Masters in Criminal Justice Online Degree Programs of 2021

Master's Degree in Criminal Justice Career Options & Salary

Why Earn a Master’s in Criminal Justice?

An online or traditional master’s degree in criminal justice can cover a wide range of topics. Some pursue a strict law enforcement path (such as local, state, and federal law enforcement, corrections, and public safety) while others are venturing into new learning fields 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, an online master’s in criminal justice degree can certainly be a boon to your career. Raises, promotions, and new opportunities are sure to follow a criminal justice professional's graduation for years to come.

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The pros of master’s degrees in criminal justice are many. Where your baccalaureate or associate degree provided a solid foundation, criminal justice master's programs will further sharpen your knowledge and skills. An online or in-person graduate student can also focus on the specific topics that interest them, such as 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 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 degrees, you are sure to be a viable candidate in multiple arenas.


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 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 to 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 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 will always pay off.

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 issues of a more philosophical nature. MA Degrees might also focus on issues such as leadership, public policy, or 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 programs will offer both degrees as an option regardless of your specific coursework. However, the degree type is designed to indicate a focus on STEM and strictly analytical research and information. That is, you might look at crime from a purely statistical standpoint, or study cybercrime and computer forensics, which are decidedly STEM-related topics.
  • 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 program. That is because these degrees are clearly focused on occupationally relevant material. There is less focus on academic research 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.

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. 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.

Best Online Master of Science in Criminal Justice & Law Programs

  • John Jay College of Criminal Justice
    New York, NY

    John Jay received more mentions on television's Law & Order than perhaps any single college ever. After all, is there any other single institution dedicated to teaching criminal justice? John Jay offers a stand-alone MA in Criminal Justice and they also offer a concurrent BA/MA program that fast-tracks you from baccalaureate to graduate work in no time.

    Degrees Offered:

    • Master of Art in Criminal Justice
    • Master of Science in Digital Forensics and Cybersecurity
  • Boston University
    Boston, MA

    Boston University is among the top universities in the nation. They offer an MCJ both through their metropolitan campus and online that can prepare you to elevate your career, apply to law school, or pursue further studies at the doctoral level.

    Degrees Offered:

    • Master of Criminal Justice
    • Master of Criminal Justice concentration in Cybercrime Investigation & Cybersecurity
  • American University
    Washington, DC

    American's criminal justice master's degree takes a holistic approach to the degree. That is, you'll graduate with a complete mastery of the theoretical and practical sides of criminal justice. The program will expose you to the social sciences, law, and humanities. You will also have a choice of four concentrations: Justice and Public Policy, Law and Society, Jurisprudence and Social Thought, and Terrorism and Security Policy.

    Degrees Offered:

    • Master of Science in Justice, Law & Criminology
    • Master of Public Administration
  • Washington State University
    Spokane & Pullman, WA

    WSU offers its criminal justice master's candidates two concentration tracks. Some will take the conventional option that requires a total of 32 credit hours. Other students will take the Global Justice and Security track which requires 31 hours of coursework, some of which might be credited from your undergraduate transcript.

    Degrees Offered:

    • Master of Art in Criminal Justice
  • Seattle University
    Seattle, WA

    This program is a 55 credit-hour curriculum that allows you to specialize in either Criminal Justice Research, Victimology, or Investigative Criminology. You can also opt for a MACJ/JD degree, a dual-degree option that will open up a lot of career and academic options.

    Degrees Offered:

    • Master of Art in Criminal Justice (MACJ)
    • MACJ/JD – Joint Criminal Justice and Juris Doctor (law) degree

Traditional Schools Offering an MS in Criminal Justice & Law

  • John Jay College of Criminal Justice

    John Jay is perhaps the nation's top criminal justice colleges. In fact, that is all they teach. You can now pursue their Master of Arts in Criminal Justice from anywhere you can receive a Wi-Fi signal. The degree is also available on their NYC campus, but if you are working hard as a police officer in San Diego, you can fill your off hours with graduate work from John Jay.

    Degrees Offered:

    • Master of Arts in Criminal Justice
    • Master of Public Administration
  • Boston University

    Boston University's online criminal justice master's program offers you two options for specialization: Cybercrime Investigation and Cybersecurity or Strategic Management. By the time you graduate, you will be able to understand and apply theories of criminology, perform quantitative and qualitative analysis, and communicate your ideas using valid backing sources.

    Degrees Offered:

    • Master of Criminal Justice
    • Master of Social Work
  • Arizona State University

    No matter where you live, you can take advantage of ASU's online MA in Criminal Justice. Their top-notch professors are either at the top of their specialty areas or who have loads of professional, practical experience on top of their academic research.

    Degrees Offered:

    • Master of Arts in Criminal Justice
    • Master of Arts in Global Security
  • University of Cincinnati Online

    UC's online education brings top notch criminal justice experts to your laptop, no matter where you are. Your degree will steep you in criminal justice theory, insights into professional practice, and social science perspectives on crime that will round out your law enforcement practice.

    Degrees Offered:

    • Master of Science in Criminal Justice
    • Master of Health Administration
  • Purdue Global

    If you want to rise in the ranks of law enforcement, Purdue Global can help you achieve your dreams with a MS in Criminal Justice. The degree will refine your ability to manage human resources and be the best leader you are capable of being. You will also study criminal behavior from a social science perspective and study it from an international perspective.

    Degrees Offered:

    • Master of Science in Criminal Justice
    • Master of Science in Homeland Security and Emergency Management

Criminal Justice & Law Degrees & Career Paths