Search Programs

2023 Best Online Master's Degrees in Criminal Justice

By OnlineU Staff Writers | Updated 6/27/2023
2023 Best Online Master's Degrees in Criminal Justice Badge

The advanced skills that an online master’s in criminal justice provides can help prepare graduate candidates for career growth in the field, such as law enforcement, victim advocacy, juvenile justice, and the legal system. For individuals juggling multiple responsibilities, these online graduate degrees provide scheduling flexibility and access to a variety of quality programs from across the U.S.

We’ve ranked these online master's degrees in criminal justice by online enrollment so you can see which programs are popular with students, who may share similar backgrounds and goals. View our methodology for more details about our list, or learn about OnlineU. If you still need to earn a bachelor’s degree in the field, our list of the most affordable online bachelor’s degrees in criminal justice provides options that can help you stay within your budget.  

2023 Best Online Master's Degrees in Criminal Justice Badge
Find an Online Degree:

Online Criminal Justice Master's Degrees You May Be Interested In

2023 Best Online Master's Degrees in Criminal Justice

RankSchool Salary Score Median Starting Salary
# 1 #1 University of Massachusetts - Lowell 100 100 $93,394
# 2 #2 University of Maryland Global Campus 98 $81,077
# 3 #3 Excelsior University 91 $71,289
# 4 #4 University of Louisville 89 $69,283
# 5 #5 Concordia University - Saint Paul 89 $69,006
# 6 #6 Utica University 87 $68,210
# 7 #7 Northeastern University Global Network 80 $63,827
# 8 #8 American Public University System 77 $61,938
# 9 #9 West Virginia University 72 $59,928
# 10 #10 Columbia Southern University 69 $58,501

#1 University of Massachusetts - Lowell

  • Salary Score: 100
  • Median Starting Salary: $93,394
  • Locations: Lowell (MA)
  • Accreditation: NECHE

The University of Massachusetts - Lowell (UMass Lowell) is one of four campuses in the public UMass system. It offers an online Master of Arts in Criminal Justice for students seeking entry into the field and those with some experience who want to expand their knowledge for career advancement. Graduating requires completing 33 credits, generally taking 18 months of full-time study. Potential careers include corrections officers, criminologists, private investigators, and victim advocates.

UMass Lowell's online students complete assignments and participate in classes using Blackboard. Criminal justice distance learners can choose from electives, such as Victimology, Criminal Mind and Behavior, Substance Abuse and Crime, and Overview of Homeland Security. It’s unclear if a thesis or a comprehensive exam is required to graduate with a master's degree in criminal justice.

#2 University of Maryland Global Campus

  • Salary Score: 98
  • Median Starting Salary: $81,077
  • Locations: Adelphi (MD)
  • Accreditation: MSCHE

The University of Maryland Global Campus (UMGC) is a public institution offering an online Master of Science in Management - Criminal Justice Management that integrates teaching students business management skills with crime prevention, law enforcement, investigative forensics, and crisis management skills. Students must complete 36 credits to graduate, which can take approximately two years of full-time study. An online Master of Science in Digital Forensics & Cyber Investigation is also offered at UMGC.

UMGC delivers its online curriculum via LEO, its e-learning platform. Some examples of online criminal justice courses include Criminal Justice Intelligence Systems and Approaches, Issues in Criminal Justice Leadership, Critical Analysis of the Criminal Justice System, and Perspectives in Law Enforcement Management. Students must also complete a strategic management capstone to graduate.

#3 Excelsior University

  • Salary Score: 91
  • Median Starting Salary: $71,289
  • Locations: Albany (NY)
  • Accreditation: MSCHE

Excelsior University (EU) is a private, nonprofit institution in Albany, New York. It offers an online Master of Science in Criminal Justice focusing on criminal justice administration, homeland security, and U.S. emergency management agencies. Concentrations include Homeland Security/Emergency Management and Cannabis Control — though choosing one is not required. However, graduating does require completing 30 credits, including nine in a concentration, if selected. The entire online program takes approximately two years of full-time study to finish, culminating in a capstone project.

EU's online students use Canvas to access coursework and instruction. Depending on if a concentration is chosen, those enrolled in the online criminal justice program take courses such as Terrorism and Counterterrorism, Mental Health Issues in Criminal Justice, Cannabis Control: Commerce, and Human Trafficking.

#4 University of Louisville

  • Salary Score: 89
  • Median Starting Salary: $69,283
  • Locations: Louisville (KY)
  • Accreditation: SACS COC

Kentucky’s University of Louisville (UL) is a public institution offering an online Master of Science in Criminal Justice for experienced professionals seeking career advancement within the legal system. Students must complete 36 credits to graduate from this robust program, which generally takes two years of full-time study. Active-duty military students can apply for tuition assistance when enrolling in this program.

UL uses Blackboard to deliver its online programming, which includes the following courses: Crime and Criminal Justice in the Cinema, White Collar Crime, Gangs in America, Covert Operations in Policing, and Crime Mapping. Students can also choose to complete a three-credit practicum as an elective. All students must complete a professional research paper before they earn their degree and pursue careers, such as criminal investigators, corrections officers, special agents, and juvenile justice supervisors.

#5 Concordia University - Saint Paul

  • Salary Score: 89
  • Median Starting Salary: $69,006
  • Locations: Saint Paul (MN)
  • Accreditation: HLC

Concordia University - Saint Paul (CSP) is a private, Lutheran, Asian American, and Native American Pacific Islander-serving institution in Minnesota offering an online Master of Arts in Criminal Justice Leadership through CSP Global. The program integrates Christian-centered and servant-oriented principles into the curriculum to help prepare students for career advancement. This 36-credit program takes full-time students a little over two years to complete, culminating in a capstone.

CSP delivers online coursework and instruction via Blackboard. Criminal justice leadership distance learners enroll in classes such as Legal and Legislative Issues, Contemporary Issues in Criminal Justice Leadership, Applied Ethics in Criminal Justice Leadership, and Correctional Design in a Changing World. Program outcomes include strategically using criminal justice principles and tools in management, exhibiting ethical decision-making and problem-solving skills, and identifying and adapting legal issues to the field.

#6 Utica University

  • Salary Score: 87
  • Median Starting Salary: $68,210
  • Locations: Utica (NY)
  • Accreditation: MSCHE

New York’s Utica University (UU) is a private, nonprofit institution offering a unique online Master of Science in Financial Crime and Compliance Management with a curriculum focusing on management, technology, analytical skills, and a global understanding of economic crime. Graduating requires completing 36 credits, which takes around two years of full-time attendance.

UU students use Canvas to log into their online classes and engage with instructors and peers. The online financial crime and compliance management curriculum courses include Financial Investigations, Information and Communication Security, Fraud Management: Risk and Compliance, and Manager in a Global Environment. Students can finish the program with either a professional project or a thesis. The online financial crime and compliance management program includes a free membership to the Association of Certified Anti-Money Laundering Specialists and discounted rates for CAMS exams.

#7 Northeastern University Global Network

  • Salary Score: 80
  • Median Starting Salary: $63,827
  • Locations: Boston (MA)
  • Accreditation: NECHE

Northeastern University Global Network (NEUGN) in Boston is a private, nonprofit institution offering an online Master of Science in Criminology and Criminal Justice that can help prepare students for advanced careers in criminal justice, criminology, and related fields. An optional cybersecurity concentration is also available. Students also have the option to complete a co-op work experience and experiential integration as part of the degree program.

Canvas is the learning management system NEUGN uses for online curriculum delivery. Depending on whether the cybersecurity concentration is chosen, criminology and criminal justice distance learners participate in courses such as Evidence-Based Crime Policy, Information System Forensics, The Criminal Justice Process, and Security Risk Management and Assessment.

#8 American Public University System

  • Salary Score: 77
  • Median Starting Salary: $61,938
  • Locations: Charles Town (WV)
  • Accreditation: HLC

American Public University System (APUS) is a private, for-profit institution based in West Virginia, known for its online programming suited to the working professional. It offers an online Master of Arts in Criminal Justice that explores criminal law, juvenile and delinquent behavior, security, and terrorism in a post-9/11 world. Concentrations are available in Business Administration, Emergency Management and Disaster Management, and General Criminal Justice. Graduating requires completing 30 credits, with courses varying from 8 to 16 weeks. Full-time students may be able to finish this program in less than two years.

APUS distance learners use Brightspace to access online coursework and instruction. Examples of courses in the online criminal justice curriculum include Cross-Cultural Management, Emergency Management and Public Law, Organized Crime, and Criminal Profiling. Of course, the courses largely depend on the concentration chosen. In addition to coursework, online students must complete a theory-to-practice capstone.

#9 West Virginia University

  • Salary Score: 72
  • Median Starting Salary: $59,928
  • Locations: Morgantown (WV)
  • Accreditation: HLC

West Virginia University (WVU) is a public institution in Morgantown offering an online Master of Legal Studies - Justice Systems to help graduate students develop a working knowledge of the law as it applies to justice systems. This online graduate degree program is primarily designed for members of the law enforcement community. Students must complete 30 credits — or ten courses — which generally takes 18 months if attending full time. Graduates of this online program often pursue jobs in the public sector and government agencies, nonprofit organizations, and legal aid offices.

WVU uses eCampus to deliver its online curriculum to distance learners. Online justice system master’s program courses include Criminal Law and Procedure, Punishment and Corrections, Legal Issues for Adults in Care, and Military Justice. Students must also complete a research capstone to earn their degrees.

#10 Columbia Southern University

  • Salary Score: 69
  • Median Starting Salary: $58,501
  • Locations: Orange Beach (AL)
  • Accreditation: DEAC

Alabama’s Columbia Southern University (CSU) is a private, for-profit institution offering an online Master of Science in Criminal Justice Administration focusing on theories, research methodologies, and technologies to help students develop the skills needed to solve complex issues. Online students must complete 36 credits, generally taking two years of full-time attendance. They can transfer up to 18 credits into this program allowing them to finish faster.

Similarly, CSU also offers an online Master of Science in Homeland Security - Criminal Justice and an online Master of Public Administration - Criminal Justice Administration.

CSU uses Blackboard for online program delivery. Criminal justice administration distance learners take courses such as Adult and Juvenile Correctional Systems, Constitutional Law for Criminal Justice, Global Terrorism, and Forensic Intelligence Analysis. The online master's in criminal justice administration culminates in a capstone project. Graduates often pursue careers, such as criminal investigators, special agents, private detectives, and records officers.

Find an Online Degree:

What Is a Master's in Criminal Justice Degree?

Administrators design criminal justice master's degree programs for students who want to hold leadership positions in law enforcement, the courts, or corrections. The curriculum focuses on skills and knowledge that can be valuable to criminal justice administrators and supervisors, such as behavioral motivation, project management, policy analysis, and criminology research methods. Many graduate programs let students choose a focus area or concentration so they can specialize in the job market.

Online criminal justice degrees usually feature asynchronous coursework without regular meeting times. Instead, you sign in to a learning management system at your convenience to watch lecture recordings, chat with colleagues over messaging apps, download readings, and submit assignments. Online programs are popular because they may help learners balance work and personal lives with graduate school.

There's no recognized accrediting agency for criminal justice degree programs. But it's important to only consider enrollment in institutionally accredited colleges when choosing a master's program. We've only included accredited programs on our list of the best online schools for master's in criminal justice degrees.

Degree Requirements

Applying to an online master's program requires a bachelor's degree in any discipline, though admissions officers may prefer previous education in the criminal justice field. You'll need to complete 30-36 credit hours of coursework to graduate, which often takes two years at a full-time pace. Your required credits may include a final capstone project, master's thesis, or internship.

Read What Are the Requirements to Graduate With a Criminal Justice Degree? for more details about applying for and completing a master's degree in this field.


Criminal justice has a good deal of variety as an academic major. For example, some master's programs might emphasize law enforcement knowledge over courts and the legal system. There is also a wide range of available specializations in this discipline that include criminal behavior, corrections administration, criminological theory, and homeland security.

We've selected a few common general courses to detail below. There's a good chance you'll encounter these in most criminal justice master's programs regardless of your chosen specialty.

Criminal Justice Organizations

This class covers the history and design of criminal justice institutions, such as law enforcement agencies and different levels of criminal courts. Professors might emphasize the role of leaders in these organizations and how they're shaped by political considerations. 

Ethics in Criminal Justice

Criminal justice leaders can have immense influence over individuals' lives, so every master's program includes this course to help students understand the responsibility they can hold. Professors might discuss civil liberties, capital punishment, public policy, surveillance, and frameworks for ethical decision-making.

Topics in Leadership

Students survey issues in criminal justice administration in this class, especially those concerning managers and policy makers. They often examine criminal justice through the lens of organization theory and discuss the effect that individual leaders can have in the broader system.

Trends in Criminal Procedure

Faculty members for this course describe hot topics in all three arms of the criminal justice system. They might discuss new precedents in case law, defendant rights, and restorative justice models. Students typically get to analyze real-life cases and defend their viewpoints in writing.

What Can You Do With a Master's in Criminal Justice?

Earning a master's degree in criminal justice online might qualify you for a new range of jobs. You might also continue your education and pick up more academic credentials. 

We give options for both paths below:

Criminal Justice Careers

You can earn entry-level jobs in most criminal justice careers with a bachelor's degree. But a master's degree might make you more competitive for higher-level positions in public safety that have leadership responsibilities. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), possible roles include security manager for a corporation or government agency, homeland security intelligence analyst, correctional facility warden, and federal law enforcement officer.

Consult our Criminal Justice Career Guide for an in-depth review of jobs available at different levels of education and experience in criminal justice.

Further Education

There are two main types of education to pursue in criminal justice once you've earned a master's diploma: 

Graduate certificates are designed to teach a narrow topic or skill to experienced practitioners who already have college degrees. Many schools offer certificate programs in subjects such as cybersecurity, forensic science, juvenile justice, criminal investigation, and intelligence analysis.

A doctoral degree is most useful if you want to teach college and do academic research. There's typically not much reason to spend several more years in school if your goal is to manage a criminal justice organization; a master's degree is usually enough qualification. However, you do need a juris doctor (JD) degree from a law school if you decide to become a lawyer. 

Financing Your Master's Degree in Criminal Justice

Education can be expensive, so it's important to understand the costs of an online master's degree and how you might reduce them. One important step is to apply for all the financial aid you qualify for. The best kinds of aid are called gift aid because you don't need to repay them. These include scholarships, grants, and work-study programs. Any of these funds could come from the federal or state governments, individual colleges, or private donors.

Master's students typically need to take out student loans even if they receive some gift aid. Government loans usually offer better interest rates and repayment terms, but even these will lead to some student loan debt to repay. You can use OnlineU's Student Loan Repayment Calculator to help you compare the financing that you'll need to attend various schools.

Interested in criminal justice but not yet at the master's level? We created lists of the most affordable online associate degrees in criminal justice and the most affordable online bachelor's in criminal justice degrees to help you find programs on a budget.

FAQs About Master's in Criminal Justice Programs

How Much Can You Make With a Master's in Criminal Justice?

There's a wide range of possible salaries among criminal justice career paths. A master's degree might qualify you to be a criminal justice or law enforcement educator, a career with a median yearly salary of $64,600. But corporate security managers earn median yearly pay of $97,930. It all depends on what type of criminal justice you practice and for which employer.

How Much Does a Master's in Criminal Justice Cost?

We can't give an exact number because each school charges a different amount for master's degrees. But the National Center for Education Statistics calculated $19,749 as the average cost of tuition and fees for graduate degrees in the 2020-2021 school year. This amount is general and not specific to criminal justice programs.

Keep in mind that public schools in your state of residence will often offer the most affordable online criminal justice master's degrees

How Long Does a Master's in Criminal Justice Take?

Administrators design most master's in criminal justice degrees to last two years for students who take a full-time course load while working. You might be able to finish some programs in as little as a year. Many schools also offer part-time options designed to take three years. 

What Are Some Professional Industry Associations for Criminal Justice?

Criminal justice professionals can choose from many associations that offer networking and career development opportunities. Some of these groups are more general while others focus more narrowly on specific professions. Examples of generalist associations include the Academy for Criminal Justice Sciences, the American Society for Criminology, and the National Criminal Justice Association. The Bureau of Justice Assistance provides a wide-ranging list of specialty organizations.

Should I Get a Master's Degree in Criminal Justice?

There's no absolute answer to this question, but you should consider a criminal justice master's degree if your career goals involve leading teams and projects in one of the three branches of the justice system. People with advanced degrees earn more money on average and experience less unemployment over the course of their careers. Talk to experienced employees in the line of work you want to pursue to find out their education and experience and whether a master's degree is necessary.

Bottom Line

Master's degrees in criminal justice usually feature advanced general criminal justice courses mixed with electives on leadership and a specialty concentration. Professors typically teach how to analyze criminal justice policies and apply ethical theory frameworks to professional practice.

OnlineU's college planning resources might be able to help you decide what and how you want to study if you're still exploring options. Once you've decided on a path, read through our Guide to Starting Your Online Education.

Why Trust Us?

27 Data

60,000 Degrees Researched Annually

20,000 Hours Spent on Research Annually

Launching Rankings Since 2009

Meet our team

Related Articles

2023 Best Online Master's in Homeland Security Degrees

Explore 2023's best online master's degrees in homeland security with our comprehensive ranking of accredited schools.

By OnlineU Staff Writers | 8/28/2023

2023 Best Online Master's Degrees in Forensic Science

If you want to earn your master's in forensic science online, explore our list of the best online programs and read more about this graduate degree.

By OnlineU Staff Writers | 6/27/2023

2023 Best Online Law Enforcement Degrees

Explore the best online bachelor's degrees in law enforcement, based on alumni salary.

By OnlineU Staff Writers | 6/5/2023


Start Your Online College Search:

Review schools that align with your career aspirations.