From courtroom dramas to murder mysteries, crime has always captivated the American public. Criminologists take this fascination a step further, seeking to understand crime through the study of human behavior. By earning an online master's degree in criminology, you can help pinpoint the causes and consequences of crime from a number of legal, ethical, and social science perspectives.

Criminologists are a kind of sociologist who use statistics and other methodologies to help manage and prevent crime. While demand for sociologists will remain steady over the next several years, the need for statisticians will increase by 34% between 2014 and 2024, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. This will add 30,000 jobs to the field, which each pay around $80,500 annually.

What are the best criminology programs of 2020? Here are our top 10:

Rank School Location
1 University of California, Irvine Irvine, CA
2 Florida State University Tallahassee, FL
3 University of Central Florida Orlando, FL
4 Boston University Boston, MA
5 Florida International University Miami, FL
6 Saint Joseph's University Philadelphia, PA
7 Regis University Denver, CO
8 Saint Louis University Saint Louis, MO
9 The University of West Florida Pensacola, FL
10 Colorado State University Global Campus Greenwood Village, CO

The Best Online Master's in Criminology Programs of 2019

Rank School Location Cost Graduation Rate Description Toggle

University of California, Irvine

Irvine, CA Cost: $$$$$ Graduation Rate: 83%

UCI is a public research institution that serves around 36,000 students. The university offers more than 100 graduate certificates and degrees, including an online master of advanced study in criminology, law, and society. After completing this 52-quarter-credit program, graduates are prepared to fill leadership positions in fields like social work and criminal justice research.

Required courses include police, courts, and corrections; legal institutions and society; and white-collar and corporate crime. Students attend a five-day residency at the beginning of their first fall quarter. The program culminates in a capstone seminar in social problems, law, and policy.

This program does not maintain minimum GPA or standardized test score requirements for admission. However, applicants must submit a 600-word personal history, a 800-word statement of purpose, and three recommendation letters.


Florida State University

Tallahassee, FL Cost: $$$$$ Graduation Rate: 83%

FSU offers an online master's degree in criminology that requires learners to take relevant, career-focused courses like civil and individual rights, criminal justice administration, and penology. The 36-credit curriculum also includes courses like applied statistics and computer applications in criminal justice. All students can pursue an independent study or internship.

While FSU does not maintain a minimum GPA requirement, applicants must demonstrate strong academic potential. Applicants with five or more years of relevant work experience do not need to submit GRE scores. Students should also submit a current resume and a 300-500-word personal statement. FSU powers distance learning with the Canvas platform.


University of Central Florida

Orlando, FL Cost: $$$$$ Graduation Rate: 73%

Based in Orlando, UCF enrolls approximately 70,000 students in over 220 academic programs every year. Distance learners can pursue an online master's in criminal justice that teaches them to apply criminology theories to practical situations. Graduates may find work as FBI agents, correctional office supervisors, and criminal profilers.

Students can complete the 36-credit program in under two years. Core courses include descriptive statistics and applied research methodologies. Through elective courses, learners may examine topics related to the emerging challenges criminal justice systems face at home and abroad.

Applicants must hold a bachelor's degree with a minimum 3.0 GPA. Prospective students must also submit competitive GRE scores.


Boston University

Boston, MA Cost: $$$$$ Graduation Rate: 88%

BU has delivered career-focused online programs since 2002. The university now offers an online master's degree in criminal justice that distance learners can complete in 16-18 months.

The program's 32-credit curriculum splits evenly into required coursework and electives. Core courses include research/evaluation methods and criminal justice administration. Learners can pursue a concentration in crime analysis, strategic management, or cybercrime investigation and cybersecurity.

Prospective students must submit a current resume, a personal essay, and three recommendation letters. BU maintains six start dates each year and accepts applications on a rolling basis. The program does not require standardized test scores for admission.


Florida International University

Miami, FL Cost: $$$$$ Graduation Rate: 58%

FIU is a public research institution that serves over 57,000 students annually. The university offers an online master's in criminal justice that allows distance learners to choose between fully online and hybrid delivery methods.

The program's 36-credit curriculum includes required courses like criminological theory, advanced data analysis, and transnational crime and national security. Students also take 12 credits of criminal justice electives and nine credits of general electives. Elective options include internships and teaching practica.

In addition to a regionally accredited bachelor's degree, applicants need a minimum 3.2 GPA in upper-division coursework. Prospective students must submit a statement of purpose, a research writing sample, and two recommendation letters.


Saint Joseph's University

Philadelphia, PA Cost: $$$$$ Graduation Rate: 80%

SJU delivers over 30 online certificates and degrees through the Canvas platform, including an online master's degree in criminal justice. This program emphasizes a top-to-bottom exploration of the criminal justice system, preparing students for scholar-practitioners roles in their industries.

In addition to a general track, students can select a concentration in behavior analysis, behavior management, federal law enforcement, intelligence and crime analysis, or homeland security. The homeland security concentration covers emergency management and terrorism countermeasures. Students complete 30-36 credits, depending on their concentration.

Admission requirements include a letter of intent, a resume, and two recommendations. Applicants with a GPA below 3.0 also need to submit a 300-500-word document explaining their previous grades.


Regis University

Denver, CO Cost: $$$$$ Graduation Rate: 69%

Regis provides almost 200 academic programs, many of which students can access online through the Blackboard platform. The university offers an online master's in criminology that focuses on examining crime through the lense of cognitive and behavioral psychology. The program offers six annual start dates and five-week and eight-week courses.

Required coursework consists of leadership principles, ethical conduct and positions of power, and criminal psychopathy. Students can pursue a cybercrime/terrorism or human behavior focus. All learners choose one of three capstone experiences: an internship, a project, or a comprehensive course.

Prospective students must submit a resume and a 500-750-word personal statement responding to two designated prompts. Regis grants transfer credit for prior college work, career experience, professional certification/licensure, and military service.


Saint Louis University

Saint Louis, MO Cost: $$$$$ Graduation Rate: 77%

One of the country's oldest Catholic universities, SLU serves about 13,000 students every year. The university offers an online master's in criminology and criminal justice; however, depending on which courses they select, distance learners may need to take some evening classes on campus.

Foundational coursework in the 33-credit curriculum includes issues in jurisprudence and global public health practice. Students personalize their education with guided electives and advanced classes in one of three concentrations: administration of justice, emergency management, or treatment and rehabilitation. The emergency justice concentration is only offered online.

Applicants should have a minimum 3.0 GPA. Prospective students who do not meet this threshold may qualify for conditional admission. Additional requirements include a three-page professional statement, a resume or CV, and three reference letters.


The University of West Florida

Pensacola, FL Cost: $$$$$ Graduation Rate: 43%

Based in Pensacola, UWF powers distance learning with the Canvas platform. The university offers over 50 online degrees and certificates, including a master's in criminal justice. Through a 33-credit curriculum, students gain the research and data analysis skills needed to enter doctoral programs or pursue careers in education, program administration, and policy advocacy.

All students complete an internship or a research paper as a capstone project. Learners can supplement major coursework by earning an optional certificate in social work or homeland security.

UWF uses a holistic admissions process that considers the quality of each applicant's undergraduate education, in addition to their GPA and GRE or MAT scores. Prospective students must submit three recommendation letters and a personal statement that outlines their future goals.


Colorado State University Global Campus

Greenwood Village, CO Cost: $$$$$ Graduation Rate: 54%

In an effort to provide more postsecondary learning opportunities to nontraditional students, CSU-Global offers dozens of degree and certificate options to online learners. Among these options is a master's in criminal justice.

Core courses in this 36-credit program include applied research for criminal justice professionals, analytical methods, and criminal justice policy development and analysis. Students also take 12 credits within a specialization, choosing from options like fraud management and information technology. Individuals currently employed in a criminal justice setting can complete an internship for credit.

Applicants should have a bachelor's degree and a minimum 3.0 GPA. Students with a lower GPA may be accepted, but they may need to take an additional fundamentals of research and writing class.

What's the Difference Between a Criminal Justice and Criminology Degree?

Many prospective students want to understand the difference between criminology and criminal justice. While the two fields are interrelated, criminal justice is much more concerned with how crime is punished and deterred through a system of law enforcement, criminal courts, and criminal corrections. By contrast, criminology is a research discipline, using qualitative and statistical methods to identify the root causes of crime.

Online criminology master's programs provide students with a multidisciplinary understanding of not only why crime happens, but how it can be prevented. Borrowing from fields like sociology, psychology, philosophy, and legal theory, criminology is a broad-based study of criminal behavior that influences the administration of justice.

Criminal Justice

This program examines crime from the perspectives of both criminals and victims. Professionals seek to deter crime through the pursuit of justice. Graduates are prepared to practically apply criminal justice theories within law enforcement. Courses may include intelligence and homeland security, violence against women, and juvenile justice.

Careers this degree prepares for:

  • Police administrator
  • Cybersecurity manager
  • Federal law enforcement agent
  • Victim advocate

This program combines research and analysis to interpret current trends in criminal behavior. By understanding how crime changes over time, and which variables influence criminal behavior, this degree equips students with tools to influence criminal law, policy, and enforcement. Typical courses for this degree include crime prediction and prevention, computer forensics, and human behavior.

Careers this degree prepares for:

  • Statistician
  • Sociologist
  • Forensic scientist
  • Intelligence analyst
  • Professor of criminology

What Else Can I Expect From an Online Master's in Criminology Program?

Online criminology master's programs provide students with the interdisciplinary knowledge necessary to launch or advance careers in criminology. However, the specific courses students take vary by school and the degree program selected. The following is a sampling of courses that are typically available to students earning a master of criminology online degree.


  • Crime prediction and prevention: This course reviews the variety of theories and methods employed by police and communities to identify and prevent criminal threats. Students will also analyze the history and future of crime prevention, along with the use of intelligence, technology, and comparative statistics in law enforcement and other crime-related fields.
  • Cyber criminology: This course covers cyber crimes, including hacking, terrorism, fraud, and embezzlement. Students will learn about cybercrime tactics and the psychology that drives a cybercriminal to act. This course is beneficial to those pursuing careers as forensic scientists or intelligence analysts.
  • Applied statistics in criminology: Students will learn about statistical techniques used to study and prevent crime, which includes knowledge of quantitative and qualitative methods. Those planning careers as statisticians will benefit from this course, but it is also helpful to all criminology students as a basis for researching and predicting criminal behavior.
  • Ethical issues in criminology: This course focuses on the ethical standards used in the collection and presentation of criminal research and statistics. It may also emphasize ethical dilemmas confronting criminology researchers, including issues of confidentiality and consent. This course is especially useful for those pursuing positions as researchers, sociologists, and statisticians.


Online master's programs in criminology consist of both general education and elective courses that normally total between 33 to 36 credit hours. The curriculum may also include a final capstone course that is more hands-on than a traditional class project. If taken full-time, the degree can usually be completed in one year. However, many students are working professionals and may choose to complete a program part-time, lengthening the time it takes to earn the degree.

Total completion time also depends on whether students are taking courses as a cohort or in a format that is individually paced. Some programs use a cohort learning model in which students take classes as a group at a scheduled time. This allows for more peer and instructor interactions, but also slows the time it takes to complete a degree. Another factor that impacts the duration of online master's programs in criminology are transfer credits. Distance learners can graduate quickly if they have previously taken other courses that meet degree requirements.

Accreditation for Online Master's in Criminology Degrees

When researching options for online master's programs in criminology, it's important to review a school's accreditation. The accreditation process is rigorous, and when granted, confirms that the online college has met academic quality standards. Earning a degree from an accredited institution ensures your time and money have gone toward a reputable criminology program.

Accreditation for online education institutions can be granted by regional or national accrediting agencies. Regional accrediting standards are typically regarded as more stringent than those of national accrediting bodies. National accreditation is usually conferred upon online institutions that have a specific vocation or professional track. Certain programs, such as engineering or education degrees, may have their own special accrediting bodies.

The U.S. Department of Education (ED) is a federal agency that offers financial aid, advocates for quality and accessible education, and promotes educational standards and policies. The Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) is a group of 3,000 colleges and universities that approves 60 accrediting organizations that are regional or career-based. It works as a partner organization to the ED to provide confidence in accrediting bodies. To assist in your research, review all accredited colleges and universities on the CHEA website.

Employment Outlook for Master's in Criminology Graduates

Those who earn online master's degrees in criminology have a variety of career opportunities available to them. An interest in why crime occurs and a thirst for hard evidence can lead many to work as sociologists, statisticians, or forensic science technicians. Others may want to impart the knowledge they've gained in school, and may opt for work as researchers or college instructors. Below is a list of common occupations for graduates of criminology master's degree programs:


Through the observation of people and groups, sociologists collect data and conduct research to enhance our understanding of human behavior, society, and culture. Quantitative and qualitative research methods are typically used. In criminology, sociologists can explain why crimes occur and how they can be be prevented.


By designing data collection techniques, such as surveys and polls, statisticians obtain information that helps identify and explain trends. Statisticians provide compelling evidence that criminologists use to influence law and policy. These professionals must be proficient in the use of statistical software that assists in data collection and analysis.

Forensic Science Technicians

These technicians work at crime scenes collecting evidence or in laboratories to assist in criminal investigations. Laboratory-based technicians analyze biological and digital evidence to reconstruct crimes. This information is then synthesized to form a clear picture of how and why crimes occurred.

Postsecondary Teachers

Master's of criminology graduates may opt to pursue careers as criminology professors at institutions of higher education. A master's degree is typically sufficient for teaching criminology at community colleges. A career in postsecondary education provides the opportunity to conduct research and write articles to advance findings in the criminology field.

Police and Detectives

Intelligence analysts, FBI agents, and police administrators can all benefit from a master's in criminology. Criminology programs help students understand the criminal mind and helps inform crime prevention strategies and techniques. A master's degree may also assist in career advancement and finding new opportunities with state and federal agencies.


Careers available to graduates of online criminology master's programs vary, but those new to the field may benefit from high entry-level salaries. Salaries for criminology-related positions also increase according to experience. Criminology can be particularly lucrative for data-savvy statisticians and forensic computer analysts, while salaries for more standard law enforcement positions tend to hover around the national average.

Median Salary by Experience Level

Occupation Entry Level Mid-Level Late Career
$68,140 $80,341 $104,748
Forensic computer analyst $59,108 $86,837 $99,979
Criminal Justice and Law Enforcement Teacher, Postsecondary $36,000 (avg) $44,000 (avg) $53,000
(avg but
can range
up to
FBI agent $60,832 Not available $83,612

Source: Payscale

Financing Your Online Master's in Criminology Program

There are several ways to finance your master's degree in criminology online program. If you are currently working in a criminology-related field, find out if your employer offers tuition reimbursement. Other sources of funding include public and private scholarships and state-sponsored grants. Private loans are also available for educational purposes. You should also remember to complete the Federal Application for Student Aid (FAFSA). This makes you eligible for federal financial aid, which is available in the forms of low-interest loans, grants, and work study opportunities.


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