The Best Online Master’s in Law Enforcement Programs
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Aspiring law enforcement professionals enter the field in various ways, but a master's in law enforcement positions them to obtain the best jobs.
Earning a master's in law enforcement can help graduates acquire senior-level protective services positions and police administration roles. The degree builds off the bachelor's in law enforcement, and it opens the door to the field's most financially rewarding professions.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), federal government officers earned median annual salaries of $92,080 in 2020, nearly $25,000 higher than the median annual wage for all officers. The BLS also projects 7% job growth between 2020 and 2030, with the best opportunities going to candidates with more advanced education.
As COVID-19 reshapes how police work on the front line, it has also accelerated the use of technology and innovative ways of policing and protecting communities. With these changes, a graduate degree can lead to a more stable and adaptable career. This page explores the best online master's degrees in law enforcement offered at some of the best online colleges.
The Best Online Master's in Law Enforcement Programs
Based in Washington D.C., Georgetown University is an authority in the law enforcement and intelligence fields. Washington D.C. is perhaps the capital city of law enforcement, given the numerous security agencies and wide range of law enforcement administration job opportunities the city offers. As such, Georgetown’s master of professional studies in applied intelligence program — which includes a concentration in law enforcement intelligence — combines excellent professors with a great location to offer one of the nation’s strongest online law enforcement degrees.
Students in the program must complete a 33–credit curriculum, which includes coursework in law enforcement operations intelligence, counterterrorism, issues in criminal justice, and organized crime. Students can choose to earn their credits online, in–person, or through a hybrid format and may pursue either full or part–time study. As the program is designed for working professionals, Georgetown’s program takes longer than many comparable offerings; most full–time students earn their law enforcement master’s degree from Georgetown in two years, while part–time students take up to five years to complete their degree. While there are no in–person requirements for the program, each student must complete a capstone project in either public or private sector intelligence.
All students pay the exact same tuition in Georgetown’s program. As the school’s program aims to leverage its unique location in Washington D.C., many of the program’s students go on to work in government intelligence agencies as intelligence analysts or specialists after graduation.
The University of Cincinnati’s master of science in criminal justice program — which refers to itself as “the CJ program” and includes an optional concentration in law enforcement/crime prevention — boasts an impressive history. Unlike comparable online master’s in law enforcement management offerings, UC’s program is quite established; the online CJ program has existed since 1993, and has graduated over 2,000 students. In addition, the program’s faculty is the most prolific group in the United States in terms of criminal justice–related publications, according to the Journal of Criminal Justice.
The program itself consists of a total of 11 courses, or 33 semester hours. Most students commit to part–time study, earning their degree over the course of six 15–week semesters, or two years. However, full–time students can complete the program in a single year. In addition to a broad foundation in the criminal justice field, students who pursue the law enforcement concentration complete theory and practice courses in crime prevention, law enforcement, effective policing, and law and social control.
Students do not need to have a background in criminal justice or submit GRE scores to apply. However, UC prefers applicants who have earned a minimum undergraduate GPA of 3.0. Applicants who earned a minimum GPA of 2.75 can gain admission if they have five years of criminal justice experience, at least nine hours of graduate classes with a GPA of at least 3.0, or a score of at least 300 on the GRE. Transfer students may apply up to nine approved credits toward their degree. Although out–of–state online students are not able to pay the same tuition rate as Ohio residents, their rate is only $15 per–credit higher than in–state tuition.
Saint Leo University — a Roman Catholic–affiliated school based in the eponymous city of St. Leo, Florida — offers perhaps the nation’s widest variety of master’s in law enforcement administration online degrees. The school’s master of science in criminal justice program offers six optional concentrations: corrections, critical incident management, behavioral studies, criminal investigation, forensic science, and legal studies. As Saint Leo focuses primarily on liberal arts, this wide variety of concentrations reflects the school’s goals.
Though each of Saint Leo’s criminal justice programs is different, they all share certain characteristics in common. Each program requires students to complete a total of 36 credits, which include 9–12 credits of concentration courses. Though the programs do not require any in–person elements, students in each program must complete an applied project in the field as a capstone experience. Saint Leo offers its online programs asynchronously, to cater to working professionals in the criminal justice field who often work unconventional hours. For this reason, the amount of time it takes to complete these programs varies a fair amount.
Saint Leo requires that applicants to the program submit proof of an undergraduate GPA of at least 3.0. Students who earned less than a 3.0 must submit a personal statement detailing why they believe they can maintain a GPA of 3.0 in an academically rigorous graduate program. Transfer students may apply up to six credits toward their online law enforcement degree at Saint Leo, provided they earned a grade of “B” or better.
Based out of East Lansing, Michigan State University is one of the Great Lake State’s two flagship universities. The school’s online department offers two distinct law enforcement master’s degrees: a master of science program in criminal justice and a master of science program in law enforcement intelligence and analysis. Both programs are offered entirely online, without any in–person requirements.
The criminal justice program has been offered online since 1998. Students in the 30–credit program may choose between security management and judicial administration concentrations. Students are not required to write a master’s thesis — although they do have the option — but they must complete a policy analysis course as capstone experience. Transfer students may apply up to nine credits toward their degree, provided that they earned a grade of “B” or higher. The program is offered primarily asynchronously. Applicants must submit GRE scores if they earned an undergraduate GPA of lower than 3.2, which is the preferred threshold for acceptance.
The law enforcement intelligence and analysis program is also offered also asynchronously and has the same requirements in terms of GPA and GRE scores. The program also requires students to complete 30 credits and includes a policy analysis course as a capstone. Coursework differs, however, as students complete studies in terrorism, counterterrorism, and the globalization of crime.
Non–resident online students can pay the same per–credit tuition rate as Michigan residents in both programs.
A Jesuit–affiliated university based in suburban Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Saint Joseph University has grown rapidly since the turn of the millenium. This growth includes a new physical campus, new buildings, new programs, and some unexpectedly competitive basketball teams, given SJU’s small size. SJU’s distance learning department has also expanded, and it now offers an excellent master of science program in criminal justice, which includes a concentration in federal law enforcement.
SJU’s online law enforcement degree highlights a specific focus on federal law enforcement, relative proximity to Washington D.C., and connections with agencies like the CIA, DHS (Department of Homeland Security), and FBI as unique program elements. The 30–credit curriculum includes a total of 10 courses: four core courses, two specialized courses, two federal law enforcement (concentration) courses, and two electives. Federal law enforcement coursework includes studies in federal criminal justice, terrorism, homeland security, and federal criminal law/prosecution. The curriculum does not include a capstone requirement, and students can complete their degree from home, as coursework never requires students to visit the City of Brotherly Love. The program offers its courses asynchronously.
A typical post–graduate job for top graduates of the program is FBI profiler. Most students complete their degree in about 18 months, and each student in the program pays the same per–credit tuition regardless of location. SJU does not list minimum GPA or standardized test requirements in its admissions requirements, but all applicants must submit transcripts and two letters of recommendation.
University of San Diego ranks among The nine Best Online Master’s in Law Enforcement Programs!
A private, Roman Catholic–affiliated university based in the eponymous Southern California city, the University of San Diego operates a focused distance learning department, offering a total of four online programs. Fortunately, for students seeking a law enforcement master’s degree, one of these programs is USD’s master of science degree in law enforcement and public safety leadership. Designed primarily for professionals already working in the law enforcement field — FBI workers, TSA employees, marshals, and campus safety officers, for example — the program aims to help working students gain the skills necessary for leadership positions.
The program’s 11–course, 31–unit curriculum requires five semesters — or about 20 months — to complete, and students can earn their degree without ever having to travel to San Diego. The curriculum includes studies in organizational leadership, community assessment, and conflict resolution. In addition, all students must complete an integrative capstone course, during which students create a professional portfolio of projects, papers, and presentations, which ultimately becomes a tool for students’ post–graduate employment search. USD’s online programs are offered almost exclusively asynchronously.
In order to gain admission to USD’s law enforcement and public safety leadership program, applicants should have earned an undergraduate GPA of at least 2.75. Students who don’t meet this requirement must also submit GRE or MAT scores. USD also prefers applicants who have some professional experience in law enforcement. Transfer students may apply up to six approved credits toward their degree.
Though all students in the program pay the same per–credit tuition rate — regardless of whether they are citizens of the Golden State — individuals who are members of law enforcement or public safety unions or professional organizations receive discounted tuition.
Colorado State University Global ranks among The nine Best Online Master’s in Law Enforcement Programs!
Colorado State University Global is one of the Centennial State’s flagship universities. The Master’s in Law Enforcement requires a total of 36 credits and allows the student to specialize their criminal justice focus, as students may choose between one of 14 four–course (12–credit) specializations. These specializations include finance, project management, healthcare administration, and human resource performance.
The curriculum’s remaining 24 credits come from an eight–course core, which is relatively standard for an online law enforcement degree. Coursework includes studies in criminological theory, restorative justice, analytical methods, and applied research. The program also includes both a capstone experience and an internship, offering a unique focus on field experience. Aiming for flexibility, CSU Global delivers all its coursework asynchronously, eschewing set class times. All students in CSU Global’s online programs benefit from tech support, access to the school’s virtual library, and SMARTHINKING tutoring services.
Applicants to CSU Global’s criminal justice and law enforcement program must have earned a minimum undergraduate GPA of 3.0. Students who do not meet that GPA requirement may apply for provisional admission. Out of state students can pay the same tuition rate as Colorado residents in all CSU Global’s online programs.
Colorado State University Global is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC).
University of New Haven ranks among The nine Best Online Master’s in Law Enforcement Programs!
Primarily recognized for its engineering programs, the University of New Haven — based out of West Haven, Connecticut — also offers a couple of online law enforcement degree options. Those options include a master of science degree in criminal justice as well as a master of science degree in investigations, which includes optional concentrations in criminal investigations, financial crimes investigations, and digital forensics investigations.
The two programs share certain commonalities. Both programs do not have any in–person requirements, as online students at New Haven never need to visit campus. Out of state students can pay the same tuition rate as Connecticut residents in both programs. In addition, active Connecticut police officers and firefighters receive a tuition discount in both programs. Neither program lists minimum GPA or standardized test requirements for admission, although applicants to both programs must submit letters of recommendation.
However, that is where the similarities between the two programs end. While the investigations curriculum consists of 30 credits (10 courses) and requires a year of full–time study to complete, the criminal justice curriculum consists of 36 credits and generally requires two years to complete. Coursework in the two programs also differs greatly, as students in the criminal justice program learn about policing, victimology, and policy, while investigations students study contemporary fraud schemes, civil litigation, the Dark Web, and money laundering. In addition, students in the investigations program can earn professional certificates in their chosen concentration of criminal investigations, financial crimes investigations, or digital forensics investigations, while the criminal justice program does not offer professional certifications.
Tiffin University ranks among The nine Best Online Master’s in Law Enforcement Programs!
Serving cities throughout Ohio — including Tiffin, Cleveland, Toledo, and Fremont — Tiffin University offers a wide variety of online law enforcement degrees. The school’s master of science in criminal justice program includes optional law enforcement–related concentrations in crime analysis, homeland security, homeland security administration, criminal behavior, and justice administration. The program’s top priority is flexibility, offering six start dates throughout the year and providing its coursework asynchronously.
Though each concentration requires different coursework, they share certain elements in common. The crime analysis, homeland security, homeland security administration, criminal behavior, and justice administration concentrations generally take full–time students around one year to complete, as most students in the programs are working professionals with obligations beyond their schoolwork. Students in the homeland security and justice administration concentrations can earn transfer credit (three credits in homeland security, nine in justice administration) for completing certain professional certifications.There are no in–person requirements for any of the concentrations. Sample courses in the curricula include:
- Crime analysis — Geographic Information Systems (GIS) Applications in Criminal Justice
- Justice Administration — Budget and Finance for Criminal Justice Administrators
- Homeland Security — Cyber and Technology in Homeland Security
- Homeland Security Administration — The Intelligence Community
- Criminal Behavior — Criminogenic Psychopathology
All applicants to the criminal justice program must have earned an undergraduate GPA of at least 3.0 to be considered for admission. Whether they live in Ohio, all students in Tiffin’s graduate criminal justice program can pay the same per–credit tuition rate.
Online Master's in Law Enforcement Programs Ranking Guidelines
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Featured Online Master's in Law Enforcement Programs
What Is an Online Master's in Law Enforcement?
An online master's in law enforcement delves into advanced concepts in intelligence, administration, and management. This program usually appeals to learners wishing to pursue senior positions and specializations within the protective services. Training covers ethics, criminal behavior, and applied intelligence.
Though some programs provide general law enforcement training or offer specializations, many master's degrees emphasize police administration. Regardless of the focus, the programs usually feature 30-45 credits and take 1-2 years to complete.
Among the many abilities gained from a graduate degree, students may pick up advanced research, leadership, conflict resolution, and community relations skills. They may also acquire technological skills in data analytics and cybersecurity or management skills like resource planning.
Choosing an Online Master's in Law Enforcement Program
Prospective students should consider multiple factors when choosing an online master's in law enforcement. They should evaluate program cost, length, and the curriculum, ensuring it offers the appropriate balance of classroom study and field experience. Applicants who wish to specialize should make sure their program offers the necessary pathway or track available.
Online learners can expand the location of their search, especially if the programs offer in-state tuition rates for out-of-state students. They should also look at online programs' delivery methods and see if classes run asynchronously or synchronously or if any on-campus requirements exist.
What Is the Difference Between a Master of Science in Law Enforcement and a Master of Legal Studies Degree?
A master of science (MS) in law enforcement and a master of legal studies (MLS) can overlap in training and available careers. Both programs typically run for two years and offer classes in criminal law, policy, professional ethics, and human rights, but the degrees differ in several ways.
Most MS in law enforcement programs focus on issues specific to policing, such as investigation and public safety. MLS degrees offer a broader perspective, looking at different laws and regulations. Many schools offer both types of programs because of how much they diverge.
Professionally, legal studies graduates tend to move into law and human resources careers, while law enforcement graduates pursue protective services positions.
Accreditation for Online Master's in Law Enforcement Degrees
No matter what prospective students want, they should ensure their chosen school and program has received appropriate accreditation. Regional accreditation guarantees students can access federal financial aid from their school. Programmatic accreditation, when applicable, may help with employment and licensure.
While a master's in law enforcement does not require programmatic accreditation, the American Bar Association accredits law schools, which may offer legal studies programs. Prospective students may also want to look out for program recognition from the Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences, which certifies some criminal justice master's programs.
What Can I Expect in Pursuing a Master's in Law Enforcement Online?
The courses offered in a master's in law enforcement differ depending on program and school, but certain courses tend to appear more than others. Graduate-level courses offer a more expansive look at the American legal system. They also study law enforcement leadership and administrative duties. The following represent common courses students may encounter.
Common Courses in Law Enforcement Online Programs
- Introduction to U.S. Law: This course covers the structure and functions of the American legal system, including the various institutions and how they work together. Students may learn the history and development of the U.S. law system and its major processes and distinctive features. Within law enforcement programs, these courses may focus more on the role of protective services and how they fit.
- Community Engagement: This course examines how law enforcement professionals work and engage with the community. The training may observe how community perspectives of the police have shifted over time and how transparency has taken a front seat in many law enforcement interactions with the public.
- Organizational Leadership and Management: These courses examine the skills and requirements for leaders in law enforcement, including decision-making, communication, and personnel management strategies. The training covers organizational challenges and conflicts and also teaches learners the principles of effective leadership.
- Property Law: This course teaches students fundamentals of property laws and how they are enforced by professionals within the legal system. Topics covered may include private property, ownership, and privacy, along with the protections that property owners have under the law.
- Constitutional Law: This course examines the types of governments and structures within the country and the roles they play. It also looks at laws within different jurisdictions and governing bodies and how their positioning impacts law enforcement professionals and the legal system.
Law Enforcement Concentrations
Cybersecurity concentrations teach students how to prevent, identify, and counteract malicious activity online. They look at the common types of attacks, motivations, and strategies to combat and thwart attempts. Within law enforcement programs, these courses may focus on the criminal and investigative aspects of the field.
These concentrations teach learners how law enforcement leaders manage projects. Students look at strategies for planning and building a campaign, along with methods for communicating with senior management. The topics may cover management of resources, team leadership, and community engagement.
This concentration teaches students about the roles and responsibilities of correctional facilities and correctional officers. The training may look at prisoner rights, offender treatment strategies, and managerial and administrative functions. Courses may also cover the effectiveness and perception of correctional facilities and the development of alternative punishments.
Leadership concentrations equip students with the skills and knowledge to take on management positions, covering such topics as project management and communication. The programs may focus on police administration and leadership roles and responsibilities within protective services. Some courses delve into more advanced law, criminal psychology, and investigative techniques.
Law Enforcement Careers
A master's in law enforcement qualifies graduates for many careers, including police administration and front-line positions. Equipped with a comprehensive understanding of the field and advanced investigative and management training, these graduates can take on diverse leadership roles.
The following information includes popular pathways for master's in law enforcement degree-holders. While graduates can usually acquire the professions listed below without further training, some employers may require a specific level of experience or additional credentials.
Police and Detectives
Police and detectives provide support and protection to communities, including the people and property within them. They enforce the law during their patrols, investigate crimes and criminals, and respond to calls for help from the public. This job requires perceptiveness, communication skills, and physical abilities.
Police and detectives typically need to complete a training academy program and on-the-job training. They also need at least a high school diploma or its equivalent, though some employers and positions require more advanced training. Federal law enforcement officers usually need to complete a specialized training program.
Police administrators oversee administrative and managerial tasks within a law enforcement office, such as budgeting, staffing, and project management. They often handle communications with community organizations and other first-responder units. These professionals need strong communication and leadership skills, along with organizational and analytical abilities.
To qualify for these roles, candidates may need a combination of experience and a bachelor's or master's degree. Most administrators and managers, such as police chiefs, have multiple years of field experience. They may also need experience or knowledge of disparate legal jurisdictions and law enforcement agencies.
Emergency Management Directors
Emergency management directors oversee the planning for large-scale emergency responses. They work with organizations to create a unified and ordered process in the event of a disaster or hazard. They carry out information campaigns, training, and funding and resource preparation.
Candidates typically need a bachelor's degree at minimum, though each jurisdiction features its own requirements. Years of experience in law enforcement or the military are also generally required. Some states make certification mandatory for these professionals, but emergency management directors can pursue optional certification in most states.
Supervisors of Correctional Officers
Correctional officer supervisors manage a team of corrections professionals, overseeing their conduct, ensuring they follow the policies and legal guidelines, and addressing staff concerns and conflicts. They may also take care of administrative duties of the facility, such as training, report writing, and performance reviews.
Corrections supervisors typically need professional experience, academy training, and a four-year degree. Federal facilities often require a bachelor's degree for officers and an advanced degree for management positions. Supervisors may also pursue a management certification through the American Correctional Association or the American Jail Association.
Information Security Analysts
Information security analysts may oversee the protection of a computer system or help law enforcement organizations investigate cybercrime. They may work to prevent, detect, and resist attacks, or they may help investigators identify the perpetrators and anticipate future attacks. These professionals usually need excellent technological and analytical skills, along with an understanding of cyberlaw.
Most cybersecurity professionals need a bachelor's degree at minimum. They may also need law enforcement experience, depending on the position and employer. Candidates can pursue certifications in cybersecurity and information analysis, some of which employers may make mandatory.
Law Enforcement Professional Organizations
Professional organizations benefit law enforcement students and graduates. These associations may offer master's in law enforcement students access to mentorship programs, industry data and publications, and career opportunities.
Frequently Asked Questions about Master's in Law Enforcement
How Long Does It Take to Get a Master's Degree in Law Enforcement?
The typical master's in law enforcement takes 1-2 years to complete. Including the four years for a bachelor's degree, students will spend 5-6 years in school.
Is a Master's Degree Worth It in Law Enforcement?
Yes. A master's in law enforcement can grant a graduate access to desirable police administration, management, and federal government positions.
How Do I Start a Career in Law Enforcement?
Law enforcement professionals need a minimum of a high school degree and a completed training academy program to qualify for employment, according to the BLS. Many organizations, including several federal agencies, require a bachelor's degree.
Doug Wintemute is a Toronto-based freelance writer with professional writing interests in higher learning and entertainment. He completed his BA and MA in English at York University, graduating summa cum laude and earning academic merit, research, and writing awards at both levels. Since 2014, he has contributed content and editorial work for award-winning digital trade publications, global SEO copywriting projects, and hugely popular online brands. He can be contacted through LinkedIn.
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