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Criminal Justice Master’s Degrees: Best Programs, Jobs, and Salaries

Joyce Manrique - November 03, 2021


Pursuing a Master’s in Criminal Justice is a great way to qualify for a senior-level role within the justice system. In this article, you’ll learn about some of the best criminal justice master’s degrees. We also explore the top careers and salaries you’d qualify for with this level of education.

What Is Criminal Justice?

Criminal justice is the discipline that examines how justice is served to a criminal offender and their victim. The criminal justice system must uphold constitutional values to ensure that a legal proceeding leads to a fair and objective decision. The criminal justice system also determines how to best support crime victims, as well as how and when a criminal can be rehabilitated into society.

What Is a Criminal Justice Master’s Degree?

A criminal justice master’s degree is typically a 36-credit graduate program that is completed within two years. This field of study primarily focuses on the justice system, psychology, sociology, and law. A criminal justice degree is ideal for students who are interested in advancing their career or education within the criminal justice system.

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Criminal Justice Master’s Degree Requirements

Most schools require program applicants to have completed their bachelor’s degree in a relevant field, have letters of recommendation, and provide transcripts from their previous college. However, each institution is entitled to its own requirements, and they will often vary by state.

How Much Does a Criminal Justice Master’s Degree Cost?

Tuition rates can vary widely across programs. The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) reports that the average cost of a master’s degree program was $19,314 per year for the year 2018-2019. Non-profit private institutions cost an average of $25,929 per year, while for-profit private institutions averaged $27,776. Public institutions had the lowest tuition average at just $12,171.

Criminal Justice Master’s Degree Financing Options: How to Pay for Your Criminal Justice Degree

Tuition payment options for graduate school programs vary based on the exact program you’re pursuing, the state in which the school is located, and whether it’s a private or public university. However, as a criminal justice student, you will normally have access to grants, scholarships, federal and private student loans, and payment plans.

Best Criminal Justice Master’s Degree Programs and Schools: Overview

School Program Accreditation
Arizona State University Master of Science in Criminology and Criminal Justice Higher Learning Commission
Boston University Master of Science in Criminal Justice New England Commission of Higher Education
Eastern Kentucky University Master of Science in Criminology and Criminal Justice Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges
Franklin University Master of Science in Criminal Justice Higher Learning Commission
Seattle University Master of Arts in Criminal Justice Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities
University of Baltimore Master of Science in Criminal Justice Middle States Commission on Higher Education
University of Cincinnati Master of Science in Criminal Justice Higher Learning Commission
University of Massachusetts Lowell Master of Science in Criminal Justice New England Commission on Higher Education
University of New Haven Master of Science in Criminal Justice New England Association of Schools and Colleges
University of Toledo Master of Arts in Criminal Justice Higher Learning Commission

Best Colleges for Criminal Justice: Top Criminal Justice Master’s Degree Programs

Listed below are the descriptions of some of the best master’s degree programs for criminal justice majors , offered by accredited universities. We’ve done the school search for you, so all you have to do is choose the program that suits you best. Before making a decision, consider the location, tuition fees, and focus of each program.

Master of Science in Criminology and Criminal Justice | Arizona State University

This graduate degree focuses on theoretical knowledge and research. The program covers statistical tools and research methods for criminology and criminal justice, policing, corrections, courts and sentencing, and criminology and criminal justice seminars. Advisors work with students to determine the best program courses, according to their career goals.

Master of Science in Criminal Justice | Boston University

Boston University’s Master of Science in Criminal Justice introduces you to some of the most common and complex issues in the field while exploring the causes and solutions. This program is focused on digital tools and procedures that assist in solving crime. Students can choose concentrations in crime analysis, strategic management, or cyber security.

Master of Science in Criminology and Criminal Justice | Eastern Kentucky University

Eastern Kentucky University’s master’s program aims to broaden students’ perspectives on why crime happens and how they should react to it. This program covers theoretical and legal principles in criminal justice, leadership, policymaking, data analysis, quantitative and qualitative research, and essential research contributions in this field.

Master of Arts in Criminal Justice Administration | Franklin University

Franklin University offers a criminal justice administration master’s degree program that provides students with a better understanding of current criminal offenses, psychological and circumstantial reasons, and criminal penalties. This program invites students to use the knowledge and skills they gain to come up with better preventative measures and solutions.

Master of Arts in Criminal Justice | Seattle University

Seattle University’s master’s degree program focuses on the application of theory to practice and policymaking within the criminal justice field. The core courses cover criminal justice theory, criminological theory, law, as well as research and statistical analysis. You will learn how to conduct intelligence analysis by using relevant data and information.

Master of Science in Criminal Justice | University of Baltimore

The University of Baltimore offers a 33-credit criminal justice master’s degree program that focuses on 21st-century problems and solutions. During the program, students learn how to leverage theory, statistics, and methods in the workplace. There are six areas of specialization to choose from, including courts, corrections, policing, juvenile, victim studies, and justice leadership.

Master of Science in Criminal Justice | University of Cincinnati

This criminal justice master’s degree program uses criminology, psychology, sociology, and law to gain insight into crime and criminal justice. This program is designed to equip and shape students with the tools, knowledge, and skills needed to positively impact the current justice system.

Master of Science in Criminal Justice | University of Massachusetts Lowell

UMass Lowell offers a 33-credit criminal justice master’s degree program, which covers criminological foundations, administration of justice, descriptive and inferential statistics, research design, law and public policy, and criminal justice organization management. The school offers a variety of flexible enrollment and payment options.

Master of Science in Criminal Justice | University of New Haven

The University of New Haven has the second-largest criminal justice faculty in the US and offers a reputable criminal justice master’s degree program. This 33 to 36-credit-hour program covers theories of criminal behavior, research methods in criminal justice, quantitative applications in criminal justice, mental health, and law. Students can choose a thesis or comprehensive examination track.

Master of Arts in Criminal Justice (M.A.) | University of Toledo

This criminal justice master’s program is designed to adjust to students’ schedules, goals, and interests. Students learn about police and society, administration of criminal justice, data analysis in criminal justice, victimology, and human trafficking. There are also four capstone options that students can choose from.

Best Online Criminal Justice Master’s Degree Programs and Schools: Overview

School Program Accreditation
American Public University Master of Arts in Criminal Justice Higher Learning Commission
Marshall University Master of Science in Criminal Justice Higher Learning Commission
Michigan State University Master of Arts in Criminal Justice Higher Learning Commission
Purdue University Master of Science in Criminal Justice Higher Learning Commission
Southern New Hampshire University Master of Science in Criminal Justice New England Commission of Higher Education
Tiffin University Master of Science in Criminal Justice Higher Learning Commission
University of Southern California Master of Science in Criminal Justice Western Association of Schools and Colleges
University of Louisville Master of Science in Criminal Justice Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges
Walden University Master of Science in Criminal Justice Higher Learning Commission
Xavier University Master of Science in Criminal Justice Higher Learning Commission

Best Colleges for Criminal Justice: Top Online Criminal Justice Master’s Degree Programs

Online criminal justice master’s degree programs are now offered by many accredited universities throughout the US. If you want to advance your education or career while maintaining a flexible schedule, an online master’s program is ideal. Online students enjoy great flexibility and work-life balance. Listed below are details of the online programs from the table above.

Master of Arts in Criminal Justice  | American Public University

The online master’s degree program offered by the American Public University is ideal for professionals seeking leadership positions in the criminal justice field. This program is designed to teach prospective students how to differentiate between the roles and authorities of the different branches of the justice system, analyze criminal behavior, and identify criminal threats.

Master of Science in Criminal Justice | University of Marshall

The University of Marshall offers an advanced master’s program in criminal justice that aims to develop students’ theoretical and methodological skills in research. The curriculum covers theory and research methods in criminal justice, data and statistics, and advanced criminal law.  Some of the electives that students can choose from include race and ethnicity, ethics, and cyber crime.

Master of Arts in Criminal Justice | Michigan State University

Known for its long-standing reputation in criminal justice studies, Michigan State University focuses on public policy and practice. This program introduces students to a wide range of topics such as counterterrorism, strategies to control crime, and intelligence works. One of the goals of this program is to equip students with the skills needed to conduct accurate and reputable research.

Master of Science Degree in Criminal Justice | Purdue University

Purdue University’s online criminal justice master’s degree program covers criminological theory, critical criminal justice issues, and public safety. The program also specializes in organizational behavior, which is extremely beneficial for leadership positions within criminal justice organizations.

Master of Science in Criminal Justice Online | Southern New Hampshire University

Southern New Hampshire University’s online criminal justice master’s program is meant to develop your skills in research, leadership, and criminology theory. You can choose between advanced counterterrorism and homeland security or public safety administration for your track focus. Additionally, the curriculum covers business law, including ethical business practices.

Master of Science in Criminal Justice | Tiffin University

The online criminal justice master’s degree program offered by Tiffin University is ideal for professionals who are looking to advance their careers in the field. Their fully online curriculum covers crime analysis, crime science, criminal behavior, forensics, justice administration, and homeland security.

Master of Science in Criminal Justice | University of Southern California

The University of Southern California offers an online master’s degree program in criminal justice that highlights an evidence-based approach within the justice system. The program focuses on developing policies for vulnerable members of society, leadership, and utilizing technological advances. You will also use data and statistical analysis to assess policies and regulations.

Master of Science in Criminal Justice | University of Louisville

This criminal justice program emphasizes ethics and responsibility within the field and in relation to society. The curriculum covers legal issues, justice administration, crime and delinquency, and statistics and research methods. The faculty has partnered with different organizations to help students gain fruitful internship experiences.

Master of Science in Criminal Justice | Walden University

Walden University’s criminal justice program is flexible and ideal for working professionals. In addition to the general program, you can specialize in cyber crime, behavioral sciences, international justice issues, emergency management, homeland security, and other related topics.

Master of Science in Criminal Justice | Xavier University

Xavier University’s criminal justice master’s program is focused on public safety and societal balance and tackles different methods and techniques within the field. The curriculum primarily covers US law and justice, criminal justice administration, delinquency, and other related topics.

What’s the Average Criminal Justice Master’s Degree Salary?

According to Payscale, the average annual salary for holders of Master’s Degrees in Criminal Justice is $56,000. However, annual salaries heavily depend on your specific job title, location, and level of experience.

Top Criminal Justice Master’s Degree Jobs and Salaries: Overview

Criminal Justice Master’s Degree Jobs Average Salary
Lawyers $126,930
Judges and Hearing Officers $124,200
Information Security Analysts $103,590
Sociologists $86,110
Psychologists $82,180
Criminal Justice Professors $80,560
Police and Detectives $67,290
Forensic Science Technicians $60,590
Private Detectives and Investigators $53,320
Correctional Officers $47,440

Best Criminal Justice Master’s Degree Jobs Explained

Person using a pen to point to a picture and a person in handcuffs pointing. Criminal Justice Master's Degrees
Being a meticulous investigator is an important quality that you need to learn in criminal justice.

Lawyers

  • Average Salary : $126,930
  • Job Outlook : 9%
  • Number of Jobs : 804,200
  • Highest-Paying States : California, New York, Florida, Texas, and Washington DC

Criminal justice professionals often become lawyers and work for institutions, businesses, or the government. A lawyer uses the law, legal documents, testimonies, and research to defend or support their client. Lawyers can choose from a plethora of fields to specialize in. It’s important to note that lawyers are required to pass the bar exam before legally practicing law.

Judges and Hearing Officers

  • Average Salary : $124,200
  • Job Outlook : 3%
  • Number of Jobs : 44,900
  • Highest-Paying States : New York, Texas, Ohio, California, and Florida

A judge or hearing officer is responsible for overseeing court proceedings, as well as the approval and rejection of claims. Depending on the type of case being heard, the judge can deliver decisions made by a jury or independently make rulings in accordance with the law.

Information Security Analysts

  • Average Salary : $103,590
  • Job Outlook : 33%
  • Number of Jobs : 141,200
  • Highest-Paying States : Virginia, Texas, California, Florida, and Maryland

An information security analyst plans and implements preventative measures and solutions against cyber attacks on an organization’s network or computer system. To become an information security analyst , you need to be able to conduct investigations and perform tests to identify the cause of a problem and ensure implemented solutions have preventative properties.

Sociologists

  • Average Salary : $86,110
  • Job Outlook : 5%
  • Number of Jobs : 3,000
  • Highest-Paying States : California, Michigan, Maryland, New York, and Massachusetts

A sociologist conducts research and fieldwork to study events, people, society, and culture. Sociologists often enter criminal justice careers to contribute as researchers and provide insight into why certain behaviors occur. Rather than focus on the punishment, they’re often motivated to address the deep-rooted societal issues that cause crime.

Psychologists

  • Average Salary : $82,180
  • Job Outlook : 8%
  • Number of Jobs : 178,900
  • Highest-Paying States : Florida, Illinois, Texas, Maryland, and Massachusetts

Psychologists work in a variety of industries, including criminal justice. They specialize in studying, understanding, and interpreting human behavior. Criminal psychologists evaluate a suspect or criminal’s mental wellbeing, identify signs of deception, and tactically extract information, among many other things. These experts must possess strong critical thinking skills and the ability to empathize with their patients.

Criminal Justice Professor

  • Average Salary : $80,560
  • Job Outlook : 12%
  • Number of Jobs : 16,100
  • Highest-Paying States : New York, California, Texas, Massachusetts, and Washington DC

A criminal justice professor works in a college or university to teach criminal justice-related courses. Their duties are very similar to those of any other college professor. However, unlike history, math, English, or art professors, these academics must always update their knowledge because crime, psychology, and sociology are constantly changing.

Police and Detectives

  • Average Salary : $67,290
  • Job Outlook : 7%
  • Number of Jobs : 795,000
  • Highest-Paying States : Texas, California, New York, Florida, and Arizona

A police officer is in charge of responding to emergencies, protecting individuals and properties, and overseeing the peace and security of a city or county. Meanwhile, a detective is more involved in investigating and gathering information or pieces of evidence related to a crime. These criminal justice professionals will enjoy a robust job outlook of 7 percent until 2030, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Forensic Science Technicians

  • Average Salary : $60,590
  • Job Outlook : 16%
  • Number of Jobs : 17,200
  • Highest-Paying States : California, Florida, Texas, New York, and Arizona

A forensic science technician collects evidence, uses scientific methods to analyze forensic samples, and forms conclusions based on the findings. With a criminal justice background or education, forensic science technicians are able to provide insight into criminal activities, which are used by detectives to determine the direction of an investigation.

Private Detectives and Investigators

  • Average Salary : $53,320
  • Job Outlook : 13%
  • Number of Jobs : 33,700
  • Highest-Paying States : California, Virginia, Texas, Pennsylvania, and Illinois

A private detective or investigator is usually hired by a client to conduct research on a particular person, crime, or event. Ethical and legal means are used to successfully collect and relay information on the subject. They’re often hired by a victim’s family for homicidal cases that have gone cold with the police department.

Correctional Officers

  • Average Salary : $47,440
  • Job Outlook : -7%
  • Number of Jobs : 418,500
  • Highest-Paying States : Texas, California, Florida, Pennsylvania, and North Carolina

A correctional officer works in a prison or jail and enforces all legal rules and procedures. Correctional officers are not required to have a master’s degree. However, an advanced degree is usually required for senior-level positions within prisons or jails.

Benefits of a Criminal Justice Master’s Degree

  • Research focus . Master’s degrees are well known for their research-based approaches, particularly in fields like criminal justice. Pursuing a master’s degree is one of the best ways to gain a well-rounded understanding of the causes of crime and the different elements involved.
  • Reputation . Master’s degrees are extremely valuable and reputable in the workplace, making them a valuable educational credential. Regardless of the industry, a master’s degree carries a lot of weight.
  • Long-term relevance. Unlike other types of programs that are shorter in duration, a master’s degree is a credential that retains its relevance for many years after you earn it.
  • Higher salary . A master’s degree represents one of the highest levels of educational achievement. Employers recognize master’s degree holders as valuable assets to their organization and pay accordingly.
  • Senior positions . Many senior-level positions within criminal justice require a master’s degree. By pursuing this advanced level of education, you will qualify for many high-level and high-paying positions.

Should You Get a Master’s Degree in Criminal Justice?

If you’re interested in pursuing higher education or advancing your criminal justice career, a master’s degree is an excellent route. Tons of reputable and accredited universities offer online and on-campus programs, either part-time or full-time. Because of the career and monetary benefits associated with a master’s degree, this investment in your education will quickly pay off.

Criminal Justice Master’s Degree FAQ

Is a Master’s Degree in Criminal Justice Worth it?

How important it is to pursue a Master’s in Criminal Justice depends on your professional goals. A Master’s in Criminal Justice is worth it for anyone who wants to advance their education or career in criminal justice. A graduate level degree in this industry will open the door to a host of career opportunities.

What Can You Do with a Master’s Degree in Criminal Justice?

There are a variety of jobs that you can pursue once you’ve completed your Master’s in Criminal Justice. This type of degree will allow you to work for government agencies and private sectors. You can be the head of a police unit, private investigator, judge, and forensic science technician, among many other options.

How Do I Get a Master’s Degree in Criminal Justice?

Your first step is to decide which institution you want to attend. Once you’ve decided which one is right for you, you’ll need to check the admission requirements of that particular school. You can usually expect to be required to have already earned a bachelor’s degree, provide letters of recommendation, and submit a personal statement. Program details can be found on the school’s website.

Where Can I Pursue a Master’s Degree in Criminal Justice?

There are a plethora of institutions throughout the US that offer master’s degree programs. This article highlights some of the best online and on-campus criminal justice master’s degree programs. Additionally, you can contact your local university to learn more about the programs they provide.

About us: Career Karma is a platform designed to help job seekers find, research, and connect with job training programs to advance their careers. Learn about the CK publication.

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Joyce Manrique

About the author: Joyce covers online courses, learning platforms, and tech careers for the Career Karma publication. She graduated with her AB in Philosophy and her BS in Management of Financial Institutions from De La Salle University. After graduation, she found immediate success in the finance sector of an oil and gas company. After some years, she decided to pursue her love of writing, leading her to join the Career Karma team in October 2020. Her work has been published in the Philippine Daily Inquirer.

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