Best Online Masters in Criminal Justice Degrees for 2023

Master's Degree in Criminal Justice Career Options & Salary

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Why Earn a Master’s in Criminal Justice?

A traditional or online master’s degree in criminal justice can cover a wide range of topics in the criminal justice system. Some prospective students pursue a strict law enforcement path (such as local, state, and federal law enforcement, corrections and correctional institutions, and public safety and public administration) while others are venturing into new learning fields in the criminal justice system such as cyber-crime or international law enforcement. With the rising awareness of white-collar crime, programs have also begun offering certificates or concentrations in forensic accounting, or students can become leaders and emergency management directors.

No matter how you focus your graduate studies in a criminal justice program, an online master’s in criminal justice degree will promote student success and can certainly be a boon to criminal justice careers by giving you leadership skills, a deeper understanding of forensic psychology and mental health that leads to violent crime, critical thinking skills based on real world examples, and a better understanding of the legal system and public safety. Raises, promotions, and new career opportunities in the criminal justice system including career advancement are very likely to follow a criminal justice professional's graduation for years to come.

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The pros of obtaining a criminal justice master's degree are many. Where your baccalaureate or associate degree provided a solid foundation, criminal justice master's programs will further sharpen your knowledge and skills in the criminal justice field. An online or in-person graduate student can also focus on the specific topics that interest them, such as criminal investigations, criminal justice sciences, studying criminal behavior, homeland security, cyber-crime, or research methods in the criminal justice system.

Criminal justice master’s programs can also prepare you for a new level of opportunity, pay raises, and promotions. You could focus your degree on topics related to public administration and move up in your city government. You might even consider running for public office. Some criminal justice master graduates work as emergency management directors, a vital role in many small and large cities. If you have significant experience on top of your academic graduate degrees, you are sure to be a viable candidate in multiple arenas and criminal justice organizations.

You can earn a master's degree in criminal justice online by taking graduate-level criminal justice courses to obtain your online master degree at one of many colleges and universities country-wide that are an accredited institution. This may save time and money taking criminal justice online programs when compared to traditional in-person graduate degrees.


Though a master’s degree is nearly universally considered to be an unqualified boon to anyone, there can be drawbacks to a graduate degree. For one thing, a criminal justice master’s degree is not an easy undertaking and it will take a lot of your time and energy, even if you attend online. It can be very difficult to set aside the time necessary so that students complete a master’s program while also managing a family and career unless you are willing to take extra time to attend part-time through an online criminal justice program.

Furthermore, a master’s degree does not guarantee actual job growth and is not a guarantee of anything. After you graduate, you might find that your pay doesn't meet up to your expectations and you might still be passed over for promotion. Nonetheless, you will still have to pay off your student loans, which accrue interest all the time.

Before you start applying to graduate programs, applicants must make sure that they have the time, resources, and deep desire to do so. That is, make sure that criminal justice is your passion and that you wish to study the material simply because you love it. When you start out with that sort of attitude, a degree should always pay off.

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What are the Best Online Masters in Criminal Justice College Programs?


University of Southern California

  • Net Price: $39,759
  • Retention Rate: 91%
  • Graduation Rate: 92%
  • Total Enrollment: 46,287
  • Undergrad Students: 19,786
  • Graduate Students: 26,501
  • Diplomas Awarded: NA
  • Grads Salary: $87,000
  • Student-to-faculty: 9:1
  • University of Southern California

Boston University

  • Net Price: $29,154
  • Retention Rate: 92%
  • Graduation Rate: 89%
  • Total Enrollment: 32,718
  • Undergrad Students: 16,872
  • Graduate Students: 15,846
  • Diplomas Awarded: 2
  • Grads Salary: $80,000
  • Student-to-faculty: 10:1
  • Boston University

Michigan State University

  • Net Price: $16,655
  • Retention Rate: 91%
  • Graduation Rate: 81%
  • Total Enrollment: 49,695
  • Undergrad Students: 38,491
  • Graduate Students: 11,204
  • Diplomas Awarded: 12
  • Grads Salary: $73,000
  • Student-to-faculty: 16:1
  • Michigan State University

California State University-Long Beach

  • Net Price: $10,568
  • Retention Rate: 89%
  • Graduation Rate: 73%
  • Total Enrollment: 40,069
  • Undergrad Students: 34,216
  • Graduate Students: 5,853
  • Diplomas Awarded: NA
  • Grads Salary: $73,000
  • Student-to-faculty: 24:1
  • California State University-Long Beach

University of Massachusetts-Lowell

  • Net Price: $19,147
  • Retention Rate: 84%
  • Graduation Rate: 69%
  • Total Enrollment: 18,150
  • Undergrad Students: 13,813
  • Graduate Students: 4,337
  • Diplomas Awarded: 97
  • Grads Salary: $78,000
  • Student-to-faculty: 19:1
  • University of Massachusetts-Lowell

University of South Florida

  • Net Price: $10,004
  • Retention Rate: 92%
  • Graduation Rate: 74%
  • Total Enrollment: 50,626
  • Undergrad Students: 38,582
  • Graduate Students: 12,044
  • Diplomas Awarded: 32
  • Grads Salary: $67,000
  • Student-to-faculty: 22:1
  • University of South Florida

University of Central Florida

  • Net Price: $11,108
  • Retention Rate: 92%
  • Graduation Rate: 74%
  • Total Enrollment: 71,881
  • Undergrad Students: 61,401
  • Graduate Students: 10,480
  • Diplomas Awarded: NA
  • Grads Salary: $67,000
  • Student-to-faculty: 31:1
  • University of Central Florida

Arizona State University

  • Net Price: $14,653
  • Retention Rate: 86%
  • Graduation Rate: 66%
  • Total Enrollment: 74,795
  • Undergrad Students: 63,124
  • Graduate Students: 11,671
  • Diplomas Awarded: NA
  • Grads Salary: $73,000
  • Student-to-faculty: 18:1
  • Arizona State University

Florida International University

  • Net Price: $8,988
  • Retention Rate: 91%
  • Graduation Rate: 67%
  • Total Enrollment: 58,836
  • Undergrad Students: 49,049
  • Graduate Students: 9,787
  • Diplomas Awarded: NA
  • Grads Salary: $66,000
  • Student-to-faculty: 25:1
  • Florida International University

University of Cincinnati

  • Net Price: $22,767
  • Retention Rate: 88%
  • Graduation Rate: 73%
  • Total Enrollment: 40,826
  • Undergrad Students: 29,933
  • Graduate Students: 10,893
  • Diplomas Awarded: NA
  • Grads Salary: $72,000
  • Student-to-faculty: 19:1
  • University of Cincinnati
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Overview of an online Master's in Criminal Justice & Law

What Criminal Justice & Law Master’s Degrees are Available Online?

  • Master of Arts in Criminal Justice:
    This degree type is for the criminal justice professional who seeks to study social sciences and issues of a more philosophical nature. MA Degrees might also focus on criminal justice studies of real world examples on issues such as leadership, forensic psychology, mental health of crime victims, public policy, policy analysis, or criminal justice administration, while the information in an MA program is valid from an academic standpoint, it is not of the scientific or STEM variety.
  • Master of Science in Criminal Justice:
    An MS in Criminal Justice is not unlike an MA. Sometimes the same criminal justice programs will offer both degrees as an option regardless of your specific coursework. However, the degree type is designed to prepare students with a focus on STEM and strictly analytical research and information. That is, students learn to look at crime from a purely statistical standpoint, or study cybercrime, computer forensics and related problem solving skills, which are decidedly STEM-related topics and core classes.
  • Master of Applied Arts and Sciences in Criminal Justice:
    While applied degrees are a dubious prospect at the associate and bachelor levels, one might be a great option for your graduate criminal justice program. That is because these degrees are clearly focused on occupationally relevant material for criminal justice students. There is less focus on academic research, criminological theories, organizational theory or peer-reviewed facts and information. If you desire a PhD you might consider a traditional MA or MS, but if this is your final degree it could be a great option for a master's in criminal justice.

Admission Requirements

It's not always easy to enter a graduate program. Master’s programs for criminal justice typically require a higher minimum GPA, letters of recommendation, GRE scores, and a personal statement of purpose. Though all programs have their own specific guidelines, you can expect to find the minimum criteria for your baccalaureate grades to be somewhere around 2.25 GPA. You might also need to show your resume and some measure of professional distinction. In fact, some programs might prefer to see a distinguished career over high grades. As for the essay portion of your application, make sure to read their essay question(s) carefully and respond to each program's essay individually.

How long does it take to earn an online Criminal Justice & Law Master’s?

As a general rule, graduate schools vary in length from one to three years. Of course, those time frames assume that you carry a full-time course-load and don't take extra terms off. There are also programs that have multiple time frames for graduation. They might have a full-time, an accelerated, and a part-time graduation schedule for students.

When you are applying to graduate schools, devise a plan with a set graduation date. Make sure you are ready to sacrifice your time and energy for school. After all, higher education is there to help you attain long-term goals and provide an enhanced career life. Thus, it's vital to put in the time and effort required that ensures a brighter, better-educated future.

Potential Careers in Criminal Justice & Law with a Master’s

  • Forensic Scientist:
    This position has been made famous by films and television shows for decades. In this profession you will collect and analyze evidence for analysis. You will take fiber samples, blood, and other biological samples from crime scenes. Later, once you have identified the samples and completed your report, you might be asked to testify in court where you'll present your findings.
    The average salary for this job is $58,000.
  • Private Investigator:
    This occupation offers a lot of leeway in how you conduct your career. Some private investigators specialize in finding lost or missing people, others work on financial investigations, and still others seek to solve murder cases that the police have abandoned.
    The average salary for a PI is $58,300.
  • Probation Officer:
    This profession is concerned with criminals who are serving their sentences in the civilian world. Some of your caseload might include former prisoners who have been released on a contingency basis or people who need to check in with you in order to avoid any jail time at all.
    The average pay for a probation officer is $43,500.
  • Security Guards:
    This job title can fit a wide range of job duties. Some work in art galleries to deter or thwart multi-million dollar theft while others work in department stores to catch shoplifters. You might even work as private security for very wealthy or famous people.
    The average income for this position is $33,300.
  • Emergency Management Specialist:
    Given the current changes in our climate, disaster seems to be all the more likely. Thus, more cities are hiring emergency management specialists. You can also work with federal agencies such as FEMA.
    The average salary for emergency management specialists is $62,600.

Options to Advance

To advance in the criminal justice field, you will need to first comport your career with honor and dignity. In this way, you can receive departmental kudos and possibly public recognition. Your experience is sure to pay off over time, but you can up the ante with academic degrees.

As you move through your online associate, bachelor’s, and master’s degrees you are sure to see raises in pay, promotions, and new opportunities arising all the time. Eventually this could lead to opportunities in leadership positions. As a public servant you might find that your earnings are rather limited, but your degrees will keep you at the top of the pay scale. Then, once your rank and position reach a certain level you might consider moving into the private sector as a consultant or in your own security firm. Your degrees and previous rank will add credibility to your private ventures and could result in limitless earnings.

Frequently Asked Questions

Will a master’s degree help me gain access to a federal law enforcement role?

While there is no requirement that you have a master’s degree in any entry-level federal law enforcement agency, earning a master’s can certainly help. Whether you are planning to enter the FBI, CIA, DHS, or any other agency, a master’s degree can lower the required experience for whatever role you are considering. Additionally, the roles that you are likely to gain once you have a degree at this level will pay more and you may have an easier time gaining promotions.

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