Earning a Master’s in Criminology Online

Criminology is a multidisciplinary field that seeks to understand and explain deviant and criminal behavior. Students pursue degree work in this field for its multifarious and growing career options. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the numbers of conferred bachelor's degrees in firefighting, homeland security, and law enforcement increased from 47,600 in 2010 to 61,157 in 2016.

While students can pursue entry-level work with undergraduate credentials, many choose to continue their academic training. By earning an online criminology master's degree, students gain the high-level knowledge and skills needed for career advancement. This guide provides prospective learners with information on program choices and costs. It also covers career options and postgraduate opportunities.

Student Profile: Who Earns an Online Master's Degree in Criminology?

Master's in criminology online students usually hold a bachelor's degree in criminology or a related area, such as criminal justice, sociology, psychology, biology, or social anthropology. They may also possess substantial job experience, seeking graduate training to advance their career. On top of advanced coursework and research opportunities, master's programs enable students to focus training with a specialization. Graduate credentials also prepare students for professional certification and licensure.

Why Get a Master's Degree in Criminology?

Pursuing Specialization

Colleges and universities generally offer combined online criminology and criminal justice master's programs. The former field concerns theories related to criminal behavior and its societal effects, while the latter entails the application of said theories within the justice system. Standalone online criminology master's programs also exist and feature their own specializations. Specialization options include forensic science, forensic psychology, crisis management, law enforcement, and criminal law.

Career Advancement Opportunities

Master's degree holders enjoy increased career opportunities, better pay, and more job security. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), professionals with graduate credentials earn, on average, $12,000 more than those with only their bachelor's. They also enjoy a lower average unemployment rate. Master's programs prepare students for careers as managers, directors, and consultants through focused coursework and leadership training. Graduates can also pursue advanced professional certification, further expanding job opportunities.

Online Learning Technology

Regardless of academic field or program structure, technology fuels distance education. Learners collaborate through online learning platforms and video conferencing tools. Because of the interactive nature of their degree work, online students become effective digital communicators and can apply these skills to their careers. Criminology students also develop relevant technological skills, including the ability to predict crime using statistical software. Students taking forensic science classes learn to use computer programs to organize, analyze, and present physical and digital evidence.

Prerequisites for Online Criminology Programs

Conventional admission requirements for an online master's in criminology program include a minimum GPA, standardized test scores, recommendation letters, and a personal essay. Prospective students typically pay an application fee of around $50.

  • Work Experience: To earn a criminology master's degree, online students generally do not need relevant career experience. Accelerated tracks and degree completion programs are exceptions. These intensive programs often require applicants to possess at least two-three years of work experience. All students can turn job experience and professional training into transfer credits through their school's prior learning assessments.
  • Exams and Test Scores: Distance education programs increasingly eschew standardized testing, preferring a holistic evaluation of student achievement and potential. However, many colleges and universities still require GRE scores. The Princeton Review reports that the average social sciences student scores 153 on verbal reasoning, 151 on quantitative reasoning, and 3.9 on analytical writing. Minimum requirements differ by school. GRE scores are valid for five years.
  • Coursework: Because graduate academics build upon undergraduate coursework, online criminology master's programs ask candidates to complete prerequisite classes in sociology, psychology, and criminal justice. Students who did not take necessary prerequisites during their bachelor's education may need to complete a transition/bridge program before pursuing master's degree work. Most colleges and universities ask for a minimum 2.0 GPA. Competitive schools require at least a 3.0.
  • Recommendations: Graduate programs require two-three recommendation letters. These testimonies should come from employers, professors, or mentors who can attest to a student's academic performance, professional achievements, and personal qualities. Some schools limit who may provide recommendations and some prefer to contact recommenders directly by phone call or virtual meeting.
  • Essays: Through their admission essay, students gain the opportunity to set themselves apart from others in the applicant pool. In these personal statements, students detail their successes and goals, and how their values align with those of the program. Some schools provide a general prompt, which students respond to in one-two pages. Other institutions require learners to answer essay questions.
  • Interviews: In-person or remote interviews allow schools to discern how well a student is likely to engage with peers and teachers. Interviews also enable applicants to elaborate on their academic and professional history. They are a common part of scholarship and fellowship applications.
  • International Students: In addition to multiple interviews, international students must go through an immigration process, which includes obtaining the F-1 Student Visa. Nonnative English speakers must submit TOEFL or IELTS scores to show language proficiency. International learners also need to take extra steps to obtain funding since they usually cannot access government awards through the Free Application for Federal Student Aid.

How Much Can I Make with a Master's Degree in Criminology?

According to BLS data, protective service professionals earn a median annual salary of $39,550. Among these occupations, private investigators and police officers earn the most, at $50,700 and $62,960, respectively. However, salary potential differs by industry, employer, location, credentials, and experience. Criminology master's online programs help students develop the hard skills employers value in specialists and leaders, including statistics, computer application, data analysis, and team coordination.

Traditional Careers for Criminology Master’s Graduates

Career Stats Description

Police or Detective

Median Pay: $62,960

Job Growth: 7%

Police officers protect lives and property, patrolling assigned areas and answering emergency and nonemergency calls. They also conduct traffic stops and make arrests. Detectives collect evidence and interview persons of interest for criminal investigations. Specializing in a type of crime, such as homicide or fraud, detectives regularly testify in court proceedings.

Ideal for: Individuals with strong judgment and communication skills willing to undergo specialized training and physical conditioning.

Probation Officer or Correctional Treatment Specialist

Median Pay: $51,410

Job Growth: 6%

Probation officers assist formerly incarcerated individuals. They work to ensure their clients do not pose a threat to their community and that they make progress toward rehabilitation. Correctional treatment specialists develop the plans that individuals on probation and parole must follow. They also help clients find job training, housing, and community resources.

Ideal for: Empathetic individuals with keen organizational and critical-thinking skills.

Criminal Investigator or Special Agent

Median Pay: $79,970

Job Growth: 9%

Working as uniformed investigators or plain-clothes agents, these professionals retrieve, analyze, and present evidence based on case issues and guidelines. They observe suspects and interview witnesses. Criminal investigators usually specialize in a type of crime, like financial crime, cyber terrorism, or extortion.

Ideal for: Professionals with exceptional communication and analytical skills who can work odd hours.

Police Identification and Records Officer

Median Pay: $79,970

Job Growth: 9%

Occupying a major administrative role for law enforcement agencies, these professionals package, store, and retrieve evidence for court proceedings. They maintain records and write reports to ensure evidence is correctly processed. These officers may also assist with evidence collection at crime scenes and laboratory analysis.

Ideal for: Adaptive, detail-oriented professionals with computer application skills.

Additional Careers for Criminology Master’s Graduates

Career Stats Description

Forensic Science Technician

Median Pay: $57,850

Job Growth: 17%

These scientists oversee evidence collection at crime scenes, discerning what information or items to retrieve, and how. They also work in laboratory settings, conducting chemical and microscopic analysis of blood, firearms, and trace evidence. Additionally, forensic science technicians reconstruct crime scenes to parse out timeline and causation. Like other professionals in this field, they regularly testify in court.

Ideal for: Detail-oriented professionals with skills in statistics, data analytics, and physical sciences.

Emergency Management Director

Median Pay: $72,760

Job Growth: 8%

These leaders create and implement plans to tackle natural and human-made disasters. They train team members and volunteers to save lives and minimize property damage. During emergencies, they coordinate relief efforts, including resource and personnel distribution. In the aftermath, emergency management directors evaluate relief efforts for efficiency.

Ideal for: Experienced professionals with a background in project management, public administration, and public health.

Intelligence Analyst

Median Pay: $79,970

Job Growth: 9%

Intelligence analysts usually work in homeland security to tackle domestic and international terrorism. They gather, validate, correlate, and analyze evidence garnered from such sources as intelligence networks and law enforcement databases. They work with other criminologists and criminal justice professionals to develop prevention and response plans.

Ideal for: Individuals with superior analytical-thinking and investigative skills who are willing to work in potentially dangerous environments.

Postsecondary Teacher (Criminology)

Median Pay: $60,400

Job Growth: 15%

College educators provide classroom instruction and laboratory training to students. These professionals also help students with research projects and career guidance. Postsecondary teachers pursue their own projects, publishing scholarly articles and presenting findings at conferences. In an administrative context, they help departments organize events and update curricula.

Ideal for: Experienced educators with a master's or doctoral degree in criminology.

Sources: Bureau of Labor Statistics, PayScale, 2017-2018

Paying for an Online Master's in Criminology

Many colleges and universities support criminology master's degree learners with scholarships, grants, and low tuition rates that disregard residency status. Students can also save money by enrolling in an accelerated track or degree completion path. These intensive programs require candidates to possess substantial career experience and prerequisite coursework. Regardless of their specific degree plan, all students can minimize costs by applying for transfer credits.

Tuition Timelines

Whether they are recent undergraduates or seasoned criminologists, the right graduate program exists for all online students. This section details three degree structures and their effects on course planning and graduation timeline.

Part-Time Path

Part-time enrollment offers working professionals the flexibility to arrange classes around busy career and family schedules. However, some schools do not allow part-time students to access financial aid.

Real-Life Example:

School Name: University of Nebraska Omaha
Total Credits Required: 36
Summary: The UNO master of science in criminology and criminal justice program includes classes like nature of crime and statistical applications in public administration. Part-time students earn their degree in three years. To apply, candidates need a minimum 3.0 GPA. The program does not require GRE scores.

Full-Time Path

The traditional graduate timeline enables full-time students to earn their master's degree in two years. Full-time students enjoy complete university resources, including financial assistance, internship placement, and career services.

Real-Life Example:

School Name: University of California, Irvine
Total Credits Required: 52
Summary: The UCI online master of criminology, law and society operates three quarter terms every year. Coursework includes research methods, hate crimes, and legal institutions and society. To apply, candidates submit unofficial transcripts, three recommendation letters, and two formal statements. UCI does not require GRE scores.

Accelerated Path

Accelerated online graduate programs allow students to earn their master's degree in as few as 12 months.

Real-Life Example:

School Name: Regis University
Total Credits Required: 36
Summary: The Regis online master of science in criminology program operates accelerated five-week and eight-week classes. On top of required classes, students pursue advanced topics in either a behavior or cybercrime focus area. Remote classes start on six dates every year. Application materials include current resume and essays.

Subject-Specific Financial Aid, Grants & Scholarships

In addition to federal, state, and university aid, students can pay for their online master's in criminology with private scholarships and grants. Scholarship applications typically entail the submission of academic transcripts, recommendation letters, and personal statements.

What to Expect from a Master's Level Online Criminology Program

Master's in criminology online programs typically span two years and require degree candidates to accumulate at least 30 semester credits. Colleges and universities deliver courses through learning management platforms like Moodle and Blackboard. Most schools allow students to individually pace their degree plan, taking as few or as many classes as they want each session. However, some institutions curate a student's experience through cohort learning where distance learners take one or two classes at a time, advancing through the curriculum at the same rate as their peers.

Major Milestones

  1. Practicum Experience: Anytime during program

    By engaging in internships, fellowships, field training, and collaborative research projects, graduate students gain hands-on training and cultivate professional relationships that aid long-term career success. Schools usually allow distance learners to complete their practicum with a local organization or current employer.

  2. Capstone Requirement: Last year of program

    This culminating experience differs by program and student interests. Some learners write and defend research papers. Other students design and implement a project with the support of a sponsoring organization. Certain online criminology master's programs only require students to take a senior seminar.

  3. Comprehensive Exam: Final semester of program

    Before students can receive their master's degree, they may need to demonstrate adequate knowledge and skill application through a comprehensive examination. Distance learners complete this test under the guidance of a local, school-approved proctor.

  4. Professional Certification/Licensure: Post-graduation

    Criminologists (not to be confused with criminal psychologists) generally do not need a professional certificate to legally work. However, practitioners working in government agencies may need to complete specialized training. For other professionals, optional certification is a way to stay competitive in an evolving industry.

  5. Continuing Education: Post-graduation

    Criminologists and related professionals with certification/licensure usually must complete continuing education hours to maintain credentials and apply for advanced ones. For those who want to work as research scientists or postsecondary teachers, doctoral training represents the next step.


Online criminology master's degree plans contain such core classes as corrections, computer applications, research methods, and legal institutions and society. Advanced coursework varies by program focus and the student's specialization and elective choices. The list below contains five popular criminology courses.

Criminological Theory

In this fundamental course, students explore deviance within the frameworks of law and society, focusing on systems of punishment and control. The course also covers deviant and criminal behavior and the theories surrounding causation and manifestation.

Data Analysis and Interpretation

As part of research training, data analysis and interpretation students examine methods of data collection and principles of data analysis. They develop skills by analyzing published reports, articles, and books. The class also covers the ethical use of information.

Law Enforcement

Students study policing and law enforcement at the local, state, and federal levels. Students also explore related practices and procedures. Additional topics include police subculture, community policing, and relevant technology.

Women and Criminal Justice

This class provides a historical overview of criminological theories and their effects on women as offenders, victims, and professionals in the criminal justice field. Students also examine case studies on the treatment of women in prisons and other correctional facilities.


This advanced course covers the policy development and application needed to turn an offender-based justice system into one that prioritizes victims. Students also examine a crime's psychological effects on victims.

Requirements to Practice

Online criminology master's degree holders enjoy diverse career opportunities. Criminologists who occupy administrative or general practitioner roles do not need to obtain additional credentials to legally work. However, those pursuing careers in law enforcement must complete special training and earn state licensure. Forensic scientists and clinical professionals (like social workers and forensic psychologists) must undergo an accreditation process with either a state agency or professional organization. Work experience requirements differ. Prospective managers and directors need at least five-seven years of relevant experience.

  • Law Enforcement Training: Prospective police officers must pass an entrance exam, the content and structure of which differ by jurisdiction. They also need to complete location-specific police academy training, which includes physical conditioning and coursework on procedures and regulations. Most states do not require police officers to hold a college degree, but pursuing higher education allows professionals to access leadership and corporate security jobs.
  • Certified Criminal Justice Addiction Professional: Criminologists who work directly with offenders, like parole officers and social workers, can pursue specialized training and licensure to support clients with substance abuse and mental health challenges. This credential is offered by state agencies. In North Carolina, the application process includes a background check, three hours of ethics training, and a 300-hour supervised practicum.
  • Certified Corrections Professional: Offered by the American Correctional Association, this self-study program enables professionals to earn specialized credentials in adult corrections, juvenile justice, and healthcare. To sit for the four-hour proctored exam, candidates must demonstrate relevant work experience and academic training. Price varies by certification program. Credentials last for three years, during which time professionals must complete continuing education hours for recertification.
  • Certified Emergency Manager: The International Association of Emergency Managers provides certification at two levels. To earn the certificate, candidates must submit professional credentials for review, which include at least three years of emergency management experience. They also must pass a 100-question, multiple-choice exam. IAEM members pay $395 for initial certification, while nonmembers pay $595.

Professional Organizations & Resources

On top of earning an online criminology master's degree, students can bolster job prospects and career longevity by joining a professional organization. While membership often entails an annual fee, the benefits include financial support, such as academic scholarships, travel allowances, and research grants. Members connect through online communities, local chapter meetings, national conferences, and international summits. These organizations also operate professional development programs, such as the in-person and online skill workshops delivered by the American Academy of Forensic Psychology.

  • American Correctional Association: The ACA supports individuals and groups seeking to improve the criminal justice system. In addition to certification, members benefit from elearning tools and onsite training programs. The association also provides global corrections scholarship and fellowship opportunities.
  • Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences: Since 1963, the ACJS has been promoting criminal justice research, policy, and training for educators and practitioners. Members collaborate through doctoral summits and annual conferences/showcases. The academy offers award programs, scholarly journals, and an employment bulletin.
  • American Academy of Forensic Sciences: The ACFS supports more than 7,000 members in 72 countries. The academy operates a large reference library and a resource center for humanitarian and human rights. Members enjoy employment opportunities and educational conferences.
  • American Society of Criminology: The ASC supports the development and dissemination of criminological knowledge through research initiatives and publications. Members collaborate through subject-specific divisions. They can also take advantage of an employment and internship directory.
  • Association for Applied and Clinical Sociology: The AACP delivers certification for professionals with a master's degree. The association supports members with publication guidance, job resources, and award competitions. AACP sponsors conferences and training workshops.
  • American Academy of Forensic Psychology: On top of training programs, the ACFP offers achievement awards and diversity grants. The academy also facilitates a mentorship program for young professionals seeking guidance during the American Board of Forensic Psychology certification process.
  • American Probation and Parole Association: The APPA advocates on the national level for community corrections professionals. The association provides onsite training and leadership programs. The APPA also offers online professional development opportunities. Professionals connect through issue-specific working groups.
  • National Criminal Justice Association: Founded in 1971, the NCJA shapes public policy through research and legislative initiatives. The association offers funding opportunities, employment support, and training programs. The NCJA also facilitates social events and conferences.
  • National Institute of Corrections: As a government agency, the NIC advances the criminal justice field from a federal perspective. The institute organizes training programs and projects with the support of institutional partners. Professionals can access up-to-date data and statistics through the NIC Library.
  • Society for the Study of Social Problems: The SSSP is an organization for sociological research and education that focuses on social justice and human rights issues. Professionals benefit from fellowship and mentorship programs. The society operates a free career center.