The Most Affordable Online Master’s in Criminal Justice Degree Programs
| TBS Staff
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Criminal justice professionals include detectives, criminal investigators, and FBI agents. Professionals in the field can also work in homeland security and corrections. Earning an online master's degree in criminal justice qualifies graduates for leading roles, including command and director positions.
Many criminal justice careers offer above-average salaries and high job growth potential. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), police and detectives earn a median salary of more than $63,000 a year. A master's degree can help law enforcement officials advance their careers and pursue opportunities in policy making and leadership.
Criminal justice master's programs typically include coursework in criminology theory, which helps learners understand the motivations behind criminal behavior. Students also explore crime scene investigation, victimology, and criminal justice leadership. Master's students can gain specialized skills by pursuing a concentration in an area such as criminal justice administration, forensic science, or homeland security.
This page lists top-ranked online criminal justice master's programs and details salary information for criminal justice occupations. The sections below also include information about what to expect while earning a criminal justice master's degree online and advice for choosing the best criminal justice program.
The Most Affordable Online Master's in Criminal Justice Degree Programs
Affordable Online Master's in Criminal Justice Degree Program Ranking Guidelines:
We selected the following online criminal justice programs based on each program's quality, types of available online classes, faculty, rankings, awards, and reputation. We also considered each school's reputation for online education.
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3. Reputation [weight = 20%]
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6. Strength of online instruction methodology (if applicable) [weight = 25%; subtract 5% from each of the above for online schools/programs]
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Citations: For a broader account of our ranking methodology, especially as it relates to TheBestSchools.org's underlying educational philosophy and, in other ranking articles, looks beyond academic excellence (as here) to such factors as return on investment or incidental benefit, see our article "Ranking Methodology: How We Rank Schools at TBS." Reputation of schools and degree programs can at least in part be gauged through the school or department's publishing activity, citations, and desirability. At TheBestSchools.org, we keep track of such social and peer validation: "Making Sense of College Rankings." For nuts-and-bolts information about colleges and universities, we look to the National Center for Education Statistics and especially its College Navigator. Insofar as salary and inflation data are relevant to a ranking, we look to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Finally, nothing beats contacting schools and degree programs directly, which our researchers often do, with the result that all the entries in this article should be considered as belonging to this citation!
The Most Affordable Online Master's in Criminal Justice Degree Programs
With an enrollment of more than 37,000 students, CSULB ranks among the largest colleges in California. The school's online master's in criminal justice offers an accelerated format for working professionals, preparing students for administrative positions in law enforcement organizations, courts, corrections, and private security. Alternately, graduates can pursue research positions or teach at some community colleges. Full-time students can complete the program in two years.
Degree candidates complete 36 credits, including 21 core credits and 15 elective credits. Course topics include criminal justice policy, interagency communication, homeland security, forensic psychology, and strategic decision-making. Most courses use a primarily asynchronous format with optional live class sessions. CSULB records all live course content for students to view at any time. The program uses a cohort format where students progress through coursework with the same group of peers.
Applicants must submit GRE scores, LSAT scores, or a writing sample that demonstrates research and critical thinking skills. All applicants must also submit a resume, two letters of recommendation, and a statement of intent that outlines relevant experiences and reasons for pursuing graduate study.
CSUSB serves more than 20,000 students annually through on-campus and distance programs. The school offers a master of arts in criminal justice with two completion options: a thesis track for students interested in pursuing academic research and a professional track for students interested in moving directly into administrative and supervisory positions. Both tracks require 45 credits and take 2-5 years to complete.
All master's in criminal justice candidates complete a 21-credit core that includes courses such as applied research in criminal justice, statistical analysis in criminal justice, and a seminar in policing or corrections. Thesis candidates complete 16 elective credits, while professional candidates complete 24 elective credits. Elective options include crime and intelligence analysis, juvenile justice, crime in public spaces, advanced social network analysis, and legal issues in criminal justice.
Both pathways include culminating requirements. Thesis candidates complete an eight-credit, two-semester thesis project under the supervision of a faculty member. The thesis requires significant research on a criminal justice topic, resulting in a research paper. Professional candidates complete an additional eight elective credits along with a comprehensive final examination that assesses mastery of program subject matter and the ability to integrate content knowledge.
Located in Carson (just 13 miles from Downtown Los Angeles), CSUDH offers an online master of public administration with a concentration in criminal justice administration. The program explores the administrative side of criminal justice while building a foundation in public administration theory and practice. Courses follow an accelerated eight-week format, with no required campus visits. Students typically complete one course at a time, earning their degree in two years of full-time study.
The program requires 36 credits divided between 27 credits of public administration courses and nine credits of criminal justice administration courses. The public administration core covers topics such as administrative theory and behavior, foundations of ethical administration, and public budgeting. The criminal justice concentration delves into specialized topics, including issues in police administration and ethics; issues in homeland security and terrorism; and administrative law, policy, and analysis.
Students complete the program with a capstone in public administration or an honors thesis. The capstone integrates various aspects of public administration through case study analysis and a group project. The honors thesis, which requires department approval and at least a 3.8 GPA, requires candidates to complete a research-based thesis on a public administration topic. Thesis candidates must determine a topic, conduct research, and produce an in-depth research paper.
The online branch of Colorado State University, CSU-Global was founded in 2007 and currently serves more than 19,000 students across the country. The school's master of science in criminal justice and law enforcement administration explores the management issues that affect criminal justice organizations, training students to create effective justice policies and programs using new technology and community-based approaches.
Students earning their master's in criminal justice online complete 36 credits, including 24 credits of criminal justice courses and 12 credits of specialization courses. The program core includes courses such as criminological theory, restorative justice, analytical methods, and applied research. All candidates must complete a 12-credit specialization in a complementary discipline, such as information technology, finance, or strategic management.
Most courses use a fully asynchronous format without required login times. The school charges the same tuition rate to all distance learners, regardless of residency, and online students receive a tuition guarantee that ensures rates will not increase while they remain enrolled. The college also offers support services for online learners, including a virtual library, academic advising, technical support, online tutoring, and disability services.
A public, urban college based in Houston, Texas, UHD enrolls more than 14,000 students annually. The school offers an online master of science in criminal justice that explores theoretical and practical approaches to crime, emphasizing both the juvenile and adult justice systems. Designed for professionals currently employed in the field, the degree uses a flexible, fully online format, with courses offered in five- and eight-week blocks.
The master's degree in criminal justice comprises 36 credits, including 18 credits of core courses, 15 elective credits, and a three-credit capstone. The core covers subjects such as research design and methods, advanced criminology, policy analysis, and program evaluation. Electives delve into specialized criminal justice topics, while the capstone requires students to design a project that addresses an issue in the field. The capstone requires a literature review and written analysis.
Students can also complete a comprehensive six-credit thesis project in lieu of the capstone and one elective course. The thesis functions similarly to the capstone in that students identify a problem, issue, or question about the criminal justice field. However, the thesis requires more extensive research and a longer paper. Thesis candidates must submit a topic proposal before initiating their research. Students must also defend their research before a faculty committee.
A public college based in the southern Texas city of Laredo, TAMIU enrolls around 7,500 students annually. The school's distance education program offers a fully online master of science in criminal justice designed for working students. The program does not require a criminal justice background, though candidates with at least three years of criminal justice experience and a minimum undergraduate GPA of 2.5 receive automatic admission.
TAMIU offers thesis and non-thesis tracks for its master's in criminal justice program. The thesis track requires 30 credits, including 15 credits of core courses, nine credits of electives, and six credits of thesis work. The non-thesis track requires the same 15-credit core, along with 18 credits of elective courses and a three-credit capstone course. The core for both tracks stresses key concepts in criminal justice, including criminological theory, quantitative methods, and social responsibility.
Both tracks include culminating requirements. Thesis students complete a comprehensive, research-based thesis on an approved criminal justice topic and defend their work before a faculty committee. Non-thesis students complete a capstone project, which also requires research into a criminal justice issue. The capstone takes a more practical approach, while the thesis takes a more academic approach.
Operating as a college within the Manhattan-based City University of New York, John Jay offers an online master of arts in criminal justice with four specialization options: criminology and deviance, criminal law and procedure, policing, and terrorism studies. The program uses a fully online, asynchronous delivery format with no required campus visits or class meeting times. Accelerated eight-week courses enable students to earn their degree in as little as one year of full-time study.
John Jay's master's in criminal justice requires a minimum of 36 credits split between the program core and specialization courses. All students complete five core courses: criminal justice theory and courts, policing and corrections, research design and methods, using computers in social research, and policy analysis in criminal justice. To enroll in the policy analysis course, students must pass an exam that covers major topics from previous courses.
Specialization tracks offer courses that build advanced knowledge in specific aspects of the criminal justice field. For example, courses for the criminology and deviance track include white collar crime, youth crime and delinquency control, race and crime in America, and organized crime. Students can sometimes substitute courses from other specialization tracks. John Jay also allows degree candidates to complete dual specializations.
A private college based in Bellevue, Nebraska, BU was established in 1966 with a focus on adult education. Today, the school maintains a philosophy of openness and accessibility, serving working students through flexible online programs. BU's master of science in justice administration and crime management explores justice operations at the local, state, and federal levels, emphasizing the causes and control of crime within communities.
Students earning their master's in criminal justice online complete 36 credits divided among 12 courses. The program stresses ethical decision-making, criminal justice policy, criminal investigations, forensic analysis, and organizational efficiency. BU uses a cohort format in which students complete the same sequence of courses as a group. The curriculum includes courses on criminal law, forensics, and advanced crime analysis.
Applicants do not need an undergraduate degree in criminal justice or professional experience in the field. However, applicants must hold a minimum 2.5 GPA for their most recent 60 credits of undergraduate coursework or an overall GPA of at least 3.0 for graduate coursework. Graduates of any master's program from a regionally accredited college may apply to the program without submitting undergraduate transcripts.
A public college based in Tahlequah, Oklahoma, NSU was founded in 1909, making it the oldest college in the state. Today, the school serves more than 8,500 students annually through its main campus, satellite locations, and distance education programs. NSU's online master's degree in criminal justice emphasizes administration, management, research, and training, preparing graduates for professional advancement or doctoral study. The program uses a fully online format without campus requirements.
The curriculum emphasizes five key areas of study: criminal justice systems, crime theory, criminal justice administration, legal aspects, and research methods. The 36-credit program offers thesis and non-thesis tracks. Both pathways require 18 credits of foundation courses, including constitutional criminal law, criminal justice research methods, and a seminar on the administration of criminal justice.
Candidates in the thesis track complete 12 credits of electives and a six-credit thesis, while non-thesis candidates complete 18 credits of electives. Elective courses explore specialized aspects of the criminal justice field. Many electives focus on criminal justice issues for specific populations, such as Native American law and justice and a seminar in juvenile justice. Other courses cover topics in methodology and administration, such as computer forensics, issues in homeland security, and criminal justice personnel management.
Based in the northern Georgia city of Dahlonega, UNG serves more than 19,000 students annually through several campus locations and a substantial online division. The school's master of science with a major in criminal justice explores the intersection of criminal behavior, the justice system, and political and social systems. Offering a highly flexible online format for working students, the program features start dates in the fall, spring, and summer.
UNG's master's in criminal justice program emphasizes international crime and justice, framing the field in a context that encompasses homeland security and terrorism. The curriculum comprises 36 credits, including a 15-credit core, 18 credits of electives, and a three-credit capstone. The core covers foundational topics such as statistical analysis, research methodology, and global crime and justice. Electives explore topics like international security issues, international political violence, and family violence.
The capstone seminar focuses on the analysis and comparison of criminal justice theories and methodological models in a global context. Synthesizing program concepts in relation to professional criminal justice practice, the capstone requires students to examine major trends and research in the field. Students typically complete the capstone seminar during their final semester.
One of the largest urban colleges in Nebraska, UNO serves more than 15,000 students annually. The school's master of science in criminology and criminal justice features fully online and hybrid enrollment options. Full-time degree candidates can complete the program in as few as 18 months.
UNO's master's in criminal justice requires 36 credits, including 15 core credits, 18 elective credits, and a three-credit capstone course. Core classes include the nature of crime, research theory and methodology, and a seminar focused on women or race and ethnicity in criminal justice. Students can also complete an optional advanced diversity course with approval from an advisor.
Students choose from diverse electives in counseling, public administration, social work, and urban studies. Learners can also pursue specializations in counseling or public administration by completing 9-12 credits. The public administration specialization includes courses in foundations of public administration, public works management, and public financial administration.
Near the end of the program, all degree candidates must enroll in a capstone course where they demonstrate their understanding of program concepts. Students complete a substantial research-based project that explores a criminal justice topic of their choice.
The only public college in Texas focused primarily on the liberal arts, MSU serves 6,000 students through its campus in Wichita Falls and online. The school's master of arts in criminal justice emphasizes research, teaching students the skills needed to drive developments in justice administration, crime control, and criminological theory. Accordingly, the program attracts many students interested in pursuing academic and research careers, though the curriculum also serves learners interested in administrative and management careers.
The degree comprises 36 credits, including a 24-credit core and 12 elective credits. The core covers major topics such as perspectives in criminology, legal aspects of the criminal justice system, global terrorism, and police in society. Electives focus on specialized topics, such as community-based corrections, the juvenile offender, and community theory in the administration of justice. The curriculum is writing intensive, requiring a minimum of eight major research papers.
All students can complete an internship as part of their elective requirements, gaining supervised experience in a professional criminal justice setting. The internship provides valuable professional experience and builds potential connections for employment opportunities after graduation. Online students typically intern at an approved site near their home.
The flagship institution of the University of Alaska System, UAF serves more than 8,000 students annually. The school offers an online master of arts in justice administration that emphasizes the structure and management of the criminal justice system. All courses occur online, though students must attend a one-week campus residency at the program's conclusion.
This master's degree in criminal justice requires 30 credits, with 24 credits dedicated to core courses and six credits dedicated to electives. The core covers topics such as justice program planning, personnel management, legal aspects of criminal justice management, and community/restorative justice. Elective options include ethics in criminal justice administration, media and public relations, and administration of juvenile justice.
All degree candidates must complete a six-credit culminating experience in the form of a research project or thesis. The research project focuses on the practical side of criminal justice, requiring students to examine an administrative issue or problem in the field and offer potential solutions. The research project typically serves students interested in management careers.
Alternatively, the thesis option is well-suited for students pursuing academic careers and features a heavier focus on research. Candidates must propose a topic and perform research under faculty supervision. Thesis candidates must present and defend their findings orally before faculty members.
A major public college in northern Louisiana, ULM offers a master's in criminal justice with two completion options: a 33-credit thesis track and a 36-credit non-thesis track. Both tracks require an 18-credit core, which explores key topics like theories of crime and delinquency, the juvenile justice system, and minorities and ethnic groups in the criminal justice system. Thesis candidates complete nine credits of electives and a six-credit thesis, while non-thesis candidates complete 12 elective credits and six credits of support courses.
Elective courses examine specialized criminal justice topics, such as police and society, border security, comparative criminal justice, and the sociology of law. Students can also complete courses tailored to their interests through directed study, directed research, and professional practice. Non-thesis candidates must also complete courses in a supplementary field, such as public administration, counseling, or psychology.
Thesis candidates must work with a faculty member and submit a research proposal for approval by a faculty member, the graduate coordinator, and the department head. The thesis requires extensive research into a specialized criminal justice topic, resulting in a 75-125-page research paper. Thesis candidates must defend their work before a faculty committee.
A fully online college that serves working adults, Excelsior enrolls more than 30,000 students annually. The school offers an online master of science in criminal justice that explores concepts in policing, courts, and corrections. Available entirely online with no required campus visits, the program offers courses in a primarily asynchronous format. Applicants can transfer up to 15 graduate credits into the program.
Excelsior's master's in criminal justice requires 30 credits, including an 18-credit core, nine credits of electives, and a three-credit capstone. The core covers topics like criminology, research methods, and constitutional law. To fulfill elective requirements, students can choose a generalist concentration or a homeland security and management concentration. The homeland security concentration offers specialized courses including terrorism/counterterrorism and risk assessment in homeland security.
Excelsior offers a generous credit transfer policy. The school accepts all credits from regionally accredited colleges, provided they correspond to credits offered at Excelsior. Students can also earn credit for relevant professional experiences, such as training, certifications, and work experience. Professionals already employed in the criminal justice field may bypass courses that cover familiar topics.
A public college located in Pensacola, UWF serves more than 12,000 students annually. UWF's master of science in criminal justice provides knowledge and skills in administration, research, and data analysis, preparing students for academic or professional careers. This program offers fully online enrollment as well as a blended option that combines online learning with campus courses on weekends and evenings. Full-time students can complete the program in 1.5 years.
This master's in criminal justice requires 33 credits, including 15 credits of core courses and 18 credits of electives. The program core introduces key topics in criminal justice theory, criminological theory, research methodology, and qualitative and quantitative data analysis. Students select elective courses from several categories, including corrections, law enforcement, law and process, juvenile justice, and homeland security.
All students must complete a criminal justice internship or research paper. The internship builds hands-on experience in a professional criminal justice environment, while the paper requires comprehensive analysis of a criminal justice topic under faculty supervision.
The degree offers optional concentration certificates in education, homeland security, public administration, and social work. Each concentration requires nine credits and allows students to pursue topics aligned with their career goals. For example, students interested in pursuing academic careers might pursue the education certification, while those interested in restorative justice might pursue the social work concentration.
A member of the University of Houston System, UHV serves over 4,000 students online and from its campus in Victoria, Texas. The college offers an online master of arts in interdisciplinary studies that combines concentrations in two or more disciplines. For example, students can pair a concentration in criminal justice with several other fields, including business, communication, education, history, or psychology.
Students pursuing a criminal justice concentration complete a total of 36 credits, including six credits of interdisciplinary studies foundation courses, 15 criminal justice concentration credits, nine secondary concentration credits, and six thesis or elective credits. The interdisciplinary core includes an introduction to interdisciplinary studies course along with supplementary courses in ethics, social philosophy, or research.
The criminal justice curriculum includes four required courses: advanced pattern and typologies of crime, research design and methods, quantitative analysis, and advanced criminology. UHV recommends business or history as a secondary concentration, though students can select any concentration that matches their professional goals. Students can also create their own concentration by choosing courses around a theme or topic.
Degree candidates fulfill their final six credits with a thesis or additional electives. The thesis requires significant interdisciplinary research and a paper that students must defend before a faculty committee.
UM-Dearborn's master's in criminal justice requires 30-32 credits, which are divided among core courses, electives, and a culminating requirement. Students can choose from diverse electives, such as civil rights and liberties, marriage and family problems, and sociology of law.
Students fulfill the culminating requirement by completing a thesis or master's essay. The four-credit thesis requires substantial research into an approved criminal justice topic. Students must defend their findings before faculty in an oral presentation. Thesis candidates must also complete a criminal justice research course as a prerequisite. The three-credit master's essay functions similarly to the thesis, requiring students to complete significant research related to a criminal justice topic. However, it requires no research prerequisite course or oral defense.
Applicants need a minimum 3.0 GPA. They also need to have completed three undergraduate courses or their equivalents: introduction to criminal justice, criminology, and criminal law. Applicants without course prerequisites may be admitted into the program conditionally and complete these credits as part of their graduate education. Applicants currently employed at partner organizations in the public safety field enjoy a 20% tuition discount.
A major public college based in Denver and Aurora, CU Denver launched its distance education program in 1996. The school's fully online master's in criminal justice program emphasizes the intersection of law enforcement, correctional systems, the judiciary, juvenile justice, and law. Degree candidates can select from four optional concentrations: crime analyst, emergency management and homeland security, gender-based violence, and nonprofit organizations.
The program requires 36 credits, including a 15-credit core sequence that introduces major topics in justice systems and policies, criminological theory, law and society, research methods, and statistics for criminal justice. Students also complete 18 credits of electives, and they have the opportunity to pursue specialized topics and/or a concentration. For example, the homeland security/emergency management concentration includes courses like public service in emergency management and public policies for hazards and disasters.
Students complete the program with a thesis or capstone project. The research-based thesis requires 3-6 credits and entails significant research into a criminal justice topic. The capstone requires three credits and also entails significant research on a practical, client-based issue. Generally, the thesis serves students interested in research and academia, while the capstone serves those interested in administration.
A public college in Joplin, MSSU enrolls almost 6,000 students annually. The school offers a master of science in criminal justice in conjunction with Southeast Missouri State University, enabling students to take online courses through both institutions. Exploring topics in law enforcement, corrections, courts, and crime prevention, the program emphasizes the economic, sociological, and psychological roots of crime. The program typically takes two years of full-time study to complete.
This master's in criminal justice comprises 36 credits, including 18 core credits, 12 elective credits, and six culminating experience credits. The core includes six courses that cover key topics in the field, such as civil law and liability, criminal justice theory, and ethics in criminal justice. Electives explore a variety of specialized topics, such as contemporary juvenile justice, adult correctional organization, and the death penalty in America.
Degree candidates choose from four options to fulfill culminating requirements. A 240-hour internship builds professional experience in a criminal justice setting and includes a written paper, while a capstone option includes analyzing current issues in criminal justice and completing a policy review. Students can also complete six credits of additional coursework and take a comprehensive final examination or choose the thesis option and research a topic and defend their work before a faculty committee.
One of New Mexico's flagship public colleges, NMSU serves over 14,000 students from its main campus in Las Cruses. It also educates approximately 10,000 students through satellite campuses and online programs. The school's online master's in criminal justice offers two pathways for completion: a thesis track and a focused coursework track. Courses use a primarily asynchronous format, though online students may need to log on at designated times for some live class sessions. The program only admits new students in the fall.
This master's in criminal justice requires 33-36 credits, depending on whether students pursue the thesis or non-thesis option. All students complete 15 credits of required courses, such as nature of crime, law and social control, and a seminar in criminal justice policy planning and analysis. Thesis candidates complete 12 credits of electives and a six-credit thesis, while non-thesis candidates complete 19 credits of electives. Thesis candidates must defend their research before a faculty committee, while non-thesis candidates must pass a comprehensive written exam.
Non-thesis candidates may complete up to six credits of internships and six credits of directed readings courses. Building hands-on experience under professional supervision, internships typically occur in environments such as law enforcement agencies, corrections facilities, or judicial organizations. Most interns complete their hours at a location near their home. Thesis candidates may complete a three-credit directed readings course as part of their elective credits, though they cannot complete an internship for credit.
Based in Huntington, West Virginia, MU serves more than 13,000 students annually. The school offers a fully online master of science in criminal justice for working professionals and aspiring academics. The program uses a mix of synchronous and asynchronous material, with some live class sessions required.
The master's in criminal justice requires 30 credits, including 18 credits of required coursework and 12 credits of electives. The core explores criminal justice theories, research methods, law and procedure, and applied statistics. Students can choose from electives like applied ethics in criminal justice, computer crime, criminal justice response to domestic violence, digital forensics and information assurance, and miscarriages of justice.
All degree candidates must complete a capstone or thesis, each worth three credits. The capstone requires students to complete a research project related to a criminal justice issue, while the thesis requires more substantial academic research into a criminal justice topic. The capstone generally serves students interested in a professional path, while the thesis serves those interested in an academic path.
MU admits new students in the fall and spring semesters. Applicants need an undergraduate degree from a regionally accredited college, with preference given to majors in criminal justice and related social science fields. Students with other undergraduate majors may need to take additional prerequisite courses if admitted.
Serving more than 100,000 students, ASU is one of the country's largest colleges by enrollment. U.S News & World Report ranks ASU as one of the nation's most innovative schools and one of the top criminal justice schools. The online master of arts in criminal justice at ASU covers research methods, program planning, administration and management, program evaluation, and policy analysis.
Students earning their master's in criminal justice online benefit from a fully online format without on-campus requirements. Courses feature synchronous and asynchronous components, combining independent coursework with live sessions that feature discussions and other collaborative learning activities. ASU offers multiple start dates throughout the year and part-time and full-time enrollment options. Full-time candidates can earn their degree in 18 months.
The program comprises 33 credits, including 12 credits of core courses, 18 elective credits, and a three-credit capstone. The core covers criminology, planning and program evaluation, and applied data analysis. Students can choose from electives such as women and crime, community corrections, homeland security, and white collar crime. Students end the program with a capstone course that examines the relationship between academic theory and professional practice.
A member of the Louisiana State University System, McNeese serves more than 7,000 students from its campus in Lake Charles. The school's master of science in criminal justice focuses on court and corrections administration, criminological theory, and ethics, preparing graduates for leadership positions in criminal justice agencies or further academic study. The program features a fully online format and concentrated seven-week courses.
The curriculum requires 36 credits, including 15 credits of core courses and 21 elective credits. The core includes five courses that cover topics in police justice administration, court justice administration, correctional justice administration, research methods, and criminological theory. Students can choose from diverse electives, such as policy analysis, leadership theory, ethics, and contemporary issues and trends in terrorism.
Degree candidates enjoy additional options to fulfill elective credits, including independent research courses and coursework in related disciplines. Research courses enable students to explore specialized areas of interest in criminal justice, performing independent work under faculty supervision. Students can also complete up to nine elective credits in a field related to criminal justice, such as psychology, criminology, or sociology. Transfer students can apply up to nine graduate credits toward elective requirements.
A major public college in Beaumont, Texas, LU enrolls more than 14,000 students each year. The online master of science in criminal justice at LU focuses on the criminal justice system, criminal justice policy, and the theoretical foundations of crime control. Graduates commonly pursue careers in law enforcement, working for the FBI, CIA, or other security agencies.
Degree candidates must complete 30 credits, including 15 credits of required courses and 15 credits of electives. Required courses cover topics such as foundations of crime control, quantitative methods, planning and evaluation, and criminal justice leadership. Electives focus on specialized criminal justice topics, such as constitutional law, serial murder, race and crime, comparative juvenile justice, and legal aspects of criminal justice management.
The program features a fully online format and primarily asynchronous coursework. It also offers several start dates throughout the year and a rapid applicant process, often enabling students to begin coursework within a few weeks of applying. Applicants with a GPA of 3.0 or higher benefit from unconditional acceptance. Full-time students can complete the program in one year.
The Advantages of an Criminal Justice Education
Criminal justice programs prepare students for careers as police officers, criminal investigators, corrections officers, and federal law enforcement agents. Criminal justice professionals with higher levels of education typically take home higher wages. Criminal justice professionals with an associate degree earn about $47,000 per year, according to PayScale, while those with a master's degree earn an average of $54,000 annually.
Pursuing an advanced degree in criminal justice often leads to additional career opportunities. Many criminal justice positions require education beyond an associate degree. For example, the Federal Bureau of Investigations requires special agents to hold at least a bachelor's degree.
Candidates with a criminal justice master's degree can also qualify for management roles, including positions in police departments and federal law enforcement agencies. These jobs typically offer significantly higher salaries than entry-level criminal justice positions.
Average Salary by Degree Level
|Degree Level||Average Salary|
|Associate Degree in Criminal Justice||$47,000|
|Bachelor's Degree in Criminal Justice||$54,000|
Source: PayScaleReturn to the top
Criminal Justice Degree Salary Information
An online master's degree in criminal justice qualifies graduates for a variety of career paths in areas related to law enforcement, emergency management, and corrections. With a master's degree, individuals can advance into leadership roles, such as detectives or criminal investigators in federal law enforcement agencies. The following careers offer advancement opportunities for professionals with a graduate degree in criminal justice.
- Detectives gather evidence and investigate possible crimes. They work in local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies, interviewing witnesses and suspects to solve cases. Detectives also write reports on suspected crimes, prepare cases with prosecutors, and testify in court. Many detectives specialize in a particular type of crime, such as homicide, white-collar crime, or vice.
- Emergency Management Director
- Emergency management directors create plans to respond to natural disasters and other emergencies. They lead responses after emergencies to minimize the risk of hazards to people and property. Emergency management directors also create emergency training programs to promote preparedness. Law enforcement experience and a master's in criminal justice meet the qualifications for this position.
- Correctional Officer
- Correctional officers oversee individuals in detention who are awaiting trial or have received a jail or prison sentence. These officers supervise inmates, enforce rules and regulations, and write reports on inmate behavior. Correctional officers may also transport inmates to court.
- Correctional Treatment Specialist
- Correctional treatment specialists create rehabilitation plans for probationers and parolees, advising them on court-ordered probation and parole rules. These specialists write case reports, set up counseling for clients, and keep written accounts of clients' progress. Related positions include probation officer, parole officer, and pretrial services officer.
- Criminal Investigator
- Criminal investigators solve crimes by conducting interviews, examining records, observing suspects, and arresting suspected criminals. They investigate violations of local, state, and federal law, which involves studying crime scenes to identify suspects and build a case. Investigators at the federal level can work for the FBI as special agents.
Salary by Experience Level for Criminal Justice Careers
|Correctional Treatment Specialist||N/A||$40,000||N/A||$52,000|
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Choosing an Online Criminal Justice Degree Program
Prospective criminal justice master's students may feel overwhelmed by the number of options. As more schools offer criminal justice master's degrees online, learners must spend more time choosing the right program that matches their interests and career goals. Factors to consider include program cost, on-campus requirements, and program duration.
In-state public institutions generally offer the lowest tuition rates, while private schools typically cost the most. However, some schools charge all online students the same rates, regardless of residency, which can reduce the cost of attending a public institution in another state.
- Program Cost: The cost of earning a master's in criminal justice online varies depending on the program. In addition to tuition expenses, students should consider costs such as technology/online fees. Calculating the total cost of the degree, rather than only considering tuition, can help students find the least expensive program.
- Transfer Policies: Some criminal justice programs accept transfer graduate credits. A generous transfer policy can save graduate students time and money. Students can contact program advisors to learn about a program's transfer policies.
- School Size and Type: Prospective students may prefer a program with smaller class sizes and a lower student-to-faculty ratio. However, larger schools often provide opportunities to work with more faculty members and graduate with a larger cohort. In addition to school size, prospective students should consider whether they prefer public or private institutions.
- Program Length: Criminal justice master's programs typically require two years to complete. However, program length varies depending on a student's enrollment status and program requirements. Prospective students should consider the total degree completion time, including time necessary to complete practicum or thesis requirements. Learners should also look for programs with enrollment options that meet their scheduling requirements, such as part-time or accelerated options.
- On-campus Requirements: Some online criminal justice master's programs include on-campus requirements, which may involve an on-campus orientation or weekend residency periods. Local students may prefer a program with on-campus requirements, which provide opportunities to meet faculty members and fellow students. Learners considering out-of-state institutions may prefer programs with no on-campus requirements.
Accreditation for Online Criminal Justice Degrees
Prospective criminal justice master's students should check the accreditation status of a program before applying. Many professional certifications are only available to candidates with a degree from an accredited institution, and some employers only hire candidates with an accredited degree. For example, FBI special agents must hold a degree from an accredited U.S. college or university.
To earn accreditation, colleges and universities voluntarily submit to an independent review by a nonprofit accrediting agency. During this review, accrediting agencies evaluate variables like an institution's student learning outcomes, degree requirements, and faculty qualifications. Regional accrediting agencies typically evaluate liberal arts and research institutions, including most institutions that offer graduate degrees in criminal justice. Alternatively, national accrediting agencies generally evaluate vocational and technical programs.
The Department of Education (ED) and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) oversee accrediting agencies, maintaining standards for accreditation reviews. Students can review lists of accredited institutions on the websites of the ED and CHEA.
Criminal Justice Concentrations
Criminal justice graduate students can pursue a concentration to specialize their skills and prepare for specific careers. In addition to concentrations in law enforcement and corrections, many criminal justice programs offer specializations in criminal justice administration, homeland security, and criminology. A concentration also prepares master's students for further study.
- Criminal Justice Administration:
A concentration in criminal justice administration prepares students for leadership roles in the field, including at the managerial or director level. Learners strengthen their leadership skills by completing coursework related to overseeing criminal justice systems, with optional focuses in law enforcement and corrections.
- Careers this concentration prepares for: Court administrator, corrections administrator, federal law enforcement administrator
Students specializing in criminology explore crime and criminal behavior. Learners examine theories of crime, causes of criminal behavior, and crime prevention. Coursework may also cover forensic psychology, criminology theory, and investigative methods. This concentration prepares students for positions in law enforcement, including detective and investigator roles.
- Careers this concentration prepares for: Police officer, sheriff, detective, private investigator, FBI agent
- Forensic Science:
A forensic science concentration prepares criminal justice students for leadership roles in crime scene investigation and evidence collection. Coursework covers forensic laboratory methods, analysis of forensic data, and how to build cases based on forensic evidence. While this concentration can lead to positions as forensic science technicians, it also helps law enforcement officers strengthen their forensic skills.
- Careers this concentration prepares for: Crime scene investigator, forensic science technician, criminal investigator
A growing number of criminal justice programs offer concentrations in cybersecurity, which emphasizes computer investigative skills. Students in this concentration explore cybercrime, including homeland security threats like cyberintrusions. Students also learn how to investigate data and security breaches.
- Careers this concentration prepares for: Cybercrime investigator, fraud investigator, e-crime specialist
- Homeland Security:
A homeland security concentration focuses on national security threats. Graduate students learn to address threats such as natural disasters and terrorism. This concentration prepares graduates for careers in federal law enforcement, including disaster response manager positions.T
- Careers this concentration prepares for: Emergency response manager, security specialist, disaster response manager
How Long Does It Take to Get a Degree in Criminal Justice?
Full-time students typically earn their online master's degree in criminal justice in two years. Most criminal justice programs require 30-40 credits of coursework, which may include a practicum or a master's thesis.
Several program characteristics affect the length of a criminal justice master's degree track, including enrollment options. Some programs offer a part-time enrollment option, which can increase completion time to three or more years. Other programs provide accelerated enrollment options, which often include compact courses and reduced program duration. Additionally, incoming graduate students with applicable transfer credits can often graduate more quickly.
Some criminal justice programs incorporate optional or required practica, which can extend a student's graduation timeline. However, a practicum also provides valuable professional experience, which can help graduates transition into the workforce more easily. Online programs often appeal to working criminal justice professionals seeking career advancement, and many online programs include curricula designed for working professionals.
Courses in an Online Master's in Criminal Justice Program
- Advanced Criminal Justice
Many master's programs in criminal justice include a course covering advanced topics in the field, such as criminological theory, research-based criminal justice, and current issues in criminal justice. Graduate students examine interactions between branches of the criminal justice system, theories on community policing, and rehabilitative justice.
- Criminal Justice Theory
This course explores theoretical explanations for crime, including sociological, psychological, and biological theories. Graduate students read work by prominent theorists, along with critiques of the major schools of thought in criminology. The course examines how these theories shape criminal justice practice.
- Investigative Criminology
Graduate students learn advanced skills to investigate crimes. Coursework explores methods of profiling violent crimes, the ethics of criminal profiling, and scholarly research on investigating crimes. This course trains students to evaluate different types of crimes and criminals. Learners examine critiques of profiling methods and the use of profiles in today's criminal justice system.
- Advanced Crime Scene Investigation
This class provides advanced training related to processing and investigating crime scenes. Graduate students learn methodologies for analyzing crime scenes, methods for developing leads from physical evidence, and techniques for profiling offenders based on crime scenes. The course prepares students for leadership roles as investigators, detectives, and crime scene technicians.
Learners in this class study the harm caused by criminal activities, along with the victim's role in the criminal justice system. Students explore methods of measuring crime through victimization, the victim-offender relationship, and the victim rights movement. The course may focus on crime prevention and ways to involve the victim in the criminal justice process.
Paying for Your Online Master's in Criminal Justice Degree Program
Funding your education might prove easier than you think. Many schools offer scholarships for students with excellent academics and private organizations offer scholarships to students who meet specific requirements. Work studies, loans, and grants can also help you finance your degree. Completing the FAFSA allows you to quickly apply for these types of financial aid in one place. The FAFSA application typically takes about one hour to complete.
Scholarships for Accounting Students
Captain James J. Regan Memorial Scholarship
Who Can Apply: Students who wish to study criminal justice or law enforcement may apply for this scholarship. Applicants must write at least 250 words about how technology will affect law enforcement in the 21st century and submit three recommendation letters, two of which must be from outside of law enforcement. The recipient must demonstrate strong leadership skills.
Lincoln Legal Professionals Association Scholarship
Who Can Apply: Nebraska residents who intend to study a major in the legal support field may apply with an application, resume, and transcripts. They must also submit a one-page essay about why they want to pursue a degree in the legal support field. The recipient needs at least a 3.0 GPA.
Ritchie-Jennings Memorial Scholarship
Who Can Apply: The Association of Certified Fraud Examiners offers this scholarship to students who plan to study fraud examination. Applicants need a declared major or minor in accounting, business administration, finance, or criminal justice. This scholarship requires two recommendation letters in addition to the application.
Out to Protect Scholarship Fund
Who Can Apply: Students who identify as gay, lesbian, bi-sexual, or transgender and who are currently enrolled in a basic law enforcement training program in America may apply for this scholarship. Applicants must demonstrate being a positive role model for other law enforcement professionals. Applicants can apply by completing an application. Finalists must submit references.
Kush Arora Federal Justice Reform Scholarship
Who Can Apply: Individuals who demonstrate an interest in criminal justice reform may apply for this scholarship. The recipient must attend an accredited institution in the United States and maintain at least a 3.0 cumulative GPA. Applicants must submit their resume and transcripts and write a 1,000-word essay about a policy in the criminal justice system that needs reform or one that should stay the same.
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