The 9 Best Criminal Justice Schools


Are you passionate about law and preventing crime? Curious about how punishment and prisons work? Then a criminal justice degree would probably be a good fit for you.

But how can you find good criminal justice schools to apply to?

In this article, we go over what criminal justice schools are, why people choose to earn degrees in the field, and how you can learn to identify top criminal justice schools, both in-person and online. We then give you a list of

our picks for the nine best criminal justice schools.

What Is Criminal Justice? Overview

Before we look at the best criminal justice schools, let’s go over what exactly the criminal justice field entails.

Criminal justice is the study of the criminal justice system,

which includes law enforcement, correctional facilities and institutions (e.g., jails, prisons, and juvenile detention centers), criminal courts, and all the roles within these systems.

Criminal justice degrees differ from degrees in criminology.

Criminology is a social/behavioral science that focuses on the scientific study of delinquency and crime,

including why people commit crimes and how we might be able to prevent them. On the other hand,

criminal justice focuses more on the practical side,

including what types of crimes take place, how courts and prisons work, the role of the police, etc.

Despite the differences between these two fields,

there’s often some overlap in terms of topics and courses.

Some schools offer degrees that combine both criminal justice and criminology. For example, the University of Missouri—St. Louis offers

a BS in Criminology and Criminal Justice


What Are Criminal Justice Schools?

For the sake of this article, we’ll be defining criminal justice schools as

any institutions that offer a criminal justice degree program

(and usually a criminal justice department or college).

You can look for criminal justice schools in a specific area of the US using the website

All Criminal Justice Schools

. Just type in your zip code to get a list of schools that have criminal justice degrees. Alternatively, you can browse criminal justice schools by state on

Criminal Justice Degree Schools


Criminal justice schools generally offer a mix of criminal justice degrees,

which can include certificates/diplomas, associate degrees, bachelor’s degrees, master’s degrees, and doctorates in criminal justice or a related field.

Many criminal justice schools also have the option to

earn a degree in criminal justice entirely online.

This can be convenient for those who find it difficult to attend classes in-person and who would prefer the flexibility of an online program.

So what exactly do you learn in a criminal justice program? You’ll usually cover topics that span the broader fields of sociology, psychology, political science, philosophy, and public administration.

Most criminal justice programs require you to take classes on the American legal system, judicial administration, the police, legal issues, ethical concerns, and juvenile delinquency.


Many criminal justice majors move on to a career in law enforcement.

Why Go to a Criminal Justice School?

Many people choose to attend criminal justice schools to not only learn about the criminal justice system, but to also get a job that utilizes the knowledge and skills they’ve acquired in their degree program.

A degree in criminal justice can help prepare you for any of the following jobs:

  • Bailiff
  • CIA agent
  • Correctional officer
  • Crime scene investigator
  • DEA agent
  • FBI agent
  • Fraud investigator
  • Police officer
  • Private detective
  • Probation officer
  • Secret Service agent
  • Security guard
  • State trooper

Though many of these jobs require just a high school diploma,

having an associate or bachelor’s degree in criminal justice could help you stand out from candidates and raise your potential for higher wages and promotions.

Moreover, some people get a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice to lay the foundation for getting a graduate degree in

a related field such as law.

The following table depicts the median salaries for various criminal justice-related jobs, along with each job’s minimum required degree and employment growth rate for the years 2016-2026.

Data comes from the

US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)

. Jobs are arranged from highest salary to lowest. Note that the

average employment growth rate is 7% for all jobs,

so any job that has a rate higher than this is growing faster than average.

Job Title

Minimum Degree Required

Median Salary (2019)

Job Outlook (2019-2029)

Doctoral or professional degree $122,960 4%

Master’s or doctoral degree $83,420 4%

Police and Detectives
High school diploma or college degree $65,170 5%

Criminal Justice and Law Enforcement Teachers, Postsecondary
Master’s or doctoral degree $72,890 15% (

all postsecondary teachers


Forensic Science Technicians
Bachelor’s degree $59,150 14%

Probation Officers and Correctional Treatment Specialists
Bachelor’s degree $54,290 4%

Private Detectives and Investigators
High school diploma $50,510 8%

Correctional Officers and Bailiffs
High school diploma $45,300 -7%

Security Guards and Gaming Surveillance Officers
High school diploma $29,710 3%

As you can see above, generally speaking,

the more education you have, the higher the salary you’re likely to earn.

This isn’t just true for the criminal justice field but for



According to

a BLS report

, there’s a clear trend with grad-degree holders making more money on average than bachelor’s and associate degree holders. Furthermore, bachelor’s and associate degree holders typically make more than those with only a high school diploma.

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Which Criminal Justice Schools Should You Apply To?

Now that we’ve gone over what kinds of jobs you can get with a criminal justice degree, let’s take a look at how you can figure out which criminal justice schools and programs are top-quality.

A great criminal justice school will have most or all of the following qualities:

  • A department or college specializing in criminal justice or criminology
  • A variety of criminal justice-related classes
  • Faculty with expertise in criminal justice and related topics, such as sociology and psychology
  • A high graduation rate
  • Professional and/or research opportunities

Generally speaking,

there is no notable difference in quality between a traditional in-person criminal justice program and an online one.

If you prefer the idea of earning your bachelor’s or master’s degree online, (accredited!) criminal justice online schools can be a great choice.

I suggest

browsing the

US News

list of the best graduate online criminal justice programs

to get a feel for what schools offer strong online programs.

Most high-quality criminal justice schools offer equally high-quality online programs. These can be either bachelor’s or master’s programs.

Note that you cannot earn a doctorate through criminal justice online schools. Any school offering this option is most likely a scam and won’t actually reward you with a legitimate doctorate.

If you decide to get your criminal justice degree online, great!

Just be aware that there are a few disadvantages to doing so.

For one, you likely won’t get to network as much with professors and students as you would with a traditional program. Secondly, some employers might look down on an online degree (though this really depends on the employer—most should not care how you got your degree as long as it’s legitimate!).

Overall, there are a lot of factors that go into picking the right criminal justice program for you.

Now, let’s take a look at the best criminal justice schools, both in-person and online.


The 9 Best Criminal Justice Schools, In-Person and Online

There are many criminal justice schools in the US, both in-person and online. But which ones are the best? We’ve looked through several rankings lists of the best criminal justice schools to come up with our own list below of

nine top criminal justice schools.

These criminal justice schools were judged primarily on the following factors:

  • Rankings of traditional and online programs by websites such as



    US News
  • Overall program/school reputation and prestige
  • Whether or not the school has a dedicated department or school to criminal justice studies
  • Diversity of majors and courses offered in criminal justice and related fields
  • Breadth of faculty’s areas of expertise

Note that the nine criminal justice schools below are not listed in any particular order. Also, these schools include grad programs as well as online programs in criminal justice and related fields.

CUNY John Jay College of Criminal Justice

—New York, NY

A premier criminal justice school, the

CUNY John Jay College of Criminal Justice


home to 13,000 undergraduates,

41% of whom are majoring in criminal justice.

Other popular majors include criminology and forensic psychology.

John Jay offers many criminal justice majors,

with concentrations ranging from crime control and prevention to theory and practice.


several criminal justice graduate programs are available.

At the master’s level, you can study criminal justice, international crime and justice, and forensic psychology, among several other related programs. At the doctoral level, your options are criminal justice or psychology.


John Jay Online

—the college’s distance-learning branch—allows you to earn an MA in either Criminal Justice or International Crime and Justice

entirely online.

Northeastern University

—Boston, MA

Established in 1967,

Northeastern’s School of Criminology and Criminal Justice


a top institution for criminal justice studies.

Here, students get the benefit of

smaller-sized classes

and have the opportunity to work directly with faculty on research projects.

Professors specialize in a variety of criminal justice-related topics, from criminal law and terrorism to trafficking, juvenile justice, and incarceration. What’s more, the interdisciplinary array of majors and minors

allows you to combine criminal justice with other fields

such as computer science, psychology, cybersecurity, and political science.

The school offers a criminal justice student advisory council and honor society, as well as a variety of

criminal justice MS, JD, and PhD programs.

Pennsylvania State University

—University Park, PA

Penn State’s Department of Sociology and Criminology

is home to

one of the best criminology programs in the country (

ranked #5 by

US News


With this highly ranked bachelor’s program, you’ll learn everything there is to know for launching a career in criminal justice.

Topics of study fall

more along the lines of sociology,

including why people commit crimes, the criminal justice system, and social research methods.

There are two options for majors at this school:

  • BA in Criminology,

    which focuses on providing students with a broad liberal arts education

  • BS in Criminology,

    which helps students develop stronger science and research skills

If you would prefer to major in criminal justice specifically, Penn State offers a

top-ranked online Criminal Justice BS program


With this program, you’ll not only study criminology but also ethics, law, policing, alternatives to incarceration, and security.


Michigan State University



/Wikimedia Commons)

Michigan State University

—East Lansing, MI

Another well-regarded criminal justice school,

MSU’s School of Criminal Justice

gives students the option to earn a BS in Criminal Justice.

This bachelor’s program offers

an impressive breadth of classes

in topics such as criminology, investigation procedure, policing, juvenile justice, private security, corrections, violence against women, and cyber-crime.

MSU also offers

four study abroad programs

—specifically for criminal justice students—in the Caribbean, Australia, Madagascar, and the Philippines.

In terms of graduate study, your options include two master’s programs (in either criminal justice or forensic science) and a criminal justice doctoral program. You could also

enroll in MSU’s online criminal justice master’s program

, which is

ranked #10 by

US News

on its online graduate criminal justice programs list.

University of Cincinnati

—Cincinnati, OH


UC’s School of Criminal Justice

, you can

major/minor in criminal justice or paralegal studies.

The former is an interdisciplinary program that prepares students to work as court administrators, parole officers, criminal investigators, risk managers, etc. It is also

available entirely online,

so if you can’t make it to campus, you’re in luck!

In addition to these two undergraduate majors,

certificates are available

in the more specialized areas of forensic populations, cybersecurity, and correctional rehabilitation.

UC also offers

a master’s (in-person or online) and a doctoral program in criminal justice.

UC is currently

ranked #12 by

US News

for best online graduate criminal justice programs.

University of California, Irvine

—Irvine, CA

UC Irvine’s Department of Criminology, Law, and Society

offers prestigious undergraduate and graduate criminal justice

programs that consistently top

US News

ranking lists

(including Best Online Graduate Criminal Justice Programs, on which

UCI is currently ranked #1


The interdisciplinary department is the


criminology department among the UC schools, and it combines the study of criminology with law and society.

The faculty here specializes in an array of subject areas,

including psychology and law, race and justice, and gangs and crime.

The bachelor’s program in criminology, law, and society offers

classes that cover a multitude of topics,

such as social media and law, juvenile delinquency, law and inequality, gender and social control, and immigration and crime. It also

stresses the importance of field study,

often placing students in police departments, probation agencies, and public defenders’ offices.

Lastly, UCI offers a doctoral program in criminology, law, and society, as well as two online master’s programs: a Master of Advanced Study in Criminology, Law, and Society; and a Master of Legal and Forensic Psychology.


Sam Houston State University


J. Stephen Conn


Sam Houston State University

—Huntsville, TX

Located about an hour north of Houston,

Sam Houston’s College of Criminal Justice


a large array of criminal justice courses (both in-person and online),

the opportunity to study at local research institutes, and numerous

criminal justice scholarships.

The school has

tons of undergraduate and graduate degree programs,

including the following:

  • BA/BS in Criminal Justice
  • BA/BS in Victim Studies
  • MA/MS in Criminal Justice
  • MS in Forensic Science
  • PhD in Criminal Justice

You can also earn your degree online here.

Criminal justice programs offered online include the BA/BS in Criminal Justice, MS in Criminal Justice, and MS in Homeland Security Management. Sam Houston is currently

ranked #2 by

US News

for its online graduate criminal justice programs.

Florida State University

—Tallahassee, FL


Florida State College of Criminology and Criminal Justice

is home to

excellent criminology and criminal justice programs.

Currently, FSU is

ranked #8 by

US News

for its online graduate criminal justice programs and

#5 on the list of best criminology schools


FSU provides students with

numerous opportunities for real-world research

through its Center for Criminology and Public Policy Research. It also works in association with the Pat Thomas Law Enforcement Academy so that

students interested in becoming police officers can earn their State Officer Certifications along with their degrees.

Here, you can earn a bachelor’s in criminology and criminal justice in either a traditional or online program. Master’s and doctoral degrees in criminology and criminal justice are offered too; these include a fully online master’s and a one-year MS in Criminology.

University of Maryland

—College Park, MD

Home to the

#1 ranked criminology program

in the nation,

UMD’s Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice

is a fantastic choice for a criminal justice education.

In the BA in Criminology and Criminal Justice program, students take a variety of classes, covering topics such as corrections, policing, courts and sentences, and criminological theory.

UMD’s master’s degree program

prepares students for careers in private non-profit agencies, the government, and research institutes,

while its PhD program aims to help students become criminal justice scholars and teachers.


Conclusion: The Best Criminal Justice Schools

Criminal justice is a popular field of study because it can open up doors to a variety of jobs in law, government, security, etc. While similar to criminology, criminal justice is more about the study of the criminal justice system itself and less about


people commit crimes.

Criminal justice schools are

any schools that offer a criminal justice major—and better yet, a criminal justice department or school.

There are many kinds of criminal justice degrees, from associate degrees to doctorates. You can also

study an array of related fields at criminal justice schools,

such as criminology, criminal law, forensic science, sociology, and paralegal studies.

The best criminal justice schools will have a dedicated criminal justice department, lots of criminal justice-related courses, and stellar faculty. Furthermore,

criminal justice online schools can be just as good as,

if not better than, traditional criminal justice schools.

So if you’d rather earn your degree online, there are plenty of options out there!

After researching dozens of colleges,

we came up with a list of the nine best criminal justice schools.

These schools are excellent options for all types of students, whether you would rather earn a bachelor’s degree or a graduate degree, or prefer to study online over in-person.

In no particular order, here again are the nine best criminal justice schools:

  • CUNY John Jay College of Criminal Justice
  • Northeastern University
  • Pennsylvania State University
  • Michigan State University
  • University of Cincinnati
  • University of California, Irvine
  • Sam Houston State University
  • Florida State University
  • University of Maryland

No matter which of these schools you end up going to, you’re sure to get an amazing criminal justice education!

What’s Next?

Lots of people who study criminal justice go into criminal law.

Get the rundown of how pre-law works

and what you can do to prepare for law school, one step at a time.

Want more lists of the best schools and programs?

Then check out the

best pre-med schools

, the

best graphic design schools,

and the

best architecture schools


The majority of college applicants are high school seniors, and most of the college application advice out there is aimed at them. But what do you do if you don’t fall into this narrow category?

Our eBook on how to prepare for and apply to college as a nontraditional student will walk you through everything you need to know

, from the coursework you should have under your belt to how to get letters of recommendation when you’re not a high school senior.

Get eBook Now!