How Long Does it Take to Earn a Master’s in Criminal Justice?

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If you have an undergraduate degree in criminology, psychology, sociology, or history under your belt and you’re exploring your options for higher education, you might consider pursuing a master’s degree in criminal justice. While many people today are interested in careers preventing crime, thanks to the many TV dramas and the surging popularity of true crime podcasts, there is still plenty of room for entrants into this fascinating field.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics forecasts that jobs in protective service occupations will increase 5 percent between 2016 and 2026. Federal government agencies like the FBI, CIA, and DEA are a major culprit of this increase, opening up positions like criminal profilers, security managers, and criminologists to potential recruits that hold advanced degrees.

A master’s degree in criminal justice can also qualify job-seekers for management roles like correctional officer supervisor and police and detective supervisor, as well as responsibilities such as organizing and leading the teams that support these essential branches of security.

Students enrolled full time generally complete the degree in about two years, on average. Some full-time online degrees can be finished in 12 or 18 months and with part-time enrollment, in about three years. It all depends on the number of credit-hours that the program requires, which can range from 30 to more than 50, as well as the number of credit-hours that a student takes per semester.

Below, we’ve listed some prominent programs that offer master’s degrees in criminal justice—fully online programs, partially online programs, and on-campus only programs—showing the range of different tuition costs and credit-hours that each requires.

Here is an overview of various MSCJ programs’ lengths, tuition costs, and accreditation entities.

One-Year Master’s Programs in Criminal Justice

University of Memphis – MA in Criminal Justice

Full-time students can complete this online master of arts in criminal justice program in as few as 12 months at a very reasonable cost. Some of the courses include drug misuse and abuse, forensic sciences, corporate and white collar crime, terrorism in social and legal perspective, substantive criminal law, issues in constitutional rights, capital punishment in America, and research methods in criminal justice. This prepares students for careers in policing strategies, corrections, capital punishment, violence, gangs, addiction, and international crime.

  • Duration: 33 credits, One year
  • Cost: $17,405
  • Accreditation: Commission on Colleges of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools
  • Format: Online or on-campus

DeSales University – MA in Criminal Justice

DeSales University is a private Catholic university in Pennsylvania known for its security-focused programs, including homeland security, law enforcement, firefighting and related protective services. It offers a few different specializations at the graduate level in criminology: a master’s in criminal justice (general) and a master’s in criminal justice (digital forensics).

  • Duration: 30 credits, one year
  • Cost: $22,650
  • Accreditation: Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE)
  • Format: Online or on-campus

Two-Year (or Less) Master’s Programs in Criminal Justice

University of California, Irvine – Master of Criminology, Law, and Society

For those who are concerned about the industry clout that an online school holds, this university’s program is a good bet. The University of California, Irvine is renowned for its law school, which offers a stellar online master’s degree program in criminal justice—the first online program that the school ever premiered. It’s even ranked third in the U.S. among criminology and criminal justice online master’s degree programs by U.S. News and World Report.

Though the majority of the program can be completed online, students do have to take a course in residence on the UCI campus at the beginning of their first semester: an introduction to criminology, law, and society. However, the on-campus residency is only five days long. The rest of the program can be completed anywhere that the student can access the Internet. Students will take a range of courses, including white collar and corporate crime, hate crime, cybercrime, and U.S. immigration.

  • Duration: 52 credit-hours, two years (part-time)
  • Cost: $27,948
  • Format: On-campus or online with one campus residency
  • Accreditation: Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WSCUC)

University of Central Florida – MS in Criminal Justice

The University of Central Florida offers its own fully online criminal justice master’s program for the more budget-conscious student. The university is ranked as a “best-value university” by The Princeton Review and Kiplinger, and one of the nation’s most affordable colleges by Forbes. Classes include data analysis in criminal justice, american criminal courts, and foundations of law enforcement. Students choose whether to complete a six-credit thesis or to take additional electives. Should they choose the former option, this helps cut down the length of the degree.

It’s also worth noting that the University offers a similar program, the public administration MPA – criminal justice MS dual degree track, which provides students the opportunity to earn graduate degrees from two academic programs, the master of public administration and the master of science in criminal justice. This one is also offered fully online. It would be of interest to those who want to veer towards the public administration route, compared to the general master’s degree in criminal justice.

  • Duration: 36 credit hours, 18 months to two years (full-time)
  • Cost: $11,700 (residents); $25,000 (non-residents)
  • Format: On-campus or online
  • Accreditation: Commission on Colleges of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools

University of Maryland, College Park – MA in Criminal Justice

The U.S. News and World Report ranks the UMD College Park’s criminal justice program as the best in the nation, designed to give students a foundation in criminology and criminal justice research, enabling them to pursue research positions in government, non-profit agencies, or research institutes. It also serves as a foundation for students to continue their education in PhD programs.

  • Duration: 30 credit-hours, two years
  • Cost: $21,930 (residents); $48,750 (non-residents)
  • Format: On-campus
  • Accreditation: Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE)