Online Criminal Justice Degree Programs
Why does someone commit a crime? What punishment do they deserve? Should they be in prison or a rehabilitation center? An online degree program in criminal justice can help you understand how society and its laws attempt to find solutions to these questions.
The criminal justice system is made up numerous individuals working in different capacities toward keeping the public safe — from police officers, detectives and probation officers to paralegals, lawyers and judges. The large variety of potential career paths available after earning an online criminal justice degree can make it an attractive option for individuals who have a strong desire to serve society, people skills and an interest in all aspects of the law.
An online criminal justice degree program can equip you with the knowledge you need for a career that helps keep people safe. So whether you are a recent high school graduate, a career-changer or a working professional, online criminal justice degree programs can work well if you find it impractical to attend classes in a traditional brick-and-mortar setting due to work and other commitments.
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- Experience world-class education online with more than 175 programs at associate’s, bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral levels.
- Apply eligible work experience and prior college credits toward up to 75% of your undergraduate degree.
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- Competency-based ExcelTrack™ programs may allow you to earn your degree faster and for less money
What Can You Do With a Criminal Justice Degree?
- Interviewing probationers and parolees, their friends and employers to assess their progress
- Evaluating probationers and parolees to chalk out the best rehabilitation path for them
- Testifying in court regarding offender backgrounds
Paralegals and legal assistants, who may focus on:
- Investigating, gathering facts and researching laws, regulations and legal articles relevant to a case
- Handling exhibits, taking notes, writing or summarizing reports to help lawyers during trials
- Scheduling interviews, meetings and depositions and drafting correspondence and legal documents
Security guards and gaming surveillance officers, who typically prioritize:
- Enforcing laws and protecting employer’s property
- Conducting security checks and controlling building access for employees and visitors
- Monitoring alarms, CCTV systems and responding to emergencies
Career Options for Criminal Justice Majors
Graduating from an online criminal justice program can allow you to follow a career path that meets your interests. The following table, using data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)outlines the various occupations you may have along with their average wages, the employment outlook and projected job openings.
Projected Job Growth
|Criminal Justice and Law Enforcement Teachers, Postsecondary||14,070||$62,860||8.1%|
|Police and Sheriff's Patrol Officers||665,280||$63,150||5%|
|Probation Officers and Correctional Treatment Specialists||88,120||$54,290||3.3%|
Choose a degree that can help you meet your career goals
Certificates or associate degree programs in criminal justice can be ideal for those seeking entry-level positions in the field and who want to enter the workforce as soon as possible while still pursuing their education. Education programs at these levels can also act as a first step toward earning more advanced degrees.
Bachelor’s programs can equip you for many careers in criminal justice and they typically allow you to choose a specialization in a field of your interest. Many federal agencies require their employees to have at least a bachelor’s degree.
Master’s degree programs can allow you to explore various supervisory and upper-management positions or even allow you open your own agency, if you should wish to.
Doctoral degree programs in criminal justice are considered the highest academic awards in the field. Those who hold doctorates are often considered the foremost experts in their fields.
Here’s an indication of the degree level requirement for probation officers and correctional treatment specialists based on a 2017 O*Net survey: Take a look at the education level most probation officers and correctional treatment specialists have:
Online Criminal Justice Certificate Programs
What can I expect to learn in an online certificate program?
Online criminal justice certificate programs can equip you with the essential critical-thinking skills necessary to work in the criminal justice system. Typical duration: Up to one year of part-time study General prerequisites: High school diploma or equivalent
Typical coursework: The topics you study can give you an understanding of the different facets of criminal justice. Examples of coursework include:
- Introduction to criminal justice
- Criminal justice writing and research
- Administration of justice organizations
- Judicial process
Possible electives: Private security; criminal law; policing
What can I do after earning a certificate?
A certificate in criminal justice can help entry-level workers get their first jobs in the field. You may need additional on-the-job preparation to work in some occupations. Potential occupations are:
- Correction facility officer
- Police officer
- Security guard
Online Associate Degrees in Criminal Justice
What can I expect to learn in an online associate degree program?
An online associate degree program in criminal justice can provide a fundamental understanding of the American justice system, including legislation, law enforcement, and crime prevention. Students typically examine the past, present, and future of the criminal justice process; explore current procedures and policies, and learn about emerging technology and trends in the field.
Typical duration: Two years of full-time study General prerequisites: High school diploma or equivalent
Typical coursework: Core curriculum can provide an overview of policing practices, court systems, and corrections, combining theoretical knowledge with practical examples. Examples of topics include:
- Ethics and the criminal justice leader
- Juvenile justice system
- Criminal procedure
- Criminal law
- International criminal justice
Possible electives: American policing; correctional systems; introduction to security What can I do after earning an associate degree?
With an associate degree, graduates can pursue entry-level positions in a broad spectrum of criminal justice careers. According to a 2017 study on the education of the police officers in the nation, more than half (51.8 percent) of sworn police offers hold an associate degree. Many find employment opportunities in the private sector or in local, state, and federal law enforcement. Occupations you may be eligible for are:
- Court reporter
- Gaming surveillance officer
- Legal assistant
- Private detective or investigator
Online Bachelor’s Degrees in Criminal Justice
What can I expect to learn in an online bachelor’s degree program?
An online bachelor’s degree program in criminal justice can help prepare students to face the complex challenges of the field by providing an understanding of the laws and correctional system in the United States, along with the motivations that typically drive criminals to commit various types of crimes.
Typical duration: Four years of full-time study
General prerequisites: High school diploma or equivalent
Typical coursework: Core subjects usually build on subjects covered in an associate degree program such as criminology, social science, law enforcement and the court system. Possible course topics include:
- Juvenile justice
- Probation and parole
- Introduction to terrorism
- Legal traditions
You may also have to complete a capstone project as a part of your online bachelor’s degree program in criminal justice. Possible electives: Psychopaths, sociopaths and serial killers; intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance; the victim and the justice system
What can I do after earning a bachelor’s degree?
Opportunities for bachelor’s degree holders can vary depending on a student’s area of specialization and whether the intention is to work at the local, county, state or federal level. For example, working for the federal government requires candidates to have a clean criminal record with no felony or drug convictions. Potential opportunities you may find are:
- Arbitrator, mediator, or conciliator
- Correctional treatment specialist
- Forensic science technician
- Probation officer
- Social worker
Online Master’s Degrees in Criminal Justice
What can I expect to learn in an online master’s degree program?
An online master’s degree program in criminal justice can offer advanced instruction in criminal justice policy and procedures. It can provide students with a deep understanding of criminal justice issues and a strong research foundation. Programs at this level are usually designed to prepare students for management roles in the criminal justice field.
Typical duration: Two years of full-time study
General prerequisites: Bachelor’s degree
Typical coursework: Core curriculum usually covers topics such as laws and ethics, research methods, criminology, and leadership. The courses below are some of the more common classes students can expect from an online master’s degree program in criminal justice:
- Criminal justice planning and program evaluation
- Applied data analysis in criminal justice
- Criminal justice policy and administration
- Crime intelligence analysis
- Justice, security, and democracy
You may have to complete a capstone project or an internship during the course of your master’s degree program. Possible electives: Offender treatment and rehabilitation; sociological criminology; community corrections
What can I do after earning a master’s degree?
Individuals who earn their master’s in criminal justice online may find work in a variety of different settings, including corrections, detective and investigative services, probation services, gaming surveillance, legal research or assistance, homeland security, or court administration. Potential occupations are:
- Intelligence analyst
- Operations officer
- Police chief
Online Doctoral Degrees in Criminal Justice
What can I expect to learn in an online doctoral degree program?
Online doctoral degree programs in criminal justice generally focus on research methods, statistical analysis, high-level management strategies, as well as theories and polices.
Typical duration: Four to seven years of full-time study General prerequisites: Master’s degree
Typical coursework: Students may have to take coursework on research methodologies and advanced topics in criminal justice. Some courses you may have to take are:
- Crime causation, prevention, and control
- Criminal justice organizations and processes
- Policy and analysis in criminal justice systems
Dissertation: Doctoral students typically have to complete a dissertation based on their original research after passing a set of qualifying examinations. They then have to defend their dissertation to a panel of subject experts.
What can I do after earning a doctoral degree?
Earning a Ph.D. in criminal justice could help graduates move into upper-level management roles in federal law enforcement, private security, correctional treatment and similar fields. They may also be able to move into research or academia. Potential occupations are:
- Bureau chief
- Government contractor
- Intelligence analyst
- Research consultant
- University professor
Accreditation is an important factor to consider while choosing from the various online criminal justice degree programs available. Accreditation is a voluntary process that institutions undergo to demonstrate that the education they offer is on par with professionally required standards. Institutions and programs may be regionally or nationally accredited by various accrediting bodies.
Enrolling in an accredited program can be an important prerequisite while applying for federal financial aid, grants and scholarships. Many professional certifying agencies may also require that you graduate from an accredited program.
Colleges that offer online criminal justice degree programs may allow you to choose from specialty tracks so you canpursue a career in areas of your interest. Some possible concentrations you may be able to choose from are:
- Homeland security and counterterrorism
- Human services
- Legal studies and advocacy
- Police administration and operations
Licensures and Certifications
You may need a license depending on the field of criminal justice you work in. For example, states typically require private detectives and investigators to be licensed. However, licensing laws vary across states and it is always a good idea to check with your state’s licensing board to make sure you comply with all the requirements. If your job requires you to carry a weapon, you also need to be registered with the appropriate agency in your state.
Professional certifications may be available for some occupations within the criminal justice sphere. While these certifications may not be mandatory, many employers prefer to hire individuals with professional credentials as they can serve to demonstrate competency in the field. Some professional certifications associated with the field of criminal justice are: