Become an agent of change and advance your career with a Master’s degree in Criminal Justice.
The field of criminal justice is changing fast. In the past, many criminal justice careers required little or no academic training.
But advancements in technology, combined with current national (and international) events, have created a need for experts in criminal justice. A master’s program can provide you with foundational knowledge in all aspects—sociological, legal, theoretical, and practical—of law enforcement.
No matter what sector you plan a career in, a Master’s in Criminal Justice improves your ability to take informed and thoughtful actions——as an administrator, scholar, investigator, police officer, probation officer or caseworker in the criminal justice system.
What kind of Criminal Justice Degree should you get?
Before you start looking for programs, you’ll need to determine what your career goals are. If you’re considering future doctoral studies, you don’t want to end up in a primarily practice-oriented program.
You’ll also need to decide whether to take your classes on campus or online. Most of us imagine the college experience taking place in brick and mortar buildings. But if that is not a feasible option for you, be sure to check out our list of the Best Online Master’s in Criminal Justice.
Getting a degree online is no longer the shady proposition it may have seemed a decade or two ago. There are now many high-quality, accredited programs that are designed for nontraditional students. You’ll get the same credentials without having to uproot your entire life to attend school.
How much money do people make with a Criminal Justice Degree?
Graduates of a Master’s in Criminal Justice program earn a highly marketable degree. Legal, law enforcement, criminal investigation, forensics and corrections jobs—to name a few—are in high demand. That being said, careers in criminal justice are not likely to make you rich.
Specific salaries vary widely for people in the Criminal Justice profession since there is such a wide range of career possibilities. Here are a few median salaries, though, as reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics:
- Criminal Justice and Law Enforcement Teachers: $67,040
- Police and Detectives: $61,600
- Private Detectives: $48,190
- Probation Officer: $50,160
What can you do with a Criminal Justice Degree?
Oh, so many things. This is a broad-based degree that can prepare you for many kinds of jobs in criminal justice. Here are a few (okay, more than a few) options:
- CIA Agent
- Police Officer
- Secret Service Agent
- FBI Agent
- Private Investigator
The one major decision you should make before committing to a program is whether you are more interested in an academic career (probably involving future doctoral studies) or a professional career in the Criminal Justice field. This will help you eliminate programs that don’t serve your interest area (though many hold a dual focus on research and practice).
What are the requirements for a Criminal Justice Degree?
Entrance requirements vary depending on the school, but common admissions criteria include:
- A Bachelor’s degree from an accredited institution
- GRE scores
- Letters of recommendation from individuals able to speak to your academic and/or professional abilities and potential to succeed in the program
As you peruse this ranking, you’ll notice that program requirements vary widely as well. Some programs require a thesis, while others assign a capstone project or internship. Some programs give you the option. Most programs have a core of required courses with a number of electives for students to tailor their degree to their own interests.
What are the best Criminal Justice Degrees?
You need a degree that will give you a competitive edge—whether your career plans involve working as a law enforcement professional, or pursuing a doctorate. And we at College Choice have crunched the numbers to help you find a program that fits your needs.
We collect data from a wide range of sources, scouring the internet for essential criteria like reputation scores, tuition costs, early career earnings, and peer assessments. The composite score we end up with (our College Choice score) reflects academic excellence and the return on your tuition dollar.
Best Master’s in Criminal Justice Programs
See our rankings methodology page.
Missouri State University
Missouri State’s graduate degree in criminal justice focuses on the administrative end of law enforcement, preparing students for careers in upper-level positions. Part of the broader Master of Professional Studies program, the curriculum requires 33 hours of credits, including 12 in the criminal justice curriculum. Degree candidates must complete a research paper, and pass a comprehensive examination in the semester during which they graduate. The university designed the program for completion in three years, and applicants must hold at least a 3.0 GPA for admission. Students with an undergrad degree in a field other than criminal justice or sociology may need to take an additional 15 credits.
Michigan State University
East Lansing, MI
The master’s degree in criminal justice at Michigan State combines case studies, work in the field, and an interdisciplinary approach in the classroom. Founded in 1956, the program emphasizes critical thinking, management skills, and research, readying graduates for further study or to step into the workforce. You can elect to specialize in security management and choose to pursue thesis or non-thesis options. The 30-credit course of study requires you to complete 24 credits in course work and six additional credits in research. Those who do choose to write a thesis will defend it orally at the culmination of the program.
A 36-hour program, the University of Omaha’s graduate degree in criminology and criminal justice includes 11 classes and a capstone course. Designed to fit the schedules of working professionals, the course of study revolves around evening courses and full-time students can earn their degree in 18 months or less. Specializations in public administration and counseling allow program participants to focus their study. UO places emphasis on community-based law enforcement, and the curriculum features many courses in diversity and gender. The university does not require the GRE for admission, but you must carry a GPA of 3.0 or better.
Boston University designed its master of criminal justice program to help graduates advance their careers, prepare for law school, further their study for teaching, or pursue a doctorate. Participants study criminal behavior, leadership, and techniques of social control, and they can specialize in cybercrime and strategic management. The 40-credit curriculum splits between 24 credits of core requirements and 16 electives. To earn their degrees, all students must pass a comprehensive examination reviewing all they learned. BU requires that degree candidates maintain a 3.0 as they work their way through the program. A maximum of eight credits may transfer in from an accredited program.
Arizona State University describes its master of science in criminology and criminal justice degree as a research program designed to give graduates the skills they need to move into careers in criminal justice research or into doctoral studies. You must earn 30 credits, and add a thesis or complete a capstone project. The curriculum stresses empirical skills, and features classes in statistics, data, and analysis. Many students elect to enroll in this course of study concurrent with public administration or public policy. Applicants must hold a 3.0 GPA and submit a resume, two letters of recommendation, and GRE scores.
The University of Oklahoma
Oklahoma University’s master of science in criminal justice takes you through a curriculum heavy on ethics, communication, decision making, problem solving, and front-line leadership skills. The customizable program provides participants with the option of specializing in three tracks: administration, restorative justice, and corrections. The 33-credit course of study follows an accelerated schedule, but degree candidates have up to five years to finish. OU does not accept work experience for credit but does grant credit for previous military and law-enforcement training. You must maintain a 3.0 during the program. On campus classes depend upon requisite enrollment numbers, so some courses may not be available every semester.
Students in Eastern Carolina’s master of science in criminal justice program can not only earn their graduate degree in law enforcement but they can also pick up valuable certifications in public management, security studies, and criminal justice education at the same time. The 36-credit, Greenville, North Carolina program provides participants with the opportunity to customize their degree in several ways. The curriculum divides neatly between 18 credits of core classes and the rest in electives. They can focus on area of interest, do international study, work on independent research, participate in graduate assistantships and field experiences, or join the national criminal justice honor society.
Sam Houston State University
The College of Criminal Justice at Texas’ Sam Houston State remains one of the oldest of its kind in the nation. The school prides itself on providing students with an education that combines the latest and best practices in criminal justice with a well-rounded liberal arts base. The schools master of arts in criminal justice and criminology takes and academic approach to law enforcement. The 36-credit curriculum encourages students to participate in research and make an impact on the future of criminal justice. It also prepares them for further study, heavily linked with the university’s doctoral program.
Bowling Green State University
Bowling Green, OH
Bowling Green University set up its master of science in criminal justice with working law enforcement professionals in mind. Classes in the program meet from 6-9 p.m., allowing students to continue to work while they advance their careers. The 33-credit curriculum aims to equip graduates with the skills needed to pursue leadership roles in criminal justice and builds a base for future work at the doctoral level. Full-time degree candidates can complete their studies within one calendar year, while part-timers can finish in just two years. You have the option of starting in the spring, summer, or fall semesters.
Florida State presents students in its master of criminal justice program with an array of options. You can enroll in a master of arts or a master of science program, prepare a thesis or not, or elect to do an “area paper.” These reports focus your studies in a certain direction. MA students must complete the same 33 credits as the MS students, but must have at least six credits in humanities work outside the criminal justice field. They must also fulfill a foreign language requirement. The college requires all degree candidates to maintain a C or better average and finish their studies within seven years.
Northeastern’s year-long master of science in criminology and criminal justice program explores both the causes and prevention of crime and the systems set up to deal with it law breaking. The interdisciplinary 32-credit program includes classwork in sociology, psychology, political science, law, and public administration, and you can tailor your course of study using electives. You can enroll either part or full-time, and the Boston institution schedules classes to fit around the work day of professionals. An experiential option gives degree candidates the opportunity to work with a mentor in the field.
At Indiana State, students in the master of science in criminology and criminal justice program build a portfolio of expertise in an area of interest. This might include criminology, intelligence analysis, cybercrime, security studies, or any number of other fields. The 36 required credits take you through core courses in ethics, theory, and research, along with “systems” courses in public administration, organizational behavior, and investigation. Applicants must have taken sociology, psychology, and political science, and classes in juvenile delinquency, at the undergraduate level. Culminating experiences and comprehensive exams close out the program.
Rowan University offers its master of arts in criminal justice from its campus in Glassboro, New Jersey. The school designed its 30-credit curriculum to prepare graduates for leadership positions in law enforcement agencies, for roles in private and public research institutions, and to step into doctoral programs in criminal justice. Students can elect to do a thesis or a comprehensive exam after completing required classes in theory, research methods, and criminal justice policy. Electives include an array of subjects – courts, prevention and rehabilitation, white-collar crime, violence, and race and ethnicity. Admission to the program requires submission of a resume, two letters of recommendation, and a GPA of 2.5 or better. Rowan recommends the GRE but does not require it.
The University of Cincinnati set up its master of science in criminal justice to give graduates information processing and problem solving skills no matter what direction they go after grad school. You can graduate in a single year, working full time and taking two classes per semester, or finish in two, taking one class at a time. The 33-credit curriculum consists of 11 total courses in law, administration, sociology, and core criminal justice subjects. Through research, you gain a theoretical understanding of crime and criminality and the various methods that can work toward solving those problems. The university stresses that the program also prepares social scientists for careers in research.
Illinois’ Lewis University has produced more than forty police chiefs and superintendents over the years. As a member of the Academic Alliance of the FBI National Academy Associates, the school has placed dozens of graduates in high-level positions in the FBI, the Secret Service, and homeland security. Classes in administration, management theory, and research form the core of Lewis’ 36-credit master of science in criminal justice. Program participants can use electives in law enforcement, public administration, juvenile justice, homeland security, and corrections to focus their studies. For full admission, you must hold an undergraduate degree in a related field or currently work in criminal justice.
University of Central Florida
The 36-credit curriculum of the University of Central Florida’s master of science in criminal justice program delves into the problems facing criminal justice practitioners today and the various ways of approaching them. Built around a research core, where students learn to use analytical skills to pore over data to find solutions, the course of study typically takes 1-2 years to complete. The university stresses management and administrative skills throughout the program. Participants can either pursue a thesis track or do a comprehensive examination at the culmination. Admission requires a GPA of 3.0 on the last 60 undergraduate credits, two letters of recommendation, a resume, and a statement of career goals.
Troy, Alabama-based Troy University’s master of science in criminal justice takes a solid look at the state of modern law enforcement, including personnel issues. Program participants can sign on for a 36-credit thesis option or a 30-credit non-thesis track. You also have the option of pursuing a concentration in security studies. You must work your way through a curriculum that tackles the evolution of crime law, current criminal justice theory, juvenile justice, and criminal justice research. Like other graduate-level programs, the course of study at Troy emphasizes critical thinking, problem solving, communication, and other management skills.
University of Central Missouri
Founded in 1962, the criminal justice department at the University of Central Missouri offers a master of science in criminal justice with deep roots. Based at the Warrenburg campus, the 36-credit program combines theory and practice, involving heavy research and study of practical applications. You may elect to complete a thesis project or not. The university also works to develop the administrative skills of each participant, including effective communication, critical thinking, and problem solving. Graduates leave ready to pursue careers in law enforcement, corrections, and security, or to continue their studies toward a doctorate.
Leadership skills sit at the core of Columbia College’s master of science in criminal justice program. The Columbia, Missouri institution includes management topics in most courses, and you can opt into management tracks in both law enforcement and corrections. The school hosts the degree program at its campuses in Missouri, Georgia, Texas, New York, and Florida. Faculty use a hands-on format that encourages participation and gives participants action skills. To qualify for the management tracks, you must earn a B or better in coursework in that area of specialty. Everyone must complete core courses in legal issues, current trends, management, and research.
University of Massachusetts Lowell
UMass Lowell developed its master of arts in criminal justice and criminology with three types of students in mind. These include current law enforcement professionals looking to advance their careers or change their specialization, those who want a terminal degree to enter the field, and individuals looking to enter academia or research in the field. Degree candidates must complete 33 credits of classwork, and can decide whether they want to produce a thesis. The university will accept up to six credits transferred in from an approved program. Once you complete the five required courses you can design your own course of study with an advisor. This provides the freedom to focus in any area of criminal justice that fits their career needs.
University of Colorado Denver
UC Denver master of criminal justice program has prepared law enforcement professionals for almost 50 years. A rigorous, competitive course of study, it includes classwork in juvenile issues, corrections, the judiciary, and the legal system, along with more traditional classes in law enforcement. You may also select from concentrations in such specialized areas as crime analysis, emergency management, and gender-based violence. The university also offers a dual major pairing the master of criminal justice with a graduate degree in public administration. UC Denver requires either the GRE or the LSAT exams for admission. Most students complete the required 36 credits in two and a half years or less.
Indiana University of Pennsylvania
Indiana University of Pennsylvania has hosted its master of arts in criminology program for over two decades. While the Greater Pittsburgh institution initially gave the program a law-enforcement focus, it has since grown into a research heavy course of study. Today, the degree aims to equip you with the skills you need to enter careers in criminal justice administration or research. The 30-credit curriculum includes rigorous classes in criminology theory, the dynamics of organizations, the ethical and philosophical underpinnings of criminal justice, and the practical application of quantitative analysis and research. IUD does not require the GRE for admission.
The University of Louisville established its master of science in criminal justice as an intensive, three-semester degree program. The 36-credit curriculum includes coursework in advanced social and behavioral skills, combined with management and leadership expertise to prep you to step into mid- or upper-level administrative positions in a law-enforcement agency. It also readies you for advanced research or academic work in criminal justice or the social sciences. The faculty encourage you to broaden your degree with electives from areas like law, business, public administration, and social work, to give you a multidisciplinary, well-rounded education. The program allows you the discretion to design a curriculum that meets your career goals.
St. Leo University ranks among the elite criminal justice schools chosen by the Federal Bureau of Investigation as a partner in its FBI National Academy Associates program. The Florida Catholic institution’s master of criminal justice degree takes a hands-on experiential approach, giving you the opportunity to intern at crime-fighting organizations like U.S. Customs, the Drug Enforcement Agency, and the Secret Service, among others. You can select from two options, an accelerated program, in which you complete the 36 required credits in less than two years, or a traditional program that finishes in two.