Jobs in the broad field of criminal justice are never far from the headlines of the news or the plot lines of TV shows and movies.
Many different things draw people to criminal justice. Some grow up watching police-centric television like NCIS, Criminal Minds, or The Wire, and find themselves drawn to the work. Others find the idea of solving crimes appealing, and some possess a strong sense of justice that naturally draws them to the work.
What kind of Master’s in Criminal Justice degree should you get?
Whether you’re concerned about the relationship between the police and minority communities and you want to make a difference for the better in your own city. Or you came to police work because of a long and proud family tradition, one of these degrees will help you succeed throughout your career in criminal justice.
Recommended Online Programs
How much money can you make with a Master’s in Criminal Justice?
A master’s degree in criminal justice can really enhance your salary potential. And, according to Payscale.com, salaries for graduates of these programs can increase significantly depending on your level of experience:
- 1-4 years experience: $47,740
- 5-9 years experience: $65,000
- 10-19 years experience: $80,000
- 20+ years experience: $108,000
Many benefits of working in criminal justice, both tangible and intangible, do not enter into salary reports. Those in criminal justice often receive generous pension packages, but for many, the idea of serving one’s neighbors or contributing to a greater cause than oneself is a benefit unto itself.
What can you do with a degree in criminal justice?
Regardless of how you came to your career, if you’re a serving police officer, correctional officer, sheriff’s deputy, or other criminal justice professional, you may be ready to take on a leadership role within your current department. Investigating your educational options for a master’s degree in criminal justice is the next step in turning your career goals into reality. Graduates from the programs below have gone on to become:
- Police Officers
- FBI Agents
- Investigative Specialists
- And more
What are the most affordable online master’s in criminal justice degrees?
We’ve ranked the most affordable online master’s degree programs for those who would like to prepare for a leadership role in law enforcement, corrections, human services, and related fields while keeping your current job. With these programs, you can add to your qualifications without leaving the organization you’re serving now. Each one is regionally accredited – the highest level of accreditation for academic excellence.
With these programs, you can add to your qualifications without leaving the organization you’re serving now. Each one is regionally accredited – the highest level of accreditation for academic excellence.
Top 10 Most Affordable Online Master’s in Criminal Justice
See our rankings methodology page.
University of North Texas
OverviewLocated in Denton, Texas, the University of North Texas is a public research university that offers a broad range of degree programs in both residential and online settings. Among them, it offers a two-year, 36-credit-hour program.FeaturesThis program consists of twelve credit hours of required core courses, 21 hours of electives from criminal justice including 9 hours of electives, and 3 hours of a capstone course that will help you integrate what you’ve learned into a practical setting. The career options open to you on completing this degree span the discipline of law enforcement and human services. You will graduate ready to:
- Enter the corporate world as an investigator or a contingency manager
- Work as a police officer or investigator in a city, county, state, or federal law enforcement agency
- Serve as a probation or parole officer at the county, state, or federal level
- Become a victim's advocate
The online Master of Science in Criminal Justice is ranked #2 in Texas and #18 in the U.S. by U.S. News and World Report
. Whatever your goals, you’ll be taught by a faculty that is experienced in the field and that contributes to research on the national and international level. UNT's Department of Criminal Justice is one of the ten largest in the university, which means you’ll have plenty of support and company in attaining your educational goals.
University of the Cumberlands
OverviewLocated in Williamsburg, Kentucky, the University of the Cumberlands is a small liberal-arts college. It also offers several online graduate programs for distance learners. Its master of science in criminal justice administration program is open to students looking to enter the field as well as working professionals hoping to advance to leadership positions within their agency. FeaturesRequirements for the degree include 18 credit hours of core courses, plus 12 credit hours of electives in your specialty. The program concludes with a capstone project. Within the criminal justice administration program, a number of sub-specialties are available depending on your current and future career path. They include:
- Law enforcement
- Homeland security
- Juvenile justice
While the law enforcement specialization is tailored to Kentucky standards, other areas are directly relevant to students from across the country. Also of note, this school is affiliated with the Kentucky Baptist Convention and the Southern Baptist Convention. Indeed, the University of Cumberlands is a markedly religious school.
OverviewLamar University is located in Beaumont, Texas. Designed for current law enforcement or criminal justice professionals who want to progress to careers in the FBI, CIA or other federal security agencies, the master of science in criminal justice program at Lamar University focuses on both practical skills and theoretical knowledge.FeaturesCoursework is focused on both the U.S. criminal justice system and policy and the theoretical foundations of crime control. Students will gain an understanding of analytical tools, planning and evaluation, correctional issues, and more. They become immersed in the contexts related to justice, including:
- Homeland security
- Police and constitutional law
- Ethics and criminal justice leadership
Although this program doesn’t require a thesis, it does require a comprehensive exam after you complete 18 hours of coursework and before you complete 27 hours of coursework. After you graduate, you’ll be prepared to serve as a member of upper level staff in an administrative, management, treatment, or planning position in criminal justice agencies.
Sam Houston State University
OverviewSam Houston State University is another Texas public university that offers an online master of science degree in criminal justice at an affordable cost. The online MS in criminal justice will prepare you to work in various areas of the criminal justice system including field positions, administration, organizational management, and social policy. FeaturesIf you’re potentially interested in applying for a Ph.D. program, you should complete the Master of Arts in Criminal Justice and Criminology instead. This 36 credit hour degree includes 21 credit hours of required core classes and 15 hours of electives. Regardless of your area of interest, you’ll learn:
- Research methods and quantitative analysis skills
- Technological applications for criminal justice
- Contemporary criminal justice organizations, and more
And if you’re looking for academic excellence as well as affordability, SHSU may be right for you. According to the Journal of Criminal Justice education, the College of Criminal Justice at Sam Houston State University was the top producer in the nation of peer-reviewed faculty publications in the field from 2010-2014. So if you choose SHSU, you’ll be studying with some of the leading scholars working in criminal justice research today.
St. Cloud State University
OverviewThere are two programs available through Minnesota’s St. Cloud State University that may be of interest to criminal justice professionals with varying levels of experience. One, the master of science in criminal justice, is a 36 to 42 credit program depending on whether or not a thesis is written. (The thesis option requires 36 credits while the non-thesis portfolio option requires 42). The other, a 36 credit hour master of science in public safety executive leadership program, is available for applicants with least two years full-time paid employment by a public safety-related organization.FeaturesWithin the criminal justice degree program, three specializations are available: criminal justice administration, criminal justice counseling, and an elective track that allows you to design a unique program of study to fulfill your career objectives. After completing this program, you will be qualified for a variety of positions such as:
- FBI agent
- Police officer
- Probation officer
- Family services
St. Cloud University is one of the largest schools within the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities System. It is both regionally and nationally ranked by a range of sources, from Forbes
to U.S. News & World Report
to yours truly.
Texas A&M International University
OverviewLocated in Laredo, TX, Texas A&M International University is part of the larger Texas A&M University system, serving more than 7000 students with residential and distance learning programs. As part of its distance learning portfolio, it offers an online master of science in criminal justice degree. FeaturesThe MSCJ program prepares graduate students to actively participate in the development of knowledge and policy responses to contemporary crime problems. A focus is placed on criminological theory, the administration of justice, corrections, ethics, and legal studies. Graduate students engage in research and are encouraged to take active leadership roles as professionals in the field of criminal justice or juvenile justice. The program has three specific aims:
- Encourage students to analyze crime issues in contemporary settings given theory and the practical constraints of the justice system
- Enhance students’ critical thinking, writing and analytic skills
- Ensure that students are well prepared for future studies and/or employment.
The MSCJ program has two tracks: thesis and non-thesis. The thesis option requires an original paper that demonstrates your ability to organize and conduct a research study, as well as to write a professional manuscript that makes a substantial contribution to ongoing work in your field. The requirements for the non-thesis option for a master's degree are satisfied by completing additional semester hours of coursework instead of the thesis.
Concordia University of St. Paul
OverviewConcordia University of St. Paul, one of Minnesota's most affordable private colleges and universities, offers online degrees in addition to its residential programs. A Concordia education focuses as much on the Lutheran values of the institution itself as on academic knowledge, and the university hopes to give its students a chance at a life both fruitful and fulfilling. It enjoys a dynamic learning environment thanks to its diversity of represented backgrounds, faiths, cultures, and age groups.FeaturesThe online master of arts degree in criminal justice leadership is a 36 credit hour program designed with the challenges of working adult learners in mind. As the program website notes, the degree is especially intended for students already working in the criminal justice system in some capacity. Courses are designed to enhance current professionalism and prepare students for leadership opportunities. Required coursework covers:
- Management and administration
- Correctional design
- Legal and legislative issues
- And more
For more than 100 years, Concordia University of St. Paul (MN) has worked to fulfill its mission as a liberal arts college associated with the Lutheran tradition. Current students in the program come from a variety of backgrounds, including law enforcement, military, social service and corrections. Further, a capstone project allows you to synthesize what you’ve learned and apply it to your current career field.
University of North Alabama
OverviewThe University of North Alabama is a regional state university within the Alabama public university system located in Florence. Along with its programs in the liberal arts, health sciences, and education, UNA offers several degrees in criminal justice including an online master of science. FeaturesAt 30 credit hours, this is one of the shorter programs we ranked. The online program is geared towards working criminal justice professionals, and is intended to prepare them for positions of greater responsibility within their organizations or new opportunities. Graduates of this program may also choose to pursue further advanced study at the doctorate level and move towards a career in teaching and research. Graduates have gone on to become:
- Police Officers
- Private Investigators
- Probation Specialists
- And more
Along with the three required core classes in theory and research methods, a number of electives are available that allow you to tailor your program to interests ranging from juvenile justice to forensic investigation to legal issues. Further, a comprehensive exam, taken on-site in the Criminal Justice Department over the course of two days, is also required for the completion of the program.
OverviewSaint Leo University started as a military college, and that commitment to service remains a core element of its values to this day. Its criminal justice program has been equipping the next generation of local, state, and federal law enforcement with the skills they need for more than three decades. A leader in online education, it offers distance learning options for both academic and professional degrees.FeaturesSaint Leo's online master of science program in criminal justice requires 36 credit hours to complete: 18 credits in required core courses and 18 in electives. In your coursework, you’ll explore topics such as ethical and legal issues in criminal justice administration and public policy-making, evaluation, and implementation. You'll also learn:
- Offender treatment methodology
- Human resources issues and innovations
- Forensic science and medicolegal death investigation
- Hostage negations, and more
As their website explains, “In the Catholic spirit, we base our criminal justice model on a steadfast moral consciousness that recognizes the dignity, value, and gifts of all people.” Those looking for a program which combines ethical service with depth of professional knowledge should give Saint Leo a closer look.
OverviewFrom its modest beginnings as Lynchburg Baptist College in 1971, Liberty University has grown its programs and expanded its reach to become the world’s largest Christian university and the fifth largest university of any kind in the United States. Much of that growth has come about due to its commitment to online education. And, among its many other online programs, Liberty offers a master of science degree in criminal justice, either with or without a specialization in public administration. While both options require 36 credit hours to complete, the public administration option also requires the completion of a thesis for the degree.FeaturesLiberty’s program offers students a solid foundation in the criminal justice system that prepares its graduates to become leaders and decision makers in the criminal justice system. You’ll learn how to develop and execute criminal justice policy, and how to lead and manage criminal justice organizations. With strong master’s level foundational courses, ethics, and leadership education, Liberty’s program prepares students to take on the challenges of the criminal justice system. Potential career fields for graduates include:
- Elected Official
- Homeland Security
- Police Administration
- Urban and Social Policy
Liberty University is the nation's most conservative, religious university. It was founded by televangelist Jerry Falwell and has stuck to its roots throughout the decades. It is called the “Most Conservative College in America” by a striking range of sources, including the Young America’s Foundation.