Best Online Master’s in Criminal Justice Programs of 2021

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By Victoria Leigh

Edited by Jordan Stewart-Rozema

Published on August 24, 2021

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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.

What Are the Best Online Master's in Criminal Justice Programs of 2021? Here Are Our Top 10:

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#1 University of Central Florida Orlando, FL
#2 Florida International University Miami, FL
#3 Florida State University Tallahassee, FL
#4 California State University, Long Beach Long Beach, CA
#5 Texas A&M International University Laredo, TX
#6 Boston University Boston, MA
#7 University of Louisiana at Monroe Monroe, LA
#8 California State University, San Bernardino San Bernardino, CA
#9 New Mexico State University Las Cruces, NM
#10 Georgia Southern University Statesboro, GA
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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.

2021 Best Accredited Online Master's in Criminal Justice Programs

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University of Central Florida View School Profile Orlando, FL

Located in Orlando, UCF offers a fully online master's in criminal justice. In as little as two years of study, students can prepare for future careers like police detective, U.S. Marshal, or FBI agent.

All students must complete 18 credits of core courses. Students also select six credits of restricted electives and nine credits of general electives. The program does not require a thesis, but those interested in completing a thesis may dedicate six of their nine general elective credits to do so. All students must also complete a three-credit capstone experience.

UCF is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.


Program Snapshot

  • Program Name: Master of Science in Criminal Justice
  • School Status: Public
  • Tuition: $327 per credit (in-state); $1,151 per credit (out-of-state)
  • Credit Requirements: 36 credits
  • Program Length: 2 years
  • Format: 100% online

Admission Requirements

  • GPA: 3.0 minimum
  • Standardized Tests: Not required

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Florida International University View School Profile Miami, FL

Located in Miami, FIU offers an online master's in criminal justice. The highly flexible program provides options for students interested in interning in the field, preparing to teach at the college level, and planning to pursue a doctoral degree. All students take the same five core courses and then choose their own criminal justice electives and general electives.

The program features intensive writing requirements. Applicants must submit a research paper or other proof of strong writing ability.

FIU is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.


Program Snapshot

  • Program Name: Master of Science in Criminal Justice
  • School Status: Public
  • Tuition: $400 per credit
  • Credit Requirements: 36 credits
  • Format: 100% online

Admission Requirements

  • GPA: 3.2 minimum in upper-division courses
  • Standardized Tests: Not required

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Florida State University View School Profile Tallahassee, FL

Located in Tallahassee, FSU offers an online master of science in criminology with a major in criminal justice studies. Designed for working professionals, the program prepares students for leadership positions in their agencies, as well as for teaching positions.

All students take five core courses covering such areas as criminological theory, computers in criminal justice, and research design. Elective classes, such as crime prevention and treatment, police and society, and victimology, allow students to tailor their studies to their areas of personal interest. Students may choose to dedicate part of their elective credits to individualized directed study.

FSU is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.


Program Snapshot

  • Program Name: Master of Science in Criminology With a Major in Criminal Justice Studies
  • School Status: Public
  • Tuition: $554 per credit (in-state); $614 per credit (out-of-state)
  • Credit Requirements: 36 credits
  • Format: 100% online

Admission Requirements

  • GPA: No minimum required
  • Standardized Tests: GRE

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California State University, Long Beach View School Profile Long Beach, CA

A large public university just south of Los Angeles, CSULB offers a fully online master of science in criminology and criminal justice. Students may choose an optional concentration in crime and intelligence analysis, which focuses on crime mapping, intelligence and social network analysis, and geographic information science.

Designed for busy professionals, the program prepares students to move into administrative positions, research jobs, or teaching roles. The program blends theory with hands-on practical applications and offers numerous opportunities for networking with other criminal justice professionals. All students must pass a qualifying exam after two semesters and either complete a thesis or pass a comprehensive final exam.

CSULB is regionally accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior Colleges and University Commission.


Program Snapshot

  • Program Name: Master of Science in Criminology and Criminal Justice
  • School Status: Public
  • Tuition: $575 per credit
  • Credit Requirements: 36 credits
  • Program Length: 2 years
  • Format: 100% online

Admission Requirements

  • GPA: 3.0 minimum over a student's last 60 credits
  • Standardized Tests: GRE or LSAT

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Texas A&M International University View School Profile Laredo, TX

Located in Laredo, TAMIU offers an online master's in criminal justice. Full-time students can complete this nonthesis program in as little as 12 months.

The research-intensive program covers a wide variety of topics, including advanced social research, criminological theory, and advanced quantitative methods. The program includes five core courses along with a variety of electives (e.g., cybercrime and police practices) that allow students to customize their program based on individual interests. All students must complete a capstone project focusing on an individually selected issue facing the modern criminal justice system.

TAMIU is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.


Program Snapshot

  • Program Name: Master of Science in Criminal Justice
  • School Status: Public
  • Tuition: $336 per credit (in-state); $974 per credit (out-of-state)
  • Credit Requirements: 36 credits
  • Program Length: 1-2 years
  • Format: 100% online

Admission Requirements

  • GPA: 2.8 minimum
  • Standardized Tests: Not required

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Boston University View School Profile Boston, MA

A private university located in Massachusetts, BU offers an online master's in criminal justice. The program covers a wide variety of topics, including public policy, theories of social control, and leadership in organizational settings. Students may choose a concentration in strategic management, crime analysis, or cybercrime investigation and cybersecurity.

All students take four core courses. Those who do not select a concentration may take a variety of electives, including options like rehabilitation and reintegration, white-collar crime, and trauma and crisis intervention.

BU is regionally accredited by the New England Commission on Higher Education.


Program Snapshot

  • Program Name: Master of Science in Criminal Justice
  • School Status: Private
  • Tuition: $925 per credit
  • Credit Requirements: 32 credits
  • Format: 100% online

Admission Requirements

  • GPA: No minimum required
  • Standardized Tests: GRE or GMAT optional

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University of Louisiana at Monroe View School Profile Monroe, LA

Based in northern Louisiana, ULM offers an online master's in criminal justice. Students may choose a thesis or nonthesis option. All students must take six core courses covering topics such as theories, research methods, and minorities in the criminal justice system. 

Those on the thesis track choose nine credits of criminal justice electives and dedicate six credits to their thesis. Alternatively, participants who select the nonthesis track choose 12 credits of criminal justice electives and six credits in a related support area. Applicants should have a bachelor's degree in criminal justice or a closely related field.

ULM is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.


Program Snapshot

  • Program Name: Master of Arts in Criminal Justice
  • School Status: Public
  • Tuition: Sliding scale based on credits per semester, from $803 for one credit to $4,846 for 12 or more credits (in-state); $803 for one credit to $10,896 for 12 or more credits (out-of-state)
  • Credit Requirements: 33-36 credits
  • Program Length: 18-24 months
  • Format: 100% online

Admission Requirements

  • GPA: 2.75 minimum
  • Standardized Tests: GRE (minimum score of 283 for students with a 2.2-2.74 GPA)

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California State University, San Bernardino View School Profile San Bernardino, CA

A public research university located about 60 miles east of Los Angeles, CSUSB offers an online master's in criminal justice. Designed for students from a variety of backgrounds, including psychology, anthropology, and sociology, the program provides a strong foundation in criminal justice.

All students participate in a culminating experience — either a thesis or a comprehensive capstone exam. Students interested in research work or further study generally choose the thesis option. Those planning for leadership or administrative careers typically select the exam.

CSUSB is regionally accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior College and University Commission.


Program Snapshot

  • Program Name: Master of Arts in Criminal Justice
  • School Status: Public
  • Tuition: $2,082 per credit (in-state); $2,478 per credit (out-of-state)
  • Credit Requirements: 34 credits
  • Format: 100% online

Admission Requirements

  • GPA: 3.0 minimum
  • Standardized Tests: GRE optional

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New Mexico State University View School Profile Las Cruces, NM

Located in Las Cruces, NMSU offers a fully online master's in criminal justice. The program welcomes three basic categories of students: current criminal justice professionals interested in moving into management roles, individuals transitioning into criminal justice work, and students who want to teach criminal justice or a related topic.

Students may select a thesis or nonthesis track. All students complete five core courses. Those on the thesis track choose 12 credits of general electives and dedicate six credits to their thesis. Alternatively, those on the nonthesis track choose 12 credits of criminal justice electives and nine credits of general electives.

NMSU is fully accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.


Program Snapshot

  • Program Name: Master of Criminal Justice
  • School Status: Public
  • Tuition: $412 per credit
  • Credit Requirements: 33-36 credits
  • Program Length: 2-3 years
  • Format: 100% online

Admission Requirements

  • GPA: 3.0 minimum
  • Standardized Tests: Not required

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Georgia Southern University View School Profile Statesboro, GA

A public research university in Statesboro, Georgia Southern offers a fully online master's in criminal justice and criminology. Online students may select an emphasis in criminal justice or an emphasis in cybercrime.

The criminal justice emphasis focuses primarily on theory, policies, and issues in the current criminal justice system. Alternatively, the cybercrime emphasis highlights the unique laws surrounding electronic devices and the internet, cyberethics, and issues of jurisdiction. Students in both tracks take the same three foundational courses, as well as one research or analysis class.

Regardless of their track, all students complete a final capstone option, choosing from a thesis, practicum, or comprehensive exam. Students select a capstone experience based on their individual interests and career goals.

Georgia Southern is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.


Program Snapshot

  • Program Name: Master of Science in Criminal Justice and Criminology
  • School Status: Public
  • Tuition: $358 per credit
  • Credit Requirements: 36 credits
  • Format: 100% online

Admission Requirements

  • GPA: 2.75 minimum
  • Standardized Tests: Not required

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University of North Florida View School Profile Jacksonville, FL

A public university located in Jacksonville, UNF offers a fully online master's in criminal justice. The program draws from a broad interdisciplinary foundation, combining theory, research, and practice to prepare students for a variety of career options.

Students have a great deal of flexibility in choosing their academic pathway. All students take two prerequisite courses and four core courses. Participants then choose five elective courses covering topics such as elite crime, critical issues in community policing, and the history and philosophy of corrections.

The program offers both thesis and nonthesis tracks. Thesis students dedicate the final six credits of their program to a thesis, while nonthesis students take two more elective classes.

UNF is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.


Program Snapshot

  • Program Name: Master of Science in Criminal Justice
  • School Status: Public
  • Tuition: $494 per credit (in-state); $1,044 (out-of-state)
  • Credit Requirements: 39 credits
  • Program Length: 2 years
  • Format: 100% online

Admission Requirements

  • GPA: 3.0 minimum over a student's last 60 credits
  • Standardized Tests: GRE or GMAT

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Georgia College and State University View School Profile Milledgeville, GA

Located in Milledgeville, Georgia College offers an online master's in criminal justice. Designed for working professionals, the program takes four full-time semesters to complete. Featuring a liberal arts foundation, the program prepares students for academic research or administrative roles in a variety of criminal justice fields.

All students take two foundational courses and an additional six required courses covering major topics like criminological theory, ethics, and research design. Students round out their education by taking elective courework, such as radical theorists, correctional counseling, and international terrorism. Students may choose to complete an internship or a capstone research project. Additionally, all students must pass a comprehensive exam at the end of the program.

Georgia College is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.


Program Snapshot

  • Program Name: Master of Criminal Justice
  • School Status: Public
  • Tuition: $288 per credit
  • Credit Requirements: 36 credits
  • Program Length: 4 semesters 
  • Format: 100% online

Admission Requirements

  • GPA: 3.0 minimum
  • Standardized Tests: Not required for students with a GPA of at least 3.0; students with a 2.75-2.99 GPA need at least 290 on the GRE, 395 on the MAT 395, or 450 on the GMAT

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University of San Diego View School Profile San Diego, CA

A private research university, USD offers a fully online master of science in law enforcement and public safety leadership. Designed in conjunction with top law enforcement organizations, the program focuses on the contemporary issues facing law enforcement professionals today. Students with recent experience in law enforcement, the military, public safety, or a related field can prepare for command-level positions in a variety of agencies.

The program takes five semesters to complete. Each semester consists of two seven-week terms, allowing students to take just one course at a time. Students must take an orientation class before starting the program and complete a one-credit integrative capstone at the end.

USD is regionally accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior College and University Commission.


Program Snapshot

  • Program Name: Master of Science in Law Enforcement and Public Safety Leadership
  • School Status: Private
  • Tuition: $699 per credit
  • Credit Requirements: 31 credits
  • Program Length: 20 months
  • Format: 100% online

Admission Requirements

  • GPA: 2.75 minimum
  • Standardized Tests: Not required

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Michigan State University View School Profile East Lansing, MI

A public research university in East Lansing, MSU offers an online master's in criminal justice. The two-year program blends historical understanding, contemporary innovations, theory, and practical skills. Students prepare for high-level positions in fields such as national security, emergency management, and criminal investigation.

Students can choose a specialization in security management or combine four elective courses to match their individual interests. All students also take six core courses covering such topics as crime prevention, research methods, and policy analysis.

MSU is fully accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.


Program Snapshot

  • Program Name: Master of Science in Criminal Justice
  • School Status: Public
  • Tuition: $774 per credit
  • Credit Requirements: 30 credits
  • Program Length: 2 years
  • Format: 100% online

Admission Requirements

  • GPA: 3.0 minimum 
  • Standardized Tests: GRE waived through fall 2021

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Averett University View School Profile Danville, VA

A Baptist school located in Danville, Virginia, Averett offers an online master's in criminal justice administration and leadership. The interdisciplinary program, designed for those already working in public safety or law enforcement, prepares students to take their careers to the next level.

The program runs in eight-week blocks. Students take no more than two courses at a time, allowing busy professionals to earn their degree while meeting their other obligations. Full-time students can complete the program in less than two years. Students may choose a thesis or nonthesis track.

Averett is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.


Program Snapshot

  • Program Name: Master of Science in Criminal Justice Administration and Leadership
  • School Status: Private
  • Tuition: $655 per credit
  • Credit Requirements: 36 credits
  • Program Length: 23 months
  • Format: 100% online

Admission Requirements

  • GPA: 3.0 minimum over a student's last 60 credits
  • Standardized Tests: Not required

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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.

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 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.

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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?

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.


Related Careers

Frequently Asked Questions

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

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?

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?

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.

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