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|
|1||Webster University||Saint Louis||$$$$$||470 E Lockwood Ave.|
Saint Louis, MO 63119-3194
Webster offers academic programs online and from its main campus in Webster Grove, Missouri. Since its founding as a Catholic women’s college in 1915, Webster has remained dedicated to educational excellence and social progress.
Webster’s interdisciplinary criminal justice program prepares learners to apply theories of crime and criminal processes while collecting and analyzing quantitative and qualitative data. Students gain insights into the interrelated nature of the criminal justice system and social, legal, and economic environments.
The online master of science in criminal justice at Webster includes 36 credits. Required courses in ethics and decision-making, theories of crime and justice, and criminal actions accompany electives and research coursework. Students choose electives from specialized areas, including administration of justice, fraud investigation, cybersecurity, and international and regional security. Learners also have the option to add certificates to their course of study. At the end of the program, students complete a culminating capstone course.
|2||Colorado State University Global||Greenwood Village||$$$$$||7800 East Orchard Road Ste 200|
Greenwood Village, CO 80111-0000
Established under the auspices of the CSU Board of Governors in 2007, CSU-Global offers undergraduate and graduate programs to roughly 18,000 students. CSU-Global maintains accreditation from the Higher Learning Commission.
CSU-Global’s online master of science degree in criminal justice and law enforcement administration includes 36 credits. Classes in criminological theory, criminal justice policy, and administration and management of criminal justice organizations accompany courses in research and writing and analytical methods. Students explore advanced research for criminal justice professionals to prepare for a capstone course and internship.
CSU-Global’s criminal justice curriculum features 14 specializations, allowing students to customize their degree to match their interests. Options include fraud management, information technology, business intelligence, and organizational learning and performance.
|3||Johnson & Wales University||Providence||$$$$$||8 Abbott Park Pl|
Providence, RI 02903
Based in Providence, Rhode Island, JWU hosts more than 13,000 undergraduate and graduate students. JWU is an innovator in experiential education, blending industry-focused education with community-based leadership opportunities.
Learners can complete JWU’s 30-credit online master’s degree in criminal justice in less than two years. Coursework combines criminological theory with organizational and leadership skills. Students complete core classes in advanced administration of criminal justice, contemporary criminology and crime prevention, and criminal justice ethics and diversity.
The program allows students to personalize their degree by taking elective classes covering topics such as juvenile justice, global criminal justice, and technology in the criminal justice system. Required classes in research methods prepare learners for a capstone project. During their final semester, students analyze a criminal justice problem and develop a solution by applying the knowledge and skills they acquired throughout the program.
|4||Liberty University||Lynchburg||$$$$$||1971 University Blvd|
Lynchburg, VA 24515
Founded as a conservative Christian school in 1971, Liberty offers more than 600 academic programs to over 100,000 learners. Liberty also oversees more than 400 online programs, including a master of science degree in criminal justice.
Liberty’s master’s in criminal justice online program includes 36 credits that students can complete in 18 months. The program allows learners to specialize in forensic psychology, homeland security, public administration, or general criminal justice.
The forensic psychology track emphasizes psychological principles and practices through coursework in rehabilitation and reintegration of offenders, crisis intervention, and psychology and the legal system. The homeland security concentration focuses on homeland security processes and administration, while the public administration specialization explores public policies as they relate to criminal justice. The curriculum of the general online master’s in criminal justice covers leadership, ethics, and administration of justice in organizational and legal settings.
|5||Arizona State University||Tempe||$$$$$||University Drive and Mill Avenue|
Tempe, AZ 85287
Established in 1885, ASU offers academic programs from five campuses in Phoenix, at four regional centers, and online. The online master of arts in criminal justice at ASU includes 33 credits that students can complete in 18 months.
The curriculum emphasizes theories and impacts of crime while exploring practices of policing and justice. Learners complete required classes in criminology, criminal justice planning and program evaluation, and applied data analysis. Electives in policing, courts and sentences, the nature of crime, and punishment and society allow students to tailor the curriculum to their interests and goals.
Students can also complete a criminal justice internship. At the end of the program, students participate in a required capstone class to apply acquired knowledge and skills to improve criminal justice policy. Learners produce a comprehensive research paper as part of this course.
|6||Nova Southeastern University||Fort Lauderdale||$$$$$||3301 College Ave|
Fort Lauderdale, FL 33314-7796
Established in 1964, NSU educates undergraduate and graduate students at its main campus in Fort Lauderdale, at regional centers throughout the state, and online. The online master of science in criminal justice represents one of more than 60 master’s degrees offered by the institution.
NSU’s online criminal justice master’s degree includes 15 core credits, 12 specialization credits, and three elective credits. Core courses explore social administration, legal issues, and investigative processes in criminal justice. Learners choose from 12 specializations, including legal perspectives in criminal justice, behavioral science, emergency preparedness, and information systems.
Elective options include a practicum, during which students gain hands-on experience working with a criminal justice professional in an approved department or agency. Learners can also work with a member of NSU’s faculty on a research-based thesis.
|7||University of Central Florida||Orlando||$$$$$||4000 Central Florida Blvd|
Orlando, FL 32816
Founded in 1963, UCF serves more than 68,000 students through 13 academic colleges. UCF offers over 220 undergraduate and graduate degrees, including an online master of science in criminal justice.
Learners can finish UCF’s online master’s in criminal justice degree in two years. The program emphasizes managerial, administrative, and theoretical aspects of criminal justice while preparing learners to transition from the classroom into a practical criminal justice setting. The 36-credit program includes core classes on the nature of crime, administration of justice, research methods, and policy and data analysis. Learners also complete a required capstone seminar.
Students can choose from 15 elective classes, six credits of which fall under restricted options. Restricted courses include foundations of corrections, juvenile justice, law and social control, and American criminal courts. Students may also complete a thesis as part of the curriculum.
|8||Florida State University||Tallahassee||$$$$$||222 S. Copeland Street|
Tallahassee, FL 32306-1037
Founded in 1851, FSU offers almost 42,000 students over 300 academic programs, including an online master of science in criminal justice studies.
The university's online master’s in criminal justice studies degree includes 36 credits that learners can complete in two years. Core classes emphasize criminological theories, computer applications, and research methods. Learners complete 21 credits of elective courses, 12 of which must come from the school's college of criminology and criminal justice. Electives cover topics such as penology, victimology, prevention and treatment of crime and delinquency, and police and society.
With opportunities to take up to nine credits from other disciplines, FSU’s program allows students to increase the interdisciplinary nature of their coursework and build a wider breadth of knowledge.
Boston, MA 02215
BU offers more than 34,000 students undergraduate, graduate, and professional programs through 17 schools and colleges. Once affiliated with the United Methodist Church, BU now serves as a nonsectarian, private research university. The school is accredited by the New England Commission of Higher Education.
BU offers an online master of criminal justice degree that learners often complete in 20-24 months. The 40-credit program allows students to specialize in cybercrime and cybersecurity or strategic management. Both degree tracks explore principles of leadership in organizational settings, theories of social control, and perspectives of law enforcement and criminal justice.
The cybercrime and cybersecurity specialization includes advanced classes in practical digital investigation, cybersecurity risk assessment, and policies and legal practices related to cybercrime. BU’s strategic management online criminal justice degree enhances students' abilities to analyze criminal justice problems and develop sustainable solutions and policies.
|10||Saint Leo University||Saint Leo||$$$$$||33701 State Road 52|
Saint Leo, FL 33574-6665
Located in central Florida, Saint Leo is one of the oldest Catholic institutions of higher learning in the state. The school hosts more than 15,000 learners in over 50 undergraduate and graduate programs.
Saint Leo’s 36-credit online criminal justice program includes six specializations: behavioral studies, corrections, criminal investigations, critical incident management, forensic science, and legal studies. Learners can also complete a general criminal justice master’s degree.
All students take core classes in ethical and legal issues in criminal justice administration, public policy, and leadership applications. Learners also participate in an applied project, applying degree knowledge and skills to a topical criminal justice issue.
|11||University of South Dakota||Vermillion||$$$$$||414 E Clark St|
Vermillion, SD 57069-2390
Established in 1862, USD is the oldest university in South Dakota. Based in Vermillion, USD provides academic programs to more than 10,000 students through nine colleges and schools.
USD offers an online master of science in administration with a specialization in criminal justice studies. This 36-credit program includes 24 credits of required coursework alongside 12 elective credits. Core classes cover topics such as administrative law and government, research in administrative practice, and managerial communications. Students gain the critical thinking, analytical, and problem-solving skills needed to manage and lead organizations.
Criminal justice elective options include police administration, courts and judicial politics, criminal law and procedure, and national security policy. Learners must also complete a capstone project.
|12||Columbus State University||Columbus||$$$$$||4225 University Ave|
Columbus, GA 31907-5645
Columbus State serves more than 8,000 learners each year. Established in 1958, the school is a member of the University System of Georgia and offers undergraduate, graduate, and certificate programs through seven colleges and schools.
Columbus State’s online master of public administration program includes a specialized degree track in criminal justice. This degree prepares students to work in justice administration, law enforcement, and government policy.
Columbus State’s program includes 36 credits of core and concentration coursework that precede a comprehensive examination. Core classes in public personnel administration, policy analysis, and legal and ethical environments of administration accompany research and capstone courses. Criminal justice coursework includes criminal justice, race, and class; distributive justice; courts and judicial administration; and correctional practices and problems. Students can also complete a criminal justice internship.
|13||University of the Cumberlands||Williamsburg||$$$$$||6191 College Station Drive|
Williamsburg, KY 40769
Located in Williamsburg, Kentucky, Cumberlands was formed by a merger between Highland College and the Williamsburg Institute in 2005.
The online master’s in criminal justice administration at Cumberlands includes 30 credits. Students complete 18 credits of core courses in foundations, criminological theories, and ethical issues in justice administration. Additional required courses in research and design and statistical applications in justice administration accompany 12 credits of specialization classes.
Students can pursue one of eight concentrations to tailor their degrees to match their interests and career goals. Options include law enforcement, corrections, homeland security, and juvenile justice. All students complete a capstone course in justice administration, during which they conduct research and present their findings.
|14||Saint Joseph's University||Philadelphia||$$$$$||5600 City Avenue|
Philadelphia, PA 19131-1395
Established by the Society of Jesus in 1851, SJU’s main campus occupies 114 acres in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. SJU offers more than 130 undergraduate and graduate programs that combine academic excellence with Jesuit values.
SJU offers an online criminal justice master’s degree that includes 30-36 credits. The criminal justice program features several career-focused degree options. Students pursuing the general, behavioral management, federal law enforcement, homeland security, or intelligence and crime analysis tracks must complete 30 credits. Alternatively, the behavior analysis concentration includes 36 credits.
All students complete four core courses in research methods and analysis, criminological theory, ethics and criminal justice, and professional writing for law enforcement. Concentrations, with the exception of the behavioral analysis option, include four specialized classes. The behavioral analysis track incorporates seven classes that align with requirements put forth by the Behavior Analyst Certification Board.
|15||University of San Diego||San Diego||$$$$$||5998 Alcala Park|
San Diego, CA 92110-2492
USD offers more than 70 undergraduate and graduate programs to over 9,000 students. Established as a Catholic institution in 1949, USD remains true to its roots, emphasizing academic excellence and Catholic traditions.
The online master of science in law enforcement and public safety leadership includes 31 credits that learners can complete in 20 months. This synchronous program incorporates classes in communication, organizational leadership, conflict resolution, and law to build an interdisciplinary foundation for future law enforcement, public safety, and crime prevention professionals. Students study budgets, finance, and community engagement to enhance their managerial and practical skills in law enforcement settings.
The program also includes an integrated capstone that learners complete during their final semester. Students produce a portfolio demonstrating degree competencies through projects, papers, presentations, and exercises.
|16||Lewis University||Romeoville||$$$$$||One University Parkway|
Romeoville, IL 60446-2200
Founded as a Catholic university in 1932, Lewis provides more than 130 undergraduate and graduate programs from its main campus in Romeoville, Illinois; locations in Oak Brook and Tinley Park; a campus in Albuquerque, New Mexico; and online. Lewis also offers almost 20 online degrees, including a master of science in criminal justice.
The online master’s in criminal justice at Lewis includes 36 credits. Students complete 24 credits of core coursework and 12 credits of electives. Core courses include criminal justice administration and management, fiscal management of criminal justice agencies, fair practices for labor relations in the public sector, and criminal procedures. Learners also complete two classes in applied research methods and courses in criminal law and criminology.
Lewis offers elective classes on topics such as family violence, white collar crime, and ethics and integrity. Students can also complete elective coursework in homeland security and defense, issues in juvenile crime, and correctional counseling and rehabilitation. All learners must pass a comprehensive examination at the end of the program.
|17||Mississippi College||Clinton||$$$$$||200 South Capitol Street|
Clinton, MS 39058
Affiliated with the Mississippi Baptist Convention, MC traces its origins to 1826. As the oldest institution of higher education in the state, MC offers more than 130 undergraduate and graduate programs.
MC’s online master of social science in homeland security explores the administration of justice, crime, and law in America. Students also learn about various police problems and practices.
The homeland security degree introduces students to terrorism prevention through classes on intelligence operations, security concerns, and ethics of homeland security. Participants also investigate public policies at local, state, and national levels and determine how to work with corporate, government, and nonprofit entities to help keep the nation safe.
|18||Florida International University||Miami||$$$$$||11200 S. W. 8 Street|
Miami, FL 33199
Opened in 1972, FIU currently offers academic programs to almost 57,000 students. The school is one of 12 campuses within the State University System of Florida.
FIU offers an online master of science in criminal justice that includes 36 credits. Students complete core classes in criminological theory, research methods, and data analysis. Additional core coursework in criminal justice policy analysis and transnational crime and national security builds an understanding of domestic criminal justice theories and practices.
Students take 12 credits of criminal justice electives and nine credits of open electives from any discipline. Learners interested in teaching college can complete a teaching practicum, while students interested in doctoral study can enroll in supervised research coursework.
|19||The University of West Florida||Pensacola||$$$$$||11000 University Parkway|
Pensacola, FL 32514-5750
Established in 1963, UWF offers undergraduate and graduate programs to almost 13,000 students. UWF functions within the State University System of Florida and maintains regional accreditation from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.
The school's online master’s in criminal justice includes 33 credits. Students complete core classes in criminal justice and criminological theory, research methodology, and analysis of quantitative and qualitative data. Criminal justice electives include criminal justice administration, policing and society, courts and society, and penology.
The program includes two tracks: one with an internship and one with a research paper completed under the supervision of a faculty member. Students can also earn certifications in social work, public administration, homeland security, or education by completing nine elective credits in those areas.
|20||Sam Houston State University||Huntsville||$$$$$||1806 Ave J|
Huntsville, TX 77340
Located in Huntsville, Texas, SHSU offers more than 80 undergraduate and 50 graduate programs. Established in 1879, SHSU is a member of the Texas State University System.
SHSU’s online master of science in criminal justice includes 36 credits. Students complete required coursework in critical analysis of justice administration, research methods, communication theory, and computer and technical applications for criminal justice. Additional core classes include organizational administration and program evaluation.
Learners choose 15 credits of criminal justice electives before taking a class in emergent issues in criminal justice leadership. The emergent issues course functions as a capstone requirement, during which students examine technology, organizational theory, principles of public administration, and community expectations of criminal justice leaders.
|21||Wilmington University||New Castle||$$$$$||320 Dupont Hwy|
New Castle, DE 19720
Established with an initial class of less than 200 students, WilmU now offers undergraduate and graduate programs to more than 18,000 learners.
The online master of science in administration of justice leadership at WilmU includes 36 credits. Students complete core courses in criminological theory, criminal justice ethics, managing diversity, and technology for modern policing. The program includes three concentrations: criminal behavior, homeland security, and leadership and administration.
The criminal behavior degree track focuses on violent crime, mental health and the law, and therapeutic strategies for violent offenders, while homeland security coursework explores terrorism, legal aspects of homeland security, and risk assessment and management. The leadership and administration emphasis builds competencies in crisis management, workplace law and liability, supervision and management, and police executive leadership.
|22||Lamar University||Beaumont||$$$$$||4400 MLK Blvd|
Beaumont, TX 77705
LU hosts more than 15,000 students online and from its main campus in Beaumont, Texas. The school became a member of the Texas State University System in 1995 and maintains regional accreditation from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.
LU’s online master of science in criminal justice includes 30 credits that learners can complete in one year. The program includes required classes in theoretical foundations of crime control, quantitative methods in criminology, and a criminal justice capstone.
Students can tailor their degrees by taking 15 credits from a series of special studies options. Special studies classes cover topics such as ethics, police law, cybercrime, and comparative juvenile justice. Additional options include serial murder, homeland security, and constitutional law.
|23||University of Colorado - Denver||Denver||$$$$$||1380 Lawrence Street, Lawrence Street Center, Suite 1400|
Denver, CO 80217-3364
Part of the University of Colorado System, CU Denver is the largest research institution in the state. The school provides academic programs to more than 18,000 students and holds regional accreditation from the Higher Learning Commission.
CU Denver’s 36-credit online master of criminal justice program is offered through its Anschutz Medical Campus. Students take five core classes and concentration coursework before completing a thesis or applied research capstone project. Learners without criminal justice experience also participate in an internship with a local, state, or federal criminal justice organization.
Core classes emphasize criminal justice theory, practice, and research. Students choose from specializations in criminal analysis, emergency management and homeland security, gender-based violence, and nonprofit organizations.
|24||Concordia University - Saint Paul||Saint Paul||$$$$$||1282 Concordia Ave|
Saint Paul, MN 55104-5494
Founded in 1893 by the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, CSP is one of nine schools in the Concordia University System. CSP offers more than 80 undergraduate and graduate programs to roughly 5,000 students.
The online master of arts in criminal justice degree at CSP includes 36 credits. Students complete required classes in accessing criminal justice resources, research methods in criminal justice, and administration of criminal justice. Learners also study legal and legislative issues, correctional design, and ethics in criminal justice leadership. Students synthesize degree content by completing a criminal justice capstone project.
Students pursuing this master’s in criminal justice online prepare for careers as forensic psychologists, criminal profilers, and police and detective supervisors. Participants also develop the knowledge and skills needed to work as criminal sociologists and private detectives and investigators.
|25||Bellevue University||Bellevue||$$$$$||1000 Galvin Rd S|
Bellevue, NE 68005-3098
BU was established as Bellevue College in 1965 and adopted its current name in 1994. Based in eastern Nebraska, BU offers academic programs from campuses throughout the state; at locations in Iowa, Idaho, and Washington; and online. BU serves more than 10,000 students and holds regional accreditation from the Higher Learning Commission.
The school's online master of science in justice administration and crime management includes 36 credits. The cohort-based curriculum incorporates coursework in criminal law, forensics, and criminal behavior analysis. Students also study planning, budgeting, and resource management alongside classes in communication and leadership.
Coursework in writing for criminal justice professionals, technology and trends, and ethics and decision-making prepares learners to assume leadership roles in the field. Students also improve their research, statistical, and analytical competencies. Graduates can pursue work as criminal justice and law enforcement teachers, corrections specialists, and police and detective supervisors.
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.