Online Master’s In Criminology Programs 2021

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Criminologists analyze criminal behavior, research the causes of crime, and conduct criminal investigations. A master’s in criminology degree prepares graduates for careers as a detective or criminal investigator. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), detectives and criminal investigators earn a median annual salary of $83,170, with federal detectives making six-figure salaries.

Our list ranks the top online master’s in criminology programs for 2021. Prospective graduate students can use the rankings to find the best fit for their career goals and budgets. This article also introduces salary data for criminology careers, common criminology courses, and scholarships for criminology graduate students.

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Top 10 Programs for Criminology

Rank School Location
1 University of California-Irvine Irvine, CA
2 Missouri State University-Springfield Springfield, MO
3 West Liberty University West Liberty, WV
4 Indiana State University Terre Haute, IN
5 Indiana University of Pennsylvania-Main Campus Indiana, PA

Questions About Master's in Criminology Programs


  • Can you get a criminology degree online?

    Yes. Many colleges and universities offer online criminology degrees, including master’s programs in criminology. During an online degree, learners complete coursework in a distance learning format.


  • How do I start a career in criminology?

    A criminology degree prepares graduates for careers as a law enforcement officer, researcher, or detective. At the graduate level, criminology programs train criminal investigators and federal law enforcement agents.


  • What is the difference between criminology and criminal justice?

    Criminology focuses on a subfield within the broader arena of criminal justice. In a criminology program, students examine criminal deviancy, the motives behind criminal behavior, and crime prevention.


  • What kinds of jobs can you get with a master's in criminology?

    With a master’s in criminology, graduates work as detectives, criminal investigators, federal law enforcement agents, and police administrators. The training also prepares graduates for roles in research and policymaking.


Why Get a Degree in Criminology?

An online criminology degree trains master’s students in criminal behavior, profiling, and crime data analytics. Current law enforcement officers advance their career with graduate-level training while other professionals transition into criminal justice with a master’s degree. Graduates work as detectives, criminal investigators, FBI agents, and police administrators. They take on decision-making, policy direction, and research roles in a variety of settings.

The online learning format prioritizes flexibility and accessibility. Working professionals choose a top program without relocating or leaving their job. Distance learning also makes it possible to attend an affordable program in another state.

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How Much Does a Criminology Degree Cost?



The cost of a criminology degree depends on school and enrollment status. Graduate programs typically charge higher tuition rates than undergraduate programs. Public universities usually cost less than private universities, and online learners often benefit from tuition discounts.

Many criminology graduate programs cost over $700 per credit. The online criminology degree at Arizona State University costs $720 per credit, while Northeastern University charges $1,011 per credit for its online master’s in criminology and criminal justice. Some programs charge additional lab fees.

In addition to tuition costs, master’s students must budget for fees, textbooks, and related expenses. Distance learners often benefit from lower transportation, parking, and commuting expenses. Also, an online learning format helps working professionals balance school with their career.

Calculating the Cost of a College Degree



Earning a master’s in criminology typically costs thousands of dollars. But how much can you afford to spend on your degree? Our affordability calculator uses income, expenses, and projected financial aid to determine your budget for college costs. Use the calculator to find a program that fits your budget.

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How Much Do Criminology Majors Make?

Salaries with a master’s in criminology degree vary depending on the job title, employer, and location. Detectives and criminal investigators earn a median annual salary of over $83,000, according to BLS data. Detectives in federal law enforcement earn an even higher average salary of over $107,000. For example, FBI special agents qualify as federal law enforcement officers.

A master’s degree meets the requirements for many supervisory and decision-making roles. Current law enforcement officers often increase their salaries with a master’s degree and move into management and administrative roles. Criminology jobs also present research and policymaking opportunities in the criminal justice field. With additional education, master’s students pursue academic roles such as criminology professor.

Because salaries vary, prospective students should research the earning potential and job growth in their planned career path. For instance, current law enforcement officers can research salary scale in their department.

Courses in Criminology



A master’s in criminology degree emphasizes analytical skills, criminal justice research, and policymaking. During a master’s program, graduate students take courses in criminology theory, data analytics for law enforcement, and crime prevention. They study the application of research in law enforcement practice, and criminal procedure.

Many criminology graduate programs incorporate a practicum, master’s thesis, or capstone project to build professional skills and gain hands-on experience. Master’s students may also choose electives in cybercrime, social policy, or criminal law to specialize their degree. This section introduces common courses during a criminology degree. While every university sets its own curriculum, many include these options.

In criminology theory classes, students examine theories of crime and criminal deviance. The course surveys psychological, sociological, and economic theories of crime, including current social science research on the topic. Learners also examine the relationship between theories and practice, such as law enforcement responses and public policy on crime. The class prepares learners for advanced coursework in criminology.

Data analytics courses train criminology degree-seekers in acquiring and analyzing complex data. Learners strengthen their analytical skills through material on data mining, data analysis, and data sources with a focus on crime data. Topics may include analytics on victimization rates, shootings, geographical hotspots, and judicial rulings.

Master’s students examine effective crime prevention strategies. The course covers advanced topics such as analyzing competing policy proposals, structuring policy memos, and applying crime prevention research in practice. Learners explore policies related to policing, social programs, gun control, and incarceration, including methodological practice. The course prepares graduates for leadership roles in policy formation.

Certifications and Licensure for Criminology



Professional certifications and licenses help criminology specialists demonstrate their skills and experience. For example, focused certifications in law enforcement analysis, financial crime detection, or criminal justice addictions counseling let professionals advance in specialized roles. Most of these certifications require work experience, an examination, and a degree in criminology or criminal justice.

Certified Law Enforcement Analyst


The CLEA credential demonstrates expertise in crime analysis, intelligence analysis, profiling, investigative analysis, and police research. Candidates qualify through a point system that considers work experience, academic training, skills, and professional knowledge. Applicants must hold at least three years of experience as an analyst and demonstrate current membership in the International Association of Crime Analysts.

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Certified Financial Crime Specialist


The CFCS credential demonstrates expertise in financial crime, like fraud, tax evasion, and human trafficking. Candidates provide two professional references and pass an examination using online proctoring software to complete the exam from home. The 145-question exam takes four hours to finish.

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Criminal Justice Addictions Professional


The CCJP credential recognizes experienced addiction counseling professionals. Candidates meet educational and experience requirements, including supervised professional experience. The credential also requires passing scores on an examination. Professionals apply for the credential with their local member board, so the procedures and documentation requirements vary.

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Scholarships for Criminology



Criminology graduate students qualify for several scholarships to cover their degree costs. Professional organizations, private foundations, and universities offer scholarships to criminal justice and criminology students. In addition to the opportunities below, master’s students should research scholarships based on their career plans, state, and professional background.

  • American Criminal Justice Association Scholarships

    Who Can Apply: The ACJA scholarship offers financial support to graduate students pursuing a degree in criminal justice or a related field like criminology. The association also offers a student paper competition and other awards.

    Amount: Varies

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  • Melissa Linville Criminal Justice Scholarship

    Who Can Apply: The scholarship supports students seeking a career in criminal justice. Applicants must hold a minimum 3.0 GPA and enroll in a higher education program in the criminal justice field. The scholarship requires an essay.

    Amount: Varies

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Online Master’s In Criminology Programs 2021



See Our Rankings Methodology
  1. University of California-Irvine
    Location

    Irvine, CA

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    A public university in Southern California, UCI offers an online master's in criminology. Focusing on theoretical and practical approaches to crime, the program prepares graduates for leadership positions in criminal justice organizations or policymaking institutions. The degree can serve as a stepping stone to a doctoral program. UCI also offers an online legal and forensic psychology master's degree for students interested in psychological principles and their applications in the legal system.

    Master's students complete the online criminology degree in six quarters. The online program includes a five-day introductory course at the UCI campus. The total curriculum comprises 13 courses, including a capstone where graduate students write a research paper. Class topics include crime and social deviance, public policy, cybercrime, corporate crime, hate crimes, and crime hotspots.

    Prospective students submit transcripts, a resume, and three recommendation letters. The program does not require GRE scores; instead, applicants submit two writing samples. UCI is regionally accredited by the WASC Senior College and University Commission.

  2. Missouri State University-Springfield
    Location

    Springfield, MO

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    From its Springfield campus, Missouri State offers online and in-person degrees, including a master's in criminology. The program emphasizes leadership, decision-making skills, and policy analysis. Degree-seekers learn to analyze criminal justice policy, apply leadership strategies in criminal justice settings, and evaluate criminology research.

    Missouri State's criminology curriculum covers topics including crime theory, criminal justice policy, and juvenile justice. The fully online program requires four semesters of coursework. Criminology graduate students choose between a 30-credit or 36-credit option depending on whether they choose to complete a master's thesis.

    Prospective students must hold an accredited bachelor's degree with a minimum 3.0 GPA. Missouri State also admits students with a minimum combined score of 290 on the GRE. Applicants submit official transcripts, a statement of intent, and two reference letters. Admission does not require GRE scores. Missouri State is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

  3. West Liberty University
    Location

    West Liberty, WV

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    West Virginia's oldest college, WLU grants degrees as a public institution. At WLU, graduate students can earn their master's in criminology degree online. The program offers concentrations in law enforcement and courts/corrections to focus the course of study.

    The 30-credit curriculum includes core classes in theoretical criminology, research methods, and criminological statistics. Students in the law enforcement concentration take courses in crime prevention. The courts/corrections concentration includes classes in criminal justice management and legal issues in criminology. Degree-seekers choose from electives including public policy, international crime, terrorism, cybercrime, and white collar crime.

    Prospective students need a regionally accredited bachelor's degree with a minimum 2.5 GPA. The WLU application requires a personal statement and a resume. The criminology program does not require GRE scores and does not charge an admission fee. WLU is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

  4. Indiana State University
    Location

    Terre Haute, IN

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    ISU offers a criminology master's degree for students seeking career advancement in criminal justice or academic and research training. Master's students specialize in areas such as criminal investigation, cyber criminology, security studies, and intelligence analysis. The fully online program prepares graduates for professional roles in criminal justice organizations.

    The 36-credit online criminology degree includes courses in criminal justice research, criminological theory, and criminal justice management. Learners choose from electives such as advanced criminal procedure, advanced criminal investigations, and public administration.

    Prospective students must hold a bachelor's degree from a regionally accredited institution. ISU requires a minimum 2.75 GPA or a minimum 3.0 GPA in the applicant's final 60 major credits. Candidates submit a statement of purpose and three recommendation letters. The program does not require GRE scores. ISU is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

  5. Indiana University of Pennsylvania-Main Campus
    Location

    Indiana, PA

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    A public university located 55 miles north of Pittsburgh, IUP offers an online master's in criminology. The program trains graduates for criminal justice research and administrative roles in federal law enforcement, corrections, and the juvenile justice system. IUP emphasizes criminology theory, research methodology, and evidence-based training for criminal justice practitioners.

    At IUP, criminology master's students take core courses and choose from unique electives. The 30-credit curriculum blends coursework in criminal justice administration with research-based classes. Degree-seekers choose between a thesis option where they complete an independent research project or a non-thesis option requiring a capstone project.

    Full-time distance learners earn their degree in as little as one year. IUP also offers a part-time track that takes two years. Prospective students submit an online application, official transcripts, a goal statement, and two recommendation letters. IUP is regionally accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education.

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