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Master of Science in Criminal Justice

The Department of Criminal Justice offers a comprehensive and flexible program leading to the degree of master of science in criminal justice. The curriculum provides an integrated appreciation of the entire criminal justice system and its relationship to crime in contemporary society.

Applicants for the master of science in criminal justice have the option to complete the degree fully online. And, by taking just two courses per semester, year-round, students can complete the master’s in just two years. The online program is identical to our traditional classroom-based program and focuses on a broad range of criminal justice issues, emphasizing both the problem of crime and the criminal justice system’s response to it. Students learn the latest evidence-based practices for crime control, how to understand and interpret data and how to find resources to implement innovative methods.

Students in the online master’s program enjoy the benefit of basic in-state tuition, regardless of the state in which they reside.

The master of science degree in criminal justice is designed to prepare students for positions in criminal justice and related agencies as well as prepare students who wish to pursue a Ph.D. in criminal justice or related fields

Students can choose from two options for completing the master's program: (1) a fully online program, or (2) a traditional class-room based program.

Students are provided with a broad educational foundation in criminal justice grounded in law and the social sciences. Study begins with an analysis of crime and the entire justice system. Advanced study inquires into the political, organizational, social, and behavioral aspects of various components of the system of criminal justice. Research courses give students the tools with which to independently analyze issues of crime and justice as well as the requisite skills for career development. Courses are offered in the following core areas: contemporary criminal justice, causes of crime, research methodology and statistics/data management and analysis, and a specialization of the student's choice.

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Degree requirements

The Master of Science degree is awarded upon successful completion of thirty (30) credits in selected course work, including required core courses (see below) and electives, as described in the student’s Plan of Work, and the satisfactory completion of either a master’s thesis, a master’s essay or a capstone seminar. All course work must be completed in accordance with the academic procedures of the College and the Graduate School governing graduate scholarship and degrees; see the Graduate Bulletin

The degree is offered to traditional students as a Thesis Option (Plan A), Essay Option (Plan B), or Capstone Seminar Option (Plan C). Fully online students are not eligible for the Thesis Option (Plan A), but may choose between the Essay Option (Plan B) or Capstone Seminar Option (Plan C).

Thesis Option (Plan A)

Thirty (30) credits in course work including a six-credit thesis. This plan is designed for traditional students who intend to pursue doctoral work in the social sciences and who demonstrate ability in research methods. Consult the Graduate Coordinator for further details.

Essay Option (Plan B)

Thirty (30) credits in course work, including a three-credit essay demonstrating substantial research and mastery of a selected topic.

Capstone Option (Plan C)

Thirty (30) credits in course work, including a three-credit capstone course requiring students to demonstrate their knowledge and analytic skills through a series of written essays on criminological and criminal justice theory, research methods, and public policy issues.

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Law course

Graduate students in criminal justice are expected to be familiar with legal reasoning and the content of American criminal and/or constitutional law.

Graduate students can fulfill the law course requirement in one of three ways: (1) an undergraduate course on the law taken as an undergraduate student; (2) an undergraduate course on the law taken as a graduate student; or (3) a graduate course on the law taken as a graduate student (which can be used as an elective under Area B). Acceptable previous courses that fulfill this prerequisite include: constitutional law, constitutional criminal procedure, substantive criminal law, corrections law, juvenile justice law, or criminal evidence and procedure. 

Not acceptable: business law courses, legal writing, research courses about the law (e.g., sociology of law, law society, jurisprudence) or courses about the legal process (e.g., courts, judicial process, wrongful convictions).

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Master's thesis

A master’s thesis is a demonstration of the student’s understanding of a topic and competence in research methodology. The purpose of a master’s thesis is to demonstrate a student’s ability to undertake original research on a topic in the field of criminology and criminal justice. Thesis research is guided by a committee of graduate faculty. 

Students planning on pursuing a doctoral degree (Ph.D.) or a career in research should consider the master’s thesis option (see master’s thesis guidelines for complete details).

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Requirements of the master’s thesis:

  • Six (6) thesis credit hours
  • Committee of three faculty
  • Oral defense of the thesis

Students are required to submit an electronic copy of their thesis to the Graduate Director for a plagiarism check. The thesis will be checked using Safe Assign in Blackboard, per Graduate School requirements. The Graduate Director will certify the thesis and, using either the Defense Final Report form or a memo, transmit the certification to the Graduate School.

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Master's essay

A master’s essay is a scholarly paper demonstrating a student’s understanding of the issues and research surrounding a particular topic in Criminology and Criminal Justice. The essay is guided by a faculty advisor. The finished product is an extensive paper that displays a thorough understanding and mastery of the research topic (see master’s essay guidelines for complete details).

Requirements of the master’s essay:

  • Three (3) credit hours
  • Essay advisor must be a full time faculty member (the essay advisor has final responsibility for grading the essay)
  • A reader may be assigned at the discretion of the essay advisor
  • Oral defense of the essay is optional but may be required by the essay advisor

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Master’s capstone seminar in criminal justice

This course serves as the capstone course for the master's degree. Students write essays demonstrating their knowledge and critical analysis of criminological and criminal justice theory, research methods, and public policy issues. Students must obtain a grade of B- or higher in the capstone course. Students are only allowed two attempts (withdrawals included) of the capstone course. The capstone class may be taken only in the last semester of the program. Students may take another class along with the capstone class in their final semester.


Elective courses

Elective courses (Area B) in the student's program are to be chosen after an advising session to determine a plan best fitting the student's educational and career goals. These courses will be specified in the student's Plan of Work (a sample Plan of Work form is attached to this Handbook).

Any graduate level course in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences may be taken for elective credit, with the consent of the Graduate Coordinator. In addition, courses in the School of Business Administration, the College of Education, or the College of Fine, Performing and Communications Arts may be of value. At least three elective credits must be from criminal justice (CRJ) courses.

Graduate level courses at Wayne State are at the 5000 level or above. Courses at the 5000 and 6000 levels are both graduate and senior undergraduate level. Courses at the 7000 level are solely master’s level courses and undergraduates are restricted from taking these courses. Courses at the 8000 level are both master’s and doctoral level, while 9000 level courses are designed for doctoral study; master’s students may enroll in these courses with an advisor's approval. No graduate credit is earned in courses taken at the 4000 level and below.

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Program Assessment: Report to Stakeholders

M.S. in Criminal Justice Program Assessment Report for Academic Year 2016-2017


Additional information

  • For more information, call 313-577-0772 or 313-577-1909
  • For complete program information, please consult the Graduate Handbook
  • For more information on the benefits of earning a Master's degree visit,


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