Bachelor's in Criminal Justice Programs Guide

Browse our bachelor's in criminal justice programs guide and find the best program to advance your career in law enforcement. is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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The field of criminal justice is ever-changing and responding to continual technical advancements and our constantly moving digital culture.

In light of this arises an increasing need for criminal justice professionals who have relevant insight into the sociological, legal, and practical areas of law enforcement with the skills to critically think, problem-solve, communicate, and lead.

Criminal justice careers are truly about protecting people and public safety. It is a field that includes occupations ranging from police officers to probation officers to Homeland Security.

If you have completed a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice and wish to continue your education, deepen your knowledge of criminal behavior and correctional systems, increase your chances of establishing a career in leadership in this field, or want to get involved in a research career, a graduate degree in criminal justice is worth considering.

Recommended Online Programs

Masters degrees in criminal justice will require specialization beyond the general training in your bachelor’s program, and most schools will boast strengths in one or more particular areas. Criminal justice graduate students often choose to earn a degree specialization in niche areas like homeland security, behavioral science, or forensic technology.

Many online degree programs culminate in a thesis paper or capstone project, giving students the opportunity to demonstrate the new knowledge and skills they have gained.

Best Master's in Criminal Justice Degrees Badge

What Are the Best Master's in Criminal Justice Degrees?

For those interested in pursuing further training for careers in this field and who are unable to attend a traditional residential program, we have provided a ranking of the top 35 online graduate programs in criminal justice.

Our rankings are based data that students have indicated is most important to them: cost and reputation. Our data is drawn from a number of public sources, including U.S. News & World Report, the National Center for Education Statistics, and PayScale.


See our rankings methodology page.

  1. Michigan State University

    East Lansing, MI




    Founded in 1855, Michigan State University became the United States first land-grant institution in 1862. The University was originally known as the Agricultural College of the State of Michigan, but has vastly expanded its curriculum and is now the nations eighth largest university with more than 50,000 students.

    The Masters of Science in Criminal Justice, MSUs first online degree program, has been available to students since 1998. Courses are offered entirely online, and are taught by the same faculty members who are involved in the on-campus program. Many students complete the program in a year and a half to two years; however, it is also common for students to take three years to complete the program due to work and personal commitments. The program includes options to meet general requirements, specialize in Security Management, or pursue an international focus. Students must complete a minimum of 30 credits of coursework and will take classes such as Crime Causation, Criminal Justice Management, and Policy Analysis Under Conditions of Change. The program costs $698 per credit, and the mean earning of students after 10 years of working is $58,700, a good return on investment. The flexibility, quality, and economic advantage place Michigan State University at the top of the list.

  2. Arizona State University

    Phoenix, AZ




    With a booming main campus in Tempe, multiple regional campuses and a growing online school, Arizona State University is the largest school by enrollment in the U.S. with over 80,000 students. Being the largest school means students have ample opportunities. Academic options exist in every field, student life has something for everyone, and perhaps what ASU is best known for, research is well funded and producing incredible results. Arizona State University is a public research university with approximately 13,000 students who study online, making ASU a top-notch university to pursue an online degree.

    ASUs Master of Arts in Criminal Justice, offered entirely online, examines the larger context of crime as well as the application of justice in our society. Students learn directly from professors who are nationally-recognized scholars in their respective fields and a prestigious group of criminal justice professionals who specialize in policing, gangs, fraud, corrections, and courts. The online criminal justice program offers valuable training in research methods and statistics, program planning and management, policy analysis, and program evaluation. Those pursuing the degree full-time can finish in 18 months, and all students must complete the 33-credit hour program within six years. Graduate certificates are also available in areas such as Corrections Management and Criminal Sentencing. The program is very affordable at $502 per credit hour, with no additional program fees.

  3. Sam Houston State University

    Huntsville, TX




    Sam Houston State University, founded in 1879 and named for Texas hero Sam Houston, is the third oldest public university in Texas. SHSU is located in Huntsville, about an hour north of downtown Houston. Just over 20,000 students are enrolled at Sam Houston State, which is part of the Texas State University System. SHSU offers over 80 bachelors degree programs, more than 50 masters degree programs, and six doctoral programs. Currently, the University offers over 20 bachelors and graduate degrees entirely online, and continues to develop more each semester, making SHSU one of the top online universities in Texas.

    SHSU offers online Master of Science degrees in Criminal Justice as well as Criminal Justice Leadership and Management. The criminal justice program, designed for working professionals in the field, equips students for advanced careers and leadership opportunities in law enforcement, corrections, social services, and more. The program consists of 36 credit hours, which can be completed in two years. Graduates of this program go on to pursue careers as judges, chief probation officers, police administrators, victim advocates, federal law enforcement agents, and much more. The cost per credit hour is only $451, making it one of the most affordable programs on the list.

  4. University of Colorado Denver

    Denver, CO




    The University of Colorado Denver is the states largest research institution, employing over 4,000 academic staff members and serving around 18,000 students. The University is home to an extensive online college, offering over 450 CU online courses, which allow students to receive a valued brick and mortar education without stepping foot on campus. Students can mix and match online and on-campus courses to maximize both lifestyle and learning style. The result is that students from all over the world can access a CU education.

    CU Denver offers an online Master of Criminal Justice degree program that can also be mixed with on-campus courses. Problem solving and critical thinking skills are emphasized as students are equipped to take on positions in law enforcement, juvenile justice, homeland security, and other areas. The program is housed under the School of Public Affairs, which has been acknowledged as one of the best in the nation. Students will focus on law enforcement, judiciary responsibilities, correctional systems, juvenile justice, and the formulation of laws and codes. More than 40 Colorado police chiefs have graduated from the CU Denver Master of Criminal Justice program, as have FBI and CIA agents, city mayors, death investigators, and research faculty.

  5. University of California - Irvine

    Irvine, CA




    The University of California Irvine is a public research institution that belongs to the 10-campus University of California system. The Public Ivy university offers nearly 200 undergraduate and graduate degree and certificate programs.

    UCI offers an online Master of Advanced Study in Criminology, Law, and Society. The program consists of 52 credit hours, which can be completed in two years. One course in residence, a five-day introduction, is required. Online students do not complete a thesis, but instead take the Social Problems, Law and Policy course, which includes a research paper that also serves as a capstone. During this capstone course, students will choose a social problem related to crime, criminal justice, and law, relate it to legal and social issues, and devise a plan of action to research the problem. The University runs two application cycles for those starting the program in the fall. A degree is granted upon completion of 13 required courses. The cost per credit hour is $881, and on average, graduates make $60,600 ten years after graduation. The flexibility, return on investment, and overall reputation of this program leave no doubt that it is one of the best in the nation.

  6. Boston University

    Boston, MA




    At Boston University, you can earn a fully online criminal justice masters degree in as few as 20 months. The 40-credit program features coursework in areas like criminal justice administration, trauma and crisis intervention, and policing in a democratic society, helping to prepare graduates either to take on leadership roles in public service or continue their education at the doctoral level. Students in the program can also choose to specialize in cybercrime investigation and cybersecurity or strategic management. Boston University does not require applicants to submit entrance exam scores, and students can receive course credit for professional experience and certifications.

  7. Bowling Green State University

    Huron, OH




    Located in Bowling Green, Ohio, Bowling Green State University is a public research institution consisting of eight academic colleges. The University, which was founded in 1910, produces significant research especially in the fields of psychology, sociology, education and human development, energy, and sustainability. There are more than 800 full-time faculty, nearly 80 percent with the highest degree in their field, and students come from all 50 states and 70 other countries.

    Through Bowling Greens eCampus, which delivers eight-week online courses year-round, students can earn a Master of Science in Criminal Justice. The program began in 2001 and emphasizes the development of individuals for leadership roles in criminal justice agencies, as well as provides a base for pursuit of doctoral study. The 11 required courses can be completed part-time in under two years and are taught by world-class faculty who have published in leading journals, consult with the National Institute of Justice, the Department of Justice, and the FBI. There are six start dates per year, allowing students to begin the program almost immediately. A portfolio of projects is required upon completing MSCJ studies. An excellent faculty, the flexibility of eCampus, and a cost per credit of $471 make Bowling Green State one of the best.

  8. Florida State University

    Tallahassee, FL




    Florida State University, located in Tallahassee, is a senior member of the State University System of Florida. FSU was founded in 1851 and currently enrolls more than 40,000 students. The University is classified as a Research University with Very High Research by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching and comprises 16 colleges and more than 110 centers, facilities, labs and institutes that offer more than 360 programs of study.

    A Master of Science in Criminal Justice Studies is available online through Florida States College of Criminology and Criminal Justice. The program is designed specifically for working criminal justice professionals and others who want the rigor and challenge of an excellent program, but need the convenience and flexibility of distance learning. No campus visits are required, and the degree can be completed in two years by taking two asynchronous courses per semester. An undergraduate degree in any field is required for admission. Graduates of the program, equipped with professional leadership skills, have gone on to hold law enforcement, corrections, and juvenile justice positions at the local, national, and international levels. This program has gained national recognition, and is recognized as one of the top in the nation.

  9. University of Oklahoma

    Oklahoma City, OK




    Located in Norman, Oklahoma, which is 20 minutes south of Oklahoma City, the University of Oklahoma is a public research university. It was founded in 1890 and existed in Oklahoma Territory for 17 years before the state of Oklahoma was established. Today, there are approximately 22,000 undergraduate students, and the University offers 170 majors on three campuses in Oklahoma and several overseas.

    The Master of Science in Criminal Justice degree is a 33-credit degree program that is 100 percent online. There are tracks offered in corrections management, restorative justice, drug abuse policy, and administration and leadership. Core courses include: Intro to Graduate Interdisciplinary Studies, Interdisciplinary Foundations, Research Methods in for Criminal Justice, Theoretical Foundations of Criminal Justice, Criminal Justice Policy Development, and Ethical Decision Making for Criminal Justice. Catered to the working adult, this program offers flexibility and personal attention. When a student is admitted into the program, they are assigned to an advisor who works with them to create an individualized graduation plan, identifying the courses needed to complete the degree. The cost per credit is only $969, and on average, students earn $58,200 ten years after graduation, making this degree cost effective. Individual attention, top-notch classes, and affordability make this Criminal Justice Program worth considering.

  10. Colorado State University - Global Campus

    Aurora, CO




    Colorado State University, located in Fort Collins, is a public research institution enrolling over 32,000 students. Bachelors, masters, and doctoral degrees are offered through the universitys eight college and 55 academic departments. CSU-Global is part of the CSU System who aims to improve the economy by increasing accessibility to public higher education while reducing student loan debt. A skilled and knowledgeable workforce is good news for every industry. Offering a less-expensive yet exceptional education 100 percent online provides flexibility for the working adult to receive the education they need to advance in their field.

    The Master of Criminal Justice and Law Enforcement Administration is available entirely online through CSU-Global. Students can customize their degree by choosing to specialize in areas like Organizational Leadership and Change Management, Fraud Management, or Organizational Learning and Performance. The program emphasizes community involvement and collaboration, preparing students for successful careers in public and private organizations as they examine topics including ethics, decision making, and the impact of crime in society. The program can also serve as a pathway to career advancement or further doctoral study. The cost per credit is one of the lowest on the list, coming in at only $500.

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