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Online Criminal Justice Master’s Degree

Advanced Learning to Build a Dynamic Career

The roles of criminal justice professionals in the nation have grown and changed since the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. Every sector of the nation –economic and societal – has incorporated some form of security, protection and law enforcement division into its infrastructure. The criminal justice professions have added roles for specialists, managers and educators tasked with keeping pace with advancements in technology and methodology. Each criminal justice professional follows a unique career arc from education to occupational advancement. Often, the professions, unions and recruiters dictate experience and educational requirements. Some employers ask applicants to earn a bachelor’s degree and begin to accrue continuing education and experience. Others require advanced training in knowledge, leadership or professional tools that can be gained through a master’s degree program in criminal justice.

This comprehensive guide was created with the advanced student in mind, and explores online criminal justice master’s degrees and the potential career paths that graduates can pursue. It answers key questions: Can an online master’s in criminal justice be tailored to work and family obligations? What’s the payoff of earning a master’s degree? To answer those and other questions, the guide evaluates college programs, charts a game plan for success, and provides feedback from former students who leveraged their master’s degrees in their careers.

Top Online Master's in Criminal Justice

In order to allow more working professionals to continue their educations and earn their higher degrees, schools have made an effort to bring online master’s programs to students, which gives students the flexibility necessary to juggle their busy lives while in pursuit of their master’s degrees. The following is a list of schools ranked best for master’s in criminal justice degrees, which cover all of the bases for an exceptional online educational experience.

SCORE:  98.76 CAREER COUNSELING: Yes JOB PLACEMENT: Yes STATE: Pennsylvania

While they don’t have a specific master’s degree in criminal justice, Pennsylvania State University does offer a 33-credit master’s program focused on homeland security.  The program focuses on making learning applicable to your current workplace, or you can transfer from a related field into homeland security.

The program is unique in that it has students form a solid basis in homeland security before choosing one of five specializations: the general homeland security base program (to focus on policy and organization), information security and forensics, public health preparedness, geospatial intelligence, or agricultural biosecurity and food defense. 

Penn State fosters online learning through their interactive World Campus, which uses chat, video conferencing, social media, bulletin boards and email.  Each course is guided by a syllabus so each student knows the expectations of the course.

  • MPA in Homeland Security
  • MPA in Homeland Security (Agricultural Biosecurity and Food Defense)
  • MPA in Homeland Security (Geospatial Intelligence)
SCORE:  98.35 CAREER COUNSELING: Yes JOB PLACEMENT: Yes STATE: Missouri

As part of Missouri State’s online criminal justice program, students learn leadership, decision-making and policy analysis.  This program can be completed completely online and allows students flexibility in their course schedules.  The program takes four semesters to complete, but enrolling in summer programs at this school will allow completion in a year and half.  The program offers a 30-hour thesis track or a 36-hour non-thesis track.  The thesis track requires a scientific research study, while the non-thesis requires a policy analysis paper.

  • MS in Administrative Studies (Criminal Justice)
  • MS in Administrative Studies (Homeland Security)
  • MS in Criminology and Criminal Justice
SCORE:  97.64 CAREER COUNSELING: Yes JOB PLACEMENT: Yes STATE: Texas

Angelo State University says this fully online program is open to anyone who wants a deeper understanding of the U.S. criminal justice system, but especially future and established criminal justices professionals who want to climb the ranks faster. Students thoroughly explore the latest criminal justice research, policy and practices while developing the type of strong leadership skills they need to take on administrative roles. All classes and materials are accessed online through the Blackboard online course management system and ASU’s RamPort, a portal connecting students with services, instructors and each other. Prospective student can visit ASU online to learn more about the online Master of Science in Criminal Justice degree, including coursework and admissions requirements.

  • MS in Criminal Justice
  • MS in Homeland Security
  • MSS
SCORE:  97.56 CAREER COUNSELING: Yes JOB PLACEMENT: Yes STATE: Delaware

Wilmington University offers the Master of Science (MS) in Administration of Justice and a related Post Master’s Certificate in Homeland Security. The MS is designed to prepare students for work in government agencies and for criminal justice leadership roles. The degree can be finished in as little as twelve months.

The WilmU program offers three specialized options for students to focus their work alongside the certificate. The Leadership and Administration concentration is designed for criminal justice professionals in administrative roles. The Criminal Behavior concentration is intended for professionals in client-oriented areas such as community corrections, judicial referral of offenders, parole and probation while Homeland Security concentration is well-suited for those working with issues of modern terrorism, risk management and assessment.

  • MS in Management (Homeland Security)
  • MS in Homeland Security (Safety and Security)
  • MS in Homeland Security (Organizational Leadership)
SCORE:  96.39 CAREER COUNSELING: Yes JOB PLACEMENT: Yes STATE: North Carolina

Fayetteville State University says it aims to give students enrolled in this 33 semester hour program the research skills and theoretical knowledge they need to advance to leadership positions in criminal justice or criminology. Students can choose to pursue a Master of Science in Criminal Justice program with or without a capstone thesis. All coursework can be completed online using the Blackboard learning management platform in conjunction with other Web-based tools, like blogs, wikis and chat rooms. FSU provides all online students with a myriad of different support services, including career services, library services and technical support. Prospective students can visit FSU online to request more information.

  • MS in Criminal Justice
SCORE:  96.33 CAREER COUNSELING: Yes JOB PLACEMENT: Yes STATE: Ohio

This online program was created to challenge aspiring and experienced criminal justice professionals who want to expand their knowledge base and prepare for leadership roles. Students can choose from four distinct focus areas: Policing, Corrections, Victimology and Global Security. All classes required in the course of earning a Master of Arts in Criminology and Criminal Justice degree are delivered completely online through Blackboard Learn, making the program flexible enough for most full-time professionals. Students can complete the program in less than two years, depending on their course loads and needs. Applicants need not take the GRE for admission. Visit Kent State Online to learn more about the online MACCJ, including a breakdown of all coursework and specialty tracks.

  • MA in Criminology and Criminal Justice (Corrections)
  • MA in Criminology and Criminal Justice (Global Security)
  • MA in Criminology and Criminal Justice (Policing)
SCORE:  96.22 CAREER COUNSELING: Yes JOB PLACEMENT: Yes STATE: Virginia

Liberty University’s online master’s in criminal justice program combines criminal justice learning with public administration courses.  18 hours of the program are devoted to criminal justice courses and 12 hours to public administration for a 36-hour program in total.  The university prides itself on training leaders in the field of criminal justice to bring a Christian worldview into the professional criminal justice world.  The program will prepare students to develop and carry out criminal justice policy, as well as manage criminal justice organizations.  The program is conducted through a flexible virtual classroom.

  • MBA in Criminal Justice
  • MA in Human Services Counseling (Criminal Justice)
  • MS in Criminal Justice (Command College)
SCORE:  96.18 CAREER COUNSELING: Yes JOB PLACEMENT: Yes STATE: Alabama

AUM’s Master of Science in Justice & Public Safety with a concentration in Criminal Justice caters specifically to current and aspiring criminal justice professionals hoping for leadership positions, or who simply want an advanced understanding of law enforcement, security and corrections.  Students can access all lectures and materials online; absolutely no campus visits are required. This is an Accelerated Executive Master’s program, meaning students can graduate in as little as 12 months, depending on their course loads. Coursework includes a balance of more general JPS core classes, criminal-justice-geared classes and specialized electives, which ensures a well-rounded education. Contact AUM online or by phone to request more information.

  • MS in Justice and Public Safety/Criminal Justice
  • MS in Homeland Security and Emergency Management
SCORE:  96.10 CAREER COUNSELING: Yes JOB PLACEMENT: Yes STATE: Minnesota

Saint Cloud State University’s master’s program for criminal justice prides itself on being traditional and course-focused.  The program is fully online, save one trip to campus for a final examination or thesis defense.  Students can follow a 36-credit thesis track or a 42-credit professional portfolio track (filled with projects and papers), each requiring a preliminary conference and a final oral examination.  The program offers a wide variety of specialization and elective credits, so students can choose their career track.  The whole program is flexible enough to accommodate both professionals with a criminal justice background and students with no professional or undergraduate experience.

  • MS in Criminal Justice
  • MS in Public Safety Executive Leadership
SCORE:  95.08 CAREER COUNSELING: Yes JOB PLACEMENT: Yes STATE: Arizona

Arizona State University says its online Master of Arts in Criminal Justice (MACJ) program aims to give criminal justice professionals the skills and knowledge they need to advance their careers, but in the kind of flexible, 100 percent Web-based format that makes balancing school and work more manageable. Students enrolled in the 33-credit-hour program learn the latest criminal justice research methods and statistics; the ins and outs of policy analysis; and how to plan, manage and evaluate programs. Full-time students can complete their work in as little as 18 months, but there is a part-time option for students too busy for a full-time course load. Visit ASU Online to request more information about the program, its costs and its admissions criteria.

  • MA in Criminal Justice
  • Master of Legal Studies
SCORE:  94.81 CAREER COUNSELING: Yes JOB PLACEMENT: Yes STATE: Massachusetts

The online master’s degree in criminal justice program from the University of Massachusetts, Lowell allows students to pursue a master’s degree at their convenience. The core curriculum focuses on theory, research, quantitative analysis and criminal justice administration. However, the program offers a wide range of supplemental courses, which include leadership, crisis management, public policy, crime analysis, forensic psychology and terrorism. By promoting an integrated, academically rigorous and empirically oriented curriculum, the program helps working professionals, and those planning to enter the criminal justice field, develop a repertoire of skills to better manage their current positions, assume leadership roles and/or continue on to doctoral training.

  • Master's Degree in Criminal Justice
  • MA in Security Studies (Homeland Defense)
SCORE:  94.74 CAREER COUNSELING: Yes JOB PLACEMENT: Yes STATE: Illinois

Lewis University has a 36-hour online master’s in criminal justice program.  The university prides itself on its unique take on the program, stating that it takes criminal justice study to the next level by focusing on the ethical and social issues currently facing the field of law enforcement.

Core courses cover organizational and management theory, practical skills for working in criminal justice administration, and using theory and research to solve real world problems.  The program also offers a series of electives for students to focus on their specific professional development, such as family violence and juvenile crime.  The program culminates in a weeklong comprehensive exam.

The degree is completed by logging onto the school’s online learning system for assignments and exams, accessing professors by phone or email and participating in class discussions on forums.

  • MS in Criminal/Social Justice
  • MS in Public Safety Administration
SCORE:  94.50 CAREER COUNSELING: Yes JOB PLACEMENT: Yes STATE: New Hampshire

The University of New Hampshire College of Law offers two online criminal justice graduate degree options. Both are intended for multi-national classes and offer international perspectives.

These programs offer a practical perspective for scholars and practicing criminal justice and legal professionals alike where it concerns international courts and treaties. Curricula also focuses on the changing face of international criminal law in respect to human rights issues, the globalization of commerce, terrorism and other factors, as well as the effect these have on legal institutions and lawmaking.

  • Master of International Criminal Law and Justice
  • ML in International Criminal Law and Justice
SCORE:  93.73 CAREER COUNSELING: Yes JOB PLACEMENT: Yes STATE: Texas

This applied online program connects students with the practical and theoretical savvy they need to advance to higher-level staff, administrative, management and planning positions in criminal justice agencies. All of the 36-credit-hours required for the Master of Science in Criminal Justice degree can be completed online using the Blackboard course management system and a myriad of other Web-based tools chosen to boost collaboration and enrich students’ learning experiences. LU offers all online students many of the same services they would expect from a campus-based program like career help, library support and financial aid. Prospective students can visit LU Online to learn more about the online MSCJ, or to connect with an admissions adviser.

  • MS in Criminal Justice
SCORE:  92.67 CAREER COUNSELING: Yes JOB PLACEMENT: Yes STATE: New Mexico

New Mexico State University offers an online master’s in criminal justice program to those enrolled in the 36-credit Focused Coursework option.  The program breaks learning down into two categories: analysis and theory.  In analysis, students focus on research methods, administrative systems and policy analysis.  In the theory category, students focus on criminology, diversity and ethics.  The program requires criminal justice and general electives, and culminates in a final comprehensive exam.  The online program is tailored to meet the needs of students who cannot pursue an education in-person and makes use of the best web-based technology available. 

  • Master of Criminal Justice
SCORE:  91.88 CAREER COUNSELING: Yes JOB PLACEMENT: Yes STATE: Nebraska

The University of Nebraska Omaha gives students the option of earning a fully accredited master’s degree in criminology and criminal justice through one of its two online programs. The programs are designed to meet the needs of criminal justice professionals as well as emphasize the importance of research activity and independent study. The core curriculum explores theories on the nature of crime, the administration of justice, statistical application, public policy and research methodology. Elective courses cover current topics, from law enforcement and social control, to the court system and criminal behavior. Graduating students should be prepared to embark on a career in the criminal justice field.

  • MS in Criminology and Criminal Justice
SCORE:  91.30 CAREER COUNSELING: Yes JOB PLACEMENT: Yes STATE: Oregon

Western Oregon University offers the Master of Arts (MA) in Criminal Justice. This program is designed for those already working in criminal justice and related professions. It is intended to give students a strong academic basis for advanced managerial and other professional roles. This program requires two years and has a thesis, professional project or comprehensive exam requirement.

The WOU program approaches criminal justice problems using social science research methods in order to allow student to thoroughly investigate questions in the field and then move from theory-to-practice effectively. Part of the work students complete for this program includes advanced research techniques and theoretical study.

  • MA in Criminal Justice
SCORE:  91.22 CAREER COUNSELING: Yes JOB PLACEMENT: Yes STATE: Indiana

This online program from Indiana State University is unique in that students choose to pursue a Master of Arts or a Master of Science in Criminology and Criminal Justice. The former is a 33-credit-hour research-focused program ideal for students who intend to advance to doctorate-level criminology or criminal justice programs. The 36-credit-hour MS program is better suited for current and future criminal justice leaders and for students considering law school. Both programs are completely Web-based, requiring no campus visits whatsoever. Visit ISU Online to learn more about the program or live-chat with an admissions representative.

  • MA in Criminology and Criminal Justice
SCORE:  91.17 CAREER COUNSELING: Yes JOB PLACEMENT: Yes STATE: Ohio

Youngstown State University offers the online Master of Science in Criminal Justice (MSCJ), Criminal Justice Management and Program Planning. The program is for students who approach criminal justice management with evidence-based methods and also for those preparing for doctoral-level work.

Students in the YSU program typically complete theses using the traditional committee and defense technique. Some students also engage in more data based, statistical studies in the community or within organizations. Emphasis in this program is on traditional academic methods such as data analysis, the development of research methodologies and the use of literature reviews.

  • MS in Criminal Justice Criminal Justice Management and Program Planning
SCORE:  91.10 CAREER COUNSELING: Yes JOB PLACEMENT: Yes STATE: California

National University’s master’s in criminal justice program focuses on preparing students for the basic competencies for working as administrators and managers in the social justice system.  The program particularly emphasizes honing the student’s powers of analysis and problem solving.  The program requires eight core courses covering policy research, ethics, legal issues and systems, theory and a final thesis.  Four elective courses can be chosen focusing on specifics like forensic psychology and security management & planning.  National University’s online programs are completely flexible and offer a high degree of interactivity through email, links to professors and classmates, online lectures, presentations, quizzes, exams and evaluations.

  • Master of Criminal Justice
SCORE:  91.06 CAREER COUNSELING: Yes JOB PLACEMENT: Yes STATE: Tennessee

The online Master of Arts Degree program in Criminal Justice at the University of Memphis provides students with a solid foundation of knowledge in criminology and criminal justice. All the required classes can be taken online. Faculty members are active researchers and participants in program development related to the various facets of the criminal justice field. The coursework is designed to develop your analytical and research skills while focusing on criminological principles and concepts. The program also teaches an appreciation for the implications of social justice in public policy decisions through developing partnerships with policymakers, program developers and other community groups.

  • MA in Criminal Justice
SCORE:  90.94 CAREER COUNSELING: Yes JOB PLACEMENT: Yes STATE: South Dakota

The University of South Dakota offers a Master of Science in Administration with a Criminal Justice Studies specialization. The program is designed for mid-career students from various sectors including education, healthcare, government agencies, nonprofits, private sector business that provide public sector services and social service organizations.

This program takes a cross-disciplinary approach with the primary goal of preparing students for work in public service oriented organizations in administrative roles. Therefore, core course work includes addressing and analyzing modern administrative challenges and the practical application of administrative theory. Coursework specific to the Criminal Justice Studies specialization includes 12 hours of criminal justice policy studies, the fundamentals of criminal procedures, police administration and criminal law.

  • MS in Administration (Criminal Justice Studies)
SCORE:  90.75 CAREER COUNSELING: Yes JOB PLACEMENT: Yes STATE: Colorado

The Online Master of Criminal Justice degree program at the University of Colorado, Denver explores all aspects of crime, criminal behavior and justice by relying on interdisciplinary study within the fields of sociology, psychology, political science and criminology. The program focuses on law enforcement, judiciary, correctional systems and the formulation of laws and codes. The curriculum is designed to cultivate leadership skills in the criminal justice field as well as refine problem solving and critical thinking skills. The program gives students the freedom to structure their schedules so that they can pursue an education while maintaining their other responsibilities.

  • Master of Criminal Justice
SCORE:  90.65 CAREER COUNSELING: Yes JOB PLACEMENT: Yes STATE: Pennsylvania

Whether you are currently a working professional in the criminal justice field, or are a traditional graduate learner seeking quality master’s level credentials in criminal justice, the Master of Arts in Criminology and Criminal Justice program at Slippery Rock University is for you. Classes are exclusively offered online, which allow busy individuals to go at their own pace. Program coursework focuses on theory, practical skills and research. Students can choose from thesis, internship, or general track options. Options require either the completion of an original research project, the passing of comprehensive exams, an internship with a criminal justice agency or the completion of two additional electives.

  • MA in Criminal Justice
SCORE:  90.55 CAREER COUNSELING: Yes JOB PLACEMENT: Yes STATE: South Carolina

This unique program offers students eyeing leadership roles in the field of criminal justice an advanced understanding of criminal behavior, including its nature, causes and consequences. Students can personalize their learning experiences in a number of different ways. For example, the Master of Science Criminal Justice (MSCJ) degree is available in two different tracks – one with a capstone thesis, the other without. Students can enroll in a 100 percent online learning format, or a hybrid format combining online and classroom-based study. They can also complete an optional system-related internship, participate in networking events and even assist faculty in research. All courses, regardless of format, are taught by practitioner-scholars and have a low student-professor ratio. Visit CSU online to learn more.

  • MS in Criminal Justice
SCORE:  90.52 CAREER COUNSELING: Yes JOB PLACEMENT: Yes STATE: Louisiana

The Online Master of Arts in Criminal Justice program at University of Louisiana, Monroe is dedicated to equipping students with the tools they need to successfully apply their knowledge to real-world matters in criminal justice. The program focuses on criminology theories, research methods and the administration of justice. Students will also cover the juvenile justice system. Current topics and politicized issues relevant to criminal justice are also discussed, including the correlations between minorities, crime and the criminal justice system. Graduates of the master’s program should be prepared to find professional jobs within the criminal justice field.

  • MA in Criminal Justice
SCORE:  90.52 CAREER COUNSELING: Yes JOB PLACEMENT: Yes STATE: Rhode Island

The Master of Science Degree in Administration of Justice and Homeland Security can be completed entirely online at Salve Regina University. Their criminal justice program focuses on practical tools as well as the philosophical, historical, ethical, technological and legal dimensions. Seasoned professionals, who are experts in their fields, teach the courses. To meet the time demands of working students lectures are recorded, archived and can be accessed at the student’s convenience. Students have the option to concentrate in leadership, justice, cyber security and/or intelligence. Coursework covers theory and process in justice, as well as a wide range of contemporary issues including racial policing and psychological profiling.

  • MS in Administration of Justice and Homeland Security
SCORE:  90.50 CAREER COUNSELING: Yes JOB PLACEMENT: Yes STATE: Florida

At Florida State University, Criminal Justice Studies majors pursuing its online Master of Science in Criminology degree can experience the rigor and prestige of a nationally ranked program, but with all the convenience and flexibility that comes with distance learning.  Courses prepare students for advanced leadership positions with criminal justice agencies, for post-law-enforcement careers with a managerial bend, or to teach criminal justice courses in community college programs. The program is designed to allow students to specialize their educations to suit their needs: 21 of the 36 total required credit hours are reserved for career-focused electives. Every single program component is fully Web-based: students need never report to campus. Prospective students are encouraged to contact FSU’s Office of Distance Learning for more information.

  • MS in Criminology
SCORE:  90.31 CAREER COUNSELING: Yes JOB PLACEMENT: Yes STATE: Ohio

Urbana University offers the Master of Arts (MCJA) in Criminal Justice Administration. This degree is focused on criminal justice from both practical and more business-oriented leadership and management perspectives, making both organizational behavior and victimology, for example, required courses. Urbana intends the program to prepare both working professionals to seek out advancements in their agencies and future academics for further study.

The program emphasizes practical skills by requiring students to develop budgets appropriate for public agencies, write applications for grants, and create plans for crime reduction. Policy work assignments are also part of the program. The online program can be completed in one year.

  • MA in Criminal Justice Administration
SCORE:  90.10 CAREER COUNSELING: Yes JOB PLACEMENT: Yes STATE: Missouri

Missouri Baptist University’s online master’s in criminal justice is designed for students looking for professional specialization, leadership positions and instructional roles in criminal justice.  The program seeks to develop leadership and administrative competencies so graduates can obtain management roles in a variety of criminal justice settings.  The program covers a wide variety of criminal justice areas as part of its 36-hour program comprising all of core classes, from ethics to the court system to planning, budgeting and evaluation.  The classes are 100 percent online, start about every eight weeks, and with an accelerated system, students can take courses whenever their schedule allows and or complete the program in one year.  Faculty is available at all times via email, Skype or phone.

  • MS in Criminal Justice
SCORE:  90.08 CAREER COUNSELING: Yes JOB PLACEMENT: Yes STATE: Tennessee

Bethel University’s online Master of Science in Criminal Justice (MSCJ) program takes the concept of career-focused training to heart. The 36-unit writing-based curriculum includes 10 core and two elective courses, all of which target skills workers need to advance careers in law enforcement, corrections, security or the courts. Students currently employed in any of these fields have the option of completing a 100 percent tuition-waived practicum worth 3 semester units. The program’s fully Web-based format is designed to support working professionals’ busy schedules, no matter where they live, but students have the option of periodically participating in campus-based weekend seminars lead by accomplished criminal justice professionals. Visit Bethel University online to learn more about the program or connect with an admissions representative.

  • MS in Criminal Justice
SCORE:  89.83 CAREER COUNSELING: Yes JOB PLACEMENT: Yes STATE: Wisconsin

The University of Wisconsin-Platteville offers a Master of Science in Criminal Justice (MSCJ). This degree program offers a large variety of electives as well as three distinct specializations that together provide students with many options for meeting their professional goals by customizing their course of study.

The Criminal Justice Theory specialization area is best suited for those who hope to engage in governmental research or who want to go on to achieve doctoral-level education. The Criminal Justice Management specialization area is ideal for those who want to pursue administrative and supervisory positions in criminal justice settings or who are seeking out promotion. The Victim and Offender Services specialization area is tailored for those who work in community-based or institutional settings, or those who work with juveniles, parolees, probationers or victims of crimes.

  • MS in Criminal Justice
SCORE:  89.80 CAREER COUNSELING: Yes JOB PLACEMENT: Yes STATE: Ohio

The University of Cincinnati’s online Master of Science in Criminal Justice program is designed to help you understand the conceptual and practical frameworks that inform crime and criminal justice. Students learn to assess problems through rigorous research, to conduct policy analysis and to identify current trends in corrections, policing and criminology. You will become adept at understanding research-based knowledge and applying it to real-world situations. Students graduate from the program with a broad understanding of crime and the different segments of the justice system.  The skills acquired will help you with processing information and problem solving regardless of which criminal justice career path you choose.

  • MS in Criminal Justice
SCORE:  89.77 CAREER COUNSELING: Yes JOB PLACEMENT: Yes STATE: New Jersey

Rowan University Online’s 30-hour master’s in criminal justice degree is structured to allow graduates to hold leadership positions in criminal justice fields or go on to pursue a doctorate degree.  Students learn how to evaluate the effectiveness of criminal justice programs using research.  Graduates can expect to understand the causes of crime, the law’s impact on society, issues facing policing, corrections and courts and have a wide understanding of crime policies.  Students can also expect to complete the 10 required courses in five consecutive semesters, with each course being scheduled in 8-week modules.  The online courses are offered via a Learning Management System and include slide shows, audio and video, as well as email, chat rooms and online discussion boards to contact other students and the instructor.

  • MA in Criminal Justice
SCORE:  89.47 CAREER COUNSELING: Yes JOB PLACEMENT: Yes STATE: Florida

Bethune-Cookman University designed this program to provide students with a well-rounded foundation in the public and private criminal justice systems, but one that is tailored specifically to those seeking administrative leadership roles. Students follow a set schedule of courses – three classes each semester – that culminates in a capstone thesis or project. Students who successfully complete 18-month program will earn Master of Science in Criminal Justice degrees. Students will complete all courses online using B-CU’s Blackboard course management platform, plus a number of additional Web-based tools designed to enrich learning and collaboration, like Respondus, Studymate, Turnitin and more. Contact B-CU to request more information about the program, or to speak with an admissions representative.

  • MS in Criminal Justice Administration
SCORE:  89.32 CAREER COUNSELING: Yes JOB PLACEMENT: Yes STATE: Pennsylvania

With an online master’s degree in criminal justice from Saint Joseph’s University, you can serve society for the greater good. Their criminal justice program emphasizes theory, research, administration and the problems involved in effecting change in the criminal justice system. You will have the opportunity to learn first-hand from a team of distinguished faculty sourced directly from the Criminal Justice field.  In addition to the general curriculum, Saint Joseph’s University offers you a choice of criminology specializations to match your interests and career goals.

  • MS in Criminal Justice
SCORE:  89.30 CAREER COUNSELING: Yes JOB PLACEMENT: Yes STATE: Connecticut

Professionals in the criminal justice field can take advantage of the fully online Master of Science degree in Criminal Justice at the University of New Haven. Designed to help those in the field advance or move in to more complex criminal justice-related jobs, this distance degree option covers numerous key topics such as national security, law enforcement, victim advocacy, and forensic computer investigation. Courses are 100 percent online and each term lasts eight weeks, which allows full-time students to complete the degree in two years. UNH faculty members are experts in the field and also include former law enforcement officers, FBI agents, and Secret Service agents, which means students will gain valuable and insightful knowledge that will prepare them for leadership roles post graduation.

  • MS in Criminal Justice

Key Components of the Online Criminal Justice Master’s Degree

Colleges, universities and private online schools that grant master’s degrees can vary greatly in options, specialties, program focus and curriculum. Students should examine prospective schools for their academic expertise and carefully assess faculty, coursework and graduation requirements. Here are some key elements in prospective online criminal justice programs to investigate:

Faculty expertise

There should be scholars and professionals among the faculty with up-to-date credentials and experience in criminal justice professions or related fields such as psychology, law enforcement, emergency response and social services. For example, a graduate student seeking advancement in security and technology could benefit from a program featuring faculty and lecturers with accomplishments in computer science and forensics. And, in addition to regular faculty, does the program bring in lecturers such as a victim services specialist, a disaster services response leader, a probation specialist or experienced corrections officer?

Individual and collaborative deadlines

A course structure with hard deadlines not only keeps students focused on progress, it trains them to be responsive — and in criminal justice settings, missing deadlines can cost lives. Boston University’s online degree program requires students to make regular contributions to discussion boards – on schedule. Online programs often require students to deliver collaborative studies, reports and research papers done with their peers. Coordinating teamwork over the Internet or phone and mastering the talent of working with others on goal-oriented projects are key skills for the criminal justice workplace.

Internships

An internship or practicum can be exceptionally beneficial, although not all programs require them. The University of Colorado’s Denver School of Public Affairs requires criminal justice majors in the online master’s program to undertake an internship if they have no prior experience in the field. Internships take place in law enforcement, criminal justice and social service agencies under the direct supervision of staff professionals. Interns witness and participate in operations first-hand, and moreover, they can forge relationships with criminal justice agencies and organizations — for example, the Department of Homeland Security offers an internship. College research opportunities and resources can also be a boon to graduate students. Portland State University is host to the Hatfield School of Government’s Criminal Justice Policy Research Institute, and online master’s students have direct access to research opportunities at the institute.

Mentoring and career assistance

Who’s on the criminal justice faculty? Schools offering criminal justice master’s degree programs typically require the graduate student to work directly with an individualized faculty member/mentor that has a history of experience and scholarship in their specialty. Mentors not only understand the school’s curriculum, they have keen insight into professional best practices. Many have ongoing relationships with law enforcement or legal organizations. Sam Houston State University’s online program has had faculty members such as the founding Director of the Texas Regional Community Policing Institute and the Executive Director of the Law Enforcement Management Institute of Texas. The Washington State University online criminal justice faculty includes American Bar Association consultants and researchers for the Washington State Department of Corrections. A mentor can direct a student’s line of research, help define career opportunities and assist with networking. Equally important is whether the school provides career counseling and job-search assistance to current students and graduates. Does the college attend or sponsor career fairs in criminal justice or law enforcement?

Multidisciplinary options

Interdisciplinary options may broaden expertise while calling upon a wide range of faculty members. An online criminal justice master’s program may span the social and behavioral sciences, statistical and computer sciences, natural sciences and law. Course choices allow students to tailor degrees to their target careers.

Certain master’s degree titles do not mention criminal justice or law enforcement, but are targeted to niche roles in the field. The University of the Rockies’ online Master of Arts in Psychology – Criminology and Justice Studies program draws from faculty in the behavioral sciences, law enforcement and corrections. The curriculum can serve professionals such as profilers, criminologists and forensic psychologists. Fort Hayes University offers an online master’s degree in liberal studies with a concentration in public administration for individuals heading toward management and leadership positions. Academic subjects include organizational structure, criminal law, public relations, policy analysis and personnel management. The federal law enforcement specialization of the online criminal justice master’s degree from Saint Joseph’s University features the criminology, investigation and apprehension studies common to many programs, plus courses in federal laws, law enforcement intelligence methodologies and homeland security practices.

These indicators of academic strength, diversity and student support can be crucial in narrowing the list of potential online degree programs. Now let’s examine the characteristics of curriculum and concentrations in advanced criminal justice education. There is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to online criminal justice master’s degrees, but the following major fields of study and timelines to graduation can bring programs into greater focus.

Criminal Justice Coursework and Concentrations

Selecting the program that best maps to career aspirations involves an understanding of the major degree components and how they relate to various professions. For example, someone moving into corrections administration may find a program heavily weighted in forensics less useful than a program that specializes in law enforcement leadership. Here are examples of concentrations in criminal justice and how they relate to particular career paths:

Law enforcement

This area of criminal justice focuses on criminal law, policing procedure, ethics, intelligence and leadership. The specialization centers on building leadership and advanced skills for current law enforcement personnel or aspirants to homeland security roles where a master’s degree often represents the basic job entry credential. This field is concerned with those who fight crime through prevention and intervention practices, such as police officers, detectives, game wardens, state marshals and federal law enforcement officers.

Federal Officer

Holds position as FBI and CIA agent or serves as officer with FEMA, Customs and Border Protection, Citizenship and Immigration, Secret Service and the Transportation Security Administration.

Law Enforcement Manager/Administrator

As a mid-level manager upwards to chief or senior officer, oversees various aspects of law enforcement administration, such as planning, field operations, records management, human resources, training, procurement, dispatch, emergency response and policy.

Victim Services Specialist:

Plays the role of advocate for victims of crimes, organizing counseling efforts and assisting with court appearances or investigations

Corrections/rehabilitation

An online master’s in criminal justice with an emphasis on the corrections system or offender rehabilitation is intended for professionals who seek advancement to management roles at Federal, state and local facilities. Studies examine policies, theories and operations in correctional treatment and how offender classifications can affect programming. Special attention is paid to creating models and statistical evaluations as well as observing social and political aspects of rehabilitation.

Federal Parole Officer

Manages cases or a team of case investigators assigned to oversee persons released from federal prisons or those assigned to prison-diversion programs.

Law Enforcement Manager/Administrator

As a mid-level manager upwards to chief or senior officer, oversees various aspects of law enforcement administration, such as planning, field operations, records management, human resources, training, procurement, dispatch, emergency response and policy.

Penologist

Researches the methodology and policies in place at jails and prisons with an eye toward enhancing security, rehabilitation programs and prison healthcare.

Business administration:

An MBA with a concentration in criminal justice embraces managerial aspects of leadership, developing policies and procedures, and directing a large-scale public or private enterprise. The curriculum covers key topics such as strategic planning, communications, human resources, budgeting and finance, compensation and legal statute compliance. The business focus is designed to assist professionals moving into management roles in fields such as law enforcement and security consulting or manufacturing, or in non-profits that support law enforcement organizations, victims’ rights, prison reform and public policy.

Cyber Security Specialist

Provides advanced technology know-how with law enforcement skills in forensics. Employed by the government, private industry or education sectors to ensure protection from hackers or terrorists.

Public Policy Researcher

Provides senior leadership in formulating policy for federal, state and regional law enforcement and criminal justice groups, nonprofit organizations, or educational institutions.

Security Consultant:

Serves clients in the public and private sectors, providing security assessments, protective strategies and technology deployments.

Criminology

This specialty offers an investigation into the social, environmental and psychological forces that lead to criminal behavior. A heavy focus is placed on research and statistics, the academic study of crime, delinquency and public policy as it applies to crime prevention. This pathway can be useful for policy administrators, educators, public and private research professionals or those seeking various homeland security positions.

Criminologist

Studies statistical information on crimes, creates social and psychological profiles, and examines trends. Also investigates environmental, economic and cultural factors that may foster criminal behavior.

Forensic Psychologist

Combines expertise and experience at the intersection of psychology and law enforcement. Employed in criminal and civil arenas to perform investigations, provide expert testimony and conduct psychological assessments of offenders.

Public Policy Researcher

Provides senior leadership in formulating policy for federal, state and regional law enforcement and criminal justice groups, nonprofit organizations, or educational institutions.

Criminologist

Studies statistical information on crimes, creates social and psychological profiles, and examines trends. Also investigates environmental, economic and cultural factors that may foster criminal behavior.

Cyber Security Specialist

Provides advanced technology know-how with law enforcement skills in forensics. Employed by the government, private industry or education sectors to ensure protection from hackers or terrorists.

Federal Parole Officer

Manages cases or a team of case investigators assigned to oversee persons released from federal prisons or those assigned to prison-diversion programs.

Forensic Psychologist

Combines expertise and experience at the intersection of psychology and law enforcement. Employed in criminal and civil arenas to perform investigations, provide expert testimony and conduct psychological assessments of offenders.

Law Enforcement Manager/Administrator

As a mid-level manager upwards to chief or senior officer, oversees various aspects of law enforcement administration, such as planning, field operations, records management, human resources, training, procurement, dispatch, emergency response and policy.

Penologist

Researches the methodology and policies in place at jails and prisons with an eye toward enhancing security, rehabilitation programs and prison healthcare.

Public Policy Researcher

Provides senior leadership in formulating policy for federal, state and regional law enforcement and criminal justice groups, nonprofit organizations, or educational institutions.

Security Consultant:

Serves clients in the public and private sectors, providing security assessments, protective strategies and technology deployments.

Victim Services Specialist:

Plays the role of advocate for victims of crimes, organizing counseling efforts and assisting with court appearances or investigations

Federal Officer

Holds position as FBI and CIA agent or serves as officer with FEMA, Customs and Border Protection, Citizenship and Immigration, Secret Service and the Transportation Security Administration.

Understanding the relationship between degree specializations and criminal justice studies can help prospective students narrow their search for the best program match. From here, they can drill deeper by carefully reviewing course listings. Course descriptions should provide details about the subject matter, its relation to criminal justice, practical and theoretical applications, and requirements for completion. Descriptions may also show how the class fits into the total curriculum and where it belongs in the sequence. Here are master’s level courses gathered from online criminal justice programs across the country:

Analytical Research Methods

This course introduces the statistical methodology for applied social science research, with a criminal justice focus. Students incorporate advanced skills in creating surveys, conducting field research and developing experimental designs related to assessments, policy and planning.

Criminology Seminar

Social sciences contribute greatly to this interdisciplinary inquiry into criminal behavior and social phenomena. Students examine the effects of biological, economic, social, political and psychological issues on individuals and groups. Researchers also look into their own prejudices and pre-existing theories about policy and enforcement of criminal procedure and civil law.

Overview of Homeland Security

A governmental monolith of agencies has looked out for national defense and internal security since 9/11. Topics of study include the nature of security threats, key defense organizations at different levels of government, and the integration of forces and data to create a web of protection. Students explore how homeland security principles and practice impact the financial sector, education, healthcare, law enforcement, manufacturing and transportation.

Criminal Justice Systems

A comprehensive analysis of U.S. systems with an emphasis on processes, structures and interrelationships between corrections, courts, juvenile justice and law enforcement. Students gain an in-depth understanding of challenges and issues pertinent to the design, structure and administration of criminal justice systems.

Cybercrime

Crimes committed by individuals or groups over the Internet or by physical compromise of data systems require different approaches than many traditional investigation and prosecution methodologies. Do aspects of the Fourth Amendment pertain to cybercriminals? What modus operandi and motives are typical? Topics include hacking, identify theft, cyberfraud, economic espionage, illegal surveillance and cyber-bullying.

Federal Criminal Law and Prosecution

This course covers the history of criminal laws, key elements of the United States Code and investigation of cases including criminal civil rights violations, mail fraud, organized crime, alcohol and narcotics, and money laundering. Students examine the role of the federal law enforcement and prosecution agencies serving the nation as well as jurisdictional issues and sentencing guidelines.

Organizational Structure and Leadership

Utilizing faculty from business management and criminal justice divisions, this interdisciplinary course provides an overview of organizational policy, resource management, communications, managerial economics, budgeting and financial planning. Students conduct research on the justice system’s structure and processes, from investigations, trials and imprisonment to ethics and public policy.

Investigations

This course reviews the history and current state of criminal justice investigation procedures and theory. A skills-development component examines the practice of interviewing and interrogating, polygraph and genetic testing, issues in serial crimes, geographic profiling and data analysis.

Forensic Psychology

The class examines the psychological and legal issues in play when determining an individual’s mental capacity to stand trial or be involved in involuntary commitment, with a focus on testing methodologies and relevant tools. Topics include the study of mental disorders, definitions of diminished capacity, the insanity defense and how to provide expert testimony.

Timeline for Success: Online Criminal Justice Master’s Degree

Once a student knows that an online degree program is the right path, the real work begins toward enrolling, completing courses and fulfilling graduation requirements. While an online degree could mesh with a student’s work or family responsibilities, the real challenge lies in staying on task. Depending on the student and the school, some self-paced online degree programs may be completed in less time than their campus-based equivalents. The following timeline itemizes some steps toward applying to programs, along with key stages of the process:

Year 0

The application process alone can be a challenge, especially if the student is applying to several schools. Each program establishes its own procedures, and requirements can vary greatly by institution. Hitting the deadlines for each aspect of the process – submission of forms, letters of recommendation, test scores, application essays and school interviews – can spell the difference between acceptance and having to wait for the next round of applications. Considering the value of the advanced degree in criminal justice, and given the limited availability of seats in the virtual classroom, many graduate admissions criteria are highly competitive. In getting off to a strong start:

Determine if you’re a good candidate for online learning. Most schools have a set of questions to help you decide, including whether you are self-motivated, efficient with your time and comfortable with the learning methodology.

Create a master calendar, starting with today and moving forward step by step in rounding up application materials. Schools often have different deadlines. It’s important to complete graduate entrance examinations in time to report them to prospective schools by the application deadline. And what’s the absolute final date for submission of all required items in the application packet?

Decide how to pay for an education. Evaluate tuition and related costs to assess the price tag on a degree. For students requiring tuition assistance, it’s time to fill out appropriate FAFSA forms for potential loans, grants and scholarships. In some cases, criminal justice employers may underwrite the tuition or reimburse students for advanced degree work, or offer a post-graduation bonus.

Round up recommendation letters from employers, former professors or criminal justice organizations attesting to your abilities and casting the most favorable light on your application.

Forward test scores from pertinent graduate admissions examinations.

Order transcripts from prior undergraduate or graduate work to be sent to the short list of prospective schools. This process can usually be completed online.

Write a personal statement describing your experience, proficiencies, reasons why you chose the program and how it applies to your career plans, if required.

Year 1

In the first year of instruction, coursework in an online criminal justice master’s program concentrates on core courses in the major. A first-year mainstay is a comprehensive examination of research methodologies and statistical methods. Students complete courses general to the field, such as criminology, law enforcement, juvenile justice and others that provide a solid baseline for specializations. As the year rounds out, students take the first courses in their concentrations and evaluate their progress toward satisfying degree requirements. Students who plan to participate in internships should begin making arrangements.

Year 2

By this time, students are satisfied in their choice for specializations and concentrate on specific studies toward fulfilling their concentration. Coursework can include in-depth electives, such as criminal justice and special populations, drug and alcohol dependency, victimology, counter-terrorism, corrections, interpersonal management/leadership and research toward their capstone project. Students with no prior criminal justice experience may undertake internships. If the program requires a capstone project or directed study, this is the time to complete research and the final paper or project. Students should round up faculty members for their project advisors early in the year.

The Inside Scoop on Master’s Degrees in Criminal Justice

George McAfee is a professor of criminal justice and director of public safety programs on the university level. A former police officer, McAfee holds master’s degrees from two colleges – one of which was earned online – as well as a doctorate. He shared some valuable tips for graduate students studying criminal justice:

Prepare for an intense program of study

Graduate study marks an educational transition to a more professional and focused program of study, designed to help students develop intellectual, social and technical competencies. Succeeding in a rigorous master’s degree program requires concentration, ambition and passion.

Push yourself

Remain intellectually curious, but push the boundaries of your comfort zone. Learn from faculty, peers and professionals who share your passion.

Prepare for a rapidly changing field.

Justice and security agencies confront many traditional forms of crime, and they also face rapid evolution in traditional and globalized challenges. Coursework should reflect the most recent research in criminal justice.

Show Me the Money: Affording an Online Master’s Degree

A master’s degree in criminal justice represents a significant commitment of both time and money, but with financial planning, it can prove a worthy career investment. One immediate benefit of pursuing a degree online is that some costs are automatically eliminated: online students don’t pay for college football games, commuting or relocating to campus, and meals away from home. For those requiring assistance, graduate programs may offer financial aid to qualified applicants. This section of the guide looks at the cost of a degree, projected job opportunities in the field, and the wages of related occupations requiring a master’s degree.

Calculating the Price

While examining the curriculum and degree focus of prospective schools, students should compile a list of costs to see if the program is unrestrictive and affordable. Many online degree programs operate on a year-round schedule and offer accelerated programs, which could slice time off completion, making a degree more affordable. Tuition – the single largest expense – can vary widely based on the type of institution and the way costs are calibrated. Colleges, universities and private schools may charge by the semester, the quarter or even by the number of credits per class. In general, most public colleges and universities charge lower tuition than private institutions, although residency can affect costs. Working students can do the math to determine whether their individual or household income can meet the bills.

Colleges and universities offering online degree programs may waive out-of-state tuition in favor of a flat fee for all students. The overall cost of a degree can also be made more palatable if the student can transfer previously completed credits in the major, which could allow them to complete the master’s faster. A quick look at tuition for online two-year criminal justice master’s programs shows a range from $8,500 all the way up to $24,000. Here are two examples of simple math to calculate tuition costs:

  1. Find the cost per semester or quarter and multiply it times the number of semesters/quarters it will take to graduate.
  2. Determine the price per credit and multiply it by the total number of credits needed to qualify for graduation.

Students should consider their current cost of living, income and expenses in addition to the tuition total to create a working budget. Now let’s look at the potential return on investment (ROI) for completing an online master’s in criminal justice.

The Master’s Payoff

Earning an online master’s in criminal justice does not automatically increase earnings, but it certainly bolsters professional credentials and can lead to advancement in rank, which ultimately may result in pay increases and bonuses. The system of ranks customary to public government-funded organizations is pegged to continuing education and practical experience. Completing a master’s degree can move grads up in a competitive hiring line for a new career or position them for an advancement associated with higher earnings and increased benefits. Here are some examples of the pay range for selected criminal justice professionals, revealing top-tier wages based on advanced training and experience:

Criminal Justice Profession Salary Range
Emergency management specialists (FEMA) $51,000 – $117,000
Criminologists $56,993 – $84,098
Security consultants $50,000 – $102,000
Forensic scientists $35,171 – $82,385
Federal law enforcement managers $45,740 – $79,790

The leadership positions that open up to graduates of master’s degree programs in criminal justice greatly increase earnings potential, according to the Seattle PI Online. For example, the median salary of a police officer with only an undergraduate degree was $48,532. When the professional adds a master’s degree and advances to police lieutenant, the annual salary increases to $65,688. Similarly, a supervisor at the FBI with a master’s degree can take home $89,115.

Many states promote advanced CJ training. Massachusetts’ Quinn Bill legislation, for example, rewards law enforcement professionals who return to college with incentives and bonuses including faster tracks to advancement.

Employment Projections in Criminal Justice

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that overall job growth in the country, 2012-2022, will reach 10.8 percent. Certain careers for professionals with advanced degrees in criminal justice could fare better, even expanding by more than twice the national average growth rate for all occupations. The emphasis on homeland security is expected to continue, creating positions at national, state and local agencies as criminal justice organizations enhance their tactics, promote managers and recruit new personnel.

Career areas with a solid upside for the 2012-2022 period include:

Criminal Justice Career
Employment Growth (%)
Emergency management directors
22%
Forensic scientists and specialists
31%
Private detectives and investigators
21%
Criminologists
18%
Paralegals
31%
Substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors
22%

Unexpected Professions in Criminal Justice

Most people think criminal justice is about performing police or detective work, but other career options beckon to graduates who march to a different drummer. Graduates often apply the management principles gleaned through completing their online criminal justice master’s degree to out-of-the-box opportunities. There are even unusual roles within traditional justice and law enforcement organizations. Here are two roles in the private sector and two in government as food for thought:

  • Manufacturing Manager and Sales Executive:

    These professionals combine field expertise with business leadership skills to oversee research, production and sales of security solutions, devices, alarm systems and related equipment used in crime fighting. Imagine negotiating the contract to provide the state patrol with radar guns or the Department of Homeland Security with night-vision glasses.

  • Entertainment Security Contractor

    Managers screen, recruit and direct teams comprising professionals tasked to protect entertainers and performance venues. Responsibilities can include overseeing talent protection, enforcing anti-recording or piracy regulations, and monitoring technical surveillance. Personnel often include former law enforcement officers, military veterans and security specialists.

  • Deportation Officer

    In 2014, officers of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement deported 315,943 persons. It takes more than a steady eye at the border to qualify for a deportation law enforcement role. Officers coordinate work with courts, embassies and foreign consulates and immigration attorneys to locate, legally process and deport individuals and families who are in the U.S. illegally.

  • Game Warden

    While this role offers the chance to work outside, chasing poachers, polluters or drug farmers off of protected lands can get old. A few years of insect bites and muddy boots can drive outdoors enforcers to desk jobs. Imagine leading the law enforcement work force at a U.S. forest or land management area, battling contaminants and fire, protecting fish and wildlife, and preserving the best nature has to offer.