Best Online Master’s Degrees in Criminal Justice

Earning a degree in criminal justice could lead to exciting job opportunities. Learn more about online master's programs here.

April 4, 2022 • 6 Min Read

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Find a program that’s right for you.

An online master's degree in criminal justice goes beyond typical policing practices. Degree-seekers learn about theoretical and administrative approaches to law enforcement. These programs explore varied approaches to criminal justice and criminology. Coursework prepares students for leadership positions in the field.

Applicants need a bachelor's degree from an accredited college. Some programs require a background in criminal justice. Others admit students regardless of experience.

Our guide lists the best online master's degrees in criminal justice. Read on to learn about costs, common classes, and potential careers for graduates.

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Frequently Asked Questions About Criminal Justice

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

Graduates who earn an online master's degree in criminal justice may work as detectives, emergency management directors, or probation officers. Some degree-holders enroll in doctoral programs.

How much do professionals with a master's in criminal justice make?

Many factors influence criminal justice salaries, including professionals' job title and geographic location. Detectives earn a median $86,940 annually, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

Can you get a master's degree in criminal justice online?

Many schools offer an online master's degree in criminal justice. Some programs run fully online, while others require in-person sessions.

Why Get a Degree in Criminal Justice?

An online master's degree in criminal justice builds advanced knowledge in law enforcement theories and practices. Enrollees gain specialized skills in criminology, criminal justice administration, and law enforcement leadership.

A graduate degree can help criminal justice professionals increase their earning potential. The top 10% of detectives and criminal investigators earn a median $113,860 annually, according to the BLS. Police and detectives who work for the federal government earn $92,080.

Earning a master's in criminal justice online provides flexibility. Degree-seekers can further their education while continuing their career. An online format also lets learners attend the top program without relocating.

How Much Does a Criminal Justice Degree Cost?

Master's degrees cost an average of $66,340, according to EducationData.org. Many factors influence cost, including school type and program length. Most master's programs last about 1.5-2 years. Part-time enrollees take longer.

Students can save money by attending in-state, public schools. Learners pursuing an online master's degree in criminal justice from a private or out-of-state school may spend more. Some schools charge online learners the same rate, regardless of residency.

Additional Online Student Fees

Online learners save money on commuting and other education-related expenses. However, they should plan for extra costs like graduation and technology fees. Online degree-seekers must also buy textbooks and other school supplies. Students can save money by buying used or digital books.

Learners pursuing an online master's degree in criminal justice may need to complete some in-person components. This may lead to travel and lodging expenses.

How Much Do Criminal Justice Majors Make?

Most criminal justice graduates pursue law enforcement careers. Many degree-holders work as police and detectives. These professionals earn a median $86,940 annually, according to the BLS. The top 10% of detectives earn more than $113,860 annually.

Criminal justice degree-holders may also work in related fields, such as emergency management. The BLS reports emergency managers earn a median $76,250 annually. The top 10% of emergency management directors earn more than $142,870 annually.

A master's degree can help candidates pursue many advanced careers with higher salary potential. Graduates may also earn a doctorate in criminal justice, which prepares them to teach college.

Courses in Criminal Justice

An online master's degree in criminal justice builds broad knowledge of the criminal justice system. Enrollees study policing practices and the U.S. court system. They also explore general topics such as law, criminal justice management, and theories of crime.

Many online criminal justice master's degrees offer concentrations. Common options include criminology, cybersecurity, and homeland security. See below for three common classes in master's in criminal justice online programs. Please note that classes vary by program. Consider this list a sample curriculum.

  • Analysis of Criminal Justice Systems

    Most programs include a general course that introduces theoretical and analytical frameworks for criminal justice studies. This class covers the history of the criminal justice system and major theories and approaches to law enforcement. Students examine the social, cultural, and political role of criminal justice and policing practices.
  • Criminal Justice Research Methods

    Research forms a major component of many online criminal justice master's degrees. This class explores the use of research and data in creating and evaluating criminal justice policies and practices. Learners gain a broad understanding of research tools and methodologies. They learn how to conduct and evaluate research.
  • Survey of Criminology

    This class introduces criminology and the various factors that influence criminal behavior. Students may explore the major theories and approaches to criminology, including physiological, psychiatric, psychological, and genetic. This class also examines the role criminology plays in determining criminal justice policy and practices.

Career and Salary Outlook for Criminal Justice

An online master's degree in criminal justice prepares students for many advanced careers in law enforcement and related fields. Most criminal justice careers do not require a master's degree. However, the degree can make candidates more competitive for top positions.

See below for three common careers for criminal justice graduates. Read on to learn about typical duties, annual salaries, and projected job growth.

  • Detectives

    These professionals investigate crimes and gather evidence related to criminal investigations. They may specialize in one type of crime, such as homicide or narcotics. Detectives typically interview witnesses and collect evidence to identify criminal suspects. They may also supervise and direct other police officers.
  • Emergency Management Directors

    These directors oversee preparations for emergency scenarios, such as natural disasters and terrorist attacks. They work with government agencies, public safety officials, and other professionals to plan for and respond to disasters. Emergency management directors commonly assess disaster risk factors. They also design safety protocols and lead disaster-response teams.
  • Probation Officers and Correctional Treatment Specialists

    Probation officers rehabilitate criminal offenders, helping them stay out of jail or reintegrate into society after being in jail. Master's degree-holders can pursue more administrative roles, directing overall probation practices and policies. Graduates may also work as treatment specialists, developing rehabilitation plans for their clients.
Salary Potential and Growth Rate
Career Median Annual Salary Projected Growth Rate (2020-2030)
Detectives $67,290 7%
Emergency Management Directors $76,250 6%
Probation Officers and Correctional Treatment Specialists $55,690 4%

Source: BLS

Best Online Master's Degrees in Criminal Justice

  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.

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