What Can I Expect from an Online Master’s Criminal Justice Program?

An online master’s in criminal justice explores legal and law enforcement topics to enable future careers in law, policing and forensics. Criminal justice degrees dig into the reasons behind laws, the ways those laws are most beneficially upheld and the impact of enforcement. Many entry-level criminal justice jobs can be filled by individuals with a bachelor’s degree in that field, while continued studies towards a master’s enable candidates to enter higher-level positions. An online degree in criminal justice allows students to continue in the job they already hold while completing studies to advance in their current field or change careers entirely. In addition, the flexibility of an online master’s in criminal justice allows for studies to be completed during the time students have available and without the hassle of having to relocate to take classes.

Concentrations Offered for an Online Master’s in Criminal Justice

Behavioral Analysis / Management Behavioral analysis and management concentrations help students understand how behaviors are evaluated and which techniques and paradigms lead to successful behavioral issue resolutions. Behavioral analyst, forensic investigator
Federal Law Enforcement The federal law enforcement concentration prepares students to work in law and legal enforcement at the federal level, particularly exploring the operation of various federal agencies. FBI, CIA, DIA or DOJ agent
Intelligence An intelligence concentration allows students to hone investigative skills through the study of trends and patterns, as well as statistical analysis, to lead to successful operations, criminal resolutions and crime prevention. Intelligence officer
Homeland Security A concentration in homeland security grounds students in the best approaches to conducting safety and security analyses and developing encompassing plans for threat responses and proactive threat preparedness. Homeland security agent, ICE agent, TSA officer
Cybercrime / Cybersecurity The cybercrime/cybersecurity concentration focuses on cyber legalities and policies, cyber investigations and forensic investigations in the cyber realm. Criminologist, cybercrime investigator

Curriculum for an Online Master’s in Criminal Justice

A master’s in criminal justice involves core competency courses that enable both breadth and depth of understanding of legal and law enforcement issues. Those core classes then become the basis for the electives or concentrations a criminal justice student selects to best prepare for specific roles in the future. This degree field typically features two specific names: a master’s in criminal justice or a master’s in criminal justice and law enforcement. In nearly every case, the degree is a master’s of science due to the inclusion of math, statistical and scientific courses. A smaller group of universities offering an online master’s in criminal justice confer that degree as a master’s of arts. Some universities that offer a PhD in criminal justice and a master’s in the same field sometimes offer a stepping stone to the next level degree through a thesis-track program.

Your master’s in criminal justice coursework may include some of the following classes:

Criminology Theory Delves into the sociology, psychology and biology that lead to the commission of crimes, allowing for the development of proactive programs and policies related to crime prevention.
Criminal Justice Policy Development An exploratory course that enables students to understand how best to examine current polices and events and develop new policies to best enable the mission of legal and law enforcement entities.
Restorative Justice A learning experience that includes using empirical data to enable restorative justice to be utilized as a legal and policing paradigm through the study of stakeholders in the criminal justice process.

How Long Does It Take to Get an Online Master’s Degree in Criminal Justice?

Students can achieve an online master’s in criminal justice by earning between 36 and 48 credit hours to complete their degree. Most online programs offering this degree explain that those credits can often be earned in 18 to 36 months of study. Several universities that students can choose to further their criminal justice master’s offer asynchronous classes that enable students to work largely at their own pace. This allows ambitious learners to cut the time necessary to complete all courses while also enabling other learners to stretch out courses over a longer timeline as suits their time availability and preference. Most colleges require all studies for a master’s in criminal justice to be completed within five years of their initial start date.

Many different concentrations are offered toward this graduate degree in criminal justice, and students may extend their time of study to explore more than one specialty area. Depending on the school a student chooses, they may have the option of taking a capstone course in criminal justice that revolves around the creation and completion of a project related to the degree. Other options include spending one or more semesters in an internship or completing a thesis toward one day teaching at the college level or going on to earn a PhD.

Certifications and Licenses an Online Master’s in Criminal Justice Prepares For

Certified Criminal Justice Addiction Professional This prominent law enforcement certification requires the completion of a master’s degree in criminal justice plus 2000 hours of criminal justice experience within the last 10 years, 60 hours of direct supervision and 100 hours of continuing education, specifically in areas related to addiction.
Private Investigator License Regulated at the state level, individuals can apply for private investigator licensure by completing their education, working in an investigative field for five years, completing a background check and passing a written exam.
State-Level Peace Officer Certification Most states require police officers to not only earn entry-level peace officer certification but to complete ongoing continuing education programs, continuing their time in service with a police agency and upholding state peace officer standards.

Accreditation for Online Master’s in Criminal Justice Degrees

Earning accreditation for a school and the degrees it offers show potential students that curriculum and programs have been thoroughly vetted by an outside agency. Schools may attain accreditation through federal programs, regional accrediting bodies and program-specific entities. As you research different learning institutions, you may find that some have received accreditation for their master’s in criminal justice degree from the Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences. Other accrediting bodies that schools offering this degree may possess include the:

Employment Outlook for Master’s in Criminal Justice Graduates

Job Placement: Master’s v. Bachelor’s

Many careers in law enforcement allow candidates to apply after earning their bachelor’s degree in criminal justice, including police officers and investigators. Higher-level positions within the legal field and law enforcement, including detectives, forensics investigators, criminal justice educators and supervisory personnel, are open to those with a bachelor’s and many years on the job or professionals with a master’s degree and less hands-on experience.

Expected Salary

Law enforcement is a vast career field, employing hundreds of thousands of individuals in municipal, county, state and federal agencies. The career outlook for these professions is positive, with expected growth ranging between 7 and 13 percent over the next 10 years. Salaries vary widely by geographical location as well as position type.

Law enforcement professionals are employed by many different types of agencies and institutions. In addition to local, state and federal government bodies, a police officer, detective or other investigative personnel may also be employed by schools and higher learning institutions. Some non-law enforcement state agencies and private sector organizations also employ police personnel.

The chart below captures the split in employment numbers between various industries and the mean annual wages of police and sherrif’s patrol officers.

Career Opportunities

A master’s in criminal justice opens many doors for professionals in the legal and law enforcement fields, particularly those that include higher-level research and investigations as well as supervisory roles.

First-Line Supervisors of Police and Detectives In this position, the incumbent is responsible for supervising and directing the activities of lower-ranked law enforcement professionals. $92,970 per year 7%
Detectives and Criminal Investigators Detectives and Criminal Investigators research suspected crimes and violations of local, state or federal laws. $89,300 per year N/A
Private Detectives and Investigators Working outside of law enforcement agencies but sometimes in cooperation with then, Private Detectives and Investigators look into matters on behalf of clients, conduct research and provide background checks. $50,700 per year 11%

Professional Organizations

Many different organizations represent, enable and augment the work done by professionals in the law enforcement and legal fields. In addition to these national organizations, most police agencies have their own associations, including unions, educational groups and groups that cover officers with legal representation.

National Association of Police Organizations: NAPO is one of the largest associations a law enforcement professional can join, and this organization also offers guidance for smaller groups that represent officers locally. NAPO holds several conferences annually and offers continuing education for various types of law enforcement personnel.

Fraternal Order of Police: The FOP is part advocacy, part support and part education in its mission to help law enforcement officers with any work-related needs throughout the United States. It also provides legal defense services to members, should that need arise due to on-the-job issues.

Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association/Federal Criminal Investigators Association: These sister organizations represent law enforcement and legal professionals working for any of 65 different agencies within the federal government.

Financing Your Online Master’s in Criminal Justice Degree

An online master’s in criminal justice is likely to charge fewer per-credit-hour fees and associated costs to students than a traditional in-person higher education experience. Fortunately, criminal justice master’s students have many options available to help defray the cost of their education.

Students can begin the process of securing financial aid by filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). This form helps determine the type of aid students are eligible to receive. It must be filled out for each academic year in which a student is pursuing their degree, using data from the prior year’s tax forms. Once this is completed, students can learn about the various types of aid the government offers, including scholarships, grants, work-study arrangements and loans.

Outside of federal financial aid, students may be eligible for grants and scholarships offered by the school of their choice, outside philanthropic organizations and industry associations related to law enforcement. These types of financial aid can be very competitive. Students should apply promptly within guidelines and seek out various types of aid to minimize the amount of money paid out of pocket or financed by federal or private loans

Certain loans used to pay for criminal justice graduate-level studies may be eligible for debt forgiveness through the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program, if the student attains a role in law enforcement with a governmental agency.



Scholarships Details
Academy of Criminal Justice Studies Award: $600

Deadline: December 1

Eligibility: Two graduate students are selected annually to attend the ACJS conference and present a paper while there.

Kush Arora Federal Criminal Justice Reform Scholarship Award: $500

Deadline: December 15

Eligibility: Students must submit a 1000-page paper on criminal justice policy reform, transcript and resume.

Interested in a degree instead?

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