Online Master’s Degree in Criminology

Are you fascinated by crime and forensic investigation? An online master’s degree in criminology can help you turn your interest into a career. A degree in criminology is multidisciplinary, Combining sociology, political science, forensics, law, and psychology, a master’s degree in criminology takes a multidisciplinary approach to crime as a social phenomenon. By researching criminal patterns and predicting trends, criminologists help safeguard communities. While many criminologists take positions in academia or law enforcement, others pursue additional education to work in forensic science or psychology.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects stable job growth for sociologists — including criminologists — over the next 10 years.

Criminology is a highly competitive field, but also a fairly stable one. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects stable job growth for sociologists — including criminologists — over the next 10 years. By earning an online master’s degree in criminology, you’ll stand out from other candidates in the field and qualify for a variety of challenging positions. In this guide, we’ll take a look at what you need to know about pursuing a master’s degree in criminology online.

Choosing a Master’s Degree in Criminology

While every online master’s degree in criminology curriculum centers upon the study of crime and punishment, no two online criminology degrees are exactly the same. Every program maintains different graduation requirements. Some master’s degree in criminology programs include a fieldwork component, or culminate in a thesis. Online criminology degrees offering a fast track to a Ph.D. may feature even more rigorous standards. Program cost also differs markedly between schools. Although distance learners avoid many of the fees associated with on-campus education, some institutions charge higher tuition rates for out-of-state students, even those earning an online master’s degree in criminology.

Despite these differences, nearly all programs share certain features and focuses. Criminology students learn to incorporate scholarly research methods, computer forensics, and statistical analysis as they study crime and punishment. On average, a criminology master’s degree consists of between 36 and 56 credit hours, and most programs take around two years to complete. However, some accelerated online programs are considerably shorter, letting distance learners earn a degree in one year to 18 months. Due to the field’s interdisciplinary nature, many students choose to pursue a dual degree.

Sample Courses for a Master’s Degree in Criminology

Like graduation requirements, course offerings vary from school to school. However, most online criminology degree curricula are built around critical concepts in social justice, law, statistics, and research methodologies. Regardless of which school you choose to attend, you’re likely to encounter some variation of the courses listed below.

Example Courses

Race, Ethnicity, Crime, and Social JusticeLearners explore the complex relationship between social policy, power structures, and racial inequality. Coursework offers valuable insight into the challenges underrepresented populations face as they interact with the criminal justice system.
Applied StatisticsWhile this course’s title tends to vary between institutions, most curricula include a class dedicated to statistical techniques and analysis. From detectives to forensic scientists, nearly all criminology professionals employ applied statistics in their day-to-day tasks.
Research MethodsPresenting basic research methodologies, this foundational course introduces the analytical strategies used to interpret criminological statistics and reports. Lectures explore quantitative and qualitative research methods commonly used in law enforcement and sociological contexts.
Sentencing and CorrectionsIdeal for prospective law enforcement professionals and correctional officers, this class offers a broad historical survey of corrections practices. Learners examine sentencing trends and reforms, both in the U.S. and abroad, as well as current issues and challenges related to prisons, probation, and parole conditions.
Cyber ForensicsAre you interested in becoming a forensic computer analyst or cybersecurity manager? Along with general computer security concepts, this course presents cutting-edge methods used to prevent cyberattacks, strengthen network systems, and deter hackers.

How Long Does It Take to Earn an Online Master’s in Criminology?

While most full-time students earn their online master’s in criminology in around two years. Learning studying on a part-time basis may spend more time on their degree, and programs that require a thesis or capstone project may take longer to complete. There are numerous factors that can influence degree length, including program structure, format, and delivery method. Asynchronous and self-paced programs feature fewer deadlines and looser schedules, letting students complete assignments as quickly as they like. Cohort-based programs, however, are more rigidly structured, and typically take longer to finish. Students in a cohort work alongside the same group of peers for a program’s duration, and are often required to be online at certain times. Individuals with transfer credits may also be able to shorten their graduation timeline.

What Do You Need for a Criminology Degree?

Learners who wish to pursue an online master’s degree in criminology are expected to hold a bachelor’s degree from an accredited school. While some institutions require applicants to hold an undergraduate degree in criminology or a related field, others will accept a bachelor’s in any area. Candidates without a background in criminology may be required to complete certain prerequisite courses, such as psychology, sociology, or political science. Other common admission requirements include letters of recommendation, personal statements or an essay, a resume, and undergraduate transcripts. Some colleges and universities request GRE test scores, or prefer candidates who maintain a certain GPA.

Employment Outlook for Master’s in Criminology Graduates

Thanks to the criminology programs’ multidisciplinary nature, students acquire a well-rounded education that encompasses many different fields. Armed with expertise in everything from criminal law to cybersecurity, graduates excel in the job market. A criminology master’s degree opens up a variety of career opportunities in academia, law enforcement, science, and government. Individuals with a master’s degree in criminology often work in university research departments, or take positions as assistant or adjunct professors. When combined with a dual major in science and technology, an advanced degree in criminology qualifies graduates for numerous technical roles. Job possibilities include cyber privacy technicians, forensic science technicians, and security analysts. According to the BLS, sociologists — and, by extension, criminologists — earn around $79,650 a year.

What Can You Do with a Degree in Criminology?

An online master’s degree in criminology instills many broadly applicable research and analytical skills needed to excel in a variety of careers. Criminologists’ daily responsibilities vary by position, but may include collecting data, conducting research, or even analyzing crime scenes. While many graduates pursue academic roles, others work in financial institutions, or take positions with law enforcement agencies, from local police departments to the FBI. Some find employment with the state or federal government. The following are just a few common career paths.

Fraud Investigator

Fraud investigators examine insurance, Medicaid, or accounting claims. They analyze evidence and conduct interviews to investigate potential fraud committed by individuals or organizations. While a bachelor’s degree is preferred but not required for the position, an online bachelor’s degree in criminology may offer candidates a leg up in the job market.

Forensic Psychologist

Criminologists who specialize in forensics often do so to become forensic psychologists. Working in prisons, hospitals, and courtrooms, they evaluate criminals and witnesses to determine if they are competent to stand trial. Forensic psychologists often provide expert testimony in criminal cases.

College Professor

Individuals with a master’s degree in criminology are qualified to teach at community colleges or become assistant college professors. Many teach introductory criminology courses, or conduct research within psychology or sociology departments.

U.S. Marshal

U.S. Marshals are servants of the federal courts. They are tasked with transporting prisoners to and from court, serving court papers, and protecting government witnesses. They may also work with other local and state agencies to apprehend fugitives. During natural disasters, U.S. Marshals perform rescue and recovery missions.


Criminologists analyze crime’s social impact and collaborate with the government or law enforcement agencies to develop prevention strategies and influence social policy changes. Working in prisons and jails, they gather and analyze crime statistics. Most hold a master’s degree.
Occupations and Salary for Online Master’s Degree in Criminology Graduates
Job TitleOverall Median SalaryMedian Salary for Entry-Level Employees (0-5 years)Median Salary for Mid-Career Employees (5-10 years)Median Salary for Late-Career Employees (>20 years)
Fraud Investigator$58,178$46,000$55,000$65,000
Forensic Psychologist$62,691$72,000$82,00$118,000
College Professor$87,556$71,000$86,000$99,000
U.S. Marshal$70,000$40,695$59,683$100,378
Source: BLS, May 2017

Licensure and Certification

There is no official license or certification for criminologists, and most gain employment by holding an advanced degree in the field. However, some graduates who wish to branch out into other fields, such as psychology or law enforcement, may pursue additional certification. If you want to work in a position that requires access to fingerprinting records or sensitive federal records, you will need a National Crime Information Center certification. Forensic technicians must be certified through the American Board of Criminalistics. And digital forensic technicians need a EnCase Certified Examiner certification to use professional forensic software.

Accreditation for Online Master’s in Criminology Degrees

Attending an accredited school is crucial to ensure that you receive a quality education. During the accreditation process, external organizations known as accrediting bodies evaluate an institution to confirm that the school is operating according to the highest standards. There are two types of accreditation: regional and national. Regional accrediting bodies typically assess public, academically focused colleges and universities, while vocational and trade schools usually receive national accreditation. Regional accreditation is generally viewed as more prestigious, and credits earned at regionally accredited institutions transfer easily to other schools, while those earned at nationally accredited schools do not.

The American Society of Criminology sets a code of ethics and general standards for criminology programs.

Certain programs or academic departments may also receive specialized, programmatic accreditation. Usually granted through professional or academic societies, programmatic accreditation is awarded according to discipline. The American Society of Criminology sets a code of ethics and general standards for criminology programs. The Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences and the American Society of Criminology merged in the 1970s to create the Joint Commission of Criminology and Criminal Justice Education and Standards.

Financing Your Online Master’s in Criminology

Most students fund their master’s degree in criminology through federal financial aid such as student loans, grants, and work-study opportunities. By completing a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), you can learn more about the types and amount of federal aid available to you. Many graduate students choose to take out low-interest federal loans. The Federal Perkins Loans Programs, or Perkins Loans, present graduate students with up to $8,000 a year and feature a 5% interest rate. Unsubsidized Stafford Loans hold a higher interest rate of 6%, but provide borrowers with up to $20,500 annually. Both are economical alternatives to private loans, which often come with interest rates as high as 8.875%.

Need additional financial aid? You may consider becoming a full- or part-time teacher’s aide or research assistant. Although these positions are limited, they often help cover a portion of your tuition. Your department head or financial aid office may provide further details. While relatively uncommon, paid criminology internships are another great source of funding, and provide hands-on experience as well as a paycheck. Finally, many schools, organizations, companies, and other groups offer scholarships, some of which are specifically offered to criminology students.

Criminology Scholarships

For many students, the cost of tuition is the greatest obstacle to attending graduate school. Because scholarships do not need to be paid back, they present a great way to pay for an online criminology degree without incurring debt. Scholarships may be used to cover the cost of tuition, books, and other education expenses. Here are a few national scholarships to consider:


National Grand Chapter American Criminal Justice Association- Lambda Alpha Epsilon $100-400

Who Can Apply: This scholarship is open to undergraduate and graduate students who are pursuing a criminal justice-related major and have completed at least two semesters. Applicants must be members of the ACJA/LAE or submit a new membership application when they apply for the award, and must hold at least a 3.0 GPA. View Scholarship

The Association of American Indian Affairs $1,500

Who Can Apply: Eligible applicants must submit transcripts, verification of tribal enrollment, and a two- or three- page essay. This scholarship is open to all full-time college students who are U.S. citizens and maintain a minimum GPA of 2.5. View Scholarship

American Society of Criminology’s Gene Carte Student Paper Competition $200-500

Who Can Apply: Full-time undergraduate and graduate students are invited to submit a criminological research paper of no more than 7,500 words. Students who have previously won the Carte Award are ineligible to reapply. The first place winner will received $500 toward travel costs to attend the society’s annual meeting. View Scholarship

Islamic Scholarship Fund $1,000-10,000

Who Can Apply: Want to influence social policy? Muslim students who are active in their communities and studying the social sciences, humanities, law, or liberal arts may apply for this scholarship. Applicants must have a 3.0 GPA and be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident. Along with an online application, candidates should provide a resume, video intro, essay questions, transcripts, work samples, and two letters of recommendation. View Scholarship

Ritchie-Sennings Memorial Scholarship $1,000-10,000

Who Can Apply: Sponsored by the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners, this scholarship is open to full-time undergraduate and graduate students who are interested in the field of fraud examination. Applicants must submit a scholarship application, transcripts, and two letters of recommendation. View Scholarship

Earning Your Doctorate in Criminology

Many online master’s degree in criminology programs put students on track to enter a Ph.D. program. Typically requiring around 70 to 72 credits, a doctorate in criminology usually takes about three to five years to complete. Ph.D.-level criminology programs center upon original research and advanced theoretical concepts. Graduates with a Ph.D. in criminology are qualified to work in upper-level research and academic positions, with many becoming professors of sociology, criminology, or criminal justice.

While individuals with a master’s degree may work as assistant professors, earning a median annual salary of $65,705, data from PayScale demonstrates that doctorate-holders bring in around significantly more — around $87,401 a year. A Ph.D. is often required to work as a forensic scientist, forensic psychologist, or forensic pathologist, and expert witnesses are usually expected to hold a doctoral degree in criminology.

Top Online Master’s in Criminology Programs