Best Online Master’s in Criminal Justice Programs of 2022

A criminal justice degree prepares you for a variety of rewarding careers. We break down the requirements for some of the nation's best online programs.

portrait of Victoria Leigh
by Victoria Leigh
Published on January 7, 2022

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.

Ready to start your journey?

The field of criminal justice encompasses thousands of professionals working at the local, state, and federal levels. Breaking into this field is relatively easy; aspiring police officers can compete for jobs with only a high school diploma and academy training. Earning an advanced college degree, however, can expand your opportunities far beyond the local law enforcement office.

Below, discover the top 10 online master's degrees in criminal justice, get an in-depth look at curriculum and admission requirements, and explore career options.

While a high school diploma, associate, or bachelor's degree satisfies minimum education requirements for many entry-level law enforcement and corrections careers, a master's program allows professionals to pursue advanced jobs and higher salaries.

For example, graduates may pursue work as criminologists, a specialized type of sociologist who researches the causes and effects of crime. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), sociologists earned a median annual wage of $86,110 in 2020.

What Can I Expect From an Online Master's in Criminal Justice Program?

The primary objective of an online master's degree in criminal justice is to provide students with the knowledge and skills required for advancement within the criminal justice field. Students also gain an understanding of complex criminal justice issues, theories, and system organization.

Common curriculum subjects include crime causation, prevention, and control; design and analysis of criminal justice research; and policymaking and policy analysis in criminal justice. Elective and specialization options allow students to take courses in popular topics such as victimology, ethics, emergency management, and cybercrime.

Whether or not graduates choose to pursue a doctorate in criminal justice depends largely on their goals. Many professionals immediately apply their master's degree to opportunities in the workforce, seeking advancement in local, state, or federal law enforcement; courts; and corrections. Others who desire opportunities in forensic psychology or scientific research may decide to pursue a Ph.D.

Related Master's in Criminal Justice Degree Concentrations

Crime and Intelligence Analysis

This concentration trains graduates to use, analyze, and incorporate data from various sources in order to inform criminal justice investigations, strategies, and policy decisions. Courses may cover crime mapping, social networks, spatial analysis, and other criminology-related subjects. Relevant ethical and legal rules are also discussed.

Criminal Justice Education

A concentration in criminal justice education provides graduates with knowledge of foundational and contemporary criminal justice issues such as juvenile justice, diversity, terrorism, and crime control. Students learn how to deliver instruction effectively, preparing them for criminal justice teaching careers at community and vocational colleges.

Corrections

This concentration helps prepare graduates for advanced positions in corrections, such as prison warden, chief probation officer, or director of corrections. Courses typically cover adult and juvenile correctional systems administration, probation and parole, and communities and crime. Students may integrate course knowledge by completing an experiential learning project.

Homeland Security

A concentration in homeland security provides students with an understanding of national and international threats. Coursework may cover topics including terrorism, human trafficking, emergency and crisis management, and information security. Graduates are prepared to help meet the challenges posed by various threats and a changing security landscape.

Leadership

A concentration in leadership provides the knowledge and skills required for graduates to secure professional advancement in a number of criminal justice fields upon graduation. Courses commonly cover organizational leadership, ethics, and strategy development. Through assessments and self-reflection, students develop their own personal leadership capabilities.

Still Looking for the Right Fit? Discover Similar Programs.

Common Master's in Criminal Justice Degree Courses

Criminal Justice Policy

Graduate-level courses on criminal justice policy typically take one of two approaches: focusing on contemporary issues or examining the policymaking process. The former helps students understand the complexities of community policing, racial profiling, and use of deadly force. The latter provides a solid foundation and prepares students for further policy inquiry and analysis.

Criminal Justice Administration

In this course, students learn about theories of organizational behavior and management and apply these concepts to the criminal justice system. Coursework and class discussions examine the challenges faced by criminal justice leaders, including employee management, resources, and the responsibility of maintaining public safety.

Criminological Theory

Typically structured as a survey course, this class gives students a deeper understanding of the major schools of thought relating to crime causation and criminal behavior: sociological, psychological, physiological, and genetic theory. Students critically examine and discuss how these theoretical perspectives play a role in crime research and policy development.

Research Methods

Required by a majority of online master's degrees in criminal justice, this course introduces students to methods and techniques used in research and evaluation of sources. Topics may include analyzing archival data, surveying and data collection, measuring validity and reliability, and experimenting. Ethical problems in research design may also be discussed.

Capstone

The culminating experience of a master's degree requires students to synthesize and apply the knowledge and skills they gained throughout the program. Capstone experiences vary by school and may involve the creation of a professional portfolio, completion of a research project, or production of a master's thesis.

Related Programs That Might Interest You

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

What are the Admission Requirements for an Online Master's in Criminal Justice Program?

Bachelor's Degree

A completed bachelor's degree serves as the primary admission requirement for any master's program. Prospective students must provide transcripts showing proof of graduation from an accredited college or university. Depending on the school, program admission may be limited to applicants who majored in criminal justice or a closely related field.

Minimum GPA

Universities want students who are likely to succeed. For this reason, most graduate schools limit admission to individuals who demonstrate a minimum undergraduate GPA. The specific qualifying number varies by program and school. Online master's degrees in criminal justice typically seek applicants with a minimum GPA between 2.75 and 3.0.

Standardized Test Scores

Another way graduate schools can evaluate an applicant's likelihood for success is through standardized testing, such as the GRE, MAT, or LSAT. Not every school requires submission of test scores, and those that do may waive this requirement for individual applicants who meet a minimum GPA or work experience threshold.

Relevant Experience

While this requirement is not always explicitly stated, many online master's degrees in criminal justice look for prospective students with documented work experience in law enforcement, military service, public safety, or a closely related field. Some programs require relevant work experience only from applicants with lower GPAs.

Additional Materials

To better evaluate the academic, professional, and personal potential of each applicant, a majority of universities require the submission of additional materials. Requirements differ from school to school, but the most commonly requested documents include professional resumes, essays, personal statements, and letters of recommendation.

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

Career Outlook

After completing an online master's degree in criminal justice, professionals commonly pursue careers in law enforcement or corrections, criminology, and postsecondary education. While supervisors working in law enforcement or corrections generally do not need additional education for upward mobility, postgraduate credentials are often required to secure advanced positions in criminology research and higher education.

Other fields for the criminal justice graduate student to consider include forensic psychology, federal law enforcement, and emergency management. Some states require emergency management directors to obtain certification. Positions in forensic psychology often require a Ph.D. and licensure.

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

2022 Best Accredited Online Master's in Criminal Justice Programs

Rankings compiled by the the BestColleges Ranking Team

Is your school on this list? Get the BestColleges ranking seal.

Frequently Asked Questions About Online Master's in Criminal Justice Programs

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

One of the best features of an online master's degree in criminal justice is the flexibility it provides job-seekers. Professionals can use this credential to pursue advancement in their current workplace or as a springboard in pursuit of a new career.

How long is a master's degree in criminal justice? true

Master's programs are typically structured for completion in two years of full-time study. Your online master's in criminal justice may take more or less time depending on your scheduling preferences. Accelerated options allow for completion in as little as 12 months. If you would rather attend part time, expect to graduate in 2.5-3 years.

How much can you make with a master's in criminal justice? true

The salary potential for graduates of a master's in criminal justice varies depending on a number of factors, including chosen field, employer, geographic location, and years of experience. The BLS provides the following 2020 median salaries for popular career options: postsecondary criminal justice teacher, $63,560; federal law enforcement, $92,080; criminologist, $86,110.

Can you teach with a master's in criminal justice?

Professionals with a master's in criminal justice can work as lecturers and instructors at community colleges and technical schools. Positions are often part-time, adjunct opportunities. Upward mobility may be limited in this field, as a Ph.D. is typically required to teach at the university level.

What careers are in criminal justice?

The criminal justice sector encompasses hundreds of careers at the local, state, and federal levels. Jobs are available in security and loss prevention, law enforcement, corrections, criminal investigation, scientific research, homeland security, and higher education. Master's program graduates can pursue advanced positions in many of these fields.

Find the Tools You Need to Get Started on Your Degree

Shorten your graduation time and save money on tuition with prior learning assessments (PLAs). Learn more about how to earn PLAs before beginning college. The need for law enforcement officers is on the rise and so is tuition. Click through for scholarships to save on your criminal justice degree. Most business schools require the GMAT for graduate admissions. Make sure you're prepared to tackle the exam with confidence. Click through for GMAT prep.

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.

Compare your school options.

View the most relevant school for your interests and compare them by tuition, programs, acceptance rate, and other factors important to find your college home.