Best Online Master’s Degrees in Criminal Justice

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Coursework, Graduation Requirements and Careers for Master’s Students

The criminal justice field is growing quickly with an increase in available jobs. While competition in this field can be tough, candidates with advanced education and field experience can get an extra competitive edge in the workplace. Obtaining an online master’s degree in criminal justice can place applicants first in line for these in-demand jobs, providing them with the advanced training and field experience they need to succeed as a criminologist, corrections officer, crime lab analyst or fraud investigator, among other exciting careers. This guide covers everything prospective students need to know about enrolling and excelling in an online criminal justice master’s program.

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Top 10 Best Online Bachelor’s in Criminal Justice

Rank School Location
1 Saint Leo University St. Leo, FL
2 Utica College Utica, NY
3 Sam Houston State University Huntsville, TX
4 National University La Jolla, CA
5 University of New Haven West Haven, CT
6 College of Saint Elizabeth Morristown, NJ
7 Chaminade University of Honolulu Honolulu, HI
8 Roger Williams University Bristol, RI
9 Tiffin University Tiffin, OH
10 Lewis University Romeoville, IL

Online Master’s Degree in Criminal Justice Leaderboard


  • Methodology


    To be considered for this ranking, schools were required to meet the following criteria:

    • Accredited at the institutional level
    • Private nonprofit or public school
    • Minimum of 1 bachelor’s or master’s degree in subject area for 4-year schools
    • Minimum of 1 associate degree or certificate program in subject area for 2-year schools

    Schools were then scored on factors such as:

    • Cost & Financial Aid
    • Number and variety of program offerings
    • Student-teacher ratios
    • Graduation rates (4-year schools only)
    • Placement and support services offered
    • Academic/Career counseling services
    • Employment services
    • Loan default rates
    • These factors were assembled for each school and rated using a peer-based-value (PBV) calculation. PBV compares the cost of a program to the cost of other programs with the same (or similar) qualitative score and cost. PBV denotes the overall value or “bang for your buck” of a college or degree program.


Finding the right criminal justice program is a top priority for students looking to get a master’s degree in this growing field, but the right school differs for each student. High-quality programs feature comprehensive degree programs, good student-to-faculty ratios, and high graduation rates. The following highlights top ranked for schools with a criminal justice master’s program.

4-Year Colleges

  1. Saint Leo University
    Location

    St. Leo, FL

    The MS criminal justice degree program offered by Saint Leo is a fully online program, and offers increased opportunities in the criminal justice profession. Skills learned will deal with all aspects of criminal justice, including finances and management. In addition, there are several degree focuses students can choose from within the criminal justice program. Saint Leo is a military school, and offers some financial aid to graduate students when available. Career services are offered to students from enrollment until after graduation including access to the alumni network and assistance with resume building.

  2. Utica College
    Location

    Utica, NY

    Utica College offers a BS in criminal justice, with learning experiences both in the professional realm and abroad. Internship and other practice-based learning opportunities are available and required for graduation, and special focus is given to international issues. The program is designed to prepare students for further education, while still giving students ample opportunities to learn employable skills and knowledge. Online resources are available for students, as well as on-campus support services, organizations, and multi-cultural support events and organizations. A large number of Utica’s students receive financial aid, including a list of scholarships.

  3. Sam Houston State University
    Location

    Huntsville, TX

    Students can graduate with either a master of science in criminal justice or a master of science in criminal justice leadership and management. Both programs consist of 36 credit hours. The leadership and management degree is designed for students currently working in mid-management positions in the field of criminal justice who are seeking career advancement. The standard criminal justice masters is for students who are pursuing careers in corrections, law enforcement, social services or securities. Degrees earned online are identical to those earned by traditional, on-campus students, and all online degrees are accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

  4. National University
    Location

    La Jolla, CA

    National University's Master of Criminal Justice degree is fully online. Criminal justice training at National University prepares adults to meet requirements associated with corporate security, military security, police, prison officer and probation roles. Administration in criminal justice, how to encourage and help develop civil rest, understand court decisions and how to conduct criminal justice research are other functions that the degree prepares students to complete. Theory and applied knowledge are program cornerstone's. There are eight core courses in the 36 quarter credit hour program. Examples of these courses are comparative criminal justice systems, violence and victimization and advanced research methods.

  5. University of New Haven
    Location

    West Haven, CT

    The criminal justice master's degree at the University of New Haven can be completed 100 percent online. Courses are condensed into periods of six-and-a-half to seven weeks, meaning all 36 credits can be completed in two years. Graduates will be qualified for careers in the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Justice and the Federal Bureau of Prisons. The university invites prospective students to watch a virtual information session about the master's program, which combines academic theory with real-world applications. The University of New Haven has compiled a vast menu of resources designed specifically to help criminal justice students.

  6. College of Saint Elizabeth
    Location

    Morristown, NJ

    In addition to awarding the Master of Arts in Justice Administration and Public Service, the College of Saint Elizabeth operates a Police Studies Institute. Through the institute, current public safety workers discuss public policies and receive advanced leadership educational training. Master's degree classes are designed for adults with deep interest in law enforcement or existing criminal justice or public safety work experience. Areas that master's degree classes spotlight include social justice, community safety, law enforcement and court systems. Documents needed when applying for the master's degree include an application, personal statement, recommendation letters and a resume. Applicants must also complete an interview.

  7. Chaminade University of Honolulu
    Location

    Honolulu, HI

    The master of science in criminal justice administration program focuses on management, research methods, program evaluation and personnel administration. Graduates can go onto law school or careers that include homeland security, law enforcement, corrections and private security and investigation. Concentrations include law enforcement, corrections and a hybrid program, as well as an online program for distance learners. Most students will finish the program in 18 months to two years, and all students must finish in fewer than five years. Coursework is designed to promote critical thinking and the ability to apply theoretical knowledge to criminal justice applications.

  8. Roger Williams University
    Location

    Bristol, RI

    Roger Williams University's School of Justice Studies awards a Master of Science in Criminal Justice. Policing is only one area that instructors focus on in class. Crime causes, juvenile and adult court systems and community based correction options are other areas that instructors cover. Adults who want real life criminal justice training before they graduate with the master's degree can participate in an internship. Additional program outcomes include strong critical thinking, reasoning and analyzing skills. Continued criminal justice education is provided through the university's graduate cyber security, public administration and legal studies and law programs.

  9. Tiffin University
    Location

    Tiffin, OH

    Option to earn a graduate criminal justice degree at Tiffin University starts in the university's School of Criminal Justice and Social Sciences. Adults who currently have a bachelor's degree could earn a Master of Science in Criminal Justice. Specializations that criminal justice majors can declare are in crime analysis, homeland security, criminal behavior, forensic psychology and justice administration. More than half of the master's degree can be completed online. As the program advances, lectures are complemented with conferences and guest speaker appearances. The school also operates a center for cyber-defense and forensics and a center for justice and social and behavioral research.

  10. Lewis University
    Location

    Romeoville, IL

    Students who graduate with a master of science in criminal/social justice degree will be able to join a variety of law enforcement organizations or advance their careers within their current organization. The faculty who teach the courses not only have doctoral degrees, but hands-on professional experience in several different fields. Lewis University and all of its master's programs are accredited by the Higher Learning Commission. Students will complete assignments according to fixed class schedules. Students are not, however, required to be online at any specific time of day. technical support is available at all hours of the day, as is student service support.

From Admission to Graduation: Online Criminal Justice Master’s Timeline

It’s never too early for students to get on the right track with their criminal justice master’s degree program. During their undergraduate years, students need to focus on taking criminal justice courses and master’s program pre-requisites, excelling in all of their classes, and making a good impression and connections with teachers and professionals who may be able to provide letters of recommendations down the road. Graduate level programs provide in-depth training and knowledge about the inner workings of the criminal justice system and the process of conducting high-level criminal investigations.

The following graphic outlines the specific steps a student needs to take throughout an online master’s program in criminal justice, from admission to graduation:


  • Application Process

    The admissions process for an online criminal justice master’s degree program begins with successful completion of an accredited undergraduate program. Students must major or minor in criminal justice or complete studies in a closely related field. They must be prepared to submit letters of recommendation from professors that taught criminal justice-related classes and provide examples of success throughout their undergraduate program, whether this is was in the form of successfully completed simulation crime investigation projects or well-written essays and reports.

    Graduate from an accredited undergraduate program

    Accreditation, the standards set to validate the education of a college, is very important when selecting a college to attend for undergraduate studies. Many criminal justice graduate programs will not accept a degree from a university or college that has not been accredited.

    Major or minor in criminal justice during undergrad

    Many online schools will only accept students into their master’s programs who have either majored or minored in criminal justice during their undergraduate career. However, a degree in a closely related field may be accepted on a case-by-case basis depending on the university. Additional coursework in criminology or criminal justice may be required for those who graduated with a major outside of the field.

    Meet minimum master’s GPA requirements

    Online colleges and universities generally set a minimum GPA requirement for admission to a master’s degree program. If a student does not meet the requirement when they send in their undergraduate transcript, this can pose a major challenge to getting accepted. Students can attempt to retake general education or criminal justice major courses for better grades before applying to master’s programs if necessary.

    Collect criminal justice professional references

    Letters of recommendation are important for student to acquire when applying into a master’s program in criminal justice. Most programs will require at least two letters of recommendation in the application packet. Letters should come from professional and applicable sources, such as professors from criminal justice courses or supervisors from corrections, criminology, law enforcement and similar jobs and internships.

    Take master’s-level tests

    A GRE score is typically required for admission to a master’s program, including for online schools. This graduate-level standardized test is designed to score students on their general knowledge in verbal reasoning, quantitative reasoning and analytical writing. Some criminal justice master’s programs may set minimum test score requirements for applicants.



  • Year 1 Milestones


    Complete core master’s-level courses

    In their first year, master’s students take a series of core classes that cover the foundations of criminal justice and pave the way for specializations, such as criminology, research methods and statistics.

    Complete concentration courses in criminal justice

    After completing core online courses, students can move on to classes in their chosen concentration. Advanced concentrations in criminal justice include criminology, corrections/rehabilitation, forensics, homeland security and law enforcement.

    Make plans to meet graduation requirements

    Students may need to choose between completing a thesis, taking a comprehensive exam, or pursuing an internship to meet graduation requirements for an online master’s. For criminal justice students, graduation requirements will usually need to be related to a student’s chosen concentration.



  • Year 2 Milestones


    Take advanced criminal justice courses and seminars

    Students must take advanced courses that delve deep into core subjects and teach students how to use research methods and statistics to analyze and solve problems. They will work through real-life examples in criminology, forensics and corrections with a series of advanced courses, seminars and even workshops that provide hands-on training when needed.

    Complete research papers or capstone course

    Completion of an intensive research project or capstone course is an important element of many online master’s degree programs. This research project may focus on a specialized area, such as criminal justice policy or practice where students must use advanced research methods, statistics, and planning and management skills to solve a problem and illustrate exactly how they solved the problem.



  • Graduation Requirements

    To obtain a complete understanding of the social and legal aspects of crime needed for a career in criminal justice, online students must complete a list of general requirements before graduation. Students will have to complete the minimum unit requirement before graduating from their master’s program. The course load differs for each university but generally lies around 30 credits.

    Comprehensive criminal justice exam

    Many schools require a comprehensive exam to be completed at the end of the degree program based on what the students learned in their core criminal justice classes. It will cover skills such as professional writing, criminology, criminal policy and correctional theory.

    Completion of criminal justice thesis

    An alternative to the end-of-coursework comprehensive exam is to enroll in the thesis track. Students in this track will develop a thesis based on existing research or theory. Through the completion of their thesis, students will be required to demonstrate graduate-level skills in criminal justice studies.

    Internship in criminal justice field

    Some online criminal justice master’s programs may require students to complete a set number of internship hours that count towards their credit hours. Other schools consider internships an optional part of the program, that can provide hands-on field experience for e-learners.


Career Advancement After Earning an Online Master’s in Criminal Justice

Graduates of an online criminal justice master’s degree program can explore a number of attractive career paths in areas of criminology, corrections, rehabilitation, forensics, homeland security and law enforcement. Whether they want to work as an FBI or CIA agent or in a lab setting as a criminologist or researcher, an online criminal justice degree can prepare the student for a rewarding career in their field.

A master’s degree program provides high-level training in areas of investigations, computer science, and emergency response. Graduates of the programs learn how to work in teams to solve crimes, prepare and analyze reports, and conduct short-term and long-term investigations using advanced research methods and tools. Here is an overview of career paths to explore with an online master’s in criminal justice degree:

Browse Master’s in Criminal Justice Careers


  • Criminologists

    Responsible for studying the nature of a crime and working with law enforcement agencies and other organizations to investigate a crime scene. They are primarily responsible for conducting extensive research to draw conclusions about why the crime occurred. They use statistical and analytical methods to solve real-life problems and their reports may be published in journals or associated publications.


  • Forensic Science Technicians

    Forensic scientists and technicians provide assistance in criminal investigations by collecting and analyzing different types of evidence, including chemical, biological and physical evidence collected at a crime scene. Technicians are usually tasked with writing detailed reports about their findings.


  • Computer Forensics Analysts

    Working closely with law enforcement agencies and private firms, these analysts retrieve pertinent information from a computer network that may have been hacked or corrupted by a virus. They may also be involved with examining data stored in electronic devices as part of a criminal investigation.


  • Emergency Management Directors

    Emergency management directors, are responsible for preparing plains and procedure to report natural disasters and other emergencies. They may work closely with government agencies and public safety officials to ensure everything is documented accurately and to coordinate the dispatch of emergency services personnel and emergency response teams.


Occupation Mean Annual Wage Growth Potential
Criminologist $73,760 -1%
Forensic Science Technicians $56,320 27%
Computer Forensics Analysts $68,967 Diplomas, associate and bachelor’s degrees
Emergency Management Directors $67,330 6%

Learning Outcomes & Skills Gained in an Online Master’s in Criminal Justice

Master’s in Criminal Justice

Advanced analytical & reasoning skills
Learning how to analyze evidence, interpret results and make effective decisions based on these results is critical for success in this field. No matters what career path they choose in this field, students need to have strong critical thinking and analytical reasoning skills to solve crimes and prepare reports.
Advanced comprehension of criminal justice system and policy
Those working directly for Homeland Security as a secret service agent, CIA officer or similar role learn how to implement effective policies and procedures to increase public safety. Criminal justice master’s degree programs provide students with the knowledge and training they need to implement these types of policies.
Forensic research methods and analysis
Forensics is a specialized area of criminal justice but all students completing an advanced degree program in this field learn the basic skills and protocols to conduct forensic research projects. This involves analyzing different types of evidence based on fingerprints, digital footprints, and residue.

PHD in Criminal Justice

Learn more about online Ph.D. in criminal justice

Bachelor’s in Criminal Justice

Learn more about online bachelor's in criminal justice

Associate in Criminal Justice

Learn more about online associate's in criminal justice

Additional Resources

The following additional resources and links to professional associations and training programs can complement a graduate student’s professional career:

Popular Resources

Whether you’re looking to earn your online degree or you’re a parent looking for answers, you can find all of your questions covered here. Explore these resources to help you make informed decisions and prepare for whatever is thrown your way.


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