Online Master’s in Criminal Justice Best Programs of 2022

A criminal justice degree prepares you for a variety of rewarding careers. Our higher education experts at BestColleges break down the requirements for some of the nation's best online programs.

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by Doug Wintemute

Updated September 21, 2022

Edited by Amelia Buckley
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The criminal justice system is incredibly diverse and always expanding. Criminal justice training equips students with knowledge of the system, criminology, and legal and protective services practices. With a master's in criminal justice, graduates can access many protective services and legal occupations, including federal agency positions, supervisory roles, and behavioral specialist careers.

Every location and jurisdiction has its own budgets and needs, but the ever-increasing demand for public safety will drive growth in the field. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects the addition of more than 286,000 protective service occupations and more than 116,000 legal occupations between 2020 and 2030.

www.bestcolleges.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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While an online criminal justice degree at the graduate level can lead to many of these fields' highest-paying professions, the average master's degrees cost $19,792 in 2019-20, according to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). To help you make the most of this critical graduate school decision, we explore the criminal justice program and career landscape. We also highlight the best online master's in criminal justice from the top online schools.

Top Master’s in Criminal Justice Schools 2022

Rankings compiled by the the BestColleges Ranking Team

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How We Rank Schools

At BestColleges, we believe a college education is one of the most important investments you can make. We want to help you navigate the college selection process by offering transparent, inclusive, and relevant school rankings.

Our rankings are grounded in a few guiding principles and use the latest statistical data available from trusted sources. Read our ranking methodology. We hope our approach helps you find the school that is best for you.

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#1

Liberty University

School Information
Location Lynchburg, Virginia
Admission Rate 51%
Graduation Rate 47%
Instituation Type Private
Accreditation Yes Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges
Percent Online Enrollment 92% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.

 100% Online | Scheduled Classes

Avg. Cost per Credit

In State | $565-$615

Out of State | $565-$615

Credits to Graduate

36

Program Information

Program Accreditation | NA 

Liberty offers several online degrees, including a master's in criminal justice. Coursework trains students for criminal justice and law enforcement careers. The 36-credit curriculum explores criminal justice issues and trends. Enrollees study management dynamics within criminal justice organizations.

The program offers many specializations, including corrections management and homeland security. A notable specialization focuses on cybercrime investigations.
Students can complete the master's in criminal justice degree in 1.5 years. Admission requires a bachelor's degree and a minimum 3.0 GPA. 

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#2

University of Southern California

School Information
Location Los Angeles, California
Admission Rate 11%
Graduation Rate 92%
Instituation Type Private
Accreditation Yes Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior Colleges and University Commission
Percent Online Enrollment 17% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.

 100% Online | Scheduled Classes

Avg. Cost per Credit

In State | $2,035

Out of State | $2,035

Credits to Graduate

24 units

Program Information

Program Accreditation | NA 

One of the nation's top colleges, USC offers an online master's in criminal justice. Students complete a one- or two-year track. The program explores criminology, research methods, and criminal investigations. Learners study evidence-based interventions for youthful offenders.

Enrollees apply theories and principles in real-world contexts. Students create a policy brief and recommendations for a policy-making course. The program enrolls those already working in the field and career changers. Applicants need a bachelor's degree.

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#3

Boston University

School Information
Location Boston, Massachusetts
Admission Rate 19%
Graduation Rate 88%
Instituation Type Private
Accreditation Yes New England Commission on Higher Education
Percent Online Enrollment 10% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.

 100% Online | Scheduled Classes

Avg. Cost per Credit

In State | $2,035

Out of State | $2,035

Credits to Graduate

24 units

Program Information

Program Accreditation | NA 

One of the nation's top colleges, USC offers an online master's in criminal justice. Students complete a one- or two-year track. The program explores criminology, research methods, and criminal investigations. Learners study evidence-based interventions for youthful offenders.

Enrollees apply theories and principles in real-world contexts. Students create a policy brief and recommendations for a policy-making course. The program enrolls those already working in the field and career changers. Applicants need a bachelor's degree.

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#4

University of Central Florida

School Information
Location Orlando, Florida
Admission Rate 44%
Graduation Rate 72%
Accreditation Yes Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges
Percent Online Enrollment 59% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.

 100% Online | Scheduled Classes

Avg. Cost per Credit

In State | $327

Out of State | $1,152

Credits to Graduate

36

Program Information

Program Accreditation | NA 

UCF's master's in criminal justice (CJ) requires 36 credits. The curriculum explores various facets of criminal justice. Topics include management within CJ organizations, data analysis, and the administration of justice.

Students can use electives to study the juvenile justice system or law enforcement. Learners culminate the program with a comprehensive exam or thesis. UCF offers the program entirely online. Admission requires a bachelor's degree and a minimum 3.0 GPA.

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#5

Florida State University

School Information
Location Tallahassee, Florida
Admission Rate 36%
Graduation Rate 83%
Accreditation Yes Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges
Percent Online Enrollment 47% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.

 100% Online | Scheduled Classes

Avg. Cost per Credit

In State | $554

Out of State | $614

Credits to Graduate

36

Program Information

Program Accreditation | NA

Tallahassee-based FSU offers an online master's in criminology. All students complete core coursework that includes a survey of criminological theories. Enrollees learn how to apply research methods in criminology and use computer applications.

Students can pursue training in electives such as victimology or directed individual study.  Degree-seekers can transfer up to six credits. All students pay the same tuition regardless of residency. Admission requires a bachelor's degree and GRE scores. FSU offers GRE waivers for qualified applicants.

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#6

Averett University-Non-Traditional Programs

School Information
Location Danville, Virginia
Admission Rate 24%
Graduation Rate 100%
Instituation Type Private
Accreditation Yes Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges
Percent Online Enrollment 97% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.

 100% Online | Scheduled Classes

Avg. Cost per Credit

In State | $655

Out of State | $655

Credits to Graduate

37 

Program Information

Program Accreditation | NA

Averett designed the master's in criminal justice administration and leadership for nontraditional learners. The online program provides a strong criminal justice background. Learners receive specialized training in one of five 15-credit concentrations. Options include disaster management, applied data analytics, and HR management. 

Students culminate the degree with a thesis or comprehensive exam. A student success counselor provides guidance throughout enrollment. Admission requires a bachelor's degree and a minimum 3.0 GPA.

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#7

Florida International University

School Information
Location Miami, Florida
Admission Rate 58%
Graduation Rate 63%
Accreditation Yes Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges
Percent Online Enrollment 68% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.

 100% Online | Scheduled Classes

Avg. Cost per Credit

In State | $455

Out of State | $1,001

Credits to Graduate

36

Program Information

Program Accreditation | NA 

FIU's master's in criminal justice program emphasizes preparation for academic and applied research careers. The curriculum prepares students for doctoral study. Learners complete five core courses that explore topics such as criminological theory and research methods. 

Enrollees interested in teaching at the college level can complete a teaching certificate and practicum. An elective internship provides practical experience. Admission requires a bachelor's degree, a minimum 3.2 GPA, and a research methods course.

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#8

University of San Diego

School Information
Location San Diego, California
Admission Rate 49%
Graduation Rate 81%
Instituation Type Private
Accreditation Yes Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior Colleges and University Commission
Percent Online Enrollment 8% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.

 100% Online | Scheduled Classes

Avg. Cost per Credit

In State | $699

Out of State | $699

Credits to Graduate

31 units

Program Information

Program Accreditation | NA 

Professionals in law enforcement and related fields can enroll in USD's online master's in law enforcement and public safety leadership. Students complete 31 units in 20 months. The online curriculum features practical managerial and leadership training. Enrollees develop expertise in data analysis and conflict resolution.

A course explores organizational theory and change for law enforcement. Students build portfolios that highlight their skills and projects. Admission requires a bachelor's degree and a minimum 2.75 GPA. Applicants need professional experience in law enforcement or a related field.

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#9

Southern New Hampshire University

School Information
Location Manchester, New Hampshire
Admission Rate 88%
Graduation Rate 44%
Instituation Type Private
Accreditation Yes New England Commission on Higher Education
Percent Online Enrollment 94% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.

 100% Online | Scheduled Classes

Avg. Cost per Credit

In State | $627

Out of State | $627

Credits to Graduate

36

Program Information

Program Accreditation | NA 

SNHU's master's in criminal justice program develops effective leaders and decision-makers. The 36-credit curriculum offers a general track for learners who want to design their own specialization. Students can also choose one of two concentrations: public safety administration or advanced counterterrorism and homeland security. 

Learners can complete the degree in 15 months or at their own pace. Applicants can transfer up to 12 credits. Admission requires a bachelor's degree and a minimum 2.75 GPA.

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#10

California State University-Long Beach

School Information
Location Long Beach, California
Admission Rate 39%
Graduation Rate 74%
Accreditation Yes Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior Colleges and University Commission
Percent Online Enrollment 30% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.

 100% Online | Scheduled Classes

Avg. Cost per Credit

In State | $575

Out of State | $575

Credits to Graduate

36 units

Program Information

Program Accreditation | NA

CSULB developed the master's in criminology and criminal justice for working students. The curriculum balances theory and practical applications. Enrollees study subjects such as crime and public policy. Students can pursue a concentration in crime and intelligence analysis. 

Enrollees can complete the degree entirely online in 24 months. The master's in criminal justice offers one flat tuition rate for online learners. Admission requires a bachelor's degree and a minimum 3.0 GPA. Applicants submit GRE or LSAT scores.

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Online Master's in Criminal Justice Program Overview

In a master's in criminal justice, you develop advanced critical thinking, communication, problem-solving, and research skills. Typically running 1-2 years and featuring 30-45 credits, these programs aim to attract leaders who can leverage ethics, empathy, and professional standards when making decisions.

In most master's in criminal justice programs, you examine the trends in law enforcement, theories of criminology, and studies in policy analysis. Many programs include practical and career-based training as well, including internships and academy preparation.

When preparing for graduate school, you should think about your professional and educational goals. This can help you choose between an MA or a MS degree in criminal justice, degree types that may differ in several ways. While they can lead to similar careers, MA programs tend to emphasize theoretical and interdisciplinary training, whereas MS degrees focus more on technical applications.

Having a career and training direction can also help you choose a concentration, which can make a big difference on the postgraduate options available to you. Some programs offer specializations in cybercrime, crime analysis, homeland security, legal perspectives, and behavioral science. You can also create a custom specialization by focusing your electives and internships in a specific discipline.

Still Looking for the Right Fit? Discover Similar Programs

Popular Online Master's in Criminal Justice

Learn about start dates, transferring credits, availability of financial aid, and more by contacting the universities below.

Master's in Criminal Justice Courses & Curriculum

Criminological Theory

This course looks at the causes of criminal behavior and activities. Students examine patterns of criminal activities, along with ecological and control theories.

American Policing

In this course, students explore the systems and institutions involved with policing in America. They examine the roles of police in society, the challenges they face, and the trends and technological advances in the field.

American Corrections

Students in this course study the American corrections system, including the functions, the players, and the impacts on society. Learners may study corrections theories and explore the directions correctional institutions and practices are headed.

Trauma and Crisis Prevention

This course explores the causes and effects of trauma, along with theories for managing trauma and techniques for crisis prevention. Students learn the best practices for working with trauma survivors and crisis situations.

Issues in Criminal Justice

In this course, students examine the challenges and issues in the criminal justice system. They study theories of social justice and systemic injustices and look at multiple sides of the political landscape.

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What Can I Do With an Online Master's in Criminal Justice Degree?

Career Outlook

A master's in criminal justice provides graduates with access to many career paths. The training leads to careers in policing, investigation, and legal studies. The BLS projects 8% growth for all protective services occupations between 2020 and 2030.

The BLS also projects 7% growth for police and detective occupations, an addition of more than 51,000 new positions between 2020 and 2030. As a result of the growing public safety demand, these positions should continue to grow even when crime rates fall.

Criminal justice master's graduates can access government, state, and local government positions. They can also pursue rehabilitation and supervisor careers, such as parole officer and first line supervisor roles.

Discover what a master's in criminal justice can do for your career. Learn more about criminal justice careers.

Continuing Education

Graduates who want to continue their training have several options available to them. The most direct route leads to a doctorate in criminal justice, but graduates can also pursue a doctorate in legal studies or a doctorate in criminology.

They might also pursue a certificate to acquire specialized training in a short period of time. Some possible options include cybercrime, forensic science, or paralegal certificates. Each of these programs help graduates expand their skill set and land careers in these respective fields.

Jobs and Salary for Master’s in Criminal Justice Graduates

Police and Detective

Police officers and detectives protect their community's people and property and conduct investigations into crimes within their jurisdictions. Federal agencies may require candidates to have a master's degree and professional experience to qualify for positions. These officers investigate federal crimes and handle large cases.

Median Annual Salary: $67,290

First-Line Supervisor of Police and Detective

These professionals manage criminal investigations, police officers and detectives, and department and agency culture. They ensure that all standards and procedures are followed and that all laws are obeyed and protected. Supervisors also provide support and guidance when needed.

Median Annual Salary: $97,180

Probation Officers and Correctional Treatment Specialist

These professionals work with law offenders in their road to release and rehabilitation. They develop programs to help law offenders overcome their challenges and to determine if the offender poses a risk to their communities. They connect offenders with social service programs and jobs and provide support when needed.

Median Annual Salary: $55,690

Forensic Science Technician

These professionals collect and analyze evidence for criminal investigations. They make observations and records of crime scenes and report their findings to the lead investigation professionals. Forensic science technicians may specialize in types of crimes or evidence.

Median Annual Salary: $60,590

Paralegal

Paralegals provide lawyers with assistance, including research, paperwork, and gathering evidence and documents for court. They may study laws and regulations for cases, make notes and summary reports, and schedule meetings with clients. Paralegals can work in all legal sectors, including litigation and corporate law.

Median Annual Salary: $52,920

Criminal Justice Not For You? Check Out These Related Careers.

How To Choose a Criminal Justice Program?

Cost

Most prospective students pay close attention to program tuition, but they should consider all costs associated with the program. Try calculating the true program cost by looking at all education fees and any income lost while completing your studies. Consider comparing online and on-campus program costs, in-state and out-of-state programs, and private and public schools as well.

Program Format

Look carefully at the program format and find one that matches your learning style and scheduling demands. Compare the pros and cons of synchronous vs. asynchronous learning and being a full-time vs. part-time student. If your schedule can accommodate it, check out an accelerated program to graduate more quickly.

Location

When choosing online or on-campus programs, all prospective students should think about location. On-campus students need to consider where they want to live or travel to regularly. Online students may need to complete residency requirements, so travel must be an option for those occasions.

Accreditation

According to our online college accreditation guide, prospective students should make accreditation a priority in their school searches. Institutional accreditation impacts the type of funding and the employment opportunities available to learners. Programmatic accreditation is also an indicator of program quality, and criminal justice students may encounter accreditation from the Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences.

Student Support

Student services and online student services are other strong indicators for program quality and effectiveness. These programs and services can add a great deal to the learning and postgraduate experience. For example, many college internships and college mentorships lead to student success and better career opportunities for graduates.

Online Master's in Criminal Justice Admission Requirements

The admission requirements for an online master's in criminal justice can vary considerably depending on the school and program. According to our graduate admissions guide, most master's programs require a bachelor's degree at minimum.

Programs may require applicants to possess a specific undergraduate degree or meet the minimum GPA requirements for entry. Online learners typically complete the same admission requirements, though they also need to satisfy technological requirements.

Application

At the graduate level, prospective students usually submit their applications directly to the school of their choice. Though they more commonly work with undergraduate schools and programs, college application systems may help with the graduate application process. These systems allow applicants to apply to multiple schools at once, track deadlines, and get additional support when filling out applications.

Test Scores

Many college applications request standardized test scores from applicants. Scores from tests like the GRE or GMAT can help schools better distinguish between applicants and determine their college readiness. Prospective students can give their applications a boost by completing GMAT or GRE prep prior to taking the test.

Letters of Recommendation

Most master's program applications require three letters of recommendation, preferably from former employers and teachers from relevant disciplines. These letters usually include details about the candidate's work ethic, achievements, and graduate program readiness. When asking for letters of recommendation, applicants should provide their references with program and deadline details.

Resume and Work Experience

A college application may include a resume requirement, which provides the school with information about the applicant's professional experience. In rare cases, a minimum amount of relevant professional experience is required, and a college application resume helps verify that.

Essays

At the graduate level, college application essays tend to highlight the prospective student's research and professional interests. They may also indicate what draws them to that specific school, program, and faculty. Candidates who take the time to learn how to write a grad school essay can greatly improve their admission chances.

Official Transcripts

All applications include official transcripts. These documents provide information about all of the applicant's postsecondary training and their grades. Transcripts help schools determine what prerequisites the student has and if they qualify for any transfer credits.

Frequently Asked Questions About Master's in Criminal Justice Programs

Is a master's in criminal justice worth it?

Yes. An online master's in criminal justice can prove very valuable for graduates. This degree positions graduates to take advantage of an essential and diversifying field. The field offers enormous potential for helping others and improving communities, along with impacting policy and making real change.

There is also the added online degree value, which provides training flexibility and accessibility. Students may pursue these degrees from the comfort of their homes, while still maintaining employment. In fact, some organizations and agencies provide funding for education.

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

Graduates with a master's in criminal justice can pursue all of the careers bachelor's graduates have access to, plus supervisor and specialist positions. Graduates also have the qualifications for positions with federal agencies, such as the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Homeland Security.

For those who wish to continue their training, a master's in criminal justice can lead to a doctorate in criminal justice or criminology. Graduates may also choose to pursue specialized training in cybercrime or forensic science.

Are criminal justice graduates in demand?

While most criminal justice fields and professions have location-specific demands and budgets, the BLS projects 8% for protective service occupations and 9% growth for legal occupations between 2020 and 2030. Both projections are about as fast as the projected growth rates for all occupations.

Some of the available criminal justice careers look to grow much faster, such as forensic science technicians and paralegals. The BLS projects 16% and 12% growth between 2020 and 2030 for these occupations, respectively.

How much money can I make with a master's in criminal justice?

The available wages for graduates with a master's in criminal justice depend on their career choice. According to the BLS, protective services occupations paid median annual wages of $43,710 in May 2020, while legal occupations paid $84,910.

In policing, detectives and criminal investigators earned median annual wages of $86,940 in May 2020, whereas police and sheriff's patrol officers made $65,540. Other forms of policing include transit and railroad police, who earned $72,580, and fish and game wardens who earned $58,040 during that same period.

What are the highest paying jobs with a master's in criminal justice?

The highest-paying job for graduates with a master's in criminal justice belongs to police and detectives. While the median annual wage for this profession was $67,290 in May 2020, as per the BLS, the top 10% of earners in the field made more than $113,860.

Wages vary depending on the position and agency as well. For example, federal government agencies, which master's graduates qualify for, earned median annual wages of $92,080 in May 2020. Meanwhile, state government officers earned $70,280, and local government officers made $65,850.

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BestColleges.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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