Online Master’s Programs In Criminal Justice

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Discover Online Master’s in Criminal Justice

Law enforcement, the court system and corrections are the three main sectors of the criminal justice system. For those already employed in these sectors, an online master’s degree in criminal justice provides the knowledge and skills necessary to pursue an advanced career in a multitude of fields. Discover how to choose the best online master’s degree program in criminal justice and learn about the many jobs open to you after graduation including positions in law enforcement administration, emergency management and cybercrime investigation.

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Featured Online Schools

Choosing a high-quality master’s in criminal justice program ensures you receive the specialized instruction key to your future career success. The following rankings are based on each university’s published materials as well as data from the U.S. Department of Education and the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDs). All schools on this list are fully accredited.

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Top 10 Best Online Master’s Programs in Criminal Justice

  1. Saint Leo University

    St. Leo, FL



    Professionals in the criminal justice field interested in broadening their knowledge, increasing their skills or expanding their area of expertise can choose from several different areas of specializations with the online Master of Science in Criminal Justice program at Saint Leo University. Specialization options include Behavioral Studies, Corrections, Criminal Investigations, Forensic Science, Legal Studies, and Emergency and Disaster Management. Concepts covered in the 36-credit hour criminal justice programs include computerized databases, ethical standards in the administration of justice, human and fiscal resource management, policymaking, organizational leadership in criminal justice agencies, and personnel law, civil liability and substantive and procedural laws. All MS in Criminal Justice program participants take 5 core courses: Ethical Issues in Criminal Justice Administration, Legal Issues in Criminal Justice Administration, Public Policy Making in Criminal Justice, Leadership Applications in Criminal Justice and Applied Project in Criminal Justice Administration. Sample courses in the various specializations include Criminal Advocacy and Judicial Procedure, Advanced Forensic Science and Investigative Methodologies of Violence. Graduates are prepared for administrative positions in law enforcement, corrections, the courts, private security and security-related positions at the local, state or federal government levels. Specific positions could include correction supervisor, sheriff, forensic scientist, U.S. marshal, Secret Service agent, FBI agent or police sergeant. Online programs have 6 start dates throughout the year and typically take about 2 years to complete, though there is an accelerated option for students who receive special approval from the school. Academic advisers, tutoring, library resources, financial aid and career counseling are available to online students. Saint Leo University is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

  2. Liberty University

    Lynchburg, VA



    The online Master in Criminal Justice degree at Liberty University offers multiple options so students can customize their degree with a specialization in forensic psychology, homeland security or public administration. The 36-credit hour degree can be completed in less than 2 years. The Christian school integrates ethics, criminal justice and biblical principles into its programs. The MS in Criminal Justice Forensic Psychology track covers crisis intervention, psychology and the legal system, and rehabilitation of offenders. Homeland Security students learn about the Homeland Security organization and administration, legal issues of the organization and complete a Homeland Security capstone. The Public Administration specialization focuses on public policy analysis, politics, and communication and conflict. The 6 core course requirements for all specialties include Criminal Justice Integration, Administration of Justice Organizations, Topics and Trends in Criminal Justice, Criminal Justice Program Evaluation, and Leadership, Ethics and Policing. Depending on the specialization, potential career areas for graduates can include law enforcement, corrections, counterterrorism, emergency management, intelligence, forensic science and homeland security. Students can access courses, including content, assignments and tests, in the Blackboard online learning environment. Online students can connect with classmates and access resources such as academic advisers, the library, online writing center, online student communities and financial aid. Liberty University discounts tuition for current and former military members and offers an additional discount for veterans who serve in a civilian capacity as an emergency responder. Liberty University is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

  3. Missouri Baptist University

    Saint Louis, MO



    The online Master of Science in Criminal Justice at Missouri Baptist University, which prepares professionals in law enforcement, corrections and other criminal justice fields for career advancement, is 100% online and can be completed in 12-24 months. Because Missouri Baptist is an evangelical Christian, liberal arts institution, the criminal justice program teaches law enforcement and disciplinary ethics with a Christian perspective. The degree focuses on the development of leadership and administrative skills to prepare graduates for management positions in the criminal justice field. The 36-credit program consists of 12 courses, including Criminal Justice Ethics and Leadership, Civil Remedies in Criminal Justice, Criminal Justice and the Mental Health Systems, Communities and Crime, and Foundations of Criminological Theory. Students end the degree with a research capstone project, where they combine classroom learning with professional experience to address current issues in the criminal justice field. Students already employed in the criminal justice field can work with their immediate superior in choosing their project. Potential career positions for graduates include probation officer, police officer and private detective. Classes are offered in an asynchronous format, so students can complete assignments at their convenience. Up to 6 graduate credits may be transferred from another regionally accredited college or university, and credit may be awarded for life experiences obtained through a professional career, community participation or military experience. Online students have access to study skills resources, tutoring and financial aid. Full-time criminal justice professionals can apply for a $500 Law Enforcement Grant for each semester they carry a full-time course load. Missouri Baptist University is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

  4. Utica College

    Utica, NY



    Combatting financial crime is the focus of the online Executive Master of Science in Financial Crime and Compliance Management at Utica University. The program was developed in 1999 by leaders in industries and governmental organizations that combat economic and cybercrime. This specialized program is the only graduate level program of its kind in the country, according to the school. The curriculum centers on fraud and compliance risk management strategies, economic crime challenges, and technological and analytical solutions. Courses cover organizational theory and risk management, economic crime, legal and regulatory compliance issues, internet and computer security, and fraud analysis. Students learn how to identify different types of white-collar crime and fraud analysis investigative techniques as well as how to respond to economic threats. Students, in a cohort format, take 2 classes each semester for 6 semesters, completing the degree in 2 years. The program requires a 4-day residency at the campus in Utica, New York, for hands-on digital forensics training. Applicants to the program must have 3-5 years of fraud, auditing or financial investigation experience. Graduates are prepared to take the Certified Anti-Money Laundering Specialist and Certified Fraud Examiners examinations. Students who complete the degree can find careers as fraud investigators, attorneys, loss-prevention managers, auditors and compliance managers. Online students get support from academic advisors, success coaches, financial aid counselors, librarians, career counselors and technical assistants. Utica is accredited by the Commission on Higher Education of the Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools.

  5. Sam Houston State University

    Huntsville, TX



    Sam Houston State University offers 2 options to earn an online master's degree in criminal justice: a Master of Science in Criminal Justice and a Master of Science in Criminal Justice Leadership and Management. Each program is 36 credit hours and takes about 2 years to complete. Graduates are prepared to advance in careers in law enforcement, corrections, securities and social services. The Master of Science in Criminal Justice is designed for all applicants, whether or not they have previous academic or work experience in criminal justice, who are seeking a master's degree in the field but do not plan to seek a PhD. The Master of Science in Criminal Justice Leadership and Management is geared toward working criminal justice professionals seeking career advancement or who intend to ultimately pursue a PhD. Applicants to this program must be currently employed in a criminal justice-related agency with a minimum of 3 years experience. Sample courses in the programs include Critical Analysis of Justice Administration, Research Methods, Quantitative Analysis, Community Theory and Administration of Justice, Emergent Issues in Criminal Justice Leadership, Legal Aspects of Criminal Management and Ethics of Criminal Justice. Potential career positions for graduates of the criminal justice programs include judges, chief probation officers, police administrators, victim advocates and federal law enforcement agents. Academic advising, tutoring, library services, career counseling and financial aid are available for online students. Sam Houston State University is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

  6. Concordia University-Saint Paul

    Saint Paul, MN



    The online Master of Arts in Criminal Justice Leadership at Concordia University, St. Paul expands career advancement opportunities for leaders in law enforcement to potential positions in criminal investigation, forensics, security and emergency management. Students in the 36-credit program are from varying backgrounds, such as law enforcement, branches of the military, social services and the penal system. The online format gives flexibility to working students who can access courses and complete assignments when convenient. Courses, which each run 7 weeks, include Research Methods in Criminal Justice, Administration of Criminal Justice, Applied Ethics in Criminal Justice Leadership, Research Methods in Criminal Justice, Correctional Design, Legal and Legislative Issues and Contemporary Issues in Criminal Justice Leadership. Specific potential positions for graduates of the MA in Criminal Justice Leadership program include forensic psychologist, criminal sociologist, corrections supervisor, criminal profiler, forensic examiner, district attorney investigator, police or detective supervisor and emergency management director. Concordia University, St. Paul is a Christian, liberal arts university that boasts a diverse student body and sense of community both on campus and online. Financial aid is available for eligible students, with special discounts and scholarship opportunities for active and retired military members and their spouses. Concordia University, Saint Paul is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

  7. Anderson University

    Anderson, SC



    The Master of Criminal Justice degree at Anderson University is a hybrid program that allows working criminal justice professionals to take most coursework online while requiring a few brief on-campus sessions for hands-on learning activities. Applicants to the program must have at least 5 years of law enforcement experience. The 36-credit degree can be completed in 20 months and prepares graduates for careers as executive-level officials in criminal justice agencies, such as chief of police, manager in a state or federal law enforcement agency or sheriff. A new cohort of 10-20 students enters the program each fall. Participants study research methods, the role of law enforcement, responsibilities of executive-level leaders, strategic planning and how to respond to the news media. Sample courses, available via the Canvas online learning system, include the Role of the Chief Executive, Executive Liability, Media and Political Survival, Managing a Multicultural Department and Criminal Justice Research. In addition to online classwork, program participants attend classes at the AU campus in Anderson, South Carolina, 2 days a month for executive class sessions for a total of 4 campus visits per semester. During these on-campus visits, students practice mock drills and press conferences and participate in group projects and case studies. Participants receive reading assignments before each term prior to the first on-campus class session and then work independently online between on-campus sessions. Students are also graded on participation in online chat rooms and forums. Resources available for online students include library services and financial aid. Anderson University, a Christian institution, is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

  8. University of the Cumberlands

    Williamsburg, KY



    This Kentucky university was founded in 1888 by Baptist ministers to prepare students for ethical leadership and community service with a curriculum imbued with Christian values. Law enforcement professionals who seek to advance to leadership, management or administrative positions in public service can pursue the online Master of Justice Administration (M.J.A.) at University of the Cumberlands. Designed by law enforcement professionals, this fully online program was developed to enable those already working in the field to complete their advanced training while holding full-time positions in law enforcement agencies. The program is comprised of 31 credit hours, which include 18 hours of core courses (foundational courses in criminal justice and administration), 12 hours of specialization courses and a capstone project. Students choose from among 8 specialization tracks within the program: law enforcement, corrections, homeland security, juvenile justice, family services, investigations, addiction studies and Kentucky Legislative Ethics Commission (or equivalent). The program can be completed in as little as 1 year, but students can set their own pace as long as they complete the program within 4 years of enrolling. Applicants need not possess undergraduate degrees in criminal justice, but their official transcripts must show cumulative grade point averages (GPAs) from bachelor's programs of 3.0 or higher. Transfer students must show a minimum grade of B in their courses in order for their course work to be eligible for transfer. Applicants also must submit a 500-word essay focusing on their backgrounds and academic and professional goals and 2 letters of reference in addition to completing an interview with the program director. The online MJA costs $315 per credit hour and a $50 technology fee is charged per term. Students receive free counseling and career services.

  9. Chaminade University of Honolulu

    Honolulu, HI



    The Master of Science in Criminal Justice Administration (M.S.C.J.A.) at Chaminade University of Honolulu prepares graduates for managerial and research positions in all aspects of the criminal justice system, in both the public and private sectors as well as in academia. It also prepares graduates for law school. Students enrolled in this 42-credit program choose from among 3 academic tracks: correctional, law enforcement or generalist, which provides students with a composite of courses dealing with the entire criminal justice system. The program can be completed in 18 to 24 months, though because it's intended to be flexible for adults working full time, students have up to 5 years from enrollment to complete their studies. Chaminade ensures small online class sizes to provide students with individualized attention, and course terms are on an accelerated 10-week schedule (with a minimum of 2 classes offered per term). The program culminates with a capstone project. Admission takes place 4 times a year: July, October, January and April. All application materials must be submitted at least 1 month prior to the start of the term. Applicants must hold a bachelor's degree with a minimum GPA of 3.0, be proficient in English, submit 3 letters of recommendation and complete a formal interview with a member of the program faculty. Tuition is the same for both on-campus and online students, although online students pay an additional fee of $93 per course. Students enrolled in this program also have access to Smarthinking Online Tutoring, a free online tutoring service; academic advisers; and assistance with career development.

  10. University of Central Florida

    Orlando, FL



    The University of Central Florida's College of Community Innovation and Education prepares graduates for work involving civic engagement or public service. Through this college, UCF offers an online Master of Science (M.S.) degree in criminal justice. The program is designed to help students advance to leadership or supervisory positions in law enforcement, criminal investigations or corrections. The program is 36 credit hours, which includes 21 credit hours of core courses, 6 of restricted electives and 9 of general electives. To complete the program, students must take a final written exam in their capstone class. Students may elect to complete a thesis, which would account for 6 of the general elective credit hours. Although the program can be completed online, some electives may not be available online. If students are interested in a career in public administration, UCF also offers an online Master of Public Administration (M.P.A.) + M.S.C.J. dual degree option, which provides a graduate with 2 diplomas. In addition to their online applications, applicants must submit official transcripts from colleges attended, a resume, a statement of career goals and how the program will help them meet those goals and 2 letters of recommendation. Though the program's minimum GPA requirement for admission is 3.0, students not meeting that requirement may be considered for provisional acceptance. In these cases students are encouraged to submit a competitive GRE score as part of the admissions package. Courses are $327.32 per credit hour for in-state students and $694.82 for out-of-state students. Online students receive a number of support services, including tech support, online success coaches, online skills training, career support services and academic advisement.

What Can I Learn in an Online Master’s in Criminal Justice Program?

An online master’s degree program in criminal justice prepares students to manage security and justice issues at local, state, national and, in some cases, international levels. Criminal justice programs expect students to gain a deeper understanding of crime, the U.S. justice system and security issues in the U.S. through developing theoretical, methodological and policy-related knowledge and skills. Many schools also provide the following skills to graduates:

  • Analyze and interpret theories of criminology
  • Evaluate domestic and international threats of terrorism
  • Become an expert in the U.S. justice system
  • Evaluate crime data and report to local authorities and law enforcement

What common courses are offered in a master’s in criminal justice program?

While the school and specialization will determine the specific course titles, here are some common topics:

Criminal Justice Theory

Overview of major classical and contemporary theories regarding crime and criminal behavior. Explores how these theories are linked to current criminal justice policies related to treatment, punishment and prevention.

Critical Analysis and Research in Criminal Justice

Introduction to criminal research methods including defining research problems, research design, ethics, sampling and analysis.

Foundations of Criminology and Public Policy

Reviews the connection between theoretical criminology and public policy as well as the implications in areas such as criminality, recidivism and victimization.

Criminal Justice Leadership and Supervision

Critical evaluation of criminal justice administration and management through research literature. Topics include organizational structure, communication and personnel evaluation.

Criminal Justice Systems

Students develop an in-depth understanding of the history, current and future functions of the three main parts of the criminal justice system: law enforcement agencies, court system and the corrections agencies.

Terrorism and Homeland Security

Overview of homeland security in the U.S. since 9/11, concentrating on identifying the enemy, identifying the infrastructure, learning policies and procedures and exploring critical legal issues.

What exams or projects should I expect?

The requirements of each online criminal justice master’s program will vary by school, but many schools will require either a capstone thesis or a comprehensive examination.

In a capstone thesis, students will choose an issue related to their field of interest, examining a legal, philosophical or theoretical question. For example, a student could research the correlation between crime and education or crime and employment status. Once the research project is completed, the student presents the paper orally in front of the committee and fields questions as part of their thesis defense.

During a comprehensive examination, students are expected to write focused, coherent answers to questions about the functions of law enforcement, the court system and corrections in the major criminal justice systems. For instance, students may be asked to analyze theories of criminal behavior, discuss emergent criminal threats such as terrorism, examine rules of law and explore critical court cases at the local, state and Supreme Court levels.

What specializations are available in a master’s in criminal justice program?

Because criminal justice is such a wide area of study, students may specialize in a particular area. The specializations below are offered by many online criminal justice master’s programs. Review the options and make sure a prospective school allows concentrations in areas of interest.

Corrections Administration

Explores ethical, legal and public policy issues and interventions related to offenders and rehabilitation. This field applies to correctional officers, criminal justice administrators and government officials in case management and correctional leadership positions at local, state and Federal institutions.

Law Enforcement

This criminal justice specialization focuses on management in criminal law, intelligence and policing organizations. It covers skills in criminal justice ethics, intelligence, investigation and leadership applicable to advanced positions within law enforcement organizations including police officers, special agents, correctional officers and others responsible for preventing and intervening in criminal activity.


Criminology is a behavioral science and examines the legal, social and psychological factors that result in criminal activity including research on the ways to prevent crime and rehabilitate offenders. Applies to working professionals seeking advanced research and academic positions who examine why crime occurs and how it affects society and public policy.

Cybercrime Investigation

An examination of how technology relates to domestic and international cybercrimes such as human trafficking and cyberstalking. Explores cybercrime investigation, computer forensics and cybersecurity. Teaches the skills needed to gather evidence while building a criminal case by retrieving and analyzing data and instructs methods to detect and prevent cybercrime.

Homeland Security and Emergency Management

Trains students to respond practically to real-world national terror threats and catastrophic events. Instructs students on emergency preparedness for community disasters including assessment and management. Explores how disasters affect the community and causes and effects of terrorism from religious and political perspectives.

What Can I do with a Master’s in Criminal Justice Degree?

Career pathways for individuals with an online master’s degree in criminal justice are varied. There are opportunities in law enforcement, the legal system and corrections as well as jobs with private organizations. Here are some careers for advanced degree-holders in criminal justice:

State Correctional Treatment Specialist

Advises offenders in the prison system and connects them with social support services and rehabilitation as they prepare to reintegrate into the community. Provides psychological evaluations, counseling and training to a caseload of inmates, developing self-improvement programs to ensure mental health and substance abuse problems are being treated.

Federal Special Agent

Law enforcement specialist who enforces and investigates federal statute violations as part of a federal agency such as the U.S. Air Force, FBI, or U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Typically conducts surveillance and field work as part of a team or task force. Also, must write detailed reports used for evidence in court cases.

Forensic Computer Analyst

Recovers and evaluates deleted data or encrypted files from digital artifacts including hard drives, other storage devices, and the Internet while employed by law enforcement agencies, government agencies, corporations, banks, and other organizations. Investigates hacking activities by unauthorized users.

*Possible certifications: Certified Forensic Computer Examiner CFCE from the International Society of Forensic Computer Examiners (ISFCE) or International Association of Computer Investigative Specialists (IACIS). Advanced Computer System Security, Computer Forensics, or Advanced Forensic certification from Cyber Enforcement Resource Incorporated.

Criminal Profiler

Social science or law enforcement professional who studies criminal motives, methods, and criminology theories. Usually begins as an investigator or detective with a large local or federal law enforcement agency such as the FBI. Works with detectives to develop leads and suspects and analyze crime scenes. Writes reports, gives court testimony and studies human behavior.

Deputy Chief, Police Department

Law enforcement administrator who coordinates investigations and supervises police officers, detectives, and other staff as part of managing the department. Ensures subordinates follow laws, procedures, and guidelines ethically in the community. Set budgets and handles community complaints. Found at the local state and federal levels and universities with a police force.

Emergency Management Specialist

Plans emergency response programs and procedures for major emergencies and disasters such as evacuation routes. Coordinates team members including police officers, firefighters, paramedics, and others and works with government agencies. Develops preparedness training courses. May work at a local or state agency or within Homeland Security’s Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), managing Federal response and recovery efforts after a national incident. May require specialization in emergency management or law enforcement.

Criminal justice students can find valuable resources and networking opportunities from professional organizations. In addition to discounts and career boards, members can attend annual conferences. Check out the organizations below to find one that meets your needs.

American Correctional Association

The ACA is the corrections industry’s private accrediting body, providing professional development and certification as well as an annual Congress of Correction convention.

American Society of Criminology

ASC represents those professionals in research, teaching and practice in the fields of criminal justice and criminology. Includes thirteen divisions including Division of Policing, Division of Victimology and Division of Terrorism and Bias Crimes. ASC also publishes three journals and a monthly newsletter.

Association of Law Enforcement Intelligence Units

ALEIU members represent the criminal intelligence community. The organization offers training and classes including certification training at its annual conference. ALEIU’s clearinghouse provides open and confidential communication for its 240 local, state and federal member agencies.

International Association of Crime Analysts

In addition to managing the Certified Law Enforcement Analyst Program (CLEA), IACA offers the Crime Analysis Development Center providing information for current and future crime analysts.

Justice Research Statistics Association

With more than 1 million members, JRSA is made up of a network of researchers and practitioners who conduct the analyses that inform criminal justice system policy at local and state levels. Members can access webinars, events, publications and employment opportunities online.

How Much Can I Make With a Career in Criminal Justice?

There are a wide range of career options available to those with a master’s degree in criminal justice. Here are a few potential options for criminal justice careers, those students should keep in mind that some careers may require additional certification, experience or licensure in addition a master’s degree in criminal justice.

Career Lowest 10% Earned Annually Median Annual Salary Highest 10% Earned Annually Job Growth 2016-2026
Probation Officers & Correctional Treatment Specialist Less than $33,920 $51,410 More than $90,880 +6%
Special Agents Less than $35,780 * for all police & detective positions $79,970* for all detectives & criminal investigators More than $105,230 * for all police & detective positions +7% * for all police & detective positions
Emergency Management Director Less than $38,270 $72,760 More than $141,620 +8%

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2018

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, career growth in criminal justice is projected to be similar to the average for all occupations because budgets are limited in all areas of law enforcement and emergency management.

BLS also finds job openings will occur due to turnover and retirement from high-stress positions such as correctional treatment specialists, law enforcement administration and criminal profilers. Although emergency services jobs will remain essential as businesses and organizations focus on disaster prevention and planning, local and state governments may shift responsibility for emergency services to law enforcement personnel due to lack of funds.

Financially, there is a large difference between the salaries of someone in criminal justice with a master’s degree versus someone with just a bachelor’s degree. The median annual salary for someone with a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice is $54,000 according to Center on Education and the Workforce. A master’s degree in criminal justice bumps the median salary to $70,000, making it clear that individuals should expect to earn a higher salary with a more advanced degree.

Online Master’s in Criminal Justice Program Accreditation

It’s important to select an online criminal justice master’s degree program with full accreditation from a U.S. Department of Education regional accreditation agency. For a program to receive regional accreditation it must pass a thorough review process. Without accreditation, students may find it difficult to qualify for financial aid, transfer credits or secure a job after graduation. Online schools can also receive accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council which oversees distance learning programs. The international organization Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences (ACJS) certifies a limited number of criminal justice programs in the U.S. based on specific criteria.

How to Pay for a Master’s in Criminal Justice Degree

Tuition prices vary widely depending on the institution. Even though the cost of obtaining a master’s degree continues to rise, there is money available from several different places for eligible students to help cover the cost of education:

  • Federal Financial Aid

    By filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid online, prospective students can determine how much federal aid they qualify for, including grants and loans.

  • Criminal Justice Research Assistantships

    Many programs allow professors to hire assistants to help with research or teach undergraduates. Research assistant positions may pay a stipend or cover tuition. For example, up to 20 research assistants are hired at Eastern Kentucky University each year in the criminal justice program. EKU’s research assistants have the opportunity to travel to conferences with costs covered by travel stipends.

  • Criminal Justice Scholarships

    Information about scholarships for students in online criminal justice master’s degree programs is available from the financial aid office at each institution as well as from places such as and the Office of Justice.

  • Your Employer

    For those employed in a criminal justice organization, it may be possible to receive tuition assistance or tuition reimbursement. Check with your human resources department to find out if they participate.

  • Credit for Life/Work Experience

    Many online degree programs, like Walden University, award credit for life or work experience, reducing the amount of total tuition you need to pay to graduate. See this guide for more information about credit for work experience.

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