Best Online Master’s in Criminal Justice Programs

The academic field of criminal justice explores how laws are created, interpreted, and enforced within different countries, states, municipalities, and other jurisdictions. Careers in criminal justice generally fall into two occupational categories: legal professions, such as lawyers, paralegals, and judges; and law enforcement professions, such as police officers and detectives, bailiffs, probation officers, and forensic investigators. Most career pathways in this rewarding field are attainable with a bachelor’s degree or less, and an online master’s in criminal justice can help students further distinguish themselves in the job market.

Criminal justice is regularly recognized as having some of the lowest unemployment rates in the country, especially for students who earn a master’s degree.

Master’s in criminal justice online programs build on the foundational knowledge and skills of undergraduate studies. The curriculum leans heavily on case studies, using real-world examples to illustrate complex theories and psychological approaches to law and criminology. Criminal justice master’s students often choose to earn a degree specialization in niche areas like homeland security, behavioral science, or forensic technology. Many online criminal justice master’s degree programs culminate in a thesis paper or capstone project, giving students the opportunity to demonstrate the new knowledge and skills they have gained. Others offer supervised hands-on training as part of an internship or practicum course.

Learn more about what you can do with a master’s in criminal justice and what kind of career opportunities you can look forward to with this comprehensive guide


The best online master’s in criminal justice programs prepare students to enter the workforce after graduation and pursue a career related to their areas of interest. Those who plan to work in law enforcement or criminal investigation will take courses designed to build their analytical and critical thinking skills. Students who are drawn to the legal side of criminal justice will learn about laws, policies, and individual cases that have significantly impacted the U.S. judicial system. Degree specializations and internships can further build a student’s career skill set.


Online master’s degree programs offer a flexible alternative to traditional brick-and-mortar education. Students are able to access course materials, turn in written assignments, take exams, and contact their professors at their convenience. Additionally, current technology gives them the opportunity to study away from their home computer using a laptop, tablet, smartphone, or other portable device with Wi-Fi capabilities. Faculty members also work with students during the latter stages of their program, offering guidance on theses and capstone projects and/or helping them arrange internships close to their home.


A master’s in criminal justice will qualify graduates for most entry-level roles in the criminal justice field, as well as managerial titles and other positions normally reserved for applicants with a graduate degree. It’s important to note that certain legal careers — such as lawyers and judges — will require an advanced law degree. These credentials are normally obtained after undergraduate studies have concluded, as an alternative to the master’s degree.


Choosing the right program is an incredibly personal decision, and only you can properly evaluate whether a target school’s strengths match your educational needs. The following ranked list of schools should serve as a helpful starting point in your search for the best online master’s of criminal justice programs in the United States. If you are considering an online master’s in criminal justice, be sure to contact admissions specialists at different colleges and universities to learn more their about specific requirements and offerings.

Rank School Name Ranking Score Relative Cost % Enrolled Online Location Description
1 University of Central Florida 74.63 3/5 51% Orlando, FL

Although the University of Central Florida is based in Orlando, students from around the country can take advantage of the school’s notable online M.S. in Criminal Justice. The program is comprised of 36 credit hours, but students are allowed to take up to nine hours of graduate-level coursework in another discipline to augment their learning. Students are not required to complete a thesis, but they do need to pass a final exit examination upon completion of coursework. The University of Central Florida is one of the largest universities in the country with more than 60,000 students studying at all levels, but close attention is still paid to keeping student-to-faculty ratios low and ensuring all students receive individualized attention – and that includes online students. Based on the size and prestige of UCF, students greatly benefit from some of the best professors in the nation and excellent grant and research funding.

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2 Michigan State University 69.19 3/5 18% East Lansing, MI

As one of the first online master’s in criminal justice, Michigan State University has been offering this program to distance learners since 1998. The same forward-thinking and future-focused mentality can still be seen in today’s iteration of the program, which seeks to provide graduates with the skills and knowledge they’ll need to be transformative professionals within their field. As part of their degree, online students can also elect to specialize in law enforcement intelligence and analysis, judicial administration, security management, or follow a path focused on international criminal justice. In addition to small classes, online students also benefit from digital library access, an online writing center, and oftentimes the necessary materials for the course are available from the University library at no cost. Although not required, the School of Criminal Justice will help students who want to complete a field placement find a suitable location in their area.

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3 Florida State University 68.72 3/5 27% Tallahassee, FL

FSU has a long-standing distance education program and its online M.S. in Criminal Justice is a perennially favorite option. Designed specifically for the working student in mind, online learners take two classes asynchronously per semester and finish the entire 36 credit hour program within two years. The program is well-recognized for graduating high achieving students, with many alumni working in high-level national and international criminal justice positions. The school, which is based in Tallahassee, is one of the oldest higher education institutions in the state and is currently home to more than 41,000 campus-based and online students. Student satisfaction is given high priority by faculty and administrators alike: the retention rate for first-year students is currently 93%.

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4 Nova Southeastern University 68.18 4/5 54% Fort Lauderdale, FL

Fort Lauderdale’s Nova Southeastern University is home to an online master’s in criminal justice that’s highly interdisciplinary in nature, making it easy for graduates to move into a variety of different roles upon completion of their degree. For students who are on the fence, the department provides a free webinar about their program to learn more. Individuals already working in law enforcement or first response receive a 20% Valor Award Scholarship, as do veterans and active members of the military. In addition to high-level teaching, NSU has also been classified as a school with high research activity by the Carnegie Foundation and is also one of only 50 institutions in the country to be awarded the Carnegie Community Engagement Classification. It’s also been recognized by the U.S. Department of Education as a Hispanic-serving institution.

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5 Rowan University 64.98 4/5 16% Glassboro, NJ

Rounding out the top five online programs in criminal justice, Rowan University offers the first online M.A. in Criminal Justice, meaning core courses will be more in the vein of liberal arts and humanities rather than the sciences. Although the program is offered part-time for busy students, it’s taught in an accelerated format so students can finish the required 30 hours within five consecutive semesters broken down into eight week blocks. Prospective students can choose from three different starting times throughout the academic year. In addition to online degree programs, Rowan University also has three different campuses in New Jersey: Glassboro, Camden, and Sewell. Aside from individualized teaching and learning from faculty, online students also benefit from a student counselor, digital library access, and a 24/7 technology support service.

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6 University of Colorado Denver/Anschutz Medical Campus 64.62 3/5 22% Denver, CO

The University of Colorado’s online master’s in criminal justice program is among the best in the nation due to the groundbreaking learning opportunities students experience. In addition to core coursework, students can specialize their knowledge in areas of domestic violence, police administration, community corrections, homeland security, or policy and planning. Students without prior criminal justice experience are required to complete an internship at a local location, while all students must either write a thesis or complete a field-based capstone project. In addition to online offerings, the University of Colorado also has campuses in Denver and Aurora and is home to nearly 19,000 students. The university has also been recognized as encouraging a diverse student population where all learners are welcome and supported.

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7 Troy University 64.00 3/5 54% Troy, AL

As one of the largest and most popular programs offered by Troy University, the school’s online master’s in criminal justice provides both flexibility in learning and exceptional job prospects upon graduation. TROY’s criminal justice program does not require a thesis and may be completed in one year. Furthermore, graduate students without field experience in criminal justice may participate in the Agency Experience (internship) class for graduate credit. In addition to the standard curriculum, students can also complete a specialization in security studies if it matches their aspirations for a future career. Although online students may never visit the school’s Troy, Alabama campus, online professors encourage students to engage with their peers and build the same types of academic support systems seen in traditional classrooms. However, traditional and online students have the opportunity to participate in Study Abroad programs for criminal justice. The university is also committed to providing support via a range of services and resources, including academic advising, technical assistance, library support, and a writing center.

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8 University of Massachusetts-Lowell 62.30 3/5 42% Lowell, MA

The M.S. in Criminal Justice offered by the Lowell campus of the University of Massachusetts is an excellent choice for students looking for some room to customize their program of study. In addition to five required core courses, students are able to select six elective courses to shape the degree into one that will serve their future interests well. The program, which consists of 33 credit hours in total, is available entirely online and can be completed in two years of part-time study. Prospective students looking to study at UML may be interested to know that online students benefit from assigned advisors who walk alongside them from matriculation to graduation and help them take advantage of other services, including academic advising, career mentorship, technical assistance, library services, and support finding a local field placement or internship.

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9 University of Louisville 61.62 3/5 17% Louisville, KY

The University of Louisville’s Online Learning department is committed to providing top-notch educations via modern technology, and that philosophy extends to the school’s online M.S. in Criminal Justice. The curriculum, which is taught by award-winning faculty, is comprised of 36 credit hours – including 18 hours of electives. Students also complete a professional paper as part of their requirements for graduation. All classes are available asynchronously and accelerated terms last just six weeks. Busy students can also choose from six different starting times each year and can complete the program in three intensive semesters. Services available to online students include tutoring, advising, tech support – including assistance with Blackboard, a virtual library, and an online writing center. Prospective students can try an online demo course before enrolling.

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10 East Carolina University 61.62 3/5 39% Greenville, NC

Both popular and completely online, East Carolina University’s MS in ciminal justice incorporates both traditional concepts within the field alongside 21st century methodology. Even though students may be hundreds – or even thousands – of miles away from each other, the department encourages collaboration and involvement via engaging class discussions and projects and widespread use of social media channels. They also have a regular newsletter to keep students updated on both departmental news and advancements within the field. Other avenues of engagement include the Alpha Phi Sigma National Criminal Justice Honor Society or the Criminal Justice Student Organization. Aside from traditional support mechanisms and resources, the department has an outstanding career services department for students on the horizon of graduation.

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11 Mississippi College 61.25 3/5 22% Clinton, MS

Offering a course of study that is a bit different than other programs on this list, Mississippi’s online master’s in homeland security equips students with the skills they need to work on anti-terrorism initiatives. In addition to learning about the fundamentals of homeland security, students also pick up valuable knowledge about legal proceedings, grant writing, and special topics within the field. In addition to this program, Mississippi College also offers an online master's program in loss prevention and security management.

Operating as a private, Christian institution, Mississippi College is a small school that places utmost importance on helping students develop into knowledgeable servant-leaders who are prepared to transformed the world - a mission that hasn’t changed since its inception in 1826. The college also has the distinction of being the first coeducational institution in America to grant a degree to a woman, in 1831.

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12 University of San Diego 60.98 4/5 2% San Diego, CA

California’s University of San Diego offers an online master’s in law enforcement and public safety leadership for individuals already working as law enforcement professionals seeking to move into leadership or managerial roles. The coursework, which can be completed in as few as five semesters, delves into not only topics related to criminal justice, but also theories and practices to help graduates be effective leaders. It’s also worth noting that all of the coursework was developed in collaboration with professionals who are active members of police forces, sheriff associations, and other law enforcement agencies. Aside from those already active in law enforcement and public safety, active military, spouses, and veterans receive a $2,480 grant toward their education.

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13 University of Memphis 60.69 3/5 31% Memphis, TN

The online M.A. in Criminal Justice offered by the University of Memphis in Tennessee comprises 33 semester hours in both core and elective courses, all of which are taught in an asynchronous format for busy learners. The department prides itself on hiring faculty who both have prior experience in the field and are active researchers in furthering the development of criminal justice. A unique feature of this program is the strong emphasis on helping students develop partnerships with others working in the arena – including policy makers, community groups, and program developers. As a public research institution, UofM has been providing quality educations since 1912. Today the school is home to more than 20,000 students at all academic levels and provides on average $220 million in scholarships each academic year.

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14 Sam Houston State University 60.35 3/5 40% Huntsville, TX

Based in Huntsville, Texas, Sam Houston State University offers their online M.S. in Criminal Justice to working professionals looking to complete a degree without missing work or dropping the ball on personal responsibilities. Even though the course is part-time, students can expect to graduate within two years of matriculation. The required 36 credit hours are comprised of 21 required core courses alongside 15 elective hours. Unlike other programs, all electives taken must be taken within the department of criminal justice. In 2013, the Chronicle of Higher Education included SHSU in its list of Fasting Growing Colleges, with more than 20,000 students enrolling during the latest academic year. The school has also been recognized for encouraging educations for students of all backgrounds: approximately 50% of students are first-generation and the school ranks seventh in America for African-American graduation rates.

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15 University of Cincinnati-Main Campus 59.96 4/5 37% Cincinnati, OH

The University of Cincinnati offers an innovative online master’s in criminal justice that doesn’t require a GRE score for qualified applicants and programs lasting either one or two years depending on a student’s future goals. Within the program, online learners can choose to specialize in one of three areas: Analysis of Criminal Behavior, Law Enforcement & Crime Prevention, or Corrections & Offender Rehabilitation. The program has been offered fully online for more than 14 years, making it one of the oldest in this format and having educated more than 2,000 graduates during that timespan. Aside from all the services an online student would respect to receive – advising, technical assistance, and library services – the school also has an impressive 250,000 alumni living throughout the world to serve as an excellent web for networking.

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16 Liberty University 59.57 4/5 90% Lynchburg, VA

Liberty University is the largest private university in America, the largest university in Virginia, and the largest Christian higher education institution in the world. While an impressive 15,000 students are campus-based, nearly 95,000 students elect to complete their degrees online from every corner of the world. Because of these staggering numbers, distance learners enjoy the substantial benefits of such a sophisticated online degree program. The online master’s of science in criminal justice is comprised of 36 credit hours and offers a specialized path for individuals specifically interested in public administration. As part of graduation requirements, students are required to complete a thesis in their final year of study. One-third of the required credit hours are electives and can be taken outside the school of criminal justice.

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17 Lewis University 59.18 3/5 28% Romeoville, IL

Romeoville, Illinois is home to Lewis University, and Lewis University is home to an innovative online M.S. in Criminal and Social Justice. Designed for students who already have experience in public defense, the degree helps instill the skills needed to make a difference in law enforcement and fight against injustices. When students enroll, they not only become members of the Lewis University community, but also a member of a school designated as a Gold Academic Alliance Member by the FBI National Academy Associates. The criminal justice alumni community is also very strong at LU, providing students the opportunity to network and learn from those who have been in the field for years or decades. As an added incentive, the university is offering tuition reduction for students who choose to complete their criminal justice degree online.

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18 Concordia University-Saint Paul 58.88 3/5 56% Saint Paul, MN

Offered as an online M.A. in Criminal Justice Leadership, Concordia University in St. Paul, Minnesota structured their program to be especially appealing to individuals considering a terminal degree in the field. Offered as a study in leadership, the majority of students who apply have already worked in criminal justice or public defense previously and are now looking to move into managerial or senior roles. The program is comprised of 36 credit hours broken down into seven-week terms to allow for maximum flexibility. Aside from offering an excellent curriculum, the school also excels in job placements: 92% of graduates from the 2013-2014 cohort received job offers after graduation. To that end, faculty and program administrators work closely with online students to help them gain experience, network, and be competitive for jobs throughout the program.

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19 University of North Texas 58.68 3/5 32% Denton, TX

Since 1890, the University of North Texas in Denton has been providing quality educations to students from all backgrounds with myriad interests. Today that high-level education continues in their online offerings, which includes an impressive online M.S. in Criminal Justice that is ranked second in the state. Like a few of the other programs on this list, UNT’s degree was created for existing criminal justice practitioners looking to move into more advanced or leadership-focused roles within the field. Online students can also rest assured in the knowledge that their degree is truly comparable to those received by their campus-based peers, as all courses are designed and developed by the same full-time faculty leading discussions in traditional classrooms. Outside of excellent teaching, online students also have access to career services, technical help, counseling, financial aid, an online learning center, and a digital library.

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20 Dallas Baptist University 58.37 4/5 42% Dallas, TX

Unlike other programs on this list, the degree offered by Dallas Baptist University is an online M.A. in Professional Development with the option to complete an individualized track in criminal justice. Core courses for this degree include studies in leadership, human beliefs and actions, and career development and life transitions. From there, students choose up to six classes from the criminal justice path to focus their studies. The university is focused on developing student leaders who can be transformative professionals no matter their industry. Because all classes are taught from a Christian perspective, students with religious convictions are often drawn to the school’s offerings. Online students can expect a range of individualized services including a writing center, career development, technical assistance, academic advising, and a range of online student groups and organizations.

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21 University of Wisconsin-Platteville 57.29 3/5 16% Platteville, WI

Offering an option that doesn’t require GRE or GMAT scores, the University of Wisconsin at Platteville’s online M.S. in Criminal Justice provides easy access for students looking to begin their postgraduate journey quickly. In addition to the standard degree, students can also elect to complete an emphasis track in criminal justice theory, criminal justice management, victim and offender services, or child advocacy studies. Once a student is enrolled, they can expect to complete their degree in approximately two years. Online students enjoy the benefits of attending an institution that has been providing distance education for more than 35 years and consistently ranks as one of the best institutions for nontraditional studies. More than 2,500 students from across the world currently choose to complete their online degrees via UW Platteville.

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22 University of Oklahoma-Norman Campus 56.18 3/5 26% Norman, OK

Offered through the school’s College of Liberal Studies, the online master’s in criminal justice at UON focuses on six core topics: administrative leadership, restorative justice, drug abuse policy, theoretical foundations of criminal justice, criminal justice policy development, and ethical decision-making. The 33 credit hour program includes the requirement for students to complete a thesis and a written comprehensive examination before qualifying for graduation. An academically rigorous public institution of higher education, UON ranks first in the nation amongst public institutions for the number of National Merit Scholars and has a significant number of incoming students with perfect 4.0 GPA averages. The school is also included in the Fiske Guide to Colleges, which lists only universities in the top 10% of all postsecondary institutions in the country.

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23 Arizona State University-Skysong 56.05 3/5 92% Scottsdale, AZ

As one of the larger providers of online degree programs, Arizona State University is well-equipped to serve the needs of a varied student population. The online M.A. in Criminal Justice demonstrates this by going above and beyond in program deliverables. In addition to core courses, online students also spend significant time learning about important topics such as research methods, statistical analysis, program planning, management and evaluation, and policy analysis. At the end of all coursework, learners complete a comprehensive research paper which brings together all their learning throughout the 33 credit hour program. Although the criminal justice program is offered via ASU’s Skysong campus, online students benefit from resources from all campuses, including excellent online tutoring, student clubs, digital library offerings, and student disability services.

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24 Colorado State University-Global Campus 55.96 3/5 100% Greenwood Village, CO

Given its expansive online offerings, Colorado State University has an entire global campus for distance learners. The services and perks provided by the global campus are truly significant to students and include one-to-one tutoring, a center dedicated to helping students improve their research and writing skills, a 24/7 technical assistance program, and many different student organizations to help online learners feel engaged. Individuals who choose to enroll at CSU have access to an online master’s in criminal justice and law enforcement administration. This degree is tailored to learners who currently or have previously worked in a position related to criminal justice and have some foundational knowledge of the field. Students can choose from 15 different specializations, ranging from international management and organizational leadership to strategic innovation and change management.

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25 Slippery Rock University of Pennsylvania 55.79 3/5 19% Slippery Rock, PA

Students considering a PhD after completing their online master’s in criminal justice may be drawn to Slippery Rock University’s program, which is offered as a master of arts degree. It may also appeal to students looking to complete a postgraduate degree quickly: SPU’s 30 credit hours can typically be completed in 15 to 18 months, depending on how much time a student can devote to their studies. It may also appeal to those who want variety: students can elect to complete a thesis, internship, or general track as part of graduation requirements. Or it may appeal to them due to the phenomenal learning experience praised by so many alumni. The vast majority of teachers have terminal degrees in their field or have spent years working in criminal justice before moving to teaching, giving them the practical and theoretical knowledge needed to ensure students succeed after graduation.

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While each program is unique, most online criminal justice master’s programs generally have similar curricula and prepare students for diverse careers across a number of fields, including homeland security, cybersecurity, forensics, and law and policy. Criminal justice master’s programs online teach students the skills and ethics necessary to be successful.


Concentration Description Careers this concentration prepares for
Homeland Security Students who pursue a concentration in homeland security will be trained in criminal justice, safety, and covert operations. This criminal justice speciality prepares students for many governmental positions and equips them with the skills required of a competent leader. Border patrol agent, customs agent, detective, narcotics officer, cyber security analyst, and careers in private sector technology companies
Cybercrime Investigation & Cybersecurity Cybercrime investigation and cybersecurity concentrations prepare students for careers in cyber criminology with practical knowledge in digital investigations, cybersecurity policies, and risk assessment. Students who successfully complete such concentrations are usually eligible to sit for the forensic examiner certification exams. Forensic examiner, detective, private investigator, intelligence analyst, information security analyst, security analyst, and security manager
Forensic Technology A concentration in forensic technology requires students to analyze evidence and apply specialized knowledge to issues and questions involving the law. Forensic professionals often act as expert witnesses in legal proceedings. Computer forensic investigator, crime scene photographer, firearm and toolmark examiner, forensic accountant, forensic anthropologist, forensic artist, forensic biologist, forensic psychologist, latent print examiner, and forensic toxicologist


Courses differ by program and school, however, a sample curriculum of common courses in online criminal justice master’s degrees is offered below:

  • Criminal Justice Research Theory and Methodology: Coursework includes preparing research designs and conceptual models, procedures in sampling, and developing research papers. Students will also examine methods for answering policy and research questions through properly designed research studies and discuss pitfalls in scientific research.
  • Juvenile Justice System: This course provides a broad overview of the juvenile justice system while focusing on the agencies, procedures, law, institutions, programs, and philosophies that guide juvenile justice administration.
  • Sentencing and Corrections: This course examines conflicts in the U.S. correctional system, including the purposes of sentencing convicted law violators and the effects that different sanctions have on the cost of the justice system, public safety, and offender rehabilitation.
  • Seminar on Race, Ethnicity, and Criminal Justice: An introductory course on empirical research and theory relating to the criminal justice system and racial minorities as victims of crime, criminal offenders, and as criminal justice professionals. Students study the effect social policy has on racial and ethnic inequality and theories of racial and ethnic justice.
  • Drugs and Crime: Coursework addresses the nature of drug use and addiction, the theoretical and empirical relationship between drugs and crime, drug treatment and prevention programs and their effectiveness, and drug control policies in the United States and in other countries.


Generally, online criminal justice master’s degrees curricula average 33 to 40 credit-hours. Students who enroll on a full-time basis can complete the online criminal justice master’s degree in 18-24 months, or in three years with part-time study. Cohort-based programs require students to take courses sequentially, moving through the entire program with a group of their peers. Such programs have a more rigid timeframe for completion, while individually paced programs can be finished at different speeds. Whether the student is pursuing a dual degree and whether the online criminal justice master’s degree requires the completion of a thesis in order to graduate also affects program length.


Completing certification in specialty areas gives criminal justice graduates knowledge in a specialized field. Some of the more in-demand and popular certificates for students in online master’s degree in criminal justice programs include:

  • Crime Scene Technician Certification: Prepares students for crime scene work, including procedures for the proper collection, processing, and storage of various kinds of evidence, from DNA samples to large items such as vehicles. Depending on jurisdiction, programs can take a few months to two years to complete.
  • Certified Criminal Justice Professional Certification: This certification, which is also known as the Certified Criminal Justice Addiction Professional Certification, includes 270 hours of coursework working with drug offenders. This certification is popular with students pursuing careers as correctional officers or probation officers. Requirements vary by state, but students must acquire approximately 6,000 hours of experience working with drug offenders to complete the program.
  • Private Investigator Certification: Has students develop best practices in interview and surveillance techniques. Students also develop specialized knowledge of legal guidelines involved in this line of work. Most PI certification programs can be completed within several months.
  • Professional Peace Officer Certification: This certification, also known as Peace Officer Skills Training, is ideal for students pursuing positions in law enforcement organizations on either a local or state level. Students will be required to complete criminal justice and police academy coursework and pass written, verbal, and physical exams.

Criminal justice master’s degrees do not hold specialized accreditation through professional organizations, however, programs can obtain accreditation through regional and national accrediting organizations. Accreditation ensures acceptable levels of quality of higher education institutions. Accreditation can affect financial aid eligibility and the ability to transfer credits to or from other institutions. In the U.S., there are 19 recognized institutional accrediting organizations. The U.S. Department of Education and/or the Council for Higher Education Accreditation, an association of 3,000 degree-granting institutions, have reviewed these accrediting organizations for quality. A list of all accredited schools can be obtained through the ED or CHEA websites.

Job Placement: Master’s vs Bachelor’s in Criminal Justice

Due to the “recession-proof”’ nature of criminal justice, the field a carries a relatively low unemployment rate. A recent article from CBS News listed criminal justice and fire protection among the 25 college majors with the lowest unemployment rates at 4.7%. According to a 2014 survey by Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce (CEW), the job placement rate is even more favorable for candidates who complete advanced education. The survey found that graduate degree-holders in the field of criminal justice and fire protection face an unemployment rate of 4.1%; by comparison, bachelor’s graduates with work experience face an unemployment rate of 4.6%, while recent bachelor’s graduates (without work experience) are unemployed 8.9% of the time.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) notes that legal occupations are projected to rise 5% between 2014 and 2024, resulting in more than 64,000 new jobs. Using BLS data, the table below features growth projections for four common career pathways in criminal justice.

Profession Projected Growth Rate (2014-24) Projected Increase in Number of Jobs (2014-24)
Paralegals 11% 142,400
Accountants and Auditors 11% 142,400
Police and Detectives 4% 33,100
Probation Officers and Correctional Treatment Specialists 4% 3,300

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Earning a Living

In addition to lower unemployment rates, recipients of a master’s in criminal justice also enjoy higher earning potential than their counterparts with lesser degrees. The table below uses data from PayScale to illustrate master’s in criminal justice salary expectations compared to the earnings for associate and bachelor’s degree-holders at the early and mid-career stages.

Degree Level Median Early Career Salary (0-5 years) Median Mid-Career Salary (10+ years)
Associate in Criminal Justice $30,600 $46,000
Bachelor’s in Criminal Justice $36,400 $58,500
Master’s in Criminal Justice $43,100 $62,900

Source: 2015-16 PayScale College Salary Report

As the table shows, criminal justice master’s graduates at the early career mark enjoy an 18% wage premium over bachelor’s degree-holders and a 41% premium over associate degree-holders. The wage premium is reduced at the mid-career stage, but master’s-holders still outearn peers with bachelor’s and associate degrees by 8% and 37%, respectively.

However, it should be noted that the salary of criminal justice professionals will gradually increase over the course of their careers. The next table examines salary expectations for five popular criminal justice occupations at four different career benchmarks.

Occupation Median Annual Salary for Entry-Level Employees (0-5 Years) Median Annual Salary for Mid-Career Employees (5-10 years) Median Annual Salary for Experienced Employees (10-20 years) Median Annual Salary for Late-Career Employees (20+ years)
Police Officers $43,146 $51,046 $55,662 $61,218
Police Detectives $50,000 $52,000 $63,000 $69,000
Criminal Justice and Law Enforcement Teachers, Postsecondary $43,000 $45,000 $55,000 $59,000
Paralegals $38,734 $46,626 $51,154 $53,194

Source: PayScale

Based on the five careers listed above, probation officers enjoyed the highest career salary premium with a 67% increase between the entry-level and late-career marks. The salary increase for the remaining careers ranges between 37% and 42%.

Career Opportunities

Graduates who earn a criminal justice master’s online will be eligible for dozens of entry-level and managerial positions, although individual eligibility will depend on degree specialization and additional work experience. Four of the most popular career pathways for criminal justice master’s degree-holders are detailed below.

Criminal Justice and Law Enforcement Teachers, Postsecondary: These educators work at colleges and universities, instructing courses in subjects like criminology, law enforcement, and corrections. In addition to teaching duties, postsecondary educators often conduct independent research and publish their findings in academic journals.

Probation Officers and Correctional Treatment Specialists: These professionals assist convicted criminals as they adjust to the real world after their release from prison. They work to ensure their clients honor the stipulations of their probation and abstain from committing more crimes.

Paralegals: Paralegals often assist lawyers or attorneys in legal offices. Day-to-day duties typically include writing legal documents, maintaining client files, and helping lawyers prepare for court appearances.

Police and Detectives: Police officers are responsible for protecting people and property from criminal threats. Detectives are high-level officers who have been promoted after a few years of work experience; they investigate various crimes in order to determine a culprit and motive.

Profession Median Annual Salary
Criminal Justice and Law Enforcement Teachers, Postsecondary $64,460
Probation Officers and Correctional Treatment Specialists $49,360
Accountants and Auditors $67,190
Police and Detectives $60,270

Professional Organizations

Making professional connections and learning about different approaches to criminal justice is crucial to your success. Professional organizations offer a great entry point for students who want to learn more about their chosen career path. Below you’ll find three of the country’s most prominent organizations established for criminal justice professionals. These organizations host networking events, provide online trainings, maintain active job boards, and offer other services for career-ready college graduates. Resources like these often prove invaluable as you complete your degree requirements and prepare to enter the job market.

  • National Association of Police Organizations: NAPO was founded in 1978, and today represents roughly 241,000 officers and detectives in more than 1,000 law enforcement units. Members receive invitations to three annual conferences, as well as continuing education opportunities.
  • National Association of Legal Assistants: NALA is a nonprofit organization representing more than 18,000 paralegals, both individual members and employees of member affiliates. The association offers two certifications for paralegals, as well as online webinars, job leads, and complimentary issues of the Facts & Findings academic journal.
  • American Probation and Parole Association: APPA represents probation and parole personnel working with criminals and juvenile offenders. The organization’s website features an extensive online resource library, as well as links to online and onsite training programs.

Despite the relative affordability of online criminal justice master’s programs, most students still need financial assistance. Students should complete a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form to learn more about loans, grants, and other opportunities offered through the U.S. government. Additionally, private grants and scholarships are widely available through nonprofit organizations, companies, and other sources. Check out our collection of resources below to learn more about financial aid options.


Approximately two-thirds of today’s college students rely on loans to fund their education, but there are plenty of overlooked financing options you can use to reduce your overall student debt.


Completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is a crucial first step for any student with financial needs. Our FAFSA guide features a step-by-step rundown on the process and answers to several frequently asked questions.


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, as well as the different funding opportunities available to online students.


Online programs can provide an affordable and flexible option for women trying to balance the demands of work, family, and earning their degree. We’ve curated a list of valuable scholarships specifically for women.


Online college programs can be a flexible, affordable option for single parents who are interested in earning a degree and securing their family’s financial future. We’ve compiled a list of scholarships, grants, and other financial aid options geared toward single moms and dads.


Millions of dollars in free money is available to U.S. military personnel, but much of it goes unused. Learn more about grants, scholarships, and other financial aid opportunities available to veterans, active-duty service members, and reservists.

Best Online Master's in Criminal Justice Programs of 2016
Rank School Location
1 Nova Southeastern University Fort Lauderdale, FL
2 Northeastern University Global Network Boston, MA
3 Arizona State University - Skysong Scottsdale, AZ
4 Sam Houston University Huntsville, TX
5 Cocordia University - Saint Paul Saint Paul, MN
6 Lewis University Romeoville, IL
7 Sul Ross State University Alpine, TX
8 Tiffin University Tiffin, OH
9 Liberty University Lynchburg, VA
10 Troy University Troy, AL
11 Bethell University McKenzie, TN
12 Saint Leo University Saint Leo, FL
13 University of Massachusetts - Lowell Lowell, MA
14 University of the Cumberlands Williamsburg, KY
15 Albany State University Albany, GA
16 Michigan State University East Landsing, MI
17 University of Cincinnati Cincinatti, OH
18 Tarleton State University Stephenville, TX
19 National University La Jolla, CA
20 Texas A & M University - Central Texas Central Texas
21 University of Colorado - Denver Denver, CO
22 University of New Haven West Haven, CT
23 University of Central Missouri Warrensburg, MO
24 East Carolina University Greenville, NC
25 Fayetteville State University Fayetteville, NC