Your Complete Guide to

Masters in Criminal Justice

Online Masters Degree
on February 13, 2024

Why We Love It

  • Interesting Topics
  • Competitive Salaries
  • High Job Satisfaction
  • Many Career Options

* The Why We Love It section is solely based on the opinion of's Editorial Team. Any salary & growth research or estimates should be referenced further at the Bureau of Labor and Statistics data published at for your specific desired career.

What is an MCJ Degree?

Keeping people safe is the most important function of government, and it takes many people to ensure that our criminal justice system works properly.  These people include police officers, prosecutors, defense attorneys, judges, prison wardens, and those who help to rehabilitate and reintegrate reformed criminals into our society.

MCJ stands for Master of Criminal Justice, a professional degree in the field of criminal justice–which is related to but different from criminology, the study of crime as a social phenomenon. Making sure that individuals who break the law receive the right punishment is important for the healthy functioning of society.

This requires the involvement of different governmental agencies and organizations. Other important aspects include the prevention of further crimes, the rehabilitation of convicted offenders, and support for victims.

In the US, the criminal justice system comprises three main parts: law enforcement agencies, courts and lawyers, and institutions that detain and supervise offenders (such as prisons and probation agencies). These three elements work together to maintain the rule of law and guarantee the safety of our society.

A Master of Criminal Justice will teach you about key discipline areas of criminal justice, which may include forensic psychology, justice administration, correctional counseling, homeland security, crime prevention, crime scene investigation, and public safety.

Recommended Schools

What Can You Do With a Master of Criminal Justice?

The possible futures for someone with an MCJ can be very fulfilling and even exciting!

An FBI agent investigates a crime scene, noting similarities to those from another scene left by a suspected serial killer. A prison warden implements a new educational program to lower recidivism rates.  A victim advocate helps a victim return to some sense of normalcy after an armed robbery. These are all potential futures for someone with a Master’s in Criminal Justice.

As the criminal justice system becomes more complex, getting a Master’s degree in Criminal Justice (MCJ) can equip you with the skills and knowledge you need to succeed in law enforcement, corrections, or victim advocacy.

These are only a few examples. The possibilities are endless. You get to choose what you’ll do, and you don’t have to know what that is right now. An MCJ could give you the tools you need to do a wide variety of jobs, so you’re not committing to a career before you even finish your degree.

Best Programs for Master of Criminal Justice

Here’s the best part: We’re going to give you the secrets to finding the best programs for adults, programs that could help you get your MCJ degree faster and with as few headaches as possible.

We know planning for college can be confusing, and is dedicated to helping you find the right path for you so that you can complete your degree and start your new career as soon as possible.

Why We Love an MCJ Degree

  1. Competitive salary:  Criminal justice professionals with master’s degrees are often better paid than their counterparts with bachelor’s degrees. Pursuing a Master’s degree in Criminal Justice can lead to higher-paying jobs and advancement opportunities in your desired field.
  2. Excellent growth potential: There will always be a need for criminal justice professionals. The criminal justice industry offers many chances for career growth, especially in fields such as cybersecurity and national security. As there is a high demand for professionals in these areas, getting an MCJ degree can be a wise decision to help secure a position in the field.
  3. Feeling good about yourself: An MCJ is a great way to give back to the community and help ensure the safety of those you care about.
  4. Lots of options:  An MCJ degree could be your gateway to a wide variety of career paths. If you have a Master’s degree in Criminal Justice, you may be qualified for different jobs, such as working for the government in law enforcement, courts, correctional facilities, and other similar fields.

Online vs. Traditional Campus

Most people who think about going back to school and getting their MCJ never even get started.  Not only are there various entrance hurdles like exams and application fees, but it’s also tough to make school work around your schedule. This can even be more challenging for someone with personal and family commitments.

Right?  Well, not exactly . . . Or, at least, it doesn’t have to be.

With adult-friendly schools, there is really no reason not to go back to school anymore.

What makes a school adult-friendly?  Here are a few key attributes:

  • Totally online.  Online learning is best for busy adults, who have to balance their ongoing education with work, kids, and everything else that comes with being a grownup.  When you choose to study at an online college, you can customize your learning experience to match your daily routine and personal preferences.
  • Can offer accelerated programs, with ongoing enrollment. What’s better than getting your master’s in two years?  Getting it in fourteen months.  And with ongoing enrollment, you don’t have to wait until fall or spring to start on your new journey; many schools offer monthly enrollment periods, meaning you can start whenever it works for you.
  • Can offer more support than traditional schools. Additionally, online universities typically offer dedicated teams and resources available 24/7 to support students in managing their coursework and addressing any other challenges they may encounter. Because, at the end of the day, isn’t that why you’re going back to school?

Recommended Schools

Admissions Requirements for Master of Criminal Justice

So what do you need to go to grad school?  You need to take the GRE or another entrance exam, right?

This is an old-fashioned way of thinking about it . . . which is great news for you!

Many adult-friendly schools do not require GRE or entrance exams.  Online programs generally require only a bachelor’s degree to get started, and there are no application fees to worry about.  You start when you’re ready.

Master of Criminal Justice Curriculum

As mentioned above, a Master of Criminal Justice degree will teach you about several key aspects of criminal justice.  These may include but are not limited to, topics such as forensic psychology and anthropology, crime analysis, law, administration, and leadership and executive management.  These areas of knowledge are essential to helping keep people safe from crime and helping you to help others in your community.

What Courses Will I Take in My MCJ Program?

Because the criminal justice system is so crucial and complex, the core curriculum of an MCJ program will cover the major areas in the field.

Examples of courses include:

  1. Criminology: While criminology is generally considered distinct from criminal justice, it is important to understand the major criminological theories and how they are applied to the field of criminal justice.
  2. Correctional Theory: This would explore the basic theories of corrections and how they apply to prisons, probation programs, and other areas of our justice system.
  3. Crime Mapping: Geography can play an important part in crime, and the proper application of data analysis is important to making policy decisions.
  4. Juvenile Justice: This would likely provide an overview of the complete juvenile justice system, from arrest to trial to corrections.  At-risk children often need to be diverted and/or rehabilitated from criminal lifestyles in order to put them on the right track and lower the crime rate overall.
  5. Cybercrime: Technology has forever changed the face of crime, and it will continue to do so.  Digital forensics, international law, and cybercrime policy are all important to understand.
  6. Terrorism: Just as technology has changed the face of crime, terrorism has evolved in recent years, and homeland security is of the utmost importance.

Specializations and Concentrations 

While a Master of Criminal Justice (MCJ) is the most common professional degree of public health, there are other post-graduate degrees in the field with different specializations and concentrations.  These include:

  • Master of Arts in Criminal Justice (MACJ): This usually involves a more humanities-based curriculum, teaching you about the law, public policy, and the administration of law enforcement agencies.
  • Master of Science in Criminal Justice (MSCJ): As you can probably guess, this degree has a more scientific focus and may allow or require a specialization such as cybercrime, forensic anthropology, or crime scene investigation.

You may find that one of the above degrees is for you, but an MCJ will often combine both of these approaches into a more comprehensive degree, offering you the best of both worlds!

You could also find that a different, MCJ-related degree is a better fit for your career of choice.  Examples include:

  • MS in Counterterrorism: This specialized degree could focus on terrorism, cybercrime, and/or the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (WMDs).
  • MS in Forensic Psychology: This combines criminal justice with psychology in order to analyze, respond to, and hopefully predict criminal behavior.
  • MS in Corrections: With over two million people in jails and prisons in the US alone, there are correctional positions that require advanced training in law, management, and the rehabilitation of prisoners.

Master of Criminal Justice Program Length

Most Master of Criminal Justice programs require between 36 and 40 credits to graduate.  Normally, an MCJ program takes about two years to complete.  An accelerated plan, however, could take closer to half that time.

This is where adult-friendly schools really shine.  They know their students have jobs, kids, and other obligations that make a traditional school schedule unrealistic.  Schools that are geared toward adults understand that these students have other obligations, such as work and family, and so offer programs and resources to help them reach their academic objectives as conveniently and effectively as possible.

Choosing the Right University or College MCJ Program

Choosing the right school for you can be exciting, but it can also be a hassle.  Tuition costs, application fees, accreditation, enrollment windows, and entrance exams are just some of the variables to consider.

That’s why we created the Smartplan. We want to help people go back to school, to make college more accessible and affordable for everyone.  With our Smartplan, we make it easy for you to start on your path towards your Master of Criminal Justice degree.

Here are just some of the benefits of your Smartplan:

  • No application fees
  • Accredited colleges and universities
  • No entrance exams or testing
  • Faculty and professors who understand adults
  • Discounts and scholarships available
  • Open enrollment dates

Recommended Schools

Best Jobs for Those With a Master of Criminal Justice

What can you do with an MCJ?  What kind of salary can you expect?  Here are some common careers for MCJ holders, with salary data estimates provided by the Bureau of Labor Statistics:

  • Police Detective:  As you probably know, this is a specialized police officer who conducts investigations to solve or prevent crimes.  You could make anywhere from $40,420 to $105,540 per year.
  • Police Supervisor:  This is someone who manages a police force.  You might be a lieutenant, detective sergeant, or even the chief of police.  You could make anywhere from $51,790 to $159,850 per year.
  • FBI Agent:  The Federal Bureau of Investigation is one of the top crime-fighting and intelligence agencies in the world.  You could make anywhere from $42,880 to $135,530 per year.
  • Prison Warden:  It is important that someone who understands prisoners’ problems is in charge of their welfare and rehabilitation. You could make anywhere from $45,180 to $82,900 per year.
  • Paralegal:  Lawyers and law offices need educated people working for them since lawyers are ultimately responsible for all of their work.  You could make anywhere from $36,410 to $88,640 per year.

Despite the mentioned career options, earning an MCJ degree is still advantageous, as it equips you with a variety of skills applicable to various roles in the criminal justice sector, offering good income along with work that is a positive contribution towards society.

The best careers are those that pay well AND let you feel fulfilled by giving something back.  And again, you don’t need to know right now which job you want.  These are just some of the possibilities you can choose from.

Cost and Tuition

Cost and tuition vary from school to school, and you’ll want to speak with each of your prospective schools directly. Fortunately, schools that cater to adult learners often understand that students need affordable options, and may offer financial assistance to those who qualify.

Online schools, in particular, are also often less expensive than traditional colleges. You’ll definitely want to speak to a few schools, and can help you with that.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Q: Do I need to know what job I want before I start an MCJ program?

A: No!  An MCJ program could prepare you for a wide variety of careers.  You certainly don’t need to know what job you want today.

Q: Will I make more money with an MCJ?

A: That depends on a variety of factors.  But as you can see above in the “Best Jobs for Those With a Master of Criminal Justice” section, your MCJ could mean excellent earning potential.

Q: How long will I be in school?

A: That could depend on you, your current job, and any other obligations you might have.  An MCJ program could take anywhere from one to three years, but our Smartplan is designed to help you find the right degree for you, so you can finish as quickly as possible!

How to save time and money

Our mission is to help you to avoid paying full price for college. We want your Masters in Criminal Justice degree to be affordable and accessible. Here’s how you could save:

Create Your Free SmartPlan

There are many ways to make college affordable and accessible.

That’s why we created a helpful tool called SmartPlan.

It’s free, and helps you find potential ways to save and tons of information about each school you’re considering

Think of it as your “college blueprint”, to help you instantly craft a path to your degree:

  • Which Colleges Match Your Needs
  • Ways You Could Save Time & Money
  • Free Courses You Could Take for Credit
  • Valuable Data and Insights on Each College
  • Detailed Steps You Should Take!

See what’s possible for you and generate a free plan within just a few minutes

Create My SmartPlan

You Might also be Interested in

Many visitors who look for a degree in Masters in Criminal Justice are also interested in the following degrees.

About the Author
Grant founded with a purpose-driven mission: make college accessible and affordable for everyone. After graduating college with an overwhelming amount of debt, he was determined to change how students embark on their education. He's a frequent speaker and author in higher education, and has been featured in Forbes, Bloomberg Businessweek, Business Insider, American Express, AOL, MSN, Thrive Global, Reader's Digest, Inside Higher Ed, Evolllution, EducationDive, and nearly 100 radio shows and podcasts.

Start Towards Your Masters in Criminal Justice Degree, Free.

Generate your free SmartPlan™ to identify schools you like, and potential ways to save on your degree or certification program with courses, offers, and much more!

Get Started