Best Online Master’s in Criminology Programs

February 19, 2021

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Criminologists are sociology professionals who investigate crime and shed light on the factors contributing to criminal behavior. These individuals develop an understanding of human behavior and its influence on crime. They collaborate with community decision-makers and law enforcement to prevent crime and ensure public safety.

As an analytical field that examines crime as part of an entire social system, criminology differs from criminal justice, which focuses more on punishing perpetrators and deterring illegal activity. An online master's in criminology provides graduates with an interdisciplinary approach to address crime's causes and outcomes. These programs also address the ethical and social implications of criminology research.

What Are the Best Online Master's in Criminology Programs? Here Are Our Top 10:

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#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

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

How We Rank Schools

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

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.

2020 Best Accredited Online Master's in Criminology Programs

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University of California, Irvine View School Profile Irvine, CA

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 View School Profile Tallahassee, FL

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 View School Profile Orlando, FL

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 View School Profile Boston, MA

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 View School Profile Miami, FL

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 View School Profile Philadelphia, PA

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 View School Profile Denver, CO

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 View School Profile Saint Louis, MO

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 View School Profile Pensacola, FL

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 View School Profile Greenwood Village, CO

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

Many criminologists exhibit written and verbal communication abilities that enable them to present reports to law enforcement, public officials, the press, and the public.

Many criminologists exhibit written and verbal communication abilities that enable them to present reports to law enforcement, public officials, the press, and the public. Working in this field also requires data analysis competencies, leadership skills, and the ability to work under pressure.

Most online master's in criminology programs require 33-36 credits, which takes most students about one or two years to complete. However, professionals who work full time while they study might need more time to graduate. The timeline might also depend on whether the program delivers coursework synchronously or asynchronously. A thesis, practicum, or internship requirement can also affect the time students need to complete the program.

Many criminology master's programs offer specializations. Common options include conflict management, criminal behavior, global criminology, law and society, and victimology.

Some schools offer a master of business administration (MBA) in criminology, which prepares graduates for managerial roles. These programs typically provide courses in marketing, accounting, and supply chain management. A master of science (MS) tends to focus on quantitative research and laboratory work, while a master of arts (MA) often centers on a more sociological approach.

Some criminology professionals require some form of authorization to gain employment. For instance, private investigators often need a license to work in their state. Other criminology professionals should see if their state requires particular qualifications or experience before applying for a license.

Admission Requirements for Online Master's in Criminology Programs

Prerequisites for most online master's in criminology programs include a bachelor's degree in criminology or related field, relevant work experience, and a minimum GPA. An applicant might make up for a lower GPA with sufficient work experience or outstanding test scores.

Admission requirements for a master's program typically consist of academic transcripts from previous schools, recommendation letters, GRE test scores, and an application fee. Instead of a personal statement, some schools might ask applicants to submit essay responses to questions about various criminology issues.

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What Courses Will I Take in an Online Master's in Criminology Program?

An online master's in criminology curriculum typically borrows from multiple disciplines, including criminology, legal theory, philosophy, psychology, statistics, and sociology. Coursework enables students to understand crime prevention, as well as how and why crime occurs. Both on-campus and online programs typically provide students with a thorough background in research and statistical methods.

Applied Statistics in Criminology

This course explores how criminologists study and prevent crime through statistical methods. Statistical theory and techniques also prove beneficial in predicting crime-related trends and criminal behavior. Some applied statistics courses cover relevant qualitative methods and include prerequisite material for learning more advanced statistical methods.

Crime Prediction and Prevention

In this course, students learn the methods and theories that law enforcement professionals use to detect and thwart criminal activity. This course also reviews crime prevention history, current issues, and future developments in the field. Learners acquire knowledge of technology, intelligence-gathering methods, and statistical techniques relevant to law enforcement.

Cyber Criminology

This course reviews embezzlement, fraud, hacking, terrorism, and other activities that constitute cybercrime. Students learn the psychological factors that drive cybercriminal behavior and how criminals carry out illegal cyber activities. Learners interested in intelligence or forensic studies might find this course helpful in their professional training.

Ethical Issues in Criminology

Individuals pursuing careers in sociology, statistics, and research often find this class useful. The course exposes students to issues of right and wrong in conducting criminal research and presenting findings. Learners also discuss confidentiality, consent, and the ethical dilemmas they often face.

Psychology and the Justice System

This is a core course for most students obtaining a master's in criminology. Learners study victimology, which some students might pursue as a concentration. Degree-seekers learn how human psychology affects criminal behavior and the role psychology plays in the criminal justice system.

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

A master's in criminology can open the doors to various career opportunities. Graduates can train to become correctional officers, forensic scientists and technicians, cybersecurity specialists, and detectives.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects 5% job growth for police and detectives between 2019 and 2029, compared to 4% in all other occupations.Also, the BLS projects 14% job growth for forensic science technicians during the same period.

Explore jobs in criminology through our careers guide.

true Forensic Science Technician

Forensic science technicians assist in criminal investigations. They collect evidence from crime scenes by taking photographs, making sketches, gathering biological and other specimens, and reconstructing crime scenes. Laboratory technicians examine digital and biological evidence to figure out criminal origins and motives.

Police Officer or Detective

Some detectives, police officers, and other law enforcement personnel hold a master's in criminology. These professionals' comprehension of the criminal mind can help them prevent crime and pursue criminals. A master's degree can help criminology professionals seek employment with federal and state law enforcement agencies.

Emergency Management Director

These directors detect, prevent, and alleviate the impacts of terrorist attacks, criminal activities, and other crisis events. Emergency management directors assign and oversee teams that help save lives and preserve property before, during, and after disasters. Additional responsibilities include crisis management strategizing, reviewing and revising contingency plans, and allocating emergency resources.


Sociologists use quantitative and qualitative methods to collect data that aids people's understanding of criminal activity. Their expertise helps explain why crimes happen, what influences illegal behavior, and how to prevent future criminal acts. These professionals also collaborate with other scientists and criminology professionals to present their findings on criminal cases and issues.


Statisticians in criminology collect survey and poll data to predict and identify criminal behavioral patterns. Some of their work can yield findings that decision-makers and elected officials use to influence legislation and policy. Statisticians need proficiency in statistical software to carry out their work.

Criminology Not for You? Check Out These Related Careers.

Criminal Justice Careers Forensic Science Careers Behavioral Psychology Careers

Frequently Asked Questions About Master's in Criminology Programs

Is a master's in criminology worth it?

A master's in criminology can suit many people, whether they are finishing a bachelor's degree or wish to expand their career opportunities. Receiving instruction from professors in a master's program can expose students to additional networking and employment possibilities. A master's degree can also qualify graduates for higher paying jobs and management positions in criminology.

What can I do with a master's in criminology?

People with a curiosity about criminal behavior might consider a master's in criminology. Graduates can work as statisticians, sociologists, forensic scientists, and detectives. Some graduates become private investigators who take on clients as independent contractors. Other criminologists become college instructors or help train law enforcement officers.

Is criminology a good career?

Criminology is a suitable career choice for people who enjoy solving mysteries and want to understand what influences criminal activity. A job in this field can provide a competitive salary compared to other occupations. Also, criminologists play an essential and meaningful role in reducing crime and preserving public safety.

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

Pay for criminologists varies depending on the job, geographic region, and work experience. New graduates of master's in criminology programs might secure a relatively high paying position. According to May 2019 data from the BLS, detectives and criminal investigators earn an annual mean salary of $86,030. Professionals like forensic computer analysts and statisticians tend to earn even more competitive salaries.

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

Management-level positions tend to command some of the highest salaries in the criminology field. According to PayScale, information security managers earn a mean annual wage of $117,110. According to the BLS, in 2019, detectives and criminal investigators working in the federal government earned a mean annual pay of $107,150.

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