Best Online Master’s in Criminal Justice Programs

If you’ve always wanted to pursue a career in criminal justice and feel ready to take the next step towards that goal, you may be interested in obtaining an online master’s degree in criminal justice. Whether you’re seeking work in law enforcement or legal services, coursework in criminal justice emphasizes the research, ethical, sociological and legal training you’ll need to do your job successfully. Conveniently for adult learners and traditional students alike, many premier criminal justice programs offer their master’s degree entirely online.

Choosing a Program

How will this program help me develop the skills I need?

Quality master’s in criminal justice programs provide students with a thorough overview of the field. Students are exposed to the latest research and theories on criminology and criminal justice, and from there, you can choose your specialty. From there, students learn the critical thinking, research, and analytical skills that are so valuable in this people. Whether you want to work in forensic research, criminal policy, or anything else, the sharp cognitive abilities honed in a master of criminal justice program prepare you for a rewarding career in the field.

Can I work full-time while pursuing a master’s degree?

Absolutely. Most online students are working a full-time job, and the curriculum is designed to be taken by busy professionals or stay-at-home parents. Most courses feature asynchronous courses, which gives you the flexibility you need to complete assignments and consume lectures at your convenience.

What jobs can this degree prepare me for?

Graduates with a master’s in criminal justice can find a variety of jobs in the industry. Whether you want to work as a detective on the police force, or a policy analyst for the government or a think tank, a master’s degree prepares you with the industry knowledge and critical thinking skills for management-level positions in the field.

How do I find the right program for me?

It all starts with your professional ambitions: different programs have different strengths, and it’s up to you to find the school that offers expert faculty and engaging classes that match your interests. To help you in your search, we’ve profiled the top 25 online master’s in criminal justice programs below. As part of our rankings, we’ve covered each school’s academic highlights, allowing you to find the program that best suits what you want to study.

Rank School Name Ranking Score Relative Cost Graduation Rate Location Description

Nova Southeastern University

 3/546.11%Fort Lauderdale, FL


Nova Southeastern University's online Master of Science in Criminal Justice provides core, elective and specialty courses, with an interdisciplinary focus. The 36-hour program is ideal for those looking to gain training in a particular track, often leading to a career in one of many law enforcement or investigative roles. Depending on their area of interest, students complete 12 credits of the program in a specialization chosen from 12 available concentrations, including legal perspective in criminal justice, public administration, information security and more.

Graduates learn to apply the skills they learn in class to real world situations. Students are expected to practice time management while completing coursework through the Blackboard platform, which facilitates both synchronous and asynchronous online learning scenarios. Online students receive the same degree as on-campus students, with the added benefits of flexibility, convenience and accelerated options.

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Northeastern University Global Network

 3/5N/ABoston, MA


The online Master of Science in Criminal Justice at Northeastern promotes strategic thinking and global solutions for crime and terrorism. This program emphasizes a unique approach to learning, developing leadership, communication and ethics skills through one of six available concentrations, including community and family justice, policing, security and more. Graduates of this 45-hour MS in criminal justice program are prepared for leadership in law enforcement, the court system, private security and correctional facilities.

The program is offered entirely online or on-campus. Coursework is delivered asynchronously through Blackboard, incorporating a wealth of interactive multimedia tools to enhance the virtual classroom. These include video lectures, live chat by request and active web-based discussion boards. Assignments and course materials are always available through the online portal and work is completed weekly at each student's convenience.

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Arizona State University – Skysong

 2/5N/AScottsdale, AZ


Arizona State University's online MA in Criminal Justice is ideal for students who want to develop an advanced understanding of the criminal justice system and select topics in criminology. The program comprises 33 total credit-hours, including a combination of core courses, electives and a capstone project. Students may specialize in an area of their choice by concentrating core and elective courses in that subject. Graduates of the online program are prepared to explore career options in policy analysis and program evaluation and management for government, nonprofit and social service agencies.

The degree is offered in a fully online format and enrollment is open to students during multiple sessions throughout the academic year. Courses are delivered asynchronously in an accelerated 7.5-week format through Blackboard. ASU was one of the first schools to use supplemental programs like Google Apps to enhance the virtual learning experience. The university also encourages students to use Quality Matters (a peer review system) and Zaption (an interactive analytics tool) to maintain effective, high-quality programming for online students.

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Sam Houston State University

 2/553.06%Huntsville, TX


The Master of Science in Criminal Justice at Sam Houston State is tailored to established law enforcement, corrections, security or social services professionals looking to advance their careers in an accelerated program. Required coursework includes classes in justice administration, research and analysis and criminal justice leadership. Students complete the curriculum by taking electives in related topics.

Online students in the criminal justice program receive the same diploma as their on-campus counterparts. Courses are delivered both synchronously and asynchronously through Blackboard. As an experienced provider of effective online education methods, SHSU offers several web-based resources to its distance learners. These include videos, podcasts and multimedia services, as well as a support desk to address any IT needs.

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Concordia University – Saint Paul

 2/546.45%Saint Paul, MN


The Master of Arts in Criminal Justice Leadership at Concordia is designed for students currently working in criminal justice. The program is tailored to those aspiring to a higher position in their career, promising a more focused and creative approach to learning than a bachelor's curriculum in the discipline. The master's degree comprises 36 credit-hours. Topics covered include correctional design, applied ethics in criminal justice leadership and more.

Concordia offers the MA in criminal justice leadership entirely online through an interactive learning system designed specifically for online students. Concordia promises flexible course formats, as well as a wealth of resources to accommodate online students, including 24/7 tech support, full library access, online instructor meetings and academic counseling.

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Lewis University

 3/562.46%Romeoville, IL

The online Master of Science in Criminal Social Justice at Lewis University offers students the practical training and diverse skills needed for a career in criminal justice. Students in this program must complete 36 credit-hours through a combination of core classes and electives designed to enable graduates to protect and advocate for criminal social justice within their communities. Course topics range from administration and management to comparative justice systems.

Lewis' MS in criminal social justice is offered entirely online. Courses are delivered asynchronously through an exclusive online learning system, but they aren't entirely self-paced. Students are expected to follow the schedule set by the instructor for each course, which may require occasional synchronous assignments or activities. Online students are paired with a dedicated student services coordinator upon enrollment; coordinators provide technical assistance throughout your time at school.


"Lewis provided an unparalleled level of networking with the instructors and law enforcement." – Tim McCarthy, M.S. in Criminal Social Justice Alumni

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Sul Ross State University

 1/527.94%Alpine, TX

The online Master of Science in Criminal Justice at Sul Ross State offers both a thesis and non-thesis option to students completing the degree requirements. The thesis track requires 30 credit-hours, while the non-thesis option, which incorporates additional electives from outside of the homeland security and criminal justice department, totals 36. All students explore core topics such as criminal justice theory, homeland security and methods of social research.

Sul Ross offers the master's in criminal justice in a fully online format. Courses are typically delivered through Blackboard and students complete them at their own pace; however, select online classes designated as "distance learning" as opposed to "web-based" courses are delivered synchronously through a video-conferencing platform. Online students may explore technology tutorials before starting and have full access to tech support experts for help with online education.

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Tiffin University

 3/538.82%Tiffin, OH

The online Master of Science in Criminal Justice at Tiffin University offers graduate students the opportunity to enhance their knowledge and focus their professional training in one of five available concentrations: crime analysis, criminal behavior, forensic psychology, homeland security administration or justice administration. With the exception of forensic psychology, curriculum in each concentration comprises three semesters and limits coursework each term to allow in-depth analysis of each concept. The forensic psychology concentration comprises four semesters and an intersession, and incorporates additional coursework in advanced psychological assessment and mental health law.

Like all of Tiffin's web-based programs geared toward vocational training and lifelong learning opportunities, the fully online master's in criminal justice was designed with career-oriented professional students in-mind. Classes are asynchronous and delivered through a comprehensive online learning management system. Distance learners are awarded the same degree as on-campus students and may take advantage of similar student services, including virtual library resources, academic tutoring and tech support.

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Liberty University

 2/550.41%Lynchburg, VA

Liberty University's online Master of Science in Criminal Justice - Public Administration program prepares students for leadership and effective decision-making in criminal justice. Students in this degree explore coursework in criminal justice integration, program evaluation and leadership, ethics and policing, in addition to a public administration cognate and electives of the student's choosing. As is the mission of Liberty University, all courses are designed to bring a Christian worldview to positions of leadership in the field.

The program is available entirely online. Courses are delivered asynchronously in Blackboard, allowing students the opportunity to manage their own schedules and complete their degree at an accelerated pace if they choose.


"Liberty has enabled me through its online programs to complete both my Bachelor's and Master's degree. As a military wife I have moved overseas and stateside many times but LU has always been one of the constants in my life. It has been such a blessing to work toward my degrees while still being able to home educate our children and play single mom throughout my husband's seven deployments. I am thankful for what LU stands for and am proud to call myself a part of the family." – Torie Pendleton, 2015

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Troy University

 2/534.98%Troy, AL

The online Master of Science in Criminal Justice at Troy University is designed to broaden your perspective and deepen your understanding of common issues in America's criminal justice system. In addition to required core courses in principles of administration, current trends in criminal law and criminology theory, Troy offers both a thesis and non-thesis degree track. Only the non-thesis option is available online; thesis students must complete the degree in residence at the Troy, AL campus.

The online master's in criminal justice comprises 30 course credit-hours. Courses are delivered via the Blackboard platform, with an emphasis on accelerated programs tailored to adult learners with full-time jobs. Troy uses a range of web-based tools and technology resources to deliver comprehensive criminal justice courses for busy professionals looking to advance their careers without disrupting their home life.


"As a full-time mom and employee, I chose eTROY because of the convenience that the online courses offered me while earning my graduate degree. With my degree, I am able to compete with others in my field for career advancement. The eTROY courses offer a welcoming environment that encourages student success." – Troy University alum

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Bethel University

 3/535.82%McKenzie, TN

The online Master of Science in Criminal Justice at Bethel prepares students for professional roles in management and administration within the courts, as well as law enforcement, security, probation and parole systems. The program covers core topics including diversity in the criminal justice system, statistics in the field and administration and organizations in the criminal justice system. Required coursework totals 36 hours, comprising 10 core classes and two electives; professionals already working in the field can apply to get the latter requirement waived.

The fully online master's in criminal justice is designed specifically for busy adult learners. The online curriculum targets a "writing-based, not test-based" model intended to build communication skills necessary for a career in criminal justice. Courses are typically asynchronous and are completed at the student's convenience.

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Saint Leo University

 2/544.89%Saint Leo, FL

The online Master of Science in Criminal Justice at Saint Leo University benefits both aspiring criminal justice professionals as well as those working in the field. The program comprises 36 total credit-hours, including core and elective courses that explore ethical and legal issues in criminal justice, public policy-making, leadership applications and more. Specializations in corrections, forensic science and incident management, among others, are also available online.

Courses are typically delivered asynchronously and the online learning system provides a highly interactive and engaging platform for dialogue between students and instructors. Online courses use audio, video, CD-ROM and traditional textbook materials to supplement the virtual classroom.

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University of Massachusetts – Lowell

 3/554.49%Lowell, MA

The University of Massachusetts-Lowell's online Master's in Criminal Justice program is intended for aspiring or active criminal justice professionals looking to take the next step in their career. The 33-hour program is comprised of 11 courses, including core curriculum in theory, scholarship, research, quantitative analysis and criminal justice administration, as well as electives in a specialization. Master's graduates may tailor the program to their individual needs, whether to enhance their professional skills or as preparation for a doctorate program.

Students can complete the degree online, though local residents looking for a broader selection of electives may opt for a blended format. Students complete courses asynchronously via Blackboard and may login at any time throughout each week to complete assignments, do research and participate in discussion forums and suggested virtual activities.


"When I decided to pursue my master's degree, UMass Lowell's program appealed to me because of the convenience of taking courses online. I have a young family and work full time and it made it more convenient for me to earn a graduate degree at this stage in my life." – S. Ted Lane, recent graduate

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University of the Cumberlands

 2/535.56%Williamsburg, KY

The online Master's in Criminal Justice Administration at UC is a 30 credit-hour program comprised of core and elective courses. The master's degree is customizable, and offers several areas of study to accommodate any concentration. Options include law enforcement, homeland security, addiction studies and more. The program is ideal for both aspiring criminal justice professionals and experienced workers in the field.

The program is available entirely online. The university emphasizes a global approach to learning through its online programs, offering distance and local students the opportunity to interact with professionals working in their field of choice across the country. Coursework is delivered synchronously through iLearn: students are generally free to complete and submit assignments on their own schedule.

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Albany State University

 1/539.62%Albany, GA

The online Master of Science in Criminal Justice at Albany State offers specialties in corrections and law enforcement. The 36 credit-hour program emphasizes theoretical, methodological and philosophical knowledge of the criminal justice system through a combination of coursework and thesis-level research. Graduates are prepared for a number of careers in criminal justice, and many continue on to doctoral programs.

Albany's program is offered entirely online. Courses are delivered through the Desire2Learn platform, and the school offers orientation training for online students and ongoing training for instructors. The curriculum in the master's in criminal justice accommodates many different types of students interested in the field, allowing both active and aspiring criminal justice professionals to complete coursework at their own pace.

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Michigan State University

 3/578.86%East Lansing, MI

The online Master of Science in Criminal Justice at Michigan State provides those working in the field with the opportunity to diversify and enhance their skills in a specialty area, potentially opening the door to a new direction in their career. The program requires 30 credit-hours to complete; students may choose a track from general study, security management or international focus options. It usually takes students 18 months to three years to complete their degree.

Michigan State's fully online master's in criminal justice was designed with busy professionals in mind. Coursework is typically asynchronous and is delivered through Blackboard and the Desire2Learn web-based learning platforms. Online instructors are both actively working in the field and well-versed in web-specific teaching tools, allowing them to understand the unique needs of adult distance learners.

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University of Cincinnati

 3/559.56%Cincinnati, OH

The University of Cincinnati offers an online master's in criminal justice. The program is comprised of 11 courses focused on a conceptual and theoretical framework, and teaches students how to perform research and policy analysis. Students can finish the degree in as little as one year. Interdisciplinary courses are a part of the program, and include subjects like sociology, law and public administration. Many graduates of this program pursue academic or research-oriented positions in the field.

Cincinnati's program is offered entirely online. With years of experience providing distance education to its off-site students, the university now offers all online courses asynchronously via the Blackboard learning system. Modules use various internet-based functions, including video lectures, podcasts and more.

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Tarleton State University

 2/544.66%Stephenville, TX

Tarleton State University's online Master of Criminal Justice program promotes a combination of advanced academic competencies and professional applied experience. The 30-hour degree is ideal for criminal justice professionals looking to advance their career. Coursework helps students develop analytical, critical-thinking and leadership skills as they progress through the curriculum.

The degree is offered in a fully online format. Coursework is typically asynchronous, delivered through the Blackboard online learning system. Through its fully interactive web-based applications, Tarleton offers online students and distance learners the opportunity to collaborate with peers and instructors through discussion boards, instant-messaging, podcasts and more.

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National University

 3/540%La Jolla, CA

National University's online Master of Criminal Justice is ideal for students looking to pursue a career in administration or research and development in criminal justice. The program requires students to complete 12 classes; coursework incorporates both theory and practice into core requirements and electives. Topics include critical issues in criminal justice, advanced criminology theory and professional ethics in criminal justice.

National's innovative one-course-per-month approach adds clarity and structure to the curriculum, while still allowing students to complete the degree faster than residential learners. Courses are typically delivered asynchronously through Blackboard.

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Texas A & M University – Central Texas

 1/5N/AKilleen, TX

This online Master of Criminal Justice is designed for aspiring administrative personnel in law enforcement, corrections and the court system. Coursework emphasizes a combination of academics, innovation, theoretical principles, research methods and administrative skills in the context of global criminal justice. Students must complete a total of 36 credit-hours in either thesis or non-thesis core and elective courses.

Students can finish the program without ever stepping foot on campus. Courses are delivered asynchronously through the Blackboard platform, and the school also uses Kaltura Media Streaming, Respondus, Turnitin and Atomic Learning to supplement the web-based materials. Students typically use multimedia video tools to complete assignments online; dedicated tech support is available 24/7 to distance learners.

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University of Colorado – Denver

 2/539.96%Denver, CO

The online Master of Criminal Justice at the University of Colorado Denver emphasizes leadership, problem-solving and critical-thinking skills. The program is ideal for a variety of students, including those looking to advance or change careers within the field of criminal justice, as well as those progressing towards postgraduate study. Course topics include criminological theory, statistics, public policies for homeland security and disasters and more.

The degree is offered entirely online. Courses are typically delivered asynchronously through Canvas, by instructors specifically trained in online teaching. UCD's online courses are popular among students seeking flexibility and independence. Student support services are available online and are centered on social interaction and collaborative technology applications.

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University of New Haven

 5/549.6%West Haven, CT

The online Master's in Criminal Justice at UNH is best-suited to aspiring leaders and supervisors within the field of criminal justice. The two-year program requires 36 credit-hours to graduate, including core requirements and electives in theories of criminal behavior, research methods in criminal justice, leadership issues in policing and more. Students may opt to incorporate multiple electives within a specialization into their curriculum; popular choices include computer forensics investigation and criminal justice policy.

New Haven's graduate program in criminal justice is available entirely online. Students complete coursework, delivered through Blackboard, at their own pace. Distance learners can enroll during any of the six eight-week terms available throughout the year to online students.


"The Online, Criminal Justice Master of Science Program at the University of New Haven is a rigorous but manageable program. It's great because you are afforded the opportunity and flexibility of working a job while pursuing a graduate degree, without having to meet at a physical location." – Amber Okafor

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University of Central Missouri

 1/552.94%Warrensburg, MO

Central Missouri's Master of Science in Criminal Justice is offered through the school's department of criminal justice. Designed to benefit both students preparing to enter the field and those already working in criminal justice, coursework in this program is composed of 36 total credit-hours of core and elective requirements, shaped by the student's choice of a thesis or non-thesis track of study. Course topics include philosophy and policy, causes of crime and a look at the legal aspects of criminal justice.

The master's degree in criminal justice at Central Missouri is available entirely online. Courses are delivered asynchronously and synchronously via the Blackboard platform, requiring online students to manage their course load and schedules accordingly.

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East Carolina University

 2/558.63%Greenville, NC

ECU's master in criminal justice prepares graduates for a professional role in the field or for further postgraduate study. The program offers a combination of required core and elective courses in criminal justice principles, civil liability in criminal justice, advanced criminology and more. Additionally, master's certificates in criminal justice education, security studies or public management and leadership are completed independently or while satisfying part of the elective requirements of the criminal justice degree.

Only the non-thesis master's in criminal justice option is available online. Coursework is both asynchronous and synchronous, delivered through Blackboard and aided by additional online resources such as Lynda, which provides full access to multimedia libraries, PowerPoint presentations and video course delivery. Students are encouraged to communicate with instructors and peers through forums, discussion boards and other social platforms.

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Fayetteville State University

 2/534.6%Fayetteville, NC

The online MS in criminal justice at Fayetteville State University is ideal for students looking to enhance their skills and build a career in criminal justice research and management. Students must complete at least 33 credit-hours, including curriculum grounded in theoretical and research-oriented competencies. Courses include history of crime control policy, criminal justice administration and criminology theory.

Classes are typically delivered asynchronously, although synchronous activities, including chat sessions, are also a part of the curriculum. Fayetteville State uses Blackboard to host lectures; the platform also incorporates online research, text-based materials and streaming video modules.

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What to Expect From an Online Criminal Justice Program

There are many career opportunities available to people interested in criminal justice, but the most desirable positions in the field often require certification. Completing a criminal justice degree verifies your expertise in several competencies, including criminology, corrections, judicial and prosecutorial process, ethics and statistical analysis. Classes and internships also help you gain experience in the subfield that interests you most, preparing you for the career you’ve always wanted.

For those interested in fields requiring a postgraduate degree, such as criminology or forensic science, students should incorporate additional coursework into their curriculum. Training in psychology, for example, is useful in many criminal justice positions.

Pursuing your master’s alongside your current job isn’t just convenient; it’s also a legitimate way to earn a respected degree. Online criminal justice programs prepare you for your career just as thoroughly as traditional residential programs. Top departments offer students access to experienced faculty members, flexible degree tracks and all of the same information and resources that you would find on campus. That you can earn your degree without disrupting your job or family is not a consolation, but a bonus.

Employment Outlook for Criminal Justice Graduates

Though a bachelor’s is the minimum degree required for many positions in criminal justice, master’s degree holders are eligible for more opportunities and have an advantage over others in the job market. A postgraduate degree is not required to work for the FBI, for example, but holding a master’s in criminal justice demonstrates proficiency in the field and proves your dedication, professionalism and resilience. These skills and traits make you a competitive candidate for most positions you’ll want to apply for out of school.

According to the BLS, most criminal justice degree holders become policemen and detectives. For police officers, the expected job growth between 2012 and 2022 is 5%, and the annual average salary was $56,980 as of May 2012. Job growth statistics project a slower growth rate for detectives and criminal investigators, but they are among the highest-paid professionals working in criminal justice, earning over $80,000 annually as of May 2012.

Sources: Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Employment and Wages for Police Officers and for Detectives & Criminal Investigators.

If you like the academic side of criminal justice but don’t want to work in the field, you can still rely on your degree for employment. Master’s degree holders are eligible to teach university students, and you can also pursue a role in public administration with a law enforcement agency or government institution (though you may need further certification for some positions).

Ultimately, an online master’s degree in criminal justice allows you to build your career through flexible online coursework. In choosing one of the nation’s best master’s in criminal justice programs, you are developing the skills and habits that will help you take the next step in your career.

Financing Your Online Master’s Degree in Criminal Justice

Despite the relative affordability of online programs, the need for financial aid is still a reality for most students. But rest assured, loans aren’t your only option. Explore our collection of financial aid resources or dig into one of the following guides to read more about financing your education.

Scholarships for Criminal Justice Majors

We’ve curated a list of 42 scholarships and grants specifically for education majors. With over $75,000 in available rewards, take the time to learn how you can access free money for your online criminal justice degree.

An Overview of Financial Aid

Approximately two-thirds of today’s college students rely on loans to fund their education, but there are plenty of overlooked financing options savvy students can use to reduce the total costs of their education.

Understanding the FAFSA

Completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is the first and most crucial step for any student seeking financial aid. Follow our step-by-step guide for answers to frequently asked questions.

Financial Aid for Online College Students

Financial aid for online learning is equivalent to what you’ll find for campus-based learning, but that hasn’t always been the case. Learn about the changes that have taken place and funding opportunities for online students.

Scholarships for Single Parents

Online programs can provide an affordable and flexible option for single parents looking for a more secure financial future for their children. We’ve compiled a list of scholarships for these hard-working parents.

Financial Aid for Veterans and Active Military

Millions in education benefits are available for veterans and active members of the military. Unfortunately, much of this goes unused. Find out if you’re entitled to help with college and start planning for your future.