15 Best Criminal Justice Master’s Degrees 2021

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Criminal justice master’s programs offer advanced degree paths to prepare students for their careers. Graduate schools configure these degrees in several ways. Some feature traditional credentials, like the master of arts (MA) or master of science (MS), while others have adopted the newer master’s in criminal justice (MCJ) designation.

In any case, a graduate degree in criminal justice opens doors to rewarding career opportunities. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects faster-than-average job growth rates in several criminal justice fields from 2019-2029. For example, the BLS  forecasts a 5% growth for police and detectives and a 17% growth for social service case managers.

This guide explains what students can expect from criminal justice master’s programs. We cover critical details about admission requirements, curricula and specialization options, and learning formats. This resource also includes current rankings of the nation’s top criminal justice master’s degrees.

2021’s Top 10 Criminal Justice Grad Schools

RankSchoolLocation
1Northeastern UniversityBoston, MA
2California State University-Long BeachLong Beach, CA
3San Diego State UniversitySan Diego, CA
4American UniversityWashington, DC
5Texas State UniversitySan Marcos, TX
6San Jose State UniversitySan Jose, CA
7University of AlabamaTuscaloosa, AL
8University of PennsylvaniaPhiladelphia, PA
9University of Central FloridaOrlando, FL
10Michigan State UniversityEast Lansing, MI
Advertisement CriminalJusticeDegreeSchools.com is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

Featured Online Programs

Explore program formats, transfer requirements, financial aid packages, and more by contacting the schools below.

Why Get a Criminal Justice Master’s?

Most experts consider criminal justice an offshoot of criminology, which examines crime and criminality through a sociological lens. Criminology is rooted in academic theory and research, while criminal justice focuses specifically on frontline interactions with those directly affected by crime and criminal activity.

The dynamic field of criminal justice encompasses many different positions within law enforcement, court, and correctional systems. Well-known examples include police, corrections, and probation officers; victims’ advocates; protective service workers; and caseworkers. Professionals can also combine criminal justice schooling with additional training to prepare for roles as forensic technicians, evidence technicians, homeland security officers, and many other specialized professions.

Criminal justice professionals usually work for public-sector agencies. They may perform their job duties in office, institutional, or field settings. Some positions require visits to crime scenes during active investigations.

The field tends to attract individuals deeply invested in their communities. Criminal justice work has a direct and immediate social impact, making this field a good match for those with high levels of integrity, empathy, and desire to protect the vulnerable and enact positive change. 

Employers increasingly prefer candidates with higher levels of education, which speaks to the value of a master’s degree in criminal justice. Additional benefits of an advanced criminal justice degree include:

Greater Career Flexibility
A master’s in criminal justice qualifies candidates for more roles, enhancing their career options and delivering greater flexibility.
Specialization Opportunities
Most criminal justice master’s programs allow enrollees to pursue concentrations. Students can tailor their education to match their personal preferences and career objectives.
Higher Earning Potential
BLS data indicates that a master’s degree delivers an outstanding return on investment over a professional’s career.

2021’s Top Master’s in Criminal Justice Schools

This guide provides readers with detailed information about the top 15 criminal justice master’s programs of 2021, including admission requirements and tuition rates. We also describe the benchmarks used to rank each program.

  • What the Best Criminal Justice Master's Programs Have in Common

    While every prospective student prioritizes different factors in their search for a master’s in criminal justice, highly ranked schools tend to share some common qualities.

    • They are accredited. Accreditation sets standards to ensure that a school meets certain prescribed guidelines. National and regional accreditation assess institutions. Employers and other colleges tend to regard regional accreditation, granted by organizations like the Higher Learning Commission, as a more rigorous standard.

      Graduates with master’s degrees in criminal justice can pursue doctoral-level studies and may struggle to gain admission without a regionally accredited master’s degree. As such, this list includes only accredited schools.

    • They offer strong academic programs. Prospective students can gauge a program’s academic strength by assessing criteria like student-to-faculty ratio, number of full-time faculty members, graduation rates, and the percentage of students who continue from one semester to the next. Many schools advertise these points of pride, though degree-seekers should also feel free to ask admissions departments.

      Schools that enroll a high number of students against a low number of faculty may offer less personalized attention. Similarly, degree-seekers benefit when a program features highly engaged full-time faculty members, like American University’s 26 full-time justice, law, and criminology professors.

    • They are reputable. An institution should display a discernment in their admissions process, admitting only students who meet specific qualifications. Schools that admit all applicants may prioritize profit over student success.

      When learners are ill-prepared for a degree path, they may encounter difficulties in the job market. Strong alumni earnings can indicate a favorable reputation for the school among employers and sound preparation for the field.

    • They are affordable. Our rankings compile data regarding each school’s average price, their financial aid packages, and the median student debt six years after graduation. Students often value programs that offer the best chance of a good return on their investment. At Michigan State, for example, more than a dozen scholarship funds offer assistance to enrollees who apply for aid.

  • 1. Northeastern University

    With its main campus nestled in the center of Boston’s bustling college scene, Northeastern emphasizes research and experience-based learning. Northeastern encourages its students to apply what they learn in practical work environments through partnerships with nearly 3,000 co-op employers.

    MS in Criminology and Criminal Justice

    Upholding Northeastern’s research emphasis, the MS in criminology and criminal justice teaches students to apply qualitative and quantitative studies to real-life scenarios. Enrollees can collaborate in ongoing research projects to tackle problems like racial profiling and opioid abuse. Required courses include criminology, the criminal justice process, and research methods in the social sciences.

    Students can customize their program by taking electives, participating in cooperative education experiences, or pursuing a cybersecurity concentration. The program also offers add-on graduate certificates in data analytics, public policy analysis, and urban studies.

    Applying to Northeastern

    Each applicant must submit transcripts, a personal statement, a writing sample, three recommendation letters, and a resume. Northeastern prefers a minimum 3.0 undergraduate GPA. The program does not require GRE scores for admission.

    Program at a Glance

    • School Type: Private
    • Accreditation: NECHE
    • Tuition: $1,011/credit
    • Required Credits: 32 credits
    • Program Length: 1 year
    • Delivery Format: 100% online (asynchronous), on campus, or hybrid

  • 2. California State University-Long Beach

    Founded in 1949, CSULB features a sunny beachside campus in Southern California. With 39,360 students enrolled, the school values diversity and boasts a large population of Latino/a and Asian-American students.

    MS in Criminology and Criminal Justice

    With a strong focus on critical thinking and ethical action, CSULB’s MS in criminology and criminal justice requires courses in justice policy, criminological theory, and statistics. The program offers an impressive suite of elective options. Participants can also elect to specialize in crime and intelligence analysis.

    CSULB’s faculty collaborate on state and federal training programs. All students must complete a qualifying examination to advance to master’s candidacy. The program offers three capstone options to culminate the degree: a thesis, comprehensive exam, or project available only to those concentrating in crime and intelligence analysis.

    Applying to CSULB

    A CSULB applicant must hold a regionally accredited bachelor’s degree with a minimum 2.5 GPA. Each prospective student must complete the online application and submit a $70 fee, along with a 3-5 page statement of purpose, resume, and recommendations. The application also requires either a writing sample, GRE scores, or LSAT scores.

    Program at a Glance

    • School Type: Public
    • Accreditation: WSCUC
    • Tuition: $3,588/semester (full time); additional $396/credit (out of state)
    • Required Credits: 36 credits
    • Program Length: 2 years
    • Delivery Format: 100% online, on campus

  • 3. San Diego State University

    SDSU’s legacy began when the school opened in 1897 as a teacher-training institution. Today, the school welcomes 35,000 students into a thriving culture of community engagement, research, and innovation.

    MS in Criminal Justice and Criminology

    This joint program from the School of Public Affairs and the Department of Sociology teaches research methods and theoretical approaches to the field. Coursework includes a series of seminars in the administration of criminal justice, community and restorative justice, and juvenile justice and youth violence. Students can also take electives, including an option to study abroad or engage in a field practicum.

    Each enrollee must complete a final thesis or a capstone project. Degree-seekers can also engage in teaching assistantships and research work through the Institute of Public and Urban Affairs and the Social Science Research laboratory.

    Applying to SDSU

    SDSU requires each applicant to hold a regionally accredited bachelor’s degree with a minimum 3.0 GPA to qualify for graduate admission. A prospective student must also submit GRE scores, recommendation letters, and a 500-word essay.

    Program at a Glance

    • School Type: Public
    • Accreditation: WSCUC
    • Tuition: $3,588/semester (in state); additional $396/credit (out of state)
    • Required Credits: 33 credits
    • Delivery Format: On campus

  • 4. American University

    This Methodist-affiliated institution located in Washington, D.C., boasts an accomplished faculty of artists, former ambassadors, and elected officials. Established in 1893, the school promotes integrity, excellence, and community among its 14,000 students.

    MS in Justice, Law, and Criminology

    Situated within the university’s School of Public Affairs, the MS in justice, law, and criminology explores foundational coursework in law and social sciences, legal theory, and intelligence analysis. Each participant must also complete a capstone practicum in either justice, law, and criminology, or terrorism and homeland security policy. The degree also requires a comprehensive written examination.

    This customizable program integrates social sciences, law, and the humanities to emphasize practical applications for criminal justice theory and legal strategy. AU students can concentrate in jurisprudence and social thought; justice and public policy; or law and society.

    Applying to AU

    Each candidate must hold a regionally accredited bachelor’s degree. The school requires an online application with a $65 fee, plus GRE scores, a personal statement, two recommendation letters, and a resume.

    Program at a Glance

    • School Type: Private
    • Accreditation: MSCHE
    • Tuition: $1,637/credit
    • Required Credits: 33 credits
    • Program Length: 2 years
    • Delivery Format: On campus

  • 5. Texas State University

    Located just outside of San Antonio in San Marcos, Texas State hosts 38,000 students across 200-plus degree programs. Founded in 1899, the school boasts emerging research excellence and prioritizes student-centered learning.

    MS in Criminal Justice

    After completing core courses in administration of justice, statistics, and advanced criminological theory, Texas State students can choose from a suite of elective offerings, including police in society, crime analysis, and criminal justice policy. Each degree-seeker must pass a written and oral comprehensive examination during their final semester.

    In addition to this non-thesis path, Texas State offers a 30-credit research concentration for individuals looking to pursue doctoral-level studies, along with a 30-credit executive concentration for full-time criminal justice professionals. Program faculty specialize in areas like communities and crime, juvenile justice, and criminal profiling.

    Applying to Texas State

    An applicant to the traditional program must hold a regionally accredited bachelor’s degree in criminal justice with a minimum 3.0 GPA. Each candidate must also provide a $55 fee, GRE scores, a statement of purpose, and two recommendation letters.

    Program at a Glance

    • School Type: Public
    • Accreditation: SACSCOC
    • Tuition: $348/credit (in state); $757/credit (out of state)
    • Required Credits: 36 credits
    • Program Length: 1 year

  • 6. San Jose State University

    Founded in 1857, SJSU now thrives as a community prioritizing sustainability, diversity, and wellness. Its institutional mission combines academic accomplishment with societal engagement to make the school an active participant in California’s development.

    MS in Criminology – Global Criminology

    SJSU’s program teaches students to apply legal concepts, theories, and analytical skills to international crime. The program equips students with the ability to promote social change through critical analysis of global justice systems. Each enrollee must pass a graduation writing assessment before completing the program.

    Required coursework includes comparative criminal justice systems, applied research methods and statistics, and policing in global contexts. Concentration courses include crime and gender around the world, cyberforensics, and global terrorism. Enrollees also complete in-depth research papers.

    Applying to SJSU

    Each applicant must hold an accredited bachelor’s degree with a minimum 3.0 GPA in the last 60 credits of coursework. Candidates must submit online applications, which include a $70 fee. The program also requires computer and internet proficiency.

    Program at a Glance

    • School Type: Public
    • Accreditation: WSCUC
    • Tuition: $600/credit
    • Required Credits: 30 credits
    • Program Length: 2 years
    • Delivery Format: 100% online (asynchronous)

  • 7. University of Alabama

    Tuscaloosa-based UA maintains a fierce reputation on the football field as home to the famous Crimson Tide. Academically, the institution encourages its student body of nearly 40,000 students to focus on research and service to the community.

    MS in Criminology and Criminal Justice

    UA’s Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice makes its home within the university’s College of Arts and Sciences. The MS in criminology and criminal justice prepares students for in-state jobs and federal government, research, corporations, and higher education.

    UA’s flexible MS in criminology and criminal justice requires three courses in criminological theory, research, and statistics. Degree-seekers complete the rest of their 24 required credits through electives like gender and crime, terrorism, juvenile delinquency, and law enforcement. Thesis-track students must also complete additional research credits under the supervision of faculty members.

    Applying to UA

    Applicants must hold accredited bachelor’s degrees. The school requires each candidate to submit an online application, a one-page statement of purpose, contact information for three references, and GRE scores.

    Program at a Glance

    • School Type: Public
    • Accreditation: SACSCOC
    • Tuition: $10,780/year (in state); $30,250/year (out of state)
    • Required Credits: 30 credits (thesis); 33 credits (non-thesis)
    • Program Length: 18-24 months
    • Delivery Format: On campus

  • 8. University of Pennsylvania

    Based in Philadelphia, Penn boasts a strong reputation for excellent research and top-notch medical training. With a focus on interdisciplinary learning, the institution promotes inclusion and innovation among its core values.

    MS in Criminology

    Designed for students who want to enact positive change on the criminal justice system, Penn’s MS in criminology prepares learners to analyze patterns and make decisions based on hard evidence. Featuring a strong research focus, the program teaches students to analyze crime data and recognize patterns. Enrollees engage in practical activities such as field trips and police ride-alongs.

    Penn’s program requires eight core courses, including criminal justice data analysis, research methods and crime analysis, criminology in practice, and evidence-based crime prevention. Students also take one elective course and spend a semester on crime analysis projects. Before graduation, each participant presents the project to a committee in place of a thesis.

    Applying to Penn

    Each applicant must submit transcripts, a statement of purpose, three recommendation letters, and GRE or LSAT scores.

    Program at a Glance

    • School Type: Private
    • Accreditation: MSCHE
    • Tuition: $6,988/course
    • Required Credits: 8 course units
    • Program Length: 1 year
    • Delivery Format: On campus

  • 9. University of Central Florida

    Located in tourist-driven Orlando, UCF’s 1963 founding supported the burgeoning space industry. Today, the school welcomes nearly 72,000 students in diverse majors like hospitality management and health sciences.

    MS in Criminal Justice

    To prepare students for careers in criminal justice, UCF’s curriculum presents management techniques and administrative theory through a critical approach to criminal justice. The university focuses on the complexities of the field as it readies students for careers in the justice system. The program defaults to a non-thesis track, but students looking to complete thesis projects can discuss the option with faculty.

    Required courses include the nature of crime, the administration of justice, data analysis in criminal justice, and criminal justice organizations. Students can choose from electives to explore American criminal courts and foundations of corrections. Students culminate their degrees by completing proseminars in criminal justice.

    Applying to UCF

    Each applicant must provide transcripts, a statement of career goals, two recommendation letters, and a resume. UCF prefers a minimum 3.0 GPA.

    Program at a Glance

    • School Type: Public
    • Accreditation: SACSCOC
    • Tuition: $370/credit (in state, on campus); $1,194/credit (out of state, on campus); $327/credit (in state, online); $1,152/credit (out of state, online)
    • Required Credits: 36 credits
    • Delivery Format: 100% online, on campus

  • 10. Michigan State University

    With a sprawling campus in East Lansing, MSU enrolls nearly 50,000 students per year. This research-focused institution prizes community outreach and engagement, both close to home and on a global scale.

    MS in Criminal Justice

    MSU’s MS in criminal justice prepares students for careers in research and teaching through a blend of classroom study and practical work. The program features guest speakers, focuses on real-life case studies, and provides internship opportunities. Online students can also choose to add a concentration in security management.

    Core course requirements for online and in-person programs include crime causation, prevention, and control; design and analysis in criminal justice research; and quantitative methods in criminal justice research. Enrollees can customize their studies through electives like globalization of crime and product counterfeiting. On-campus students can choose between thesis and non-thesis tracks.

    Applying to MSU

    Each applicant must provide transcripts, a goal statement, and three recommendation letters. On-campus candidates must hold a minimum 3.2 GPA, plus experience in areas like political science and economics, while an online applicant must hold a minimum 3.0 GPA.

    Program at a Glance

    • School Type: Public
    • Accreditation: HLC
    • Tuition: On campus: $786/credit (in state); $1,544/credit (out of state); $774/credit (online)
    • Required Credits: 30 credits
    • Program Length: 18-24 months
    • Delivery Format: 100% online (asynchronous), on campus

  • 11. University of South Florida

    Founded in 1956, USF’s tradition of excellence in research endures today. The school enrolls a diverse student body with more than 50,000 degree-seekers across its three campuses.

    MA in Criminal Justice

    Emphasizing the practical application of criminal justice theory and research, USF’s MA in criminal justice prepares students for leadership roles in the field. By undertaking a study of current challenges in the criminal justice arena, degree-seekers learn to think critically and apply positive change.

    The program requires 18 credits of core courses, such as issues in criminal justice administration, research methods in criminology, and quantitative analysis in criminology. Students can also choose from electives exploring current issues in corrections, minorities and crime, and terrorism and homeland security.

    Applying to USF

    Each candidate must hold a bachelor’s degree with a minimum 3.0 GPA. The online application process requires a $30 fee, two letters of recommendation, and a 1-2 page statement of purpose.

    Program at a Glance

    • School Type: Public
    • Accreditation: SACSCOC
    • Tuition: $7,840/year (in state); $15,864/year (out of state).
    • Required Credits: 33 credits
    • Delivery Format: 100% online

  • 12. Florida State University

    Featuring a beautiful main campus in Tallahassee, FSU maintains rigorous research standards in addition to its famed athletic program. The school’s mission centralizes transformation, inspiration, inclusiveness, stewardship, and community.

    MA or MS in Criminology and Criminal Justice

    The master’s in criminal justice at FSU centralizes the application of research to the development of public policy. Students can pursue an MS or an MA; both degrees carry similar requirements, though MA students must complete six hours of humanities coursework and demonstrate foreign language proficiency. Participants in both tracks can select thesis or non-thesis options.

    Required coursework for the on-campus program includes theory in criminology and criminal justice, survey of criminal justice studies, and statistics. The online program covers computer applications in criminal justice and research methods in criminology. FSU’s College of Criminology and Criminal Justice also offers a master’s in cyber criminology.

    Applying to FSU

    Each applicant must hold an accredited bachelor’s degree and submit a personal statement, along with GRE scores. On-campus candidates also need to submit three recommendations and hold a 3.25 minimum GPA for their final two years of the bachelor’s degree. Online applicants must provide their resumes.

    Program at a Glance

    • School Type: Public
    • Accreditation: SACSCOC
    • Tuition: $479/credit (in state, on campus); $1,111/credit (out of state, on campus); $554/credit (online)
    • Required Credits: 33 credits (on campus); 36 credits (online)
    • Delivery Format: 100% online, on campus

  • 13. California State University-Fresno

    Fresno State hosts 25,000 students annually at its Central California campus, where discovery, diversity, and distinction guide the institution’s mission. Known for nursing, health policy, and agricultural research, Fresno State also boasts championship athletics in football, baseball, and tennis.

    MS in Criminology

    As a part of its College of Social Sciences, Fresno State’s Department of Criminology offers a flexible MS in criminology with customizable study options. Preparing students for careers in education, administration, and research, the program requires courses in research methods in criminology, law and the criminal justice system, and quantitative methods and analysis. Each enrollee also takes 12 credits of electives.

    Degree-seekers can culminate the program with a comprehensive examination, capstone project, or thesis. All students must satisfy Fresno State’s writing requirement by completing a research paper of at least 2,000 words.

    Applying to Fresno State

    Fresno State requires each applicant to hold an accredited bachelor’s degree with a minimum 3.0 GPA in the last 60 credits. Additional materials include a personal essay, three recommendation letters, and GRE scores.

    Program at a Glance

    • School Type: Public
    • Accreditation: WSCUC
    • Tuition: $2,493/up to 6 units (in state); $3,999/7 or more units (in state); additional $396/credit (out of state)
    • Required Credits: 30 credits
    • Delivery Format: On campus

  • 14. George Mason University

    With its main campus in Fairfax, Virginia, Mason strives to apply research and innovation to create a better world.

    MS in Criminal Justice

    To prepare students for careers in policy development and criminal justice practice, the MS in criminal justice requires coursework in evidence-based crime and justice, implementing crime and justice policy, leadership in justice organizations, and evaluation of crime and justice policies and practices. Students can also select electives in areas like corrections and crime analysis.

    All degree-seekers at Mason participate in a research practicum, where they partner with a client criminal justice organization, analyze a relevant issue, and present a policy paper on the subject. The program offers an accelerated option for undergraduate students already studying at Mason.

    Applying to Mason

    Each applicant must submit an online application carrying a $75 fee, along with a goal statement, a 500- to 750-word writing sample discussing a current criminal justice issue, and two recommendation letters.

    Program at a Glance

    • School Type: Public
    • Accreditation: SACSCOC
    • Tuition: $725/credit (in state); $1,613/credit (out of state)
    • Required Credits: 30 credits
    • Delivery Format: On campus

  • 15. Texas A&M International University

    Located at the border between the U.S. and Mexico in Laredo, TAMIU celebrates cultural diversity and academics rooted in the humanities. With a solid fifty-year history, the school looks to the future to prioritize art, innovation, and a global mindset.

    MS in Criminal Justice

    Through in-depth knowledge of current issues facing the profession, coursework for the MS in criminal justice at TAMIU prepares enrollees to lead policy change as leaders in the field. The program employs a global perspective by comparing international criminal justice systems.

    Required courses include foundations of the criminal justice system, advanced methods of social research, and a seminar in criminological theory. Participants can also choose electives in subjects like corrections and cybercrime. Each degree-seeker completes a capstone project involving an in-depth analysis of a criminal justice issue, along with practical solutions to the problem. High-achieving students can pursue the program’s non-thesis option.

    Applying to TAMIU

    Candidates must hold bachelor’s degrees. The online application requires a resume; students without professional experience need minimum GPAs of 2.8, while those with three or more years of experience need minimum GPAs of 2.5.

    Program at a Glance

    • School Type: Public
    • Accreditation: SACSCOC
    • Tuition: $336/credit (in state); $974/credit (out of state)
    • Required Credits: 36 credits
    • Program Length: 1 year
    • Delivery Format: 100% online (asynchronous)

What To Expect From Master’s in Criminal Justice Programs

Criminal justice master’s programs embrace core philosophies that prepare students to serve as agents in one of society’s most essential institutions. They commonly explore the real-world applications of theoretical models of crime and rehabilitation. Other programs maintain a stronger focus on advocacy, preparing students to improve the lives of those negatively affected by crime. 

Credit structures vary among schools, but most programs require learners to complete 16-20 courses. Full-time students take 4-5 courses per semester, leading to a master’s in criminal justice in two academic years. More compact programs may include only 10-12 courses, allowing enrollees to complete their degrees in just one year.

Schools also cater to the needs of working professionals and nontraditional learners balancing their studies with external commitments. Many programs offer part-time study options, which lengthen the expected graduation timeline but allow learners to integrate graduate school into their busy lives.

Admission Requirements

Admission standards vary between schools, but most share some common elements. Applicants with no academic background in criminal justice may need to complete foundational courses. These classes usually cover essential content normally encountered at the undergraduate level. In addition to prerequisite courses, schools typically require standardized test results, like GRE scores.

GPA cutoffs typically start around 2.5 on the 4.0 scale. More competitive schools prefer applicants with undergraduate GPAs of at least 3.0. Even in these cases, some institutions consider candidates with lower GPAs if they bridge academic deficiencies with extensive, field-specific professional experience, high test scores, or compelling details from their personal backgrounds.

This resource features additional information about admission standards and program structures.

Degree and Specialization Options

Criminal justice students at the master’s level may encounter MA, MS, and MCJ degrees. MA programs typically examine the applications of social sciences like psychology, sociology, and criminology in criminal justice institutions and field settings. Meanwhile, MS programs typically maintain a stronger focus on the technical, scientific, quantitative, and research-oriented aspects of crime and rehabilitation.

The MCJ offers a different path, functioning as a terminal degree for criminal justice professionals. MCJ programs typically combine the respective social science and technical focuses of MA and MS degrees.

Criminal justice overlaps with the study and practice of law. Advanced law degrees like the master of laws (LLM) or juris doctor (JD) also apply. Those who hold LLM or JD degrees meet the academic requirements for earning a license to practice criminal law, either as prosecutors or defense attorneys.

Many schools also offer concentration and specialization options at the graduate level. Potential specializations include policing and law enforcement, criminal corrections, criminology, case management, homeland security, and crisis management. Some programs also offer forensic science specializations, but these are usually only available to students with extensive technical and scientific backgrounds.

Popular Criminal Justice Courses

Specific coursework varies between criminal justice master’s programs, including required, elective, and capstone courses. Their contents depend on the degree’s focus and underlying core philosophy and the student’s area of concentration or specialization, among other factors.

The following list offers an overview of the types of courses you may encounter in a general MA or MS criminal justice program:

Master’s in criminal justice programs include a broad, theory-based survey course in the first semester. In this class, students engage with the prevalent theories of crime, criminal behavior, and rehabilitation that inform their future coursework.
This required course usually appears in MS and MCJ programs, though many MA programs also feature similar classes. Students explore the research methods professionals and academics use to build hypotheses and create theoretical models informed by trends, statistics, and data.
Typically featured in concentrated programs focused on youth and juveniles, this seminar examines the socioeconomic factors that drive youth crime rates. Enrollees consider juvenile crime prevention methods and the rehabilitative needs of young offenders.
This specialized course usually appears as an elective in law enforcement-oriented programs. Coursework explores advanced crime prevention methods like predictive policing, problem-oriented policing, theories of routine activity, and the situational prevention of crime. Course content also considers how law enforcers respond when criminals adapt to these techniques.
This intensive seminar is a culminating experience, similar to a capstone or thesis. The course comprises a major research project carried out under the instruction and supervision of a dedicated faculty advisor, typically covering the equivalent of 1-2 courses in the program’s final semesters.

How Much Will a Master’s Degree in Criminal Justice Cost?

Tuition fees vary according to factors such as the school’s status as a public or private institution and the program’s delivery format. Public colleges often charge different rates depending on residency. In-state residents and those who qualify for in-state status through reciprocity agreements usually enjoy reduced rates, while out-of-state learners pay higher rates.

Conversely, most private institutions charge the same tuition rates for all learners, regardless of their residency status. Their tuition fees are also usually higher, reflecting their prestige.

In some cases, public and private institutions offer discounted tuition for online enrollees. For example, public colleges may charge in-state rates to all online students regardless of where they live. Private colleges sometimes create separate fee schedules for distance learners, granting them reduced rates that acknowledge their reduced use of physical resources.

Applicants in need of financial help can apply for merit-based forms of assistance, such as scholarships, grants, and fellowships. Public and private loans offer another solution, but you should only consider these once you have exhausted your other options.

Read More About Criminal Justice Programs

Jobs for Master’s in Criminal Justice Graduates

Those wondering what to do with a criminal justice degree should research their career options before applying. Your intended career path should inform your choice of schools, particularly for learners interested in concentrated or specialized degrees.

The following list includes popular career paths and areas of professional practice expected to see strong levels of growth. It prioritizes job titles and positions that require or prefer a master’s in criminal justice.

  • Criminologist

    These specialized sociologists primarily find employment in scholastic institutions. They conduct research into historical and current patterns and trends in crime and criminality. Many criminologists also teach postsecondary courses.

    • Required Education: MCJ or doctorate in criminology or criminal justice; some employers may consider candidates with MA or MS degrees plus extensive practical experience
    • Job Outlook (2019-29): +4%
    • Median Annual Salary: $83,420

  • Social Service Case Manager

    Social service workers focus on the needs of community members affected by crime. They advocate for crime victims by building resource networks and guiding individuals and families to assistive services.

    • Required Education: Bachelor’s or master’s degree
    • Job Outlook (2019-29): +17%
    • Median Annual Salary: $67,150

  • Emergency Management Director

    These professionals usually work for government agencies, along with some nonprofit and private-sector organizations. Emergency management directors create and ensure best practices for emergency and disaster response protocols.

    • Required Education: Bachelor’s or master’s degree
    • Job Outlook (2019-29): +4%
    • Median Annual Salary: $74,590

  • FBI Agent

    FBI agents work in law enforcement, investigating federal crimes by responding to calls for assistance, conducting interviews and crime scene analysis, and identifying and apprehending perpetrators.

    • Required Education: A bachelor’s degree, but most agencies prefer candidates with master’s degrees
    • Average Salary: $66,040

  • Law Enforcement Supervisor

    Law enforcement supervisors manage police units by defining their priorities, assigning resources to specific objectives, and coordinating investigation activities.

    • Required Education: A bachelor’s degree, but most agencies prefer candidates with master’s degrees
    • Job Outlook (2019-29): +5%
    • Median Annual Salary: $94,950

Explore Criminal Justice Careers

Choosing the Right Criminal Justice Graduate Program

Rankings offer a great starting place for researching programs, but prospective students can still perform their own research. For example, learners should only search for schools with valid and current regional or national accreditation standing. The Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences is an important specialized accreditor, and programs bearing its endorsement meet particularly high standards.

Other factors that may affect your school decision include:

Staff Credentials and Diversity
Crime affects people of all ethnic, racial, and socioeconomic backgrounds. Understanding its impacts on members of specific communities requires engagement with diverse perspectives.
Program Culture
A program’s underlying philosophy shapes its students’ professional perspective. For instance, some programs emphasize rehabilitative programs over more punitive practices.
Concentrations and Specializations
Learners with specific career goals may find their best program matches outside of rankings lists. For some, a program’s close alignment with personal beliefs and professional goals is more important than its performance in competitive rankings.

Depending on your personal situation and preferences, you may also consider location, program length, program delivery formats, typical class sizes, and the quality of career resources.

Should Get Your Degree Online?

Many criminal justice master’s programs include practical learning opportunities, such as work-study positions and field placements. However, some schools allow students to complete core academic requirements entirely online. Thus, you should also consider the advantages and potential drawbacks of enrolling in a fully online or hybrid program.

Online education has made great strides in recent years, with schools responding to increased demand for distance learning in innovative ways. However, not every student is an ideal candidate for an online criminal justice degree. Independent learners with high levels of self-motivation tend to find the most success.  

Distance learning also offers cost benefits, since learners do not need to physically travel to and from campus. Still, degree-seekers should not pursue these advantages to the detriment of their educational experience. Some learners are at their best when they can directly interact with peers and faculty members, making traditional delivery formats a better option.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How do I apply to a criminal justice master's program?

    Every school maintains distinct admission procedures, but most institutions require a complete institutional application with copies of your academic transcripts. Schools may also request GRE scores or other test results, along with letters of recommendation or personal statements, among other materials.

  • How long does it take to get a master's degree in criminal justice?

    While some programs lead to graduation in as little as one academic year, most master’s degrees in criminal justice require two years or four semesters of full-time study. Part-time learners may take 3-5 years.

  • What can I do with a criminal justice degree?

    A criminal justice degree qualifies you for many entry-level positions in the field. Options include career paths in law enforcement, corrections, parole and probation, social services and victim advocacy, and the court system.

  • Is a master's in criminal justice worth it?

    A master’s in criminal justice delivers greater career flexibility, as those who hold them qualify for more professional roles, such as supervisory or management-level positions.

  • What are the highest-paying jobs in criminal justice?

    Lawyers earn some of the highest earnings in the field, but those without law degrees can still find lucrative work in policing and forensics. Entrepreneurial types can also launch private investigation businesses and consultancies that offer unlimited earning potential.

Recommended Reading

Best Online Bachelor’s in Criminal Justice

Best Online Bachelor’s in Criminal Justice

December 9, 2020   |   Staff Writers

A bachelor’s in criminal justice can lead to careers in law enforcement, social work, or legal studies. This degree exceeds the minimum education requirement for…

Best Online Master’s in Criminal Justice

Best Online Master’s in Criminal Justice

January 5, 2021   |   Staff Writers

An online master's in criminal justice makes you a strong candidate for a variety of law enforcement careers.

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