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Online Master’s Programs in Criminal Justice

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Updated on: 09/20/2018

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.

Best Online Master's in Criminal Justice 2018-2019

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Best Online Master’s in Criminal Justice 2018-2019

Deciding which college to go to is no easy task, so ACO evaluated more than 3,500 colleges to give you the information you need to make the search more manageable. Our 2018 college rankings are based on statistical data from trusted sources, eligibility criteria and various ranking factors

Data Sources: Eligibility Criteria:
  • Each college must be accredited
  • Each college must be a not-for-profit institution
  • Each college must be located in a state (US territories and Washington DC were excluded)
  • Each college must have at least one online program 1
Ranking Factors:
  • Affordability
  • Quality
  • Flexibility
  • Program

Several individual data points were objectively evaluated to calculate a score for each ranking factor listed above. For affordability, the most impactful data points were tuition2 and grants; for quality, graduation and acceptance rates; for flexibility, part-time enrollment options; and for program, degrees granted in that specific program area. Each score was then weighted, with affordability being the most highly weighted factor for all ACO rankings.

1 Best Vocational Programs included data for both online and campus programs.

2 Both in-state and out-of-state tuition rates were used in our methodology; however, our rankings tool currently only displays in-state rates.

Notes:
  • A dash in our Rankings Tool indicates IPEDS data was not available.
  • Tuition displayed in in-state and per year unless stated otherwise.
2-Year 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.

Rank School Name Location Tuition Financial Aid Acceptance Rate Graduation Rate # of Online Programs Credit for Experience Placement Services Counseling Services University Information
1 Saint Leo University Saint Leo, Florida $22,400 100% 70% 43% 7 Yes Yes Yes

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.

School website
2 Liberty University Lynchburg, Virginia $23,800 96% 24% 55% 4 Yes Yes Yes

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.

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3 Missouri Baptist University Saint Louis, Missouri $25,816 98% 51% 44% 2 Yes Yes Yes

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.

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4 Utica College Utica, New York $19,446 97% 82% 44% 1 Yes Yes Yes

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.

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5 Sam Houston State University Huntsville, Texas $5,172 25% 72% 56% 3 Yes Yes Yes

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.

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6 Concordia University-Saint Paul Saint Paul, Minnesota $21,750 97% 57% 49% 1 Yes Yes Yes

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.

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7 Anderson University Anderson, South Carolina $25,140 100% 54% 53% 1 No Yes Yes

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.

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8 University of the Cumberlands Williamsburg, Kentucky $9,765 100% 71% 36% 1 No No Yes

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.

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9 Chaminade University of Honolulu Honolulu, Hawaii $25,374 98% 91% 51% 1 Yes Yes Yes

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.

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10 University of Central Florida Orlando, Florida $6,368 43% 50% 73% 2 Yes Yes Yes

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.

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11 Troy University Troy, Alabama $20,830 57% 91% 39% 2 Yes Yes Yes

Troy University in Alabama is a practitioner-centered school in which faculty members are also professionals in their fields. Its online Master of Science in criminal justice is a 30-credit program (36 if student chooses a thesis option) that prepares students for leadership or advanced roles in law enforcement, security, corrections, criminology or investigations. Students may also choose to add a security studies concentration to their programs. To earn their diplomas, students must complete the program with GPAs of 3.0 or higher, a grade of B or better in the Research Methods for Criminal Justice course and either a B or better in the capstone course (for non-thesis students) or successful defense of a thesis for thesis-program students. Most online courses run for 9 weeks, which helps accelerate the time to degree completion. To be admitted, students must hold 4-year degrees (though they need not be in criminal justice or related subjects), have undergraduate GPAs of 2.5 or higher and earn required scores on their entrance exams (GRE: 290; MAT: 385; GMAT: 380). Professional experience is considered but not required. The $494 per credit tuition for online courses represents significant savings over the on-campus tuition of $850 per credit for out-of-state students, but is higher than in-state tuition of $425 per credit for on-campus courses. Students have access to Troy's John W. Schmidt Center for Student Success, which provides academic support, skills training and community engagement for students. This includes help with career preparation and planning, financial and economic literacy, academic counseling and help with study skills.

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12 University of Nebraska at Omaha Omaha, Nebraska $7,790 49% 86% 50% 1 Yes Yes Yes

Students at the University of Nebraska at Omaha may opt to complete the Master of Science in criminology and criminal justice through a fully online delivery format, entirely on campus or through a hybrid of the two. The 36-credit-hour program can be completed in as little as 18 months if students are enrolled full time, though students have the option of completing the program at a slower pace. Upon finishing their 11 classes, students must finish a capstone course to successfully graduate. The program is professionally oriented, meaning it's intended for students looking to advance in their careers, rather than pursue theoretical research. Students may elect to pursue either a public administration or counseling specialization, for an additional 9-12 credits, or a minor, for an additional 9 credits. A student wishing to apply to the program should possess a bachelor's degree (it need not be in criminal justice), 2 letters of recommendation and a statement of purpose that explains the student's reason for pursuing the degree or field. If the student wishes to obtain unconditional admission, the cumulative GPA for his or her last 2 years of undergraduate school must be 3.0 or higher and the student should have at least 12 credit hours of criminal justice or related courses. Tuition for online courses in this program is slightly higher than for on-campus courses, as it includes distance-learning and other online-specific fees. However, online fees provide for student access to the Academic and Career Development Center, which provides students with advice and support with online learning and career planning.

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13 Bethel University McKenzie, Tennessee $9,305 77% 67% 38% 1 Yes Yes Yes

This Christian institution established in 1842 offers a fully online Master of Science (M.S.) in criminal justice to give law enforcement or other criminal justice professionals the opportunity to advance their careers and train for leadership roles. Bethel offers 1 of only 14 criminal justice programs in the country endorsed by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). The 36-credit-hour program includes courses in criminal law, ethics, research methods, criminology theory, homeland security assessment, crime mapping, administration and diversity within the criminal justice system. The program culminates with the completion of 2 of the following 3 requirements: a human resources course, an organizational development project or a seminar in which students do in-person presentations at regional satellite campuses. To apply, a student must submit an online application, an official transcript showing successful completion of at least a Bachelor of Science degree, 2 professional references, a resume showing at least 3 years' work experience, a 500- to 800-word essay about why the student wants to pursue a graduate degree from Bethel University, a copy of a photo ID and a Social Security card, and the student must have a zero balance with Bethel University. Admission is rolling, so students should submit applications well in advance of the terms in which they'd like to start. Tuition for online M.S. criminal justice students is $495 per credit hour and includes all course fees, textbooks and materials, technology and even breakfast and/or lunch at orientations and seminars (but doesn't include travel costs). Members of the military and veterans may be eligible to receive tuition reduction waivers. Online students at Bethel have access to online career services and an online library.

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14 Columbia College Columbia, Missouri $6,840 27% - 40% 1 Yes Yes Yes

Columbia College, which is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission, offers a fully online program to earn a Master of Science in Criminal Justice. Admissions occur on a rolling basis, allowing students to begin their studies at 6 different dates each year. Applicants must demonstrate a minimum 3.0 GPA in undergraduate coursework and submit 3 recommendation letters, a statement of goals and a resume. Curriculum is intended to grow the administrative competence of professionals already working in the criminal justice field, as well as to prepare students who plan to work toward doctoral studies. Degree completion requires the satisfaction of 36 credit hours with a 3.0 grade average. Foundational courses explore research designs, ethical issues and the legal aspects of criminal justice management. Core courses cover topics of human resources, budgeting for criminal justice managers and crisis intervention. Students then choose from electives such as comparative criminal justice systems or a seminar in juvenile justice. There is also an option to specialize in either law enforcement administration or corrections administration. Both concentrations call for an additional 9 credit hours. If you are unsure of whether the online learning environment is right for you, take this self-readiness quiz. Classes are delivered through the web platform Desire2Learn and you can participate in the online student orientation to learn some tips and tricks for navigating the system. In-state and out-of-state enrollees pay the same tuition rates and those currently serving in the military receive over $200 in discounts. The school also awards around $4,000,000 in scholarships each year.

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15 University of Great Falls Great Falls, Montana $24,968 96% 57% 36% 1 Yes Yes Yes

Students at the Catholic-based University of Providence can enroll in an online format to receive a Master of Science in Organizational Leadership with a criminal justice concentration. The program is designed for those who are already working in the criminal justice field or have undergraduate degrees in sociology, psychology or criminal justice. Prospective students strive to work in administrative or managerial positions in law enforcement and judicial settings. Core work involves 12 credit hours covering topics of organizational leadership, communications, evidence-based practices and organizational finance. Field-specific curriculum examines juvenile justice, the psychology of criminal behavior and human resources management. Students also select 9 credit hours of electives, which may include participating in an internship experience. All 36 credits must be completed with a 3.0 GPA. You will access your semi-structured curriculum through the web platform Moodle, which allows you to work toward deadlines and assignments on your own schedule. Online learners can utilize the library and bookstore to assist in their studies. The Writing & Critical Thinking Center offers online consultations and students can connect with other resources through the Academic Success Center. Tuition is the same for in-state and out-of-state enrollees. If you are interested in applying, you will need to show proof of a minimum 3.0 GPA in your coursework, as well as submit 3 letters of recommendation, a resume and a personal statement. If you don't meet the grade average, you can substitute this requirement with GRE scores of 150 for verbal and 149 for quantitative.

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16 Tiffin University Tiffin, Ohio $22,800 91% 76% 44% 5 Yes Yes Yes

Tiffin University is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission and offers 6 different specializations to earn a Master of Science in Criminal Justice through a fully online curriculum. Those interested in homeland security, homeland security administration, justice administration or crime analysis will need to satisfy 30 semester hours for degree completion. An emphasis on criminal behavior requires an additional 3 semester hours. For a final option, which focuses on forensic psychology, students must satisfy 42-43 hours. A minimum 2.0 GPA is expected for classes to count toward credit. Depending on whether you engage in part-time or full-time studies, it generally takes 1-2 years to graduate. There are start dates in January, March, May, July, August and October. Each semester involves 2 separate 7-week terms. Core classes cover contemporary issues in criminal justice, legal and ethical issues, research design and statistical applications. Different pathways will include a variety of concentration-specific curriculum, such as cyber security, drug abuse, victimology and forensic counseling. You can view the Academic Bulletin for specific plans of study. Tuition rates for in-state and out-of-state residents are equal and there are a number of school-funded financial aid and scholarship opportunities. Also available are resources to help online learners during their academic journey including skill-building workshops, writing services and peer tutoring. Campus faculty members implement their instruction through the web platform Moodle, which combines discussions and chat rooms to create an interactive experience. Interested students will submit proof of a 3.0 GPA in undergraduate studies, a resume and personal statement to be considered for admissions.

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17 University of Central Missouri Warrensburg, Missouri $6,446 66% 75% 55% 2 Yes Yes Yes

The Department of Criminal Justice at University of Central Missouri began serving students in 1962. Since this time, the school's opportunities for distance education have grown and enrollees can now receive a Master of Science in Criminal Justice and Criminology through 100% online studies. In order to qualify, you must have maintained a minimum 3.0 GPA in undergraduate coursework, as well as received a bachelor's degree in criminal justice or a relevant major. If this is not the case, there are options to satisfy 15 hours of foundational curriculum. Graduation requires the completion of 36 total credit hours with a 2.0 minimum grade average. Classes develop knowledge in methods of research, criminal justice philosophies, reasons for crime and administration in criminal justice settings. Students completing a thesis will work directly with faculty mentors to complete a research project, which is presented at conferences and oftentimes published. Following graduation, you will be prepared to work in a criminal justice agency, teach curriculum to others or continue on toward a higher degree. All students, regardless of residency, pay the same tuition rates. There are 2 scholarships specifically awarded to graduate students enrolled in a criminal justice program. UCM Online can connect you to a variety of supports to assist in your online education. A live chat option is available to respond to questions regarding your online classroom or technical difficulties. Student orientation provides guidance for accessing online tutoring, writing services, academic advising and financial assistance. There is also an online cost calculator to help you plan ahead.

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18 Wichita State University Wichita, Kansas $6,385 74% 86% 50% 1 Yes Yes Yes

Online retention specialists working in the Office of Student Success at Wichita State University are committed to providing support to distance learners throughout their academic journey. Students enrolled in the fully online program to earn a Master of Arts in Criminal Justice can utilize 24/7 access to OneStop Student Services, which responds to concerns regarding academic advising, financial aid or signing up for classes. The Career Development Center provides links to career fairs, networking opportunities and counseling services. The Online Writing Center and library are additional resources to help students as they work toward satisfying the 36 hours that are required for graduation. Coursework is completed in a semi-structured format through the web platform Blackboard. As a result, students graduate in as little as 18 months or as long as 6 years. You will be connected with an online graduate coordinator to design a plan of study that fits your schedule. Core curriculum explores quantitative methods, research methods and criminal theory. Elective options cover profiling, forensic psychiatry, community policing and correctional counseling. Students also choose between a thesis, research project or additional coursework to complete their degree. Classes must be passed with a grade B or above to count toward credit. Upon graduation, students already working in the criminal justice field are better equipped for advancement. For others, the degree is groundwork in applying to law school or pursuing doctoral studies. In order to be eligible for the program, you must hold a 3.0 GPA in undergraduate work, as well as submit 2 letters of recommendation and a personal statement.

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19 Tarleton State University Stephenville, Texas $3,900 50% 50% 47% 1 Yes Yes Yes

Depending on your professional goals, students enrolled in the online program to earn a Master of Criminal Justice at Tarleton State University will complete either 30 or 36 credit hours of coursework. Those planning to continue on to law school or doctoral studies are encouraged to participate in the 36-credit thesis option, which involves a capstone research project. This pathway takes an average of 18 months to complete, whereas a non-thesis program takes around 12 months. Upon graduation, students will be prepared to advance in the criminal justice field or to instruct at an undergraduate level. Curriculum, which is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges, covers statistical methods, victimology, cyber-security and human resource management. You can also tack on a 12-hour graduate certificate if you would like to specialize in alternative dispute resolution, cybercrime field response or strategic studies. Students must pass classes with a grade C or above and maintain a minimum 3.0 GPA in order to receive a degree. There are a number of support options to help you in fulfilling these requirements. Career Services will assist in developing your resume, preparing for interviews and connecting with other professionals in the field. Financial counselors and academic advisers provide information regarding registration, aid opportunities and tuition concerns. You can apply for the program at anytime throughout the year. Your application must include 2 letters of recommendation and demonstration of a 2.5 grade average in undergraduate studies. You will also participate in a phone interview.

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20 Northeastern State University Tahlequah, Oklahoma $3,899 57% 94% 34% 1 Yes Yes Yes

The Master of Science in Criminal Justice at Northeastern State University provides students with a foundation in 5 areas: criminal justice systems, crime theory, criminal justice administration, legal aspects and research methods. Elective courses offer an opportunity for students to also study forensics and investigative techniques. The program is offered both online and on campus and prepares graduates for careers in all sectors of the justice system, with an emphasis on leadership, ethics, analytical skills and effective written and verbal communication. Graduates are readied to assume administrative, managerial, training or research responsibilities in the criminal justice arena or pursue doctoral-level education in criminal justice or a related discipline. The 36-hour graduate program offers thesis and non-thesis options and can be completed in about 2 years. The thesis option entails 30 hours of classes and 6 thesis hours, while the non-thesis option consists of 36 class hours and a comprehensive final exam. In order to graduate, students must maintain a 3.0 GPA throughout their studies. Students who maintain a 4.0 GPA have the option to graduate with honors. Courses for the MS in Criminal Justice may include Crime Theory, Criminal Justice Research Methods, Constitutional Criminal Law, Forensic Science, Native American Law and Justice, and Issues in Homeland Security. Online students are provided with advising, tutoring, librarian support, technical support and career planning assistance. To help with costs, students may also be eligible for financial aid. Northeastern State University is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

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21 Saint Cloud State University Saint Cloud, Minnesota $7,373 41% 85% 48% 1 Yes Yes Yes

St. Cloud State University is a public institution founded in 1869. As one of more than 60 degree programs, it offers the Master of Science in Criminal Justice in a synchronous hybrid format that can be completed almost entirely online. Distance learners choose between 2 specializations: Criminal Justice Administration and Criminal Justice Counseling. All students take the Advanced Criminal Justice Systems Administration and Theories of Criminal Behavior and Justice courses that explore the organizational, management and leadership components of the field and theories about the causes of criminal behavior and violence. Online students must also choose between a final master's thesis option or master's project option. While the master's project requires 6 more credits than the thesis option, most students complete their degree in 2 years. Regardless of the option chosen, distance learners take several courses in statistics and academic research skills in the field. Both sets of classes are designed to support students when conducting original research for the master's thesis or final project. The Department of Criminal Justice Studies offers a variety of student resources for majors in the program, from internship searches and scholarship opportunities to thesis preparation and student organizations. Graduates of this program often work in various roles in corrections, the court system or law enforcement. Common positions held by St. Cloud graduates include probation officer, parole officer, court reporter, border patrol agent and airport security officer. Incoming students should have a minimum 2.75 GPA. Applications should consist of undergraduate transcripts, statement of intent, resume and a writing sample. The GRE exam is not required for admission.

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22 Southeast Missouri State University Cape Girardeau, Missouri $6,307 77% 83% 55% 1 No Yes Yes

Southeast Missouri State University was founded in 1873 and serves approximately 11,500 students. The public institution offers the online Master of Science in Criminal Justice. Using modern computer technology, software and knowledge of statistics, students focus on practical application of those skills, policies and types of research commonly utilized in criminal justice professions. Students also work on understanding complex legal issues at the county, state and federal levels. Overall, this particular program is designed for individuals who see their future career in law enforcement. Prospective students should have a 3.0 undergraduate GPA or higher. Those incoming students without an undergraduate degree in criminal justice must complete 12 hours of preliminary coursework, including Introduction to Criminal Justice, Methods of Research and Criminology Theory and Statistics. Applicants should also include a letter of intent addressing their level of preparedness for graduate study and how they plan to accomplish professional goals and objectives. Additionally, 2 letters of recommendation are required. Online students can work with the Advising Center and get help in numerous aspects of academic life. From enrollment assistance and academic advising to Moodle tutorials and IT support, SEMO's Advising Center is a one-stop information bureau to help students get the most of out of the online degrees. All online students at SEMO pay the same tuition rate regardless of their geographic location. SEMO also offers a diverse selection of academic scholarships and provides helpful links for applicable external scholarship programs. Students are automatically considered for some scholarships while others require an application. Students should check with the Financial Aid Office to learn about additional funding opportunities for online students.

School website
23 University of North Georgia Dahlonega, Georgia $4,050 9% 75% 55% 1 Yes Yes Yes

The University of North Georgia is a public institution with nearly 19,000 students enrolled. Its Master of Science with a Major in Criminal Justice program is designed for practitioners already working in the field, military service personnel and adult learners seeking to bolster their resume. All courses can be completed online with no on-campus obligations. Students learn foundational knowledge of the criminal justice system in the United States through a broad, social science-based curriculum. The majority of UNG courses in this field focus on the complexities of human behavior, policing, courts, corrections facilities and forensics. The core required courses for this degree include Criminal Justice Theory, Statistical Analysis in Criminal Justice and Global Crime and Justice. Students also choose 6 courses from 10 available electives such as Homeland Security, Forensic Behavioral Analysis, Family Violence and International Security Issues. UNG subscribes to an open enrollment policy. Online students may begin their courses during any semester. Incoming students should have a bachelor's degree from a regionally accredited 4-year institution with at least a 2.75 cumulative GPA. Applicants must also include 3 completed UNG recommendation forms, a 1-2 page single-spaced letter outlining the applicant's interest in the UNG program and criminal justice and a current resume. No standardized tests or entrance exams are required for admission to this master's program. All students, regardless of their location, pay in-state tuition at UNG. Distance learners can also take advantage of UNG's collection of student services, including career services, tutoring, IT support, academic advising and veterans services.

School website
24 University of North Texas Denton, Texas $5,450 47% 72% 56% 1 No Yes Yes

The University of North Texas is a public school established in 1890. Its Master of Science in Criminal Justice with a Concentration in Justice Policy and Administration degree can be completed entirely online. The program is designed for current criminal justice professionals who wish to advance their careers and adult learners seeking a career change. Students must complete a comprehensive exam and a total of 36 credit hours to be eligible for graduation, including 9 flexible elective credits. Core courses in UNT's program include Criminal Justice Policy, Advanced Criminological Theory and Evaluation and Research Methodologies. Popular electives for students in this program range from World Criminal Justice Systems and Organized Crime to Victimology and Information Warfare, Security and Risk. UNT graduates often pursue careers in the corporate world as contingency managers or investigators of internal theft and fraud. Graduates are also prepared to work as police officers at the county, state or federal levels. Students may begin courses during the spring, fall or summer terms. Most online learners take 2 classes per term, including summers, and complete this degree in 2 years. Incoming students may be eligible to transfer up to 9 credit hours of previous college-level coursework toward this master's degree. The College of Health and Public Service at UNT reserves three scholarships for criminal justice students each year. For admission to the program, prospective students must submit an online application, 2 letters of recommendation and a personal statement outlining their career goals, purpose for pursuing a master's degree, prior experience in the criminal justice field and any other relevant background information.

School website
25 Texas A & M International University Laredo, Texas $3,350 22% 53% 45% 1 Yes Yes Yes

Texas A&M International University is a public institution, established in 1969, with approximately 7,500 students. It offers an online Master of Science in Criminal Justice program that can be completed entirely online. Distance learners take courses in criminological theory and the administration of justice. In general, courses focus on academic research on corrections facilities, ethics and legal studies. Students learn the in-depth relationship between the law and criminal justice while acquiring advanced methods for social research in the field. All students in the master's program complete a capstone project that displays their understanding of core course material and practical approaches to common issues in the American criminal justice system. A&M students also learn about the practical constraints of the justice system and various theories regarding modalities of cybercrime and victimization. Upon completion of the program, students can examine instances of crime with a biological, psychological, sociological and economic lens. Graduates of this program move on to careers in the public and governmental sectors, law enforcement and corrections, rehabilitation centers and work with juvenile offenders. A&M's flexible scheduling allows distance learners to complete an accelerated, asynchronous curriculum consisting of 7-week courses. This 36-credit-hour degree typically takes students as few as 12 months to complete. A&M also offers 6 convenient start-times per calendar year. Distance learners at A&M have access to online student resources including IT support during normal business hours, online library access and veterans resources. Prospective students should have a bachelor's degree with an overall 2.8 GPA or higher and at least 3 years of work experience. Those without work experience are still encouraged to apply.

School website
26 National University La Jolla, California $11,232 4% - 50% 2 Yes Yes Yes School website
27 University of Louisville Louisville, Kentucky $12,246 59% 73% 57% 1 Yes Yes Yes School website
28 Bellevue University Bellevue, Nebraska $9,810 62% - 32% 2 Yes No Yes School website
29 University of Cincinnati-Main Campus Cincinnati, Ohio $12,790 58% 76% 72% 1 Yes Yes Yes School website
30 New Mexico State University-Main Campus Las Cruces, New Mexico $4,088 61% 60% 51% 1 No Yes Yes School website
31 Wilmington University New Castle, Delaware $8,190 3% - 31% 2 Yes Yes Yes School website
32 Florida International University Miami, Florida $8,912 44% 50% 60% 1 No Yes Yes School website
33 Delta State University Cleveland, Mississippi $6,298 58% 89% 38% 1 No Yes Yes School website
34 Fayetteville State University Fayetteville, North Carolina $3,371 73% 59% 37% 1 Yes Yes Yes School website
35 Albany State University Albany, Georgia $3,402 14% 50% 44% 1 Yes Yes Yes School website
36 Columbus State University Columbus, Georgia $5,706 11% 53% 37% 1 Yes Yes Yes School website
37 Lamar University Beaumont, Texas $6,048 20% 76% 38% 1 Yes Yes Yes School website
38 Florida State University Tallahassee, Florida $9,684 44% 58% 80% 1 No Yes Yes School website
39 Kent State University at Kent Kent, Ohio $11,090 79% 85% 58% 1 No Yes Yes School website
40 East Carolina University Greenville, North Carolina $4,656 42% 70% 61% 1 No Yes Yes School website
41 Washburn University Topeka, Kansas $8,250 64% - 38% 1 Yes Yes Yes School website
42 Jacksonville State University Jacksonville, Alabama $8,904 61% 53% 34% 1 Yes Yes Yes School website
43 University of Memphis Memphis, Tennessee $8,820 44% 57% 46% 1 Yes Yes Yes School website
44 University of Houston-Downtown Houston, Texas $6,602 33% 83% 24% 1 Yes Yes Yes School website
45 University of Alaska Fairbanks Fairbanks, Alaska $8,436 40% 73% 48% 1 Yes Yes Yes School website
46 University of Wisconsin-Platteville Platteville, Wisconsin $7,640 33% 80% 54% 1 No Yes Yes School website
47 McNeese State University Lake Charles, Louisiana $5,703 34% 64% 45% 1 Yes Yes Yes School website
48 Rowan University Glassboro, New Jersey $12,960 42% 71% 66% 1 No Yes Yes School website
49 Eastern Kentucky University Richmond, Kentucky $9,450 51% 86% 45% 1 No Yes Yes School website
50 Armstrong State University Savannah, Georgia $3,798 8% 80% 35% 1 Yes Yes Yes School website

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

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 Scholarships.com 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.