Learn How to Earn a Master's in Criminology Online

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

Should I Pursue a Master's in Criminology Online?

Students who pursue a master's in criminology typically hold undergraduate credentials in an area such as criminology, criminal justice, forensic science, or psychology. Some students transition directly into graduate school after earning their bachelor's, since careers in areas such as management and postsecondary teaching require research experience and advanced skills. Master's students may also be working professionals who want to advance or change their career.

Accredited online criminology master's programs cater to students with a variety of personal backgrounds and professional goals. In addition to affordable tuition rates, distance programs typically include asynchronous courses and flexible scheduling options that help students balance school, work, and family obligations. Students can take classes part time, earning their master's in 3-4 years. Other learners enroll in accelerated or degree completion programs and graduate as quickly as one year.

The criminology and criminal justice fields include job opportunities in scientific research, law enforcement, education, and policy analysis and advisement. Students who have not chosen a career path can seek guidance from faculty, academic advisers, and professional organizations.

Employment Outlook for Master's in Criminology Graduates

Master's in Criminology Salary

Professionals who complete online criminology master's programs often qualify for more job opportunities and higher pay. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, master's degree holders earn a median of $12,000 more per year than bachelor's degree holders. Professionals with graduate credentials also benefit from significantly lower unemployment rates.

Earning potential varies based on industry, employer, geographic location. The table below aggregates BLS data to illustrate the difference in annual mean wages among police officers and detectives in the top-paying states. Students should also consider total employment numbers, which provide information about overall job availability in the state. In addition to location and industry, individual qualifications and experience affect a professional's salary.

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 Crime Scene Investigators

  • Entry-Level (0-5 Years):
    $40,000
  • Mid-Career (5-10 Years):
    $51,000
  • Experienced (10-20 Years):
    $55,000
  • Late-Career (20+ Years):
    $53,000

Source: PayScale

Master's in Criminology Careers

Students pursuing a master's degree in criminology online learn to analyze and explain deviant and criminal behavior using multidisciplinary theories. Many criminology graduates secure positions in the criminal justice field, such as police officer, state trooper, crime scene investigator, and government agent. Graduate training also prepares distance learners for careers as college instructors and research criminologists. Unlike law enforcement positions, academic roles typically provide stable work schedules and settings.

Police Officer or Detective

Annual Median Salary: $62,960

Projected Growth Rate: 7%

Police officers work in local and state law enforcement agencies to protect property and lives. They respond to distress calls, patrol designated areas, and conduct traffic stops, issuing citations and tickets as necessary. Detectives focus on criminal investigations, securing crime scenes and gathering evidence. During case preparation, detectives interview persons of interest and observe the activities of suspects.

Correctional Treatment Specialist

Annual Median Salary: $51,410

Projected Growth Rate: 6%

Working in prisons or external criminal justice centers, correctional treatment specialists evaluate and advise parolees and probationers. These specialists partner with other corrections professionals to develop rehabilitation and release plans for clients. Correctional treatment specialists connect ex-offenders with educational opportunities, career training, and independent living resources. These professionals often specialize in fields such as family services, juvenile justice, addiction, and mental health.

Crime Scene Investigator

Annual Median Salary: $45,068

Projected Growth Rate: N/A

After securing designated areas, crime scene investigators identify, gather, and secure physical evidence. Like other law enforcement professionals, crime scene investigators may interview witnesses and suspects and act as experts during trials. A science-focused degree qualifies crime scene investigators to work as forensic technicians and scientists, who conduct DNA testing, retrieve fingerprints, and create toxicology reports.

Postsecondary Teacher (Criminal Jusitce and Law Enforcement

Annual Median Salary: $60,400

Projected Growth Rate: 12%

College and university professors provide students with classroom instruction and laboratory training. Outside of class, postsecondary teachers advise theses, dissertations, and research projects and help students find internships. These professionals conduct their own research, publish scholarly articles, and attend conferences and summits. They also perform administrative tasks within their departments, such as updating curricula and recruiting students.

Criminologist

Annual Median Salary: $41,992

Projected Growth Rate: N/A

Criminologists often act as research scientists within laboratories and academic institutions, discovering new knowledge about the causes and consequences of criminal behavior. Criminologists may apply their skills to law enforcement roles as police officers, criminal investigators, and forensic specialists. Criminologists often earn optional certifications and licensure to demonstrate specialized skill sets.

Sources: Bureau of Labor Statstics / PayScale

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

Accredited online criminology master's programs typically require at least 30 credits, which most students complete in two years. Curricula differ by program, but students generally complete major classes, specialized coursework, electives, and a practicum. Below are five courses students commonly take while earning an online master's degree in criminology.

Curriculum for an Online Master's Degree in Criminology

Criminological Theories

Students examine major theories that explain the causation, development, and enactment of criminal behavior. In addition to studying relevant sociological and psychological theories, students draw on contemporary case studies to conduct their own research. Learners also analyze the inequalities embedded in the relationship between crime, societal systems, and law enforcement.

Policy Analysis

This course is crucial for all criminologists, particularly for those working in government agencies and the judicial system. The course covers the creation of social, legislative, and judicial regulations and the effect of policies on individuals and communities. Students examine the parts of the criminal justice system and learn how each part operates independently and interconnectedly.

Research Methods

In addition to gaining a foundation in statistics and data analysis, students in this class learn to design research projects that align with professional code of conduct and ethical standards. Students develop skills in causal analysis, data collection methods, and reliability and validity testing. This course includes crucial training for aspiring postsecondary teachers, researchers, and criminal justice reform activists.

Corrections: Theory and Practice

This class examines institutional and community-based corrections programs. Students focus on public sector management, including organizational goal setting, agency administration, program evaluation, and client supervision. Learners analyze cultural and political challenges related to corrections, including budgeting and shifting state and federal regulations. Additional topics include mental health, riots, probation and parole, and external contracts.

Intelligence and National Security

Schools commonly offer this course as part of a homeland security or cybersecurity concentration. Students learn how the U.S. government forms and operates national and global intelligence networks. Learners explore widespread threats such as trade secret thefts, global terrorism, and economic and industrial espionage. They also examine the emergence of digital crime and its countermeasures.

Certifications and Licenses a Master's in Criminology Prepares For

  • Law Enforcement Training: Aspiring police officers must pass an entrance exam, the structure and content of which vary by state and jurisdiction. Candidates must complete local or regional police academy training, which includes classes in best practices and government regulations. Trainees also undergo physical conditioning and tactical training. While most states do not require police officers to hold a college degree, higher education can qualify professionals for leadership positions and careers in corporate security and consulting.
  • Certified Corrections Professional: Facilitated by the American Correctional Association, this credential demonstrates a professional's understanding of nationally recognized corrections procedures. The program includes self-study coursework, following by a four-hour, proctored exam. In addition to a progressive generalist track, candidates can pursue specialized certification in healthcare, juvenile justice, or adult corrections. Certificates are valid for three years, and corrections officers must complete continuing education hours to renew their certification.