Best Online Master's in Criminal Justice 2020

Compiled and Written By Staff

An online master's in criminal justice makes you a strong candidate for a variety of law enforcement careers. Criminal justice work can be demanding and dangerous, but the field offers many opportunities for engaging, challenging work and active leadership.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports an annual median wage of $65,170 for police and detectives, and jobs in the field are projected to grow 5% from 2018-2028. A flexible online master's in criminal justice can help you advance to lucrative positions in the field.

This page offers an overview of online criminal justice programs, including top schools, typical courses, and salary levels for criminal justice graduates. You'll also find answers to many frequently asked questions about pursuing criminal justice programs online.

Top 10 Online Criminal Justice Master's Programs

  1. Saint Joseph's University - Philadelphia, PA
  2. Boston University - Boston, MA
  3. Xavier University - Cincinnati, OH
  4. Salve Regina University - Newport, RI
  5. Concordia University - Saint Paul, MN
  6. Norwich University - Northfield, VT
  7. Lewis University - Romeoville, IL
  8. Michigan State University - East Lansing, MI
  9. DeSales University - Center Valley, PA
  10. University of San Diego - San Diego, CA

Top 20 Online Criminal Justice Master's Programs for 2020

Saint Joseph's University - Philadelphia, PA

Online Master's in Criminal Justice

Philadelphia-based SJU offers an online master's in criminal justice that prepares graduates to serve as scholars and practitioners, employing the latest criminal justice research to execute effective criminology practice. This private college offers five concentration options: behavior analysis, behavior management, federal law enforcement, intelligence and crime analysis, and homeland security. Candidates can also pursue a customized general track, which enables them to tailor course selections to meet professional aspirations.

Regardless of concentration, all candidates complete four core courses that build fundamental knowledge in criminal justice topics, including research methods and analysis, criminological theory, ethics and criminal justice, and professional writing for law enforcement. Along with the core curriculum, candidates complete specialized electives. All concentration tracks require 30 credits, except for the behavior analysis track, which requires 36 credits and an additional internship at an approved site.

Average Net Price: $35,344
Program Website

Boston University - Boston, MA

Online Master of Science in Criminal Justice

One of the top colleges in Massachusetts, BU hosts one of the country's best online master's in criminal justice programs. The school's master of science in criminal justice offers three concentration options: crime analysis, cybercrime investigation and cybersecurity, and strategic management. Most candidates complete the degree in 16-18 months.

The program gives students an informed perspective on the major sectors of the criminal justice system, including law enforcement, corrections, and the judicial system. Candidates gain advanced knowledge of criminological theories and practices, exploring the application of these concepts to public policy.

The online master's in criminal justice serves as BU's oldest online degree, and distance students benefit from a highly developed program that enables them to connect with an extensive global network of criminal justice professionals. Applicants who hold membership in the American Jail Association may be eligible to receive an application fee waiver.

Average Net Price: $29,154
Program Website

Xavier University - Cincinnati, OH

Online Master of Science in Criminal Justice

A private college based in Cincinnati, Ohio, Xavier ranks among the oldest Jesuit schools in the country and one of the top colleges in the Midwest. Students in the master of science in criminal justice program benefit from a fully online delivery format that features six annual start dates. The program emphasizes administrative practices in criminal justice, preparing graduates for mid- and upper-level management positions in the field.

Candidates complete a minimum of 30 credits. Courses explore topics like sociology of crime and delinquency, correctional counseling, administration/leadership, and research and planning. Along with the general curriculum, candidates complete a research-based graduate thesis and a comprehensive final examination. The program typically takes 1-2 years to complete.

Average Net Price: $31,240
Program Website

Salve Regina University - Newport, RI

Online Master's in Administration of Justice and Homeland Security

Salve Regina hosts a cutting-edge master of science in administration of justice and homeland security. Based in Newport, Rhode Island, this private college prepares criminal justice students for careers in intelligence, security, and threat analysis and management.

Candidates choose from three concentration options: cybersecurity and intelligence, digital forensics, or leadership in justice. Candidates in all concentrations complete 36 credits, divided between eight core courses and four concentration courses. In lieu of a formal concentration, students can create their own concentration through electives.

Students can complete the degree entirely online, but Salve Regina also offers a hybrid format that blends online courses with evening campus sessions on the school's Newport and Warwick campuses. Most candidates complete the online master's in criminal justice in 18-24 months.

Average Net Price: $33,291
Program Website

Concordia University - Saint Paul, MN

Master of Arts in Criminal Justice Leadership

Part of the Concordia University System, a national network of Lutheran liberal arts colleges, CSP hosts one of Minnesota's best online master's in criminal justice programs. This fully online degree features accelerated seven-week courses, with a highly flexible format designed to accommodate working students. CSP reports that 95% of students receive a job offer within one year of graduation.

The master of arts in criminal justice leadership includes a total of 36 credits, offered in a sequential format that builds on previous knowledge with each new course. Candidates complete nine courses, covering topics such as research methods in criminal justice, legal and legislative issues, applied ethics in criminal justice leadership, and correctional design.

The program concludes with a criminal justice capstone, which requires students to compile and present a portfolio of their best work. The capstone offers space for self-assessment and reflection, building a bridge between students' education and professional goals.

Average Net Price: $18,591
Program Website

Norwich University - Northfield, VT

Online Master of Science in Criminal Justice

A private college based in Northfield, Vermont, Norwich offers a master of science in criminal justice that explores global criminal behavior and response in the context of the government, industry, and the military. This unique program emphasizes an international approach to criminal justice, highlighting the challenges of global law enforcement and the role of international law.

The 30-credit program comprises five intensive courses, including two core courses in law enforcement administration and contemporary issues in the criminal justice system. Students fulfill the remaining course requirements with electives, with available options including international terrorism by nonstate actors, international response to transnational terrorism, cybercrime, and cyberlaw.

While most coursework occurs online, all students must visit the Norwich campus for a weeklong residency at the end of the program. The residency includes in-person class sessions and workshops, networking opportunities, and academic recognition and commencement ceremonies.

Average Net Price: $26,695
Program Website

Lewis University - Romeoville, IL

Online Master of Science in Criminal Justice

Lewis' master of science in criminal justice builds on the experience of trained law enforcement professionals, offering advanced skills in organizational and management theory. Based in Romeoville, Illinois, this private college uses a fully online delivery mode, enabling students to complete their degree without visiting campus.

Candidates complete 36 credits total, divided among core courses, concentration courses, and electives. The 15-credit core introduces major topics including applied research methods, criminal procedure, and criminal law. The 12-credit concentration section focuses on specialized knowledge in either criminal justice or homeland security. The nine-credit elective section enables students to explore topics such as police civil liability, comparative justice systems, and white=collar crime.

Applicants to Lewis' online master's in criminal justice must currently work in the criminal justice field or hold an undergraduate degree in social or behavioral science. Candidates who lack these prerequisites must complete two foundational criminal justice courses along with the regular program curriculum.

Average Net Price: $18,899
Program Website

Michigan State University - East Lansing, MI

Online Master of Science in Criminal Justice

One of Michigan's top public colleges, MSU offers a fully online master of science in criminal justice. This interdisciplinary program emphasizes the analytical skills and knowledge necessary for leadership in varied criminal justice settings, including corrections, law enforcement, and corporate security.

The 30-credit degree includes six core courses and four electives. The program core introduces essential topics including criminal justice management, policy analysis, and design and analysis in criminal justice research. Elective options include comparative criminal justice, globalization of crime, and foundations of homeland security.

Unlike many online criminal justice programs, MSU's degree does not require applicants to hold an academic or professional background in the field. Candidates must simply hold a bachelor's degree from an accredited college in any academic subject with a minimum 3.0 GPA. Applicants must also submit a personal statement and three letters of recommendation. Candidates with a GPA below 3.2 need to submit GRE scores.

Average Net Price: $16,227
Program Website

DeSales University - Center Valley, PA

Online Master of Arts in Criminal Justice

Based in Center Valley, Pennsylvania, DeSales offers an online master's in criminal justice with five concentration options: counterterrorism, digital forensics, homeland security, investigative forensics, and leadership. The school provides a 20% tuition discount for currently employed criminal justice professionals.

The 30-credit program includes 18 credits of core courses and 12 credits of concentration courses. Core courses cover key topics such as advanced criminology, policing in America, and ethics in criminal justice. Concentration courses build specialized knowledge that prepares students for different professional pathways. Investigative forensics students, for example, complete courses including forensic anthropology, forensic toxicology, and forensic psychology.

Online learning at DeSales uses a mixture of synchronous and asynchronous elements, with some courses requiring live meetings with designated class times. Other course components allow students to log in whenever it suits their schedule, making the program convenient for working criminal justice professionals.

Average Net Price: $28,244
Program Website

University of San Diego - San Diego, CA

Online Master of Science in Law Enforcement and Publc Safety Leadership

Developed collaboratively with law enforcement agencies, USD's master of science in law enforcement and public safety leadership stresses leadership skills for criminal justice professionals, training students for management roles in the field. The degree boasts a 100% online format and special tuition discounts for law enforcement, public safety professionals, veterans, and active-duty military personnel.

The 31-credit program includes 10 courses and a one-credit capstone. Required courses include budget and finance for law enforcement leaders, management and conflict resolution, best practices in community engagement, and public safety law in a dynamic world. During the culminating capstone course, students compile a portfolio of their most representative work and reflect on their overall learning throughout the program.

USD's online master's in criminal justice program does not require applicants to hold a specific undergraduate major, though candidates should hold professional experience in law enforcement, public safety, military, or a relevant field.

Average Net Price: $35,931
Program Website

Mercer University - Macon, GA

Online Master of Science in Criminal Justice and Public Safety Leadership

A private college located in Macon, Georgia, Mercer hosts an online master of science in criminal justice and public safety leadership. Offering both full-time and part-time enrollment options, the program features eight-week courses and five annual start dates. All courses use a fully online format with no required campus visits.

Students complete a minimum of 30 credits, split between 21 credits of core requirements and nine credits of electives. The program core emphasizes key topics in management and leadership, including organizational communication, conflict resolution, negotiations, and ethics. Additional courses highlight research analysis and application of statistical design.

Electives explore topics including forensic psychology, history of corrections and jails, coordination of disaster response, and the nature of crime and justice in the 21st century. Candidates can also complete an internship in a professional criminal justice environment. Most students complete the degree in about 16 months.

Average Net Price: $21,202
Program Website

Trine University - Angola, IN

Online Master of Science in Criminal Justice

Based in Angola, Indiana, Trine offers a master of science in criminal justice that builds skills in policy formulation and analysis, program planning and evaluation, and critical thinking. With full-time study, candidates can complete the program in as little as one year.

Trine's online master's in criminal justice comprises 36 credits total, including an 18-credit program core, a six-credit capstone, and a 12-credit elective section. The core covers topics like criminology, the American justice system, and applied statistics for criminal justice. Electives include law and public policy, victimology, advanced employment law, and theory and philosophy of leadership for law enforcement.

The capstone serves as the culminating program activity, requiring students to design and complete a significant research project on an approved criminal justice topic. Candidates can complete their capstone project in forensic psychology, law enforcement, or law.

Average Net Price: $14,712
Program Website

University of Michigan - Dearborn, MI

Online Master of Science in Criminology and Criminal Justice

One of Michigan's top public colleges, UM-Dearborn hosts a master of science in criminology and criminal justice that features both evening campus and online courses. Public safety professionals who work at qualifying partner organizations may be eligible for a 20% tuition discount.

Requiring 30-32 credits total, the online master's in criminal justice offers both thesis and nonthesis options. Candidates complete 18-19 core credits, covering key topics such as sociology of law, criminal justice theory, and deviant behavior. Nine credits of electives enable students to explore specialized topics such as civil rights and liberties, intelligence and homeland security, and white-collar crime.

As a culminating requirement, candidates complete either a four-credit thesis or a three-credit master's essay. The thesis requires students to complete an extensive research project, while the paper focuses on the application of a theoretical issue to current criminal justice practices.

Average Net Price: $10,533
Program Website

Texas Christian University - Fort Worth, TX

Online Master of Science in Criminal Justice

A private Christian college based in Fort Worth, TCU is home to one of Texas' top online criminal justice master's degrees. Integrating empirical data, criminal justice research, and the professional experience of students and faculty, the master of science in criminal justice and criminology trains both criminal justice leaders and future doctoral candidates.

TCU's criminal justice degree emphasizes the impact of criminal justice issues and research on public policy. Candidates move through the curriculum in a small-group cohort format, which creates a supportive learning environment and strong connections between students and faculty. The program typically takes two years to complete.

While all courses occur online, students must attend a two-day campus orientation session that introduces major program principles and social opportunities. The orientation also includes classroom instruction sessions and library research. The criminal justice program begins only in the fall semester.

Average Net Price: $37,344
Program Website

Miami University - Oxford, OH

Online Master of Science in Criminal Justice

A public college based in Oxford, Ohio, MU hosts an online master of science in criminal justice with specialization options in administration and crime analytics. Designed to serve both current criminal justice professionals and those entering the field, the program emphasizes law, ethics, and the professionalization of criminal justice.

The 30-credit program includes an 18-credit core, a nine-credit concentration, and a three-credit capstone. The core builds foundational knowledge on topics such as statistics, research methods, and criminal justice systems. The two concentrations prepare students to operate in different criminal justice roles. The administration track, for example, features courses in public budgeting, personnel administration, and legal aspects of criminal justice.

All candidates complete a culminating capstone worth 3-6 credits. Performed under faculty supervision, the capstone requires students to research an approved criminal justice topic and produce a substantial written paper.

Average Net Price: $20,542
Program Website

Monmouth University - West Long Branch, NJ

Online Master of Arts in Criminal Justice

Monmouth's master of arts in criminal justice provides an interdisciplinary approach to the field, combining perspectives in leadership, ethics, social responsibility, and technology. The program offers a specialized concentration in homeland security that uses a hybrid delivery format, with half of the program content available online. Other courses occur on the Monmouth campus in West Long Branch, New Jersey.

The program comprises 30 credits, divided evenly between core criminal justice courses (offered in a traditional classroom environment) and homeland security concentration courses (offered online). The core includes topics in applied data analysis, ethics and society, and civil rights and liberties. Typical concentration courses include homeland security intelligence, theoretical approaches to homeland security, and terrorism: causes and consequences.

The program ends with a capstone course, during which students prepare a research paper that applies major program principles to a contemporary issue in criminal justice.

Average Net Price: $30,320
Program Website

University of Massachusetts - Lowell, MA

Online Master of Arts in Criminal Justice

UMass-Lowell offers one of the state's top online master's in criminal justice programs. The degree uses a fully online format that offers flexibility for working students.

The 33-credit curriculum includes a 15-credit foundation section and an 18-credit elective section. Foundation courses cover topics like administration of justice, criminological theory, law and public policy, and research design. Students also complete six elective courses that cover topics including crisis and emergency management, criminal profiling, criminal homicide, domestic terrorism, and sex crimes and offenders.

Applicants submit a resume, personal statement, and two letters of recommendation. Full-time students can complete the degree in as little as 18 months.

Average Net Price: $18,257
Program Website

St. John's University - Queens, NY

Online Master of Professional Studies Homeland Security and Criminal Justice Leadership

A private Roman Catholic college based in New York City, St. John's offers an online master of professional studies in homeland security and criminal justice leadership. This forward-looking degree prepares students to face modern challenges in criminal justice and homeland security, emphasizing the role of technology, innovation, and data-driven models for security practices.

This 36-credit degree features a multidisciplinary focus, dividing the curriculum into three sections: core courses, research courses, and special topics/electives. The program core offers a broad overview of homeland security and criminal justice topics, including corrections administration, leadership in public administration, and the U.S. Constitution. The research section features a research methods course and applied research project/capstone.

Electives cover topics like global terrorism, media relations, global security, organizational dysfunction, and leaership issues in critical incident management.

Average Net Price: $25,816
Program Website

University of South Florida-Sarasota-Manatee - Sarasota, FL

Online Master of Criminal Justice

One of Florida's top public colleges, USFSM offers a master of arts in criminal justice that builds knowledge of both classical and contemporary criminology, applying theory and research to modern criminal justice practice. Students learn to evaluate the causes and effects of crime, producing evidence-based solutions to contemporary issues in the field.

This 33-credit degree features 10 courses. Core courses cover major criminal justice topics, including administration, research methods, criminological theory, and quantitative analysis. Electives explore specialized topics, including terrorism and homeland security, minorities and crime, miscarriages of justice, and white-collar crime.

Applicants to the online master's in criminal justice program need a minimum 3.0 GPA on upper-division undergraduate coursework, though candidates with a lower GPA may also submit GRE scores for consideration.

Average Net Price: $4,705
Program Website

University of Oklahoma - Norman, OK

Online Master of Science in Criminal Justice

One of Oklahoma's major public colleges, UO operates a main campus in Norman along with a sizable extended campus/distance education program. The school's master of science in criminal justice offers three optional concentrations: corrections management, restorative justice, and administration and leadership.

The 33-credit degree includes both certificate and noncertificate pathways, with certificates available in each concentration. Certificate candidates complete 12 core credits, 12 concentration credits, three elective credits, and six completion credits, while noncertificate candidates complete 18 core credits, nine elective credits, and six completion credits.

Most candidates complete two courses in the fall and spring semesters and one course in the summer semester, finishing the degree in about two years. However, degree candidates may take up to five years to complete their studies.

Average Net Price: $21,158
Program Website

What Is a Criminal Justice Master's Degree?

An online master's in criminal justice builds comprehensive knowledge in law enforcement theories and practices, often focusing on management and administrative strategies. Nearly all programs include a core/foundation component that builds broad knowledge on topics such as criminology and the role of policing in society. Most programs also cover criminal justice research and statistics, giving professionals the tools needed to understand data and evaluate the effectiveness of law enforcement practices.

Many programs offer concentrations that enable students to explore key areas of criminal justice practice, such as cybercrime, homeland security, forensics, or leadership. Concentrations build specialized skills that can help graduates distinguish themselves in a competitive job market. Many programs also include an experiential component, such as an internship or practicum, which applies course learning to professional practice.

An online master's in criminal justice offers many advantages for working professionals. Flexible enrollment options, asynchronous courses, and few required campus visits typically make it easier for students to balance work and school obligations. Most programs span about two years, though many schools offer flexible part-time options that require fewer courses each semester but take longer to complete.

What Can I Do With a Criminal Justice Degree?

An online master's in criminal justice prepares you for careers in law enforcement, public safety, and government service. The list below outlines six popular career paths in the field, including typical duties and required skills.

Law Enforcement Supervisor

One of the most common careers for criminal justice graduates, law enforcement focuses on protecting lives and property in communities across the country. While not typically required to advance in the field, a master's degree provides skills and training that can make it easier for law enforcement professionals to move into managerial and supervisory positions.

Law enforcement officers are typically promoted after gaining experience on the job, and nearly all advanced positions require professional experience in addition to education. However, candidates with a graduate degree typically find it easier to assume leadership positions, such as sergeant, lieutenant, and captain. These roles include more responsibility for management tasks, such as training staff and coordinating investigations.

Along with increased responsibility, supervisors typically command increased pay. The BLS reports that first-line supervisors of police and detectives earn a median annual wage of $94,950.

DEA Agent

Working to disrupt the flow of illegal drugs and dismantle drug trafficking operations in the United States, DEA agents perform valuable work that benefits from the knowledge and skills gained in a graduate criminal justice program. These agents pursue the groups and individuals who manufacture and distribute illegal drugs, both in the U.S. and abroad, attempting to destabilize their organizational and financial structures.

DEA agents perform many of the same tasks as other law enforcement professionals, including investigations, surveillance, and undercover work. They often work alongside local and federal law enforcement officials to collect evidence, analyze crime scenes, interview witnesses, arrest suspects, and write investigation reports.

While a master's degree is not required for all DEA positions, it can help agents advance to leadership roles with greater responsibility. Specialized skills in areas such as information technology, accounting, engineering, and foreign languages can also be highly useful to DEA agents.

Emergency Manager

Focused on strategic preparation for disasters such as hurricanes, earthquakes, terrorist attacks, and pollution events, emergency managers work to coordinate public response between various agencies and first responders to ensure public safety. In the criminal justice field, emergency managers may plan and supervise the response of law enforcement agencies to various disaster scenarios, facilitating interactions with other agencies and the general public.

Emergency management emphasizes effective planning and communication, as managers must adequately prepare for potential disasters and coordinate communication strategies to reach the public. The profession calls for strong organizational and leadership skills, as emergency managers must oversee complex response measures that may include the distribution of equipment, transportation, and emergency response personnel.

Some criminal justice programs include emergency management concentration options, while other specializations, such as homeland security, may include elements of emergency management for specific situations, like terrorist attacks.

Counterterrorism Agent

Demand for counterrorism professionals in the U.S. has grown significantly since 9/11, and today many criminal justice graduates pursue careers in this important field. Counterterrorism works to predict and prevent terrorist threats against U.S. interests, both at home and abroad, attempting to disrupt terrorist networks and develop adequate response strategies to terrorist attacks.

Counterterrorism agents may work for many U.S. agencies, including the FBI, CIA, and DHS. Their work typically combines principles of homeland security and criminal justice. Counterterrorism professionals may investigate and research the activities of terrorist groups; report their findings to various government agencies; and work to actively pursue, apprehend, and prosecute terrorists.

Criminal justice students interested in counterterrorism often pursue programs with counterterrorism or homeland security concentrations. They also need knowledge of global politics and current events.

Cybersecurity Specialist

Widespread use of technology has created new opportunities for cybercrime and other forms of digital threats. Cybersecurity specialists work with law enforcement and other agencies to investigate digital crime and maintain the security of important computer networks. Broadly, cybersecurity focuses on assessing digital threats, implementing security strategies, and analyzing and investigating various types of cyber incidents.

Students interested in pursuing this career often complete a criminal justice program with an information security or cybercrime concentration. Cybercrime professionals typically need strong knowledge of computer networks, digital forensics, and cyber defense.

Given the prevalence of digital networks in almost every aspect of modern life, careers in cybersecurity are expected to grow much faster than most other criminal justice careers. The BLS projects careers for information security analysts to grow 32% from 2018-2028, a rate far above the national average for all occupations.

CIA Officer

The CIA's primary function is to collect intelligence in the service of U.S. national security. Most officers work to gather and evaluate information from a variety of sources, coordinating with other agencies and departments to assess and deter security threats. CIA officers can pursue many paths within the agency, including science and technical, analytical, national clandestine, and support services.

Most CIA careers require a bachelor's degree at minimum, and many advanced positions require a master's. Given the agency's international focus, knowledge of a foreign language is a prerequisite for many positions, and agents who speak other languages fluently may find it easier to advance within the agency.

Salary Potential

Even as crime rates fall, demand for law enforcement and criminal justice professionals is projected to persist. The BLS projects jobs for police and detectives to grow 5% from 2018-2028, amounting to 37,500 new jobs.

The BLS reports an annual median salary of $65,170 for all types of police and detectives, though salary levels can vary by location, education, experience level, and industry. For example, high-level positions, like criminal investigator and detective, command higher pay levels, with the BLS reporting an annual median salary of $83,170 for these professionals. A master's degree in criminal justice can often help law enforcement professionals advance to high-paying roles.

Salary levels also vary by industry. Officers employed by the federal government earn a median salary of $88,060. Professionals employed by state agencies earn an annual median salary of $68,610, while those employed at local agencies earn $63,410.


Is a degree in criminal justice an MA or MS?
Students can pursue an MA or MS in criminal justice. However, given the professional focus of the field, more schools offer MS degrees.
What is a master's degree in criminal justice?
A master's degree in criminal justice is an advanced degree that builds specialized knowledge in criminal justice practices, often focused on management and administration.
What can you do with a master's in criminal justice?
A master's degree in criminal justice prepares you for a variety of roles in the field, including management and other leadership positions.

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