information, often conducting surveillance and collecting evidence to present in court. They may work for individuals, lawyers, or businesses.

$52,120

6%

Detectives & Criminal Investigators

Detectives and criminal investigators collect evidence, conduct interviews, make arrests, and testify at trials. They may work at the local, state, or national level and are typically called agents or special agents at state and federal agencies.

$69,160

3%

Professional organizations

Joining professional organizations will allow you to keep abreast of what’s happening within the industry, find job opportunities, and expand your professional network. These are some of the top organizations for individuals with a master’s in criminology:

  • American Board of Criminalistics: This organization can help promote your professional development through peer-based certification that recognizes you’ve attained the necessary qualifications to work in one or more branches of criminology.
  • American Academy of Forensic Sciences: The AAFS promotes professionalism, education, competency, and integrity while fostering research and encouraging collaboration in the forensic sciences.
  • American Society of Criminology: This international organization maintains a professional employment listing service on its website and conducts annual meetings to discuss topics of general interest. Members also receive professional journals and a newsletter that contains valuable industry information.

Financing Your Online Master’s in Criminology Degree

Getting a master’s degree in criminology online is less expensive than traditional on-campus programs, but many students still need help covering the cost of their education. If you need assistance, start with the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to explore numerous grants, loans, and other financial aid options the federal government offers. State-based financial assistance and private grants and scholarships may also be available.

Student Finance Resources and Guides

As mentioned above, many scholarship, grant, and loan programs exist, each with their own set of eligibility requirements and application deadlines. The following resources will help you determine what you may qualify for and save as much money as possible.

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Interested in a degree?

Learn more about online degrees, their start dates, transferring credits, availability of financial aid, and more by contacting the universities below.