Best Online Master’s in Criminal Justice

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Criminal justice master’s programs delve into law enforcement, corrections, and the courts, preparing graduates for careers in diverse areas, including information technology, the legal system, and homeland security.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects faster-than-average job growth for information security analysts, who earned a median annual salary of $99,730 as of 2019. A graduate degree in criminal justice prepares students for high-level management and leadership roles.

What is the best online school for criminal justice? This guide explains how to find the right program and what to expect from an online master’s in criminal justice, exploring admission requirements, degree and specialization options, popular criminal justice courses, and degree cost.

10 Best Online Graduate Programs in Criminal Justice

Rank School Location
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 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

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Featured Online Programs

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

Why Get an Online Criminal Justice Master’s Degree?

Online master’s in criminal justice programs prepare students for high-level careers in areas like law enforcement, the legal system, government, and information technology. Programs focus on the role of policing in society, criminology, cybercrime, and research methodology. Students gain specialized knowledge in management and administrative theory and practice. Learners also develop research, problem-solving, communication, and analytical skills.

Criminal justice master’s programs typically attract enrollees who want to protect people from crime and who prioritize law and order. Master’s candidates often pursue graduate degrees to advance in their careers and make more money.

The type of job graduates pursue varies depending on their previous academic and professional backgrounds and program focus. Potential careers include information security analyst, emergency management director, and probation officer. Other options include forensic psychologist and Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agent.

Those who earn a graduate degree can make higher salaries and may qualify more often for management and leadership roles in the field than individuals with just a bachelor’s degree. Below, we explain some benefits of earning a criminal justice master’s degree.

New Skills
Criminal justice master’s programs help students gain advanced knowledge of criminal justice theory and practices. Criminal justice majors develop in-demand, career-relevant skills in writing, research and analysis, management, and administration.
Promotion
Graduates of online master’s in criminal justice programs often qualify for promotions to management or leadership roles, garnering higher salaries than their less-educated counterparts.
Job Opportunities
A criminal justice master’s can open the door to diverse career opportunities in law enforcement, the courts, and corrections. Potential careers include emergency management director, DEA agent, forensic psychologist, and information security analyst.

The Top Online Master’s Degrees in Criminal Justice

  1. Saint Joseph's University
    Location

    Philadelphia, PA

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    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.

  2. Boston University
    Location

    Boston, MA

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    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.

  3. Xavier University
    Location

    Cincinnati, OH

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    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.

  4. Salve Regina University
    Location

    Newport, RI

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    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.

  5. Concordia University-Saint Paul
    Location

    Saint Paul, MN

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    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.

  6. Norwich University
    Location

    Northfield, VT

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    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.

  7. Lewis University
    Location

    Romeoville, IL

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    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.

  8. Michigan State University
    Location

    East Lansing, MI

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    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.

  9. DeSales University
    Location

    Center Valley, PA

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    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.

  10. University of San Diego
    Location

    San Diego, CA

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    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.

What To Expect From Criminal Justice Master’s Programs Online

Online master’s in criminal justice programs build a foundation in the theories and practices of the criminal justice system, including law enforcement, the courts, and corrections. Graduates pursue diverse career paths depending on their professional and academic backgrounds and interests. Typical criminal justice master’s programs require 30-60 credits and take two years to complete. Accelerated online degrees may offer the opportunity to graduate more quickly.

Price varies by program, but attending a public university and paying in-state tuition usually presents the most affordable option. Some criminal justice master’s programs provide graduate research or teaching assistantships, which offer a tuition waiver or reimbursement to students in exchange for their work teaching or conducting research for the department.

Criminal justice master’s programs often offer concentrations in areas like criminology, homeland security, case management, and law enforcement. Popular criminal justice courses include research methods in criminal justice, criminology, and juvenile justice.

Read More About Criminal Justice Programs

Admission Requirements

Admission requirements for criminal justice master’s programs vary by school, but typically include a bachelor’s degree from an accredited university and a minimum 3.0 GPA. Criminal justice master’s programs usually accept applicants with an undergraduate degree in any field. However, those with bachelor’s degrees in criminal justice or related disciplines may increase their chances of acceptance.

Prospective students often need to submit satisfactory GRE/GMAT scores, letters of recommendation, a resume or CV, and writing samples or answers to essay questions. Applicants fill out an online application; pay a fee; and submit college transcripts, test scores, and other required supplemental materials. Some programs require an interview.

Degree and Specialization Options

Schools with online master’s in criminal justice programs offer different types of degrees, including a master of arts (MA) or master of science (MS). Below, we outline the differences between these degrees.

MA in Criminal Justice


Typically a terminal degree, an MA in criminal justice provides a foundation in criminal justice.

MS in Criminal Justice


An MS in criminal justice also explores advanced issues of criminal justice, but may focus more on technical and professional skills. An MS also prepares students who may want to continue their education and earn a doctorate.

Criminal justice master’s programs also often offer specializations, in areas like criminology, homeland security, and law enforcement.

Criminology


A criminology concentration explores the role of crime in society, including the causes of crime and criminal behavior. Potential career paths include corrections officer, parole officer, police supervisor, and forensic psychologist.

Homeland Security


A specialization in homeland security prepares learners to respond to threats to national security, including terrorism and natural disasters. Potential career paths include FBI agent and information security analyst.

Law Enforcement


A concentration in law enforcement develops the knowledge to respond to and evaluate scenarios that law enforcement officers confront. Students gain analytical, decision-making, and technical skills to use in positions like police supervisor, DEA agent, and corrections officer.

Popular Criminal Justice Courses

The curriculum and specific classes required for criminal justice master’s programs vary by school. Most programs focus on research methods, criminology, and criminal justice administration and include core, elective/concentrations, and project/capstone credits. Below, we explain what to expect from some popular criminal justice classes for master’s students.

This survey class provides a foundation in advanced research techniques that criminal justice professionals typically use. Topics include defining a research problem, stating hypotheses, experimental research designs, and sampling. Students also grapple with the ethics of criminal justice research and develop critical thinking and analysis skills relevant to any position.
This core course explores contemporary issues in law enforcement, the judicial system, and corrections. Students explore theories of management and organizational behavior in the context of the criminal justice system. They also learn about issues like employee management, professional responsibility, and challenges of working as a criminal justice leader.
Students in this core survey course learn the major theories of criminal behavior and crime causation, including psychological, sociological, genetic, and physiological theories. Participants examine how these theories influence policy development and research in criminal justice. Other topics include crime victims, criminal patterns, and crime prevention.
This elective course focuses on the relationship between crime and children and teenagers. Enrollees investigate topics like juvenile crime treatment, patterns, and prevention. The class also focuses on the differences between the adult justice system and the juvenile justice system. Students planning to work with youth offenders may find this class particularly useful.
This culminating experience helps students apply knowledge gained during their program to real-world problems in criminal justice. Learners may complete an individual or group research project, master’s thesis, or professional portfolio.

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

The cost of a criminal justice master’s degree varies by program. Factors affecting cost include school type (private or public), tuition rate (in-state or out-of-state), prestige, and program format (online, in-person, or hybrid). In-state, public universities typically charge the lowest tuition rates. Students usually pay premiums to earn their degrees at prestigious, private institutions.

Online master’s degree in criminal justice programs often offer affordability compared to traditional, on-campus options. Many schools offer reduced or in-state tuition to out-of-state distance learners, a large savings.

Criminal justice majors at regionally accredited schools typically find many financing opportunities to help pay for their degree. Look for scholarships, grants, loans, and graduate assistantships at your school, and consider contacting the criminal justice department directly to find out about special financial aid options for students.

Jobs for Master’s in Criminal Justice Graduates

What can you do with a master’s in criminal justice? Because of the versatility of the degree, graduates pursue career paths in law enforcement, the courts, corrections, and beyond. Your previous educational experience, program focus, and personal interests all influence your career path after graduation.

Students with computer and information technology experience may qualify for jobs as information security analysts, earning a median annual salary of $99,730. Those interested in law enforcement may pursue careers as DEA agents, making an average of $65,630 a year.

Below, we describe what to expect from some potential master’s in criminal justice jobs, including emergency management director, information security analyst, and probation officer.

  • Forensic Psychologist

    Forensic psychologists help legal professionals with psychological aspects of cases. Typical duties may include testifying in court as expert witnesses, interviewing people, conducting research, and working with other legal and medical professionals. Forensic psychologists usually specialize in family, civil, or criminal cases.

    • Required Education: Master’s or Ph.D.
    • Job Outlook (2019-29): +3%
    • Median Annual Salary: $80,370

  • Emergency Management Director

    Emergency management directors prepare for and respond to natural disasters and other emergencies. Most work for local and state government agencies. Typical duties include preparing emergency response plans, analyzing damage assessments after disasters, and reviewing and making recommendations about emergency plans. A master’s degree can help students stand out from other job applicants.

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

  • Information Security Analyst

    Information security analysts protect an organization’s computer systems and networks by coordinating security measures. They usually work for computer systems and design and finance and insurance firms. Information security analysts need a strong background in computer science. Some employers prefer applicants with a master’s degree.

    • Required Education: Bachelor’s
    • Job Outlook (2019-29): +31%
    • Median Annual Salary: $99,730

  • DEA Agent

    DEA agents work at the federal Drug Enforcement Administration to stop drug trafficking in the U.S. Typical job duties may include conducting research, making arrests, collecting evidence, and working with other agencies on drug intelligence operations. They need excellent problem-solving and teamwork skills. A master’s degree can help DEA agents differentiate themselves from other applicants.

    • Required Education: Bachelor’s
    • Average Annual Salary: $65,630

  • Probation Officers

    Probation officers supervise and help rehabilitate criminal offenders who are on probation. Job duties may include writing reports, testifying in court, assessing offender progress, and connecting probationers with resources. Probation officers work for state and local government agencies, often under stressful conditions. Common characteristics include decision-making, communication, and organizational skills.

    • Required Education: Bachelor’s
    • Job Outlook (2019-29): +4%
    • Median Annual Salary: $54,290

Explore Criminal Justice Careers

Choosing the Right Criminal Justice Graduate Program

Our list of the best online graduate programs in criminal justice is a great place to start looking for a school, but learners should also do their own research. Consider the following key factors to help decide where to earn your online master’s in criminal justice.

Accreditation
Attending a regionally accredited university makes it easier to receive financial aid, transfer credit to another institution, qualify for industry certifications, or to apply to a Ph.D. program. Look up accreditation information for your prospective school at the Council for Higher Education Accreditation.
Program Length
It typically takes two full-time years to complete a master’s degree in criminal justice. If you want to graduate more quickly, look for accelerated options and programs that offer classes year round.
Staff Credentials
Highly qualified faculty members hold doctorates in their fields and are active in professional research and projects. Most universities list faculty accomplishments and awards on their websites. Find out if the department includes any faculty members doing research relevant to your interests and consider getting in touch with them before applying.
Cost
Calculate your estimated cost of attendance, including tuition and fees, textbooks, technology repairs and upgrades, and room and board. Investigate any financial aid opportunities, including departmental scholarships, grants, and research assistantships.

Why You Should Get Your Degree Online

Earning a criminal justice master’s degree online presents many potential benefits for busy students. The flexibility and convenience of completing classwork anytime and anywhere appeals to working professionals, learners with families, and many others.

Most distance education programs offer asynchronous classes, meaning participants do not need to log on at a particular time as long as they turn in assignments on time. This makes it much easier to keep working a full-time job while in school.

The distance learning experience may be especially relevant to those seeking an online master’s in criminal justice, because criminal justice professionals in a variety of positions increasingly need strong computer and information technology skills.

Only you can decide if an online master’s degree in criminal justice would work for your personality type, learning style, and schedule. Although more and more students appreciate the benefits of going to school online, some people prefer a more traditional, in-person experience.

Frequently Asked Questions

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

    Yes. A criminal justice master’s degree can open the door to a variety of well-paying, exciting jobs. To figure out if a criminal justice degree is worth it, consider your projected cost of attendance, how you plan to pay for school, and salary expectations after graduation.

  • How long is a master's in criminal justice?

    Criminal justice master’s programs usually take two years to complete. Students earning online, accelerated degrees may graduate in as little as one year.

  • What can you do with a master's in criminal justice?

    A criminal justice master’s degree qualifies graduates for a variety of careers in law enforcement, the legal system, corrections, and information technology. Master’s in criminal justice jobs include emergency management director, information security analyst, FBI agent, and DEA agent.

  • Is an online master's degree respected?

    Yes. Many schools offer criminal justice master’s programs online. Employers in the past may have been skeptical about online degrees, but most now respect distance education and understand students must meet the same requirements to graduate.

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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.

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