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Most Affordable Online Master’s in Criminal Justice Programs 2021

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Individuals with a passion for justice and protection often thrive in criminal justice positions. Enrolling in an online master’s in criminal justice program typically benefits those who want to pursue a law enforcement career or advance to a higher role within the law enforcement field.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects jobs for police and detectives to grow 5% between 2019 and 2029, which is faster than average for other occupations. Although the BLS reports that police officers only need moderate on-the-job training, higher-paying positions through the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) typically require a master’s degree.

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Figuring out where to apply? These top, accredited schools offer a variety of online degrees. Consider one of these accredited programs, and discover their value today.

Keep reading to learn more about the most affordable criminal justice master’s online degrees, what these programs cover, and the average salary for criminal justice professionals.

FAQ


  • What is criminal justice?

    Criminal justice refers to the deliverance of justice to those who disobey the law. It also involves the offender’s rehabilitation and crime prevention.


  • Can I study criminal justice online?

    Students can choose from many different online criminal justice programs. Learners can also complete hybrid programs that include both in-person and online courses.


  • How long does it take to earn a master's in criminal justice?

    Full-time learners typically need two years to complete an online master’s in criminal justice program. The exact time frame varies based on personal schedules and program requirements.


  • What is the difference between criminal justice and law?

    A law degree prepares learners to work as judges or attorneys. A criminal justice degree typically prepares graduates to work as law enforcement officers. However, individuals may choose to earn a degree in criminal justice before attending law school.


Most Affordable Online Master’s in Criminal Justice Programs 2021



Finding the right criminal justice graduate program takes time. Thanks to online learning options, students can explore many affordable choices. To aid in the search, we regularly update this list of the most affordable criminal justice master’s online degrees. While creating this ranking, we consider factors like cost, accreditation, and graduate success rates.

  1. Trine University-Regional/Non-Traditional Campuses
    Location

    Fort Wayne, IN

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Trine in Angola, Indiana, offers an online master's in criminal justice that leads to a master of science degree. The curriculum focuses on crisis intervention and child welfare and family, preparing enrollees for key leadership roles in law enforcement, corrections, fire safety, and other related fields.

    Applicants should hold a bachelor's degree in criminal justice from an accredited institution. Applicants with a non-criminal justice degree may need to enroll in prerequisite coursework prior to starting the program. Applicants with exemplary undergraduate performance or significant professional experience in criminal justice or a related field may request a waiver.

    One of the most affordable criminal justice master's online programs, Trine's program comprises 30 credits, or 10 graduate-level courses. Students enroll in classes in crisis intervention for law enforcement, victimology, child welfare and the family, and criminal justice research and writing. Degree candidates complete a capstone project.

    Trine University is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

  2. University of South Florida-Sarasota-Manatee
    Location

    Sarasota, FL

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    USFSM's College of Behavioral and Community Sciences offers a 33-credit, fully online master's in criminal justice. Applicants need a bachelor's degree from an accredited college or university, preferably in criminal justice or a related field, and an undergraduate 3.0 GPA or higher. The program leads to a master of arts degree and does not require the submission of GRE or GMAT scores.

    Students enroll in 18 credits of core subjects and 15 elective credits. Although the program does not offer specific specialization areas, students can enroll in elective classes that support their interests and career goals. The core curriculum includes courses in criminal justice administration, introduction to criminology theory, research methods, and current and emerging topics in criminology and criminal justice. Full-time enrollees typically graduate within one year.

    The University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

  3. New Mexico State University-Main Campus
    Location

    Las Cruces, NM

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    NMSU's master of criminal justice (MCJ) comprises 31 credits and runs fully online. Most students graduate within 2-3 years, depending on their enrollment status and academic background. Applicants must meet the graduate school's admission requirements, which include a bachelor's degree from an accredited institution and an undergraduate 3.0 GPA or higher.

    Learners must enroll in 15 credits of core courses, 12 elective credits, and complete a four-credit capstone project. Only on-campus enrollees can currently choose the thesis option.

    The core curriculum covers topics such as the nature of crime; issues in ethics, law, and criminal justice; law and social control; and criminal justice policy analysis and planning. After completing all required courses, MCJ enrollees must pass a final examination prior to graduation.

    New Mexico State University is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

  4. Florida State University
    Location

    Tallahassee, FL

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    FSU offers a 36-credit online master's in criminal justice. Although undergraduate criminal justice degree-holders receive priority consideration, the program welcomes applicants with a bachelor's degree in any field from an accredited college or university. FSU has suspended the GRE requirement through fall of 2021. However, applicants with five or more years of related work experience can request for a waiver of the GRE requirement beyond 2021.

    Students enroll in 15 credits of core coursework and 21 elective courses, up to nine credits of which can come from a different discipline with the program coordinator's approval. Students can transfer up to six credits of graduate-level courses from another accredited institution.

    The curriculum includes classes in criminological theories, computer applications in criminal justice, applied statistics in criminology, and criminal justice theory and research. Candidates must maintain a grade of C or higher to remain in the program.

    Florida State University is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

  5. Lincoln Memorial University
    Location

    Harrogate, TN

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    LMU's online master's in criminal justice prepares students for leadership roles in the field or for doctoral study. The 36-credit program leads to a master of science degree. Students can choose from three specialization tracks: administration, applied professional, and research. Applicants need a bachelor's degree from an accredited institution with a minimum undergraduate 2.75 GPA.

    Courses follow an asynchronous delivery format, although students must still meet weekly assignments and other class deadlines. Enrollees can transfer up to nine graduate-level credits from another accredited school with the approval of the admissions committee.

    Students begin the program by enrolling in three required courses: theories of crime and criminal justice, crime and public policy analysis, and criminal justice research methods. After completing the required coursework, students can take elective classes in line with their educational and career objectives. Learners must pass a comprehensive exam to graduate.

    Lincoln Memorial University is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

  6. Delta State University
    Location

    Cleveland, MS

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Delta State offers an online master's in criminal justice for students and professionals who wish to increase their understanding of topics such as the legal system, policing, corrections, and wildlife law enforcement. The program leads to a master of science in social justice and criminology (MSSJC). Applicants need an accredited bachelor's degree, preferably in criminal justice or a related field, with an undergraduate 3.0 GPA or higher.

    The 36-credit MSSJC program requires enrollees to maintain a 3.0 GPA. Upon admission, students work with their advisor to craft an individual plan of study, which they must follow throughout their enrollment. Students can choose to write a thesis as the program's culminating activity. Candidates who prefer not to write a thesis can take a comprehensive exam after completing all course requirements. Online students pay in-state tuition regardless of their residency.

    Delta State University is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

  7. University of Providence
    Location

    Great Falls, MT

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    A private Catholic institution founded in 1932 in Great Falls, Montana, UP offers a master of science in organizational leadership with a focus on criminal justice. Program coordinators prefer applicants with an accredited bachelor's degree in criminal justice or a closely related field, such as psychology or sociology. The program also accepts applications from professionals currently working in a criminal justice arena.

    The program features the study of managerial science in the context of criminal justice. The curriculum comprises 36 credits broken down as follows: 12 core coursework credits, 15 criminal justice concentration credits, and nine credits of approved electives. Students enroll in courses in the juvenile justice system, criminal law and the courts, administration of law enforcement agencies, and psychology of criminal behavior. Enrollees can transfer up to six graduate-level credits in management from an accredited institution for which they received a grade of B or higher.

    University of Providence is accredited by the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities.

  8. McKendree University
    Location

    Lebanon, IL

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    McK's 30-credit online master's in criminal justice leads to a master of arts (MA) degree and takes five semesters to complete. Applicants need a bachelor's degree from an accredited institution with an undergraduate 3.0 GPA or higher. Classes follow eight-week delivery schedules and run entirely online. McK does not currently charge an application fee for this program.

    The curriculum includes courses in terrorism, security, and the modern world; ethical decision-making in criminal justice; theories and strategies of crime prevention; and class, race, and gender in criminal justice. Degree-seekers must maintain an overall 3.0 GPA or higher throughout the program. Graduates can sit for the International Association of Crime Analysts certification exam.

    McKendree University is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

  9. Marshall University
    Location

    Huntington, WV

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    MU in Huntington, West Virginia, offers a 30-credit master's in criminal justice program that runs fully online. Applicants need a bachelor's degree from an accredited college or university, preferably in criminal justice or a related social science field, such as psychology or sociology.

    Applicants need a minimum undergraduate 3.0 GPA and must submit their most recent GRE scores. Applicants with an undergraduate 3.3 GPA or higher or applicants who have completed a master's degree in another field can apply for a waiver of the GRE requirement.

    The program leads to a master of science degree. Students complete 18 credits of core coursework and 12 credits of approved electives. Each course includes four online synchronous sessions. The core curriculum covers subjects such as advanced theories in criminal justice, criminal law and procedure, applied statistics, and research methods. Learners can choose to complete a capstone experience or write a thesis as the program's culminating activity.

    Marshall University is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

  10. Fort Hays State University
    Location

    Hays, KS

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    FHSU's Graduate School offers a 30-credit master of professional studies with a criminal justice concentration. Applicants need a bachelor's degree from an accredited college or university and a minimum upper-division 3.0 GPA.

    Students enroll in nine credits each of core, major, and elective coursework and complete a three-credit culminating activity. The curriculum includes classes in criminal justice systems, policies, and practices; situational ethics; criminological theories; and advanced criminal justice research methods.

    Students can opt to complete an internship experience as part of their elective coursework. FHSU regularly reviews its roster of electives to include courses that cover current and emerging criminal justice issues, such as violence in society, crime and media, and corporate crime.

    The three-credit culminating activity consists of an advanced research project in either the criminal justice field or in liberal or professional studies.

    Fort Hays State University is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

Career and Salary Outlook for Criminal Justice



Online criminal justice master’s programs prepare learners to succeed in various roles. Some graduates pursue careers in forensics or private detective work, while others go on to law school.

Many students who graduate from an online master’s in criminal justice program pursue careers as police officers or detectives. The chart below lists salaries for these professionals. The BLS also provides data for specific law enforcement roles, such as game and fish wardens and transit and railroad police.

Several factors influence pay, including years of experience, geographical location, and employer type. For example, an FBI officer working on the East Coast typically earns more than a police officer working in a rural county department. Before selecting this major, prospective students can research current job postings to learn how salaries vary based on these factors and specific job requirements.

Bottom 10% Median Annual Salary Top 10%
Less than $37,710 $65,170 More than $109,620

Source: BLS

Accreditation for Criminal Justice Programs

Before selecting a program, prospective students should research its accreditation status. When a school earns accreditation, it regularly receives quality assessments from a third-party organization.

The U.S. Department of Education (ED) and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation oversee the accreditation process. Two types of accreditation exist in the United States: regional and national. Typically, employers view degrees from regionally accredited schools as more prestigious than degrees from nationally accredited schools.

Programs can also earn accreditation. The Academy of Criminal Justice Services is one of the top accrediting agencies for criminal justice programs. To verify a school or program’s accreditation status, prospective students can use the ED’s search tool.

Courses in a Criminal Justice Master’s Program



A typical criminal justice master’s program requires 30-45 credits, which translates to about 10-15 courses. Some programs may require fieldwork, like an internship. However, most online programs allow students to complete all work remotely.

Criminal justice courses cover topics like current laws and crime prevention theories. Through these classes, students develop soft skills, like interpersonal communication skills. However, the classes also cover hard skills, like best practices for investigations.

See below for five common courses that criminal justice programs include. Keep in mind that exact courses vary by program. Learners should examine a program’s exact course descriptions to ensure it aligns with their career goals.

Restorative Justice
Learners study the history and theories behind the restorative justice movement. The class covers how restorative justice aims to repair a crime’s harm by facilitating a meeting between the offender, victim, and community members. A restorative justice course often requires case studies and class discussions.
Corrections
This class encourages students to analyze correctional methods like incarceration, probation, and parole. Students learn about the history behind each form and discuss the outcomes of each. Learners examine the effectiveness of correctional methods and discover how they prevent recurring crimes. This class also discusses how correctional facilities operate.
American Law
Most criminal justice master’s programs include at least one American law course. Enrollees memorize common laws that criminal justice professionals uphold. This course also covers the landmark cases that led to current laws. Most criminal justice law courses emphasize criminal offenses to the law.
Ethics and the Criminal Justice System
This class covers professional and ethical behavior in the criminal justice profession. An ethics course discusses topics like sexual harassment and how community and race relations impact the field. The course typically includes multiple case studies that demonstrate situations when ethics were upheld and when they were not. An ethics course typically requires peer discussions and essays.
Crime Scene Investigations
Enrollees explore best practices for gathering evidence and how to document discoveries. They also learn the importance of protecting evidence. Learners examine past crime scene investigation case studies and evaluate each one based on best practices. The class also discusses how various criminal justice professionals collaborate on crime scene investigations.

Scholarships for Criminal Justice

Even students attending the most affordable criminal justice master’s online program can benefit from scholarships. Many scholarships feature competitive applicant pools. However, students can focus their search on awards reserved exclusively for their major to increase their chances. Read below for three criminal justice scholarships for graduate students.

Regina B. Shearn Scholarship

Who Can Apply: Alpha Phi Sigma provides this scholarship to one criminal justice master’s graduate student each year. A scholarship committee selects the recipient based on academic achievement and leadership demonstration. Applicants must submit three references.
Amount: $2,000

V.A. Leonard Scholarship

Who Can Apply: Alpha Phi Sigma oversees this scholarship. Each year, the organization selects one graduate and one undergraduate recipient. Applicants must submit three recommendation letters, an essay, and proof of extracurricular participation and academic achievement.
Amount: $2,000

Gene Carte Student Paper Award

Who Can Apply: Sponsored by Wiley, this scholarship is open to full-time criminal justice degree-seekers. Applicants must submit an essay containing up to 8,000 words on a criminology-related topic along with a letter signed by a dean or department chair. Previous first-place winners may not reapply.
Amount: $500, $300, and $200 for first through third place, respectively

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