Criminology is the study of crime and criminals. Professionals in the field study the science behind crime and its causes to inform professionals in criminal justice and law enforcement—an important responsibility in terms of equitable justice and law enforcement strategy.
Due to the complexity of the field and its importance, many consider obtaining a master’s degree. Criminology master’s programs train students to become sociologists who specialize in criminal behavior and the causes and effects of crime. Courses ensure students develop a comprehensive understanding of the basic elements of psychology, the criminal justice system, and current law enforcement practices while being able to respond to new developments including cybercrime.
To put it simply, criminology master’s programs explore the socioeconomic, political, and environmental factors affecting crime. This type of education ensures that degree holders can evaluate and examine the current criminal justice system to offer suggestions that lead the way to equity and progress. At a time of political and social tension between the criminal justice system and the public, such expertise is invaluable.
Best Online Masters in Criminology Programs
We took a deep-dive and analyzed every online Masters in Criminology program in the nation. Below are the results of our analysis and a list of the 12 best online Masters in Criminology programs.
Read about our methodology here.
What Can I Expect from an Online Master’s in Criminology Program?
Online master’s in criminology programs focus on the cause, effect and social impact of crime. Criminology is rooted in sociology and psychology, so students receive a multidisciplinary understanding of why crime happens and how it can be prevented. Online master’s programs are available through traditional universities with the same degree of professionalism as on-campus classes. These programs are designed for full-time graduate students or working professionals pursuing their master’s part-time who want to earn their master’s at their own pace or at an accelerated rate. Online master’s in criminology programs vary in many aspects, so it’s important to compare programs to find one that meets your career goals.
Concentrations Offered for an Online Master’s in Criminology
Online master’s in law enforcement administration programs offer a variety of concentrations that help improve your crime prevention, personnel management and leadership skills. Most programs are designed for mid-level to upper-level law enforcement professionals, but the curriculum varies. Compare program details and choose one with courses that align with your career goals, especially when you seek advancement into supervisory roles.
|CONCENTRATION||DESCRIPTION||POSSIBLE CAREERS THIS CONCENTRATION PREPARES FOR|
|Criminologist||Equips graduates with an overall understanding of crime and criminal behavior and offers a wide variety of career opportunities in academia, law enforcement, corrections, science and government.||Forensic scientist, intelligence analyst, criminal profiler, criminology professor, private investigator, police officer, corrections officer, social worker|
|Forensic Criminology||Focuses on the legal aspects of forensics and criminology and may lead graduates into criminal investigation, predominately collecting and analyzing evidence.||Crime scene photographer, forensic photographer, expert photo analyst, crime scene specialist|
|Human Behavior||Examines why people commit crimes or why certain individuals become victims and may encourage career paths in counseling or other sociology-based professions.||Criminal profiler, crime analyst, victimology expert, law enforcement, victim advocate, counselor|
|Cybercrime||Provides graduates with an understanding of the social and behavioral aspects of cybercrime while developing skills in digital forensic science and cybercrime investigation.||Cybercrime investigator, information security crime investigator, forensics expert, FBI computer forensic examiner, counterterrorism consultant|
Curriculum for an Online Master’s in Criminology
Many online master’s in criminology programs allow you to complete your degree completely online, but a few require a limited amount of on-campus attendance. All criminology programs focus on crime and criminal behavior, but some are customizable to suit your professional aspirations. When choosing an online program, compare your career goals to the curriculum to determine whether a program meets your specific needs.
No two online criminology master’s degrees are exactly alike. Some programs focus strictly on core subjects directly related to criminology, while others offer a combination of core courses and electives that may or may not relate to criminology, depending on the program and whether you want to specialize in one aspect of criminology. Always choose programs with coursework that directly correlates to your career goals. Here are examples of core courses you might encounter in a criminology program:
|Research Methods in Criminology||Criminological studies with focus on data collection methods and measuring the validity and reliability of the data collected.|
|Victimology||Scientific study of victims, including victim types, patterns, characteristics and impacts.|
|Criminal Profiling||An overview of the development of perpetrators of violent crimes, often combined with an analytical understanding of the unique characteristics of serial criminals and their methodologies.|
|Cybercriminology||An understanding of cybercrime tactics and the social and psychological aspects of a cybercriminal, which can be beneficial when pursuing careers in forensic science or intelligence analysis.|
How Long Does It Take to Get an Online Master’s Degree in Criminology?
Completion of an online master’s degree in criminology varies based on the type of program you choose and your motivation level. Programs in a collaborative learning environment use a cohort-based model that requires all students to take classes as a group at scheduled times, which will take longer to complete, whereas motivated students enrolled in programs offered in an individually paced format can complete their degree quicker.
Depending on the program, earning an online master’s in criminology could require completing anywhere from 30 to 56 credits. Most programs take about two years or four semesters to complete; however, institutions that offer accelerated programs allow students to finish sooner. Full-time students may be able to earn their degree through an accelerated program in one year to 18 months. Professionals pursuing their degree part-time may take considerably longer, especially if their career and/or family obligations allow little time to dedicate to their studies.
Certifications and Licenses an Online Master’s in Criminology Prepares For
Certifications and licenses aren’t typically necessary for entry-level criminology positions, but voluntary certifications are available to provide credentials of expertise in the field and could help in career development. However, some states and many law enforcement agencies do require their own professional licensing through a licensure exam. Check with your local law enforcement agencies, secretary of state office or professional licensing department to learn specific requirements in your state.
|Private Investigator||If your criminology career goal is to become a private investigator, most states do require you to obtain a state-issued license, which requires passing an exam. Earning a master’s in criminology can prepare you to pass this exam.|
Accreditation for Online Master’s in Criminology Degrees
To protect yourself from fraudulent or subpar schools, always ensure the college or university and the online master’s in criminology program are accredited. Accreditation demonstrates the school consistently provides quality education that prepares graduates for careers in their chosen field. Attending an unaccredited school will likely disqualify you from federal and state financial aid and usually prevents you from transferring earned credits to another learning institution.
Legitimate universities, colleges and online degree programs receive accreditation from agencies recognized by either the Department of Education or Council for Higher Education Accreditation. While no single accreditation agency oversees all criminology programs, some programs have obtained specialized accreditation through organizations like the Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences. Look for information on the program’s website indicating accreditation, then verify this information with the agency listed.
Employment Outlook for Master’s in Criminology Graduates
Job Placement: Master’s v. Bachelor’s
Because many jobs in the criminology field are specialized and highly competitive, obtaining a master’s degree over a bachelor’s degree makes you a more desirable candidate. This is especially true in laboratory settings, such as forensic science, or when you specialize in a niche field, such as toxicology, ballistics or forensic odontology.
Earning a master’s in criminology can potentially boost your salary by establishing new career paths and promoting career growth. Entry-level positions in criminology seldom require a master’s, but many advanced criminologist positions do. Many agencies often show preference to candidates with advanced degrees, even in low-level positions. To learn more about typical salaries, consider these salary ranges for various positions you may qualify for with your master’s in criminology.
|Job Title||Salary Range|
Where you live can also have a huge impact on your salary in the criminology field. Detective and criminal investigators are some of the higher paid professionals in this field, but you could earn even more as a criminal investigator in one of these top-paying states.
Top 5 States for Detectives and Criminal Investigators
Below is a map of mean wages for detectives and criminal investigators nationwide.
Detectives and Criminal Investigators Mean Wages by State
Figures in US Dollars per year
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics
Based on your specialization, criminologists with an online master’s degree can pursue highly varied career paths. Career opportunities can be found on the local, state and federal levels and with private companies, laboratories and research departments at educational institutions. Law enforcement agencies and government employers especially seek out criminologists possessing graduate degrees with specialties in a variety of fields.
|JOB TITLE||JOB DESCRIPTION||MEDIAN SALARY||PROJECTED GROWTH RATE|
|Sociologist||Criminology is a discipline within the field of sociology, so sociologists who specialize in the scientific study and analysis of crime and criminal behavior are criminologists and often work in law enforcement, laboratories or academia.||$79,650 per year||7%|
|Forensic Scientist||Forensic science technicians aid criminal investigations by collecting and analyzing evidence for law enforcement agencies and often specialize in either crime scene investigation or laboratory analysis.||$57,850 per year||17%|
|Private Detectives & Investigators||Private detectives search for information about financial, legal and personal matters, often conducting surveillance and collecting evidence to present in court, and can work for individuals, lawyers or businesses.||$50,700 per year||11%|
|Detectives & Criminal Investigators||Detectives and criminal investigators investigate suspected criminal activity, collect evidence, conduct interviews, observe human behavior, make arrests and testify at trials. Criminal investigators can work on the local, state or national level and are typically referred to as agents or special agents at state and federal agencies.||$79,970 per year||5%|
Networking and making professional connections are important no matter what field of expertise you pursue in criminology. Joining professional organizations is one way to keep abreast of what’s going on within the industry, find job opportunities and sometimes obtain professional credentials. These are some of the top organizations for individuals with a master’s in criminology.
American Board of Criminalistics: This organization can help promote your professional development through peer-based certification that recognizes you’ve attained the necessary qualifications to work in one or more branches of criminology.
American Academy of Forensic Sciences: This multidisciplinary organization provides leadership and promotes professionalism, education, competency and integrity while fostering research and encouraging collaboration in the forensic sciences.
American Society of Criminology: This international organization maintains a professional employment listing service on its website and conducts annual meetings to discuss topics of general interest and sponsor an employment exchange. Members also receive professional journals and a newsletter that contain valuable industry information.
Financing Your Online Master’s in Criminology
Getting a master’s degree in criminology online is less expensive than traditional on-campus classes, but many students still require financial assistance. If you’re in need of financial aid, start with the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to explore numerous grants, loans and other financial aid options available through the federal government. State-based financial assistance and private grants and scholarships may also be available to cover the cost of undergraduate and graduate studies in criminology. Read through the resources below for information on various ways to finance your higher education.