Criminal justice is a complex field that involves several key public and governmental branches, including law enforcement, security, corrections and the justice system. The benefits of pursuing higher education in criminal justice include earning a higher salary and developing specialized knowledge, as well as gaining enhanced qualifications, leadership opportunities and the respect of the community at large. Unlike jobseekers with only a bachelor’s level education or lower, master’s degree holders are able to secure teaching positions at universities and work in business law and investigative positions within law enforcement, among other advanced opportunities. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2014, the average annual wage of police officers was $59,560, while the average annual wage of criminal investigators came in at $80,540.
According to a recent study, the distance learning enrollment rate has accelerated far faster than that of higher education as a whole. Earning a master’s in criminal justice online prepares students for the same leadership roles and advanced studies as an on-campus program, but provides busy working professionals an increased level of affordability and flexibility. Criminal justice practitioners can continue to work full-time, while pursuing a degree that will further their career.
Choosing the right program for your academic and personal needs is important. Below you’ll find our ranked list of the best online master’s in criminal justice programs for 2016.
|Rank||School Name||School Logo||City||Cost||Address & Contact Info||School Links||Acclaim for Online Programs||School Description|
Michigan State University
|East Lansing|| |
East Lansing, MI 48824-1046
The online criminal justice master's degree, is the first of its kind to be offered at Michigan State in 1998, is designed for professional students working in the areas of criminal justice and security. Students may choose to only complete the 30 required credits for the general MA in Criminal Justice, or complete additional coursework for an emphasis in Security Management or an international focus. Average time to complete the program, depending on work and other obligations, is one-and-a-half to three years. Michigan State is ranked as #26 on U.S. News and World Report’s Best Online Graduate Criminal Justice Programs.
Michigan State uses the Desire2Learn (D2L) learning management platform. Online courses are taught by the same on-campus faculty, and students are required to complete weekly readings and participate in class discussion boards. Small group collaboration is also used when solving case problems. Though all courses are completely online, students are required to purchase some class texts. A dedicated, 24/7 telephone support line is available to students for any technical issues with the D2L platform.
Florida State University
|Tallahassee||222 S. Copeland Street|
Tallahassee, FL 32306-1037
Acceptance to the Florida State University (FSU) online criminal justice master's programs are competitive, and students must hold either a bachelor’s degree or have five or more years of relevant professional experience to apply. FSU is ranked #7 on U.S. News and World Report’s list for Best Online Graduate Criminal Justice Programs. This 36-credit online program provides an extensive foundation in criminological theories, research and real-world issues and applications. The online faculty and coursework are the same used for the on-campus program.
Students must complete an online orientation before registering for classes. Online courses are delivered through the Blackboard Learn management system, which is accessed through the myFSU portal. Courses are offered in an asynchronous format, to allow students the flexibility needed to fit their schedules. Blackboard can be used to access and submit course assignments, complete quizzes and tests, participate in discussion forums and more. Compatible Kaltura software allows students to record and create video presentations. Online criminal justice master's degree students also have access to Bb Student, the mobile app version of the learning platform.
University of Central Florida
|Orlando||4000 Central Florida Blvd|
Orlando, FL 32816
University of Central Florida (UFC) offers its MS in Criminal Justice “Professional Track” online, with a focus on research, theory, policy and organizational administration. The 36-credit master's in criminal justice online program is specifically designed for criminal justice organization leaders. Residency requirements hold that students must have completed a minimum of 21 hours in Criminal Justice at UCF. Admission is competitive, and students must hold a bachelor’s degree and prepare a statement of career goals as part of the application process.
Online or “distributed” learning is offered via Webcourses@UCF. The Center for Distributed Learning (CDL), which collaborates with universities to design and create online programs, is the anchor of UCF’s distance learning courses. All online courses are designed by the UCF faculty who teach them. Students can access course content at any time of the day and participate in online discussions when their schedules allow. Faculty can usually be reached by email, phone or in-person during scheduled office hours.
University of Louisville
|Louisville||2301 S 3rd St|
Louisville, KY 40292-0001
The online criminal justice master's programs at University of Louisville (UofL) are offered to professionals in the criminal justice system striving to become leaders in their field. The program, which is ranked #13 on U.S. News and World Report’s list for Best Online Graduate Criminal Justice Programs, covers many areas of the criminal justice system, including administration, theories, legal issues, advanced statistics and research methods. The 36-credit degree can be completed by full-time students in three semesters. Classes are offered every six weeks, with course enrollment offered at six points during the year.
The UofL Online Learning experience is delivered through the Blackboard learning platform. Online courses are taught by the on-campus faculty and many assignments are similar to those offered on-site as well. Students can interact with peers and instructors and view recorded lectures via Blackboard Collaborate. Classes are asynchronous, allowing students to work full-time and complete weekly coursework around their schedules. UofL’s Delphi Center for Teaching and Learning offers a number of useful Blackboard resources as well as an IT help desk to help resolve technical issues.
University of Colorado - Denver
|Denver||1380 Lawrence Street, Lawrence Street Center, Suite 1400|
Denver, CO 80217-3364
The University of Colorado Denver offers an online criminal justice master's degree geared towards professionals pursuing advancement in the criminal justice field, professionals desiring a career change and students looking to continue their education. The 36-credit program is ranked #9 on U.S. News and World Report’s list of the Best Online Graduate Criminal Justice Programs. All students are required to choose and complete a traditional research thesis or a field-based capstone project; students without any experience in the criminal justice field also complete an internship in criminal or juvenile justice.
The CUOnline experience is delivered through the Canvas learning management system. Classes are taught by the on-campus faculty and offered asynchronously, allowing students to complete coursework at any time during the week. Students can access course syllabi and schedules, along with all assignments, tasks and recorded lectures through the Canvas Dashboard. Threaded discussions are a requirement of most courses. Exams may be either offered online, printed and taken at home or completed at a proctored location.
University of Cincinnati
|Cincinnati||2624 Clifton Avenue|
Cincinnati, OH 45221-0063
The University of Cincinnati (UC) MS in Criminal Justice is specifically designed for professionals in the field who are looking to move into a leadership or administrative role. Ranked #27 on U.S. News and World Report’s list for Best Online Graduate Criminal Justice Programs, UC’s online degree program consists of an 11-course curriculum taught over six, 15-week semesters (or two years), though the degree can be completed in one year with an intensive, full-time courseload. In addition to the General Track option, students may choose a concentration from the following: Analysis of Criminal Behavior, Law Enforcement and Crime Prevention and Corrections and Offender Rehabilitation. Courses cover policies, research methods, analysis of criminal behavior, professional writing and more.
Online courses use a mix of internet resources, as well as manuals, textbooks and real-world applications; any required hard-copy materials are provided via mail to a student’s home or office. UC uses the Blackboard Learn platform, accessible through “Canopy,” UC’s “eLearning ecosystem.” Courses are asynchronous, and students have 24/7 access to assignments; recorded lectures; course materials; discussion forums, wikis and blogs; and complete assessments through Blackboard.
University of Massachusetts - Lowell
|Lowell||1 University Ave|
Lowell, MA 01854-5104
University of Massachusetts (UMass Lowell) offers an Online MS in Criminal Justice through its Division of Online and Continuing Education. The program, designed for full-time professionals in law enforcement, security and corrections, spans topics that include leadership, public policy, forensic psychology and terrorism. The 33-credit program includes a core curriculum focused on theory, research, scholarship, quantitative analysis and criminal justice administration. Additionally, a range of electives offered allow students to choose subject areas that fit their career goals.
UMass Lowell delivers its online courses through the Blackboard learning platform. All online classes are the same as those taken on-campus, though a more limited range of electives is offered online. Students access all course materials, communicate with peers and faculty and complete all assessments online; if they encounter any issues, they can contact the 24/7 online help desk via email or phone. Access to Blackboard Mobile Learn is also provided.
Nova Southeastern University
|Fort Lauderdale||3301 College Ave|
Fort Lauderdale, FL 33314-7796
The online criminal justice master's programs offered through Nova Southeastern University (NSU) are ranked #22 on U.S. News and World Report’s List of Best Online Graduate Criminal Justice Programs. Students generally complete the 36-hour program, which includes a core curriculum and a customized elective track for differing career tracks, over a two-year period. Those seeking careers in the police force, the FBI, Loss Prevention, the DEA, the Secret Service and many other areas within criminal justice fill find that NSU's program fits their specific training needs. Nova offers a unique Valor Award 20% Scholarship for Law Enforcement, Veterans, Military and First Responders.
Online courses are accessed on the Blackboard “Sharklearn” platform through the NSU “Sharklink” portal. Students access course materials and distance library services, interact with faculty and peers through threaded discussion boards and chatrooms, submit assignments and deliver multimedia presentations through Blackboard. Class recordings and live interactions are conducted through GoToMeeting software. All courses are asynchronous, allowing students to work full-time and complete coursework according to their schedule.
|Romeoville||One University Parkway|
Romeoville, IL 60446-2200
Lewis University’s MS in Criminal and Social Justice is specifically designed for the working professional looking to enhance their knowledge and advance their career. The 36-hour program covers theory and real-world application in the areas of administration, law enforcement, homeland security and other specialized areas. Students must hold either a bachelor’s degree or be currently serving in the criminal justice field to be considered for immediate acceptance. All program requirements must be completed within seven years.
Online courses are offered in an accelerated seven to eight-week format ; in comparison, the on-site program is delivered through 16-week long courses. Lewis uses the Blackboard learning management platform to deliver its online program. Students have access to course materials, discussion boards, group wikis and other collaborative resources via Blackboard. A wide range of online training videos is available via the Blackboard dashboard, and students are also offered email and phone help through the Center for Academic Technology Solutions (CATS).
California State University - Long Beach
|Long Beach||1250 Bellflower Blvd|
Long Beach, CA 90840-0115
The online master's in criminal justice is an accelerated and flexible program designed for working professionals in the criminal justice field. The program, offered through California State University’s (CSULB) College of Continuing and Professional Education (CCPE), is appropriate for those seeking supervisory positions in the field or pursuing a more advanced degree. Curriculum spans a variety of subject areas, including police organization and management, law and social control, research and statistics and ethics and diversity. Students must choose between completing a thesis or comprehensive exam. Full-time students can complete the program in 16 months.
CSULB offers online courses through the “BeachBoard” Desire2Learn content management system. Students have access to a dedicated help desk and site on the BeachBoard home page. Students can access course announcements and content, submit assignments via Dropbox, complete quizzes and participate in online discussions with faculty and peers via BeachBoard. Students also have access to an integrated email system within the platform. Additional materials and podcasts may be available to students via iTunes U.
East Carolina University
|Greenville||East 5th Street|
Greenville, NC 27858-4353
East Carolina University’s (ECU) MS in Criminal Justice, ranked #25 in U.S. News and World Report’s list of Best Online Graduate Criminal Justice Programs, is geared toward students looking to advance in the field or pursue higher degrees. Core concepts covered include principles of criminal justice, research methods and statistics, criminal justice administration and management as well as a series focusing on a variety of corrections and law enforcement specialization areas. The 36-credit program can be completed in two years with full-time enrollment. Distance Education students must be currently employed in the criminal justice or a related field and have a minimum of five years experience in order to apply.
All online courses are offered through the Blackboard learning management system. An online orientation course is offered to all new students, and a number of how-to tutorials and help desk resources are also available. ECU also provides students with access to Lynda.com, a site offering a collection of educational videos covering everything from Adobe PhotoShop to resume writing. Students access assignments, discussion boards, wikis and blogs through Blackboard, which is also accessible on all mobile devices.
Sam Houston State University
|Huntsville||1806 Ave J|
Huntsville, TX 77340
The Sam Houston State University (SHSU) online MS in Criminal Justice is designed for full-time professionals looking to complete their degree in two years. The 36-credit program, ranked #5 on U.S. News and World Report’s Best Online Graduate Criminal Justice Programs, is geared towards professionals currently in the field of criminal justice and those who are making a career change. The degree is appropriate for those looking to enter the criminal justice field immediately upon graduation. Graduates have secured work as judges, victim advocates, police administrators, chief probation officers and more. Those interested in pursuing a PhD after earning a master's degree should instead look into the Master of Arts in Criminal Justice and Criminology from SHSU.
Online courses are available on the Blackboard learning platform through My Sam, SHSU’s web portal. Students access streaming and recorded video lectures, course materials and assignments, and participate in interactive discussions with peers and faculty via Blackboard. A technical team is available from 7 a.m. to midnight by phone or email to assist with any issues. SHSU Online also features “Student Central”, an online campus community where students can use social media and discussion boards to share advice and personal success stories about their online learning experience.
|Center Valley||2755 Station Avenue|
Center Valley, PA 18034-9568
DeSales University offers both an online Master’s in Criminal Justice (MCJ) in Digital Forensics and an online MCJ in Investigative Forensics. Both 30-credit programs consist of 10 courses that can be taken part- or full-time. DeSales aims to address the changes science and technology have made to the field of criminal justice; the program emphasizes high ethical standards in all of the offered coursework. Info sessions for both programs are held online throughout the year, and students who attend are eligible to have their $50 application fee waived. Additionally, DeSales offers all employed law enforcement, probation and corrections offers a 20% tuition discount for either online program.
The online course experience is delivered through the Blackboard learning management system. Courses are asynchronous and can be accessed at any time. Students can find class updates and materials, submit assignments and participate in Blackboard Collaborate and other discussion boards via the Blackboard platform. DeSales also provides students access to Blackboard Mobile Learn. Students have the option to attend free online learning workshops, including a new student orientation, throughout the year.
New Mexico State University
|Las Cruces||2850 Weddell Street|
Las Cruces, NM 88003-8001
The online Master’s of Criminal Justice (MCJ) offered through New Mexico State University (NMSU) provides distance learners or those in full-time professions access to the same program curriculum and faculty as on-campus. Online students complete the 36-credit focused coursework option; the thesis option is reserved for on-campus participants. Students can take a variety of courses focused on research, policy analysis, criminological theory, ethics and administration, among other topics. Admission to the program is competitive and only a small cohort of students are selected once a year.
Online courses are delivered through the Canvas learning platform. Course structure varies by class instructor, but typical assignments include online readings and quizzes, research papers, learning activities, discussion forums and real-time chat sessions. Distance learners have access to the online NMSU Library and can purchase all texts and materials through the online NMSU bookstore. Students have d access to an online orientation, a library of how-to Canvas videos and a technology help desk reachable by phone and email.
Saint Cloud State University
|Saint Cloud||720 Fourth Ave. South|
Saint Cloud, MN 56301-4498
Saint Cloud State University offers an online version of its MS in Criminal Justice in a research- and course-centered structure. Students choose from three specializations, including criminal justice administration, criminal justice counseling or an elective track. The Department of Criminal Justice Studies has trained students for over 37 years, and is authorized by the Minnesota Board of Peace Officer Standards and Training (MPOST) to prepare students for the first step in MPOST licensing of peace officer candidates.
Online courses are offered through the Desire2Learn (D2L) Brightspace platform. Students have access to assignments, course lectures and quizzes through the platform. The Central Minnesota Distance Learning Network also provides real-time interactive options for classes with two-way audio and video, as well as recorded and streamed courses. Distance learners have access to digital library resources through the main library site. Online master's in criminal justice students have access to a dedicated technology help desk by phone and email, as well as free online training through its Training Hub site.
University of Central Missouri
|Warrensburg||202 Administration Building|
Warrensburg, MO 64093
University of Central Missouri (UCMO) offers an online option for its MS in Criminal Justice, a program designed for students who are entering or want to move ahead into leadership roles in the fields of law enforcement, corrections and juvenile justice. The 36-credit program allows students to choose a thesis or non-thesis option. Students who opt for the non-thesis track take an additional Individual Research course and four elective classes. Graduates of UCMO online have gone on to become attorneys, judges, professors, juvenile justice professionals and chief administrators. An undergraduate degree in Criminal Justice or a related field is required for admission.
UCMO uses the Blackboard learning platform to deliver its online learning experience. Courses may be synchronous or asynchronous, depending on the class or instructor. Students access all assignments, tests and quizzes, and interact with peers and faculty through discussion boards, wikis, blogs and more. Online classes may also make use of NBC Learn, a collection of current event videos, documents and images, accessible via Blackboard. Additionally, students have access to both Blackboard Mobile and iTunes U for streaming audio-recorded lectures.
Washington State University
|Pullman||French Administration Building|
Pullman, WA 99164-5910
The online MA in Criminal Justice offered through Washington State University (WSU) is designed for students looking to enter the field or for those interested in expanding their knowledge about criminal justice policy, institutions and the theory and applications of crime and public safety. In addition to providing knowledge related to administration and processes, the 31-credit program prepares professionals to design and conduct research, apply for grants and prepare research reports for criminal justice agencies.
The WSU Global Campus online learning platform is powered by Blackboard Learn. The program is highly interactive, though students can access materials and assignments based on their schedules. Students may participate in group projects and complete real-world activities outside of the online classroom. Online library resources and an online bookstore are available to all distance learners. Students also have the option to enroll in the Global Connections program, a virtual learning environments that provides extra-curricular experiences and events for distance learners.
University of Arkansas at Little Rock
|Little Rock||2801 S University Ave|
Little Rock, AR 72204
University of Arkansas’s MS in Criminal Justice online is a terminal degree that provides professionals with training in advanced criminal justice system issues, supervisory and administrative skills and the knowledge to understand current research trends in the field. The 36-credit program is offered in an accelerated format online, with seven-week courses that move twice as fast as a regular semester-length course. However, the suggested sequence of study spans three years. A bachelor’s degree is required for admission to the program.
Online courses are accessed through the Blackboard Learn platform. Classes may be synchronous or asynchronous, depending upon the instructor. Students access all class updates and announcements, submit scheduled assignments and participate in discussion forums and other collaborative tools. Distance learners have access to a range of digital library resources through the university’s Ottenheimer Library.
Wichita State University
|Wichita||1845 N. Fairmount|
Wichita, KS 67260-0124
The Criminal Justice program at Wichita State University (WSU) is one of the oldest in the country. The online MA in Criminal Justice is designed to be an an affordable and flexible program that prepares students for careers in the Criminal Justice field or for law school or doctoral studies. The program focuses on integrating theory and practice of criminal justice through the scientific study of crime, criminals, the justice system and the law. After graduating, students should be equipped to become researchers, teachers, policymakers or managers. Students can enroll part- or full-time and transfer up to 12 approved graduate credit hours toward degree completion. WSU offers some of the lowest tuition rates available for in-state residents. Program completion typically takes one-and-a-half to two years.
WSU provides all online courses through the Blackboard learning management system. Students access class materials, submit assignments and participate in interactive discussion forums via Blackboard Collaborate in an asynchronous or synchronous fashion. Students can download the Blackboard IM application to instantly connect with peers and faculty in real-time. In one convenient dashboard, students have access to on-demand Blackboard tutorials, online library resources and an online bookstore. Live chat help is also provided through the OneStop online help desk.
Concordia University - Saint Paul
|Saint Paul||1282 Concordia Ave|
Saint Paul, MN 55104-5494
Concordia University’s (CSP) online MA in Criminal Justice Leadership is designed for working professionals from a variety of backgrounds, including law enforcement, corrections and the military. The program, ranked #34 on U.S. News and World Report’s list of Best Online Graduate Criminal Justice Programs, requires 36 hours for degree completion. Students enter the program as part of a cohort, and each course length is seven weeks. According to a Concordia graduate survey, 92% of CSP students receive a job after graduation. Common careers pursued by graduates include criminal sociologists and private detectives or investigators. Admission is competitive, and applicants must hold a bachelor’s degree and be currently employed in a Criminal Justice-related field to be considered.
Students take online courses through the Blackboard Learn platform. All class materials and updates, as well as assignments, tests and quizzes, can be accessed through Blackboard. Classwork, including discussion forums and other interactive or group assignments, can be completed around students’ schedules. Distance learners also have access to CSP’s online library resources. Technical support is available 24/7 via email and phone.
University of Memphis
Memphis, TN 38152
University of Memphis’s (UM) MA in Criminal Justice, offered through the School of Urban Affairs and Public Policy, serves students looking to obtain a full-time career in the field. The program focuses on creating partnerships with policymakers, program developers and other community groups. The curriculum covers criminological theories and principles, and provides students with the skills necessary to perform and evaluate research. Students complete 33-credit-hours to complete their degree online.
UM Online offers online courses through eCourseware, powered by the Desire2Learn (D2L) management system. All courses are asynchronous, allowing students to complete coursework around their schedules. The online curriculum, including all materials, is identical to the on-campus program. Students access and submit all assignments, complete quizzes and tests, participate in discussion forums, access email and chat options and view grades via eCourseware. Distance learners have access to digital library resources, online career services and online disability services.
College of Saint Elizabeth
|Morristown||2 Convent Rd|
Morristown, NJ 07960-6989
The online MA in Justice Administration and Public Service offered through the College of Saint Elizabeth (CSE) focuses on developing an understanding of social, ethical and political issues that are part of the American justice system. The program, which ranks #13 in U.S. News and World Report’s list of Best Online Graduate Criminal Justice Programs, is designed for both current criminal justice practitioners and those interested in careers in the field. Current law enforcement officers receive a 50 percent discounted tuition rate.
Students meet virtually with a graduate advisor to plan out a planned 30-credit course of study. CSE uses the Moodle learning management system to deliver its online experience. Students access all class updates and resources, participate in discussion forums and complete assignments and tests through Moodle. New students are provided access to a Moodle Orientation, and students can contact a dedicated Help Desk via phone or email until 5 p.m. EST on weekdays.
Sul Ross State University
|Alpine||HWY 90 East|
Alpine, TX 79832
Sul Ross State University’s MS in Criminal Justice focuses on criminal justice theory, social research and homeland security. A range of elective tracks offer students the ability to customize their course of study according to their career goals. The program is offered in a 30- credit thesis or 36 credit non-thesis track.
Online courses are offered through the Blackboard learning management system. All classes are asynchronous, allowing students to access and complete assignments and quizzes around their weekly schedule. Students may use Blackboard Collaborate for real-time conferencing or recorded lectures, as well as Blackboard Instant Messaging for instant chat communication with peers and faculty. An online Technical Assistance Center is available to help with Blackboard-related issues.
Western Oregon University
|Monmouth||345 North Monmouth Ave|
Monmouth, OR 97361-1394
The MA in Criminal Justice from Western Oregon University (WOU) is designed for full-time professionals in criminal justice and related fields. The 45-credit program prepares students to assume supervisory and leadership positions. After graduating, students will emerge with foundational skills in conducting social science research and the ways to apply these methods to solving administrative issues in criminal justice. Full-time students can complete the program—which includes a thesis, professional project or comprehensive exam—in two years. Students are required to have a bachelor’s degree and experience in the criminal justice field in order to apply.
WOU uses the Moodle learning management system to deliver their online course experience. The average online course size is 13 students. Courses are asynchronous and students can design their own schedules. All course materials, assignments and assessments, discussion forums and other interactive resources can be accessed through Moodle. The WOU Moodle Support Team is available via email and phone until 5 p.m. PST on weekdays.
Texas A&M International University
|Laredo||5201 University Blvd|
Laredo, TX 78041-1900
Texas A&M International University’s (TAMIU) online MS in Criminal Justice prepares students to become informed and skilled participants in the development of knowledge and policy responses to current issues in the criminal justice system. Students participate in research and are encouraged to take leadership roles in the field of criminal or juvenile justice. The program, which is ranked #35 on U.S. News and World Report’s list of Best Online Graduate Criminal Justice Programs, offers both a thesis and non-thesis track option, the latter of which requires additional hours of coursework.
TAMIU’s eLearning platform is powered by the Blackboard Learn management system. A typical assignment includes reading a range of professional and scholarly literature and participating in thoughtful analysis and debate via discussion forum. Students can access all other assignments, tests and communication features such as email through Blackboard. In addition to online student orientation videos, students can access live chat until 5 p.m. CST for help with any technical issues.
Earning a master’s in criminal justice online prepares professionals to enter a variety of leadership roles in the public and government sectors. Career options include police chiefs, FBI and CIA agents, criminal investigators, local and national government leaders, college professors and many other upper administrative and supervisory positions. Alternatively, a master’s in criminal justice also prepares students for law school and doctoral programs.
In addition to career advancement, master’s degree holders have a competitive edge in the market and generally earn higher salaries than peers who have a lower-level degree. Research by the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows the unemployment rate for college degree holders decreases by over one percent with each level of degree earned. The average salary for a practitioner with a master’s in criminal justice compared to one with only a bachelor’s degree increases by about $5,000 for an entry-level job and an average of $10,000 or more for positions with more experience.
Keys to Success in an Online Master’s Program
Online learning is a more convenient option for many adults, but it often requires more self-discipline and motivation. Criminal Justice students can help ensure an optimal online experience by planning and preparing for their program ahead of time.
Students should research their program and its technical requirements, as well as become familiar with the college or university. Most institutions offer or require an online orientation before students register for or begin online classes. Others provide learning self-assessment and online learning readiness surveys, as well as student testimonial videos that provide new students with advice on how to be successful in their program.
The following basics are keys to success in an online master’s program:
- Learn statistics. Inevitably, criminal justice students will encounter statistics in their coursework and may take a class focused on them. Gaining a basic understanding of statistics will help you get through both graduate school and future jobs.
- Become comfortable with writing your ideas. Although many online programs offer virtual learning classrooms and audiovisual discussion options, most interaction between peers and instructors is in written form in discussion threads and chat rooms. Your writing will determine what your classmates and professors think of you as a student.
- Equip yourself and become familiar with the technology. Determine the technical requirements for your master’s program. Many institutions list technical requirements on the program or learning management system page. Make sure to set up and test all technology before starting your first class.
- Gain field experience. Whether it’s by keeping your current criminal justice position or interning or volunteering at a relevant organization, make sure you have experience to back up your education.
- Stay current on news. The news is filled with updates in the world of criminal justice; reading different news websites will keep you abreast of current trends and popular topics. You’ll be well-informed during your courses and might even discover a new area to specialize in that you hadn’t considered previously.
- Ask for help. Online instructors often post virtual office hours when students can reach out in real-time via chat or phone, and most will respond quickly to email inquiries. Most institutions also dedicate a 24/7 help desk to resolve any technical issues for distance and online learners.
Entering the Field
Though the criminal justice field is vast and varied, graduates of master’s programs will have gained valuable skill sets in their specialization of choice, giving them a leg up on the competition. Furthermore, they’ll will have the opportunity to take on roles that will allow them to lead and shape public and social policy.
Students should take advantage of interactive and field-based project opportunities to gain experience and network with local criminal justice organizations while still in school. The professional and peer-based connections make may prove invaluable when it comes to time to begin the job hunt.
It’s also important to get involved in local, regional and national professional organizations to broaden connections and increase the chances of finding work faster. National organizations include the National Criminal Justice Organization, the American Criminal Justice Association, the American Academy of Forensic Sciences and the American Correctional Association. If your area of interest is highly specialized, it’s quite possible that there’s a niche professional organization to join as well.
Students who intend to advance to law school or another doctoral program should meet with their advisor prior to their final semester to discuss the next steps and prepare application materials. Additionally, recent graduates can take advantage of their institution’s career service centers, which assist in preparing resumes, performing mock interviews and sourcing open field positions. Professionals should also routinely check local and national online job boards for the latest openings in the field.