Earning a Master’s in Criminal Justice Online

What You’ll Learn & What You Can Do After Graduation

Should I Pursue a Master's in Criminal Justice Online?

A master's degree increases your career options, improves your chances for advancement within your chosen career path, and usually leads to a commensurate rise in salary as well. A master's degree also means an added two or three years of postgraduate study, depending on your enrollment status.

As a busy criminal justice professional, taking time off from work for that length of time may not always be an option. However, pursuing an online criminal justice master's degree gives you the chance to enroll in a postgraduate program without leaving your job. Additionally, you can focus your studies and take only the courses that support your career objectives. A master's degree in criminal justice opens up managerial and leadership positions, or it can position you for employment in a new field in the industry. If you are a disciplined and determined student with good time management skills and a passion for criminal justice work, an online master's in criminal justice may be right for you.

Employment Outlook for Master's in Criminal Justice Graduates

Master's in Criminal Justice Salary

The tables below show the salary and employment data for one sector of criminal justice professionals -- detectives and members of the police force. The first table shows that police and detectives earn an annual mean wage of $83,320; this is much higher than the median annual wage of $50,620 for all workers. The second table illustrates how salary levels frequently rise in proportion to the number of years of experience, which holds true for the majority of careers in the criminal justice field and in other industries as well.

Top Paying States for Police and Detectives

State Employment Annual Mean Wage
Alaska 100 $116,130
California 11,700 $103,810
New Jersey 3,090 $100,980
Maryland 950 $99,880
Virginia 3,360 $94,800
United States 105,350 $83,320

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistic

Pay by Experience Level for Police and Detectives

  • Entry-Level (0-5 Years):
  • Mid-Career (5-10 Years):
  • Experienced (10-20 Years):
  • Late-Career (20+ Years):

Source: PayScale

Master's in Criminal Justice Careers

A master's program will challenge you, and this is true whether you choose to pursue an on-campus or an online criminal justice master's degree. After you complete the program, you can take advantage of a variety of career options in several professional arenas. A master's degree in criminal justice provides graduates with career advancement opportunities in the criminal justice field itself, in academia, and in the security industry. Listed below are some of the career opportunities a graduate with master's in criminal justice can pursue.

Police Officer or Detective

Annual Median Salary: $62,960

Projected Growth Rate: 7%

Police officers and detectives carry out a range of investigative responsibilities, including collecting evidence, interviewing witnesses, obtaining warrants, making arrests, and maintaining a clean chain of evidence. Professionals in this capacity who also hold a master's degree in criminal justice often assume leadership roles during active investigations because of the skills and knowledge they gained from their postgraduate study.

Correctional Treatment Specialist

Annual Median Salary: $51,410

Projected Growth Rate: 6%

Correctional treatment professionals assist offenders in custody by making sure they have access to timely and appropriate social services. Those who have a postgraduate degree in criminal justice often oversee the work of less experienced personnel and ensure they have proper training and work clearance. They are more involved in policy shaping and assume greater operational responsibilities.

Probation or Parole Officer

Annual Median Salary: $51,410

Projected Growth Rate: 6%

Probation officers supervise individuals who have been placed on probation rather than meted a prison sentence, while parole officers work with released prisoners who are still on parole. Both types of officers ensure individuals in their charge do not violate their probation or parole by working with them to meet the terms of their conditional statuses. Master's degree holders in this field often assume supervisory duties.

Sources: BLS / PayScale

What Can I Expect From an Online Master's in Criminal Justice Program?

Colleges and universities that offer both on-campus and online criminal justice master's programs often follow the same curriculum for both programs. Each school develops its own roster of required coursework for its students, but most schools offer the same or similar foundational courses in criminal justice listed below.

Curriculum for an Online Master’s Degree in Criminal Justice

Criminal Law and Procedure

This course provides a solid foundation for criminal justice students open to pursuing a law degree at some point in their career. It typically covers topics such as due process requirements, criminal responsibility, a survey of recent judicial decisions, and procedural requirements for processing criminal offenders.


This course provides criminal justice professionals who work closely with criminal offenders with the insight they need to carry out their duties. Parole or correction officers especially benefit from studying topics such as the causes of criminality, biological components of criminal behavior, crime statistics, the history of criminal thought, and theories of criminal behavior.

Ethics and Justice

Students learn about fundamental ethical systems and how these relate to the criminal justice field. They study the ethical considerations typically faced by criminal justice players such as judges, defense lawyers, prosecutors, and law enforcement agents. Students can apply the learning objectives of this course to just about any criminal justice career.

Public Policy and Criminal Justice

This course gives students the chance to examine the different aspects of the criminal justice system (law, politics, the courts, corrections) as they are affected by policy changes. Students tackle various issues, such as racism in the criminal justice system, and explore ways to address these issues on the policy-making level.

Survey of Criminal Justice

In this course, students gain an overview of the American criminal justice system. They explore a variety of topics including theories of criminal behavior, U.S. crime statistics, trends in criminal behavior, technology and crime, and terrorism. Learning outcomes from this general course benefit future criminal justice professionals in almost any subfield they pursue later on in their career.

Certifications and Licenses a Master’s in Criminal Justice Prepares For

  • Certified Criminal Justice Addictions Specialist: The National Association of Forensic Counselors administers this certification program. Applicants for the clinical-level certification must have at least a master's degree and three years (6,000 hours) of supervised professional experience. This certification presents the holder to be qualified to work with incarcerated adult and/or juvenile criminal offenders with addiction issues.
  • Criminal Profiler Professional Certification: Administered by the International Association of Forensic Criminologists, this certification requires applicants to have a bachelor's or master's degree in a behavioral or social science field, which includes criminal justice. Additionally, applicants must complete at least 40 hours of IAFC-led workshops, pass the Profiling General Knowledge Exam and the board examination administered by IAFC, and submit two completed criminal profiles.

Professional Organizations and Resources

In a challenging and fast-paced field like criminal justice, professional organizations help their members stay on top of their profession by providing them with opportunities to learn from one another, as well as from experts in the industry. Most professional associations sponsor annual conferences where members network, attend workshops, collaborate, and generally support and encourage each other. Some organizations offer continuing education units, maintain an active career center on their websites for members, and publish scholarly journals on the latest developments and advances in the field.

  • American Correctional Association: ACA maintains a professional development department that provides onsite training, online courses, and conference workshops on effective workplace techniques and the latest developments in the corrections field.
  • Academy of Criminal Justice Science: Individual members can access a job board with openings posted by ACJS institution members. In addition, ACJS publishes several scholarly publications on criminal justice including one focusing on criminal justice education.
  • National Association of Chiefs of Police: Membership is open to professional security practitioners with command rank positions. NACOP has an award program for law enforcement officers and supports a police canine program. They also provide funding for officers disabled in the line of duty as well as scholarship opportunities for their children.
  • National Association of Forensic Counselors: NAFC allows members in good standing to take up to three continuing education courses without charge. It publishes The Forensic Professional, produces webinars, and provides web-based training on relevant issues for members.
  • National Criminal Justice Association: NCJA maintains an online community called Connect2Justice, where its members can network, locate funding opportunities, find current job leads, and collaborate. It also sponsors a yearly forum on criminal justice that focuses on emerging issues in the industry.
  • ACJS List of International Journals: Criminal justice professionals can read about the latest research findings, news, and developments in the field from all over the world by browsing through the online publications on this list.
  • Department of Homeland Security Blog: Criminal justice practitioners focused on national security will find the latest news and updates on a range of homeland security issues including civil liberties, immigration services, and border security.
  • National Criminal Justice Reference Service: The NCJRS website provides criminal justice students and professionals with the latest news and information on organizations, events, funding opportunities, and publications all focused on the criminal justice field.
  • National Institute of Justice Publications: NIJ maintains an expansive online library of its journals and publications on a range of criminal justice topics that can be useful for referencing in academic papers or professional documentations.
  • Professional Associations of Criminology: The American Society of Criminology maintains this list of national and international professional criminal justice organizations. The active links provide immediate access to each organization's website.

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