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Online Degrees in Criminal Justice


Article Sources
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  • Associate Degree| Criminal Justice, Ashworth College, https://www.ashworthcollege.edu/associate-degrees/criminal-justice/, accessed October 2018
  • Bachelor's Degree| Criminal Justice, Ashworth College, https://www.ashworthcollege.edu/bachelors-degrees/online-criminal-justice-degree/, accessed October 2018
  • BS in Criminal Justice, Southern New Hampshire University, https://www.snhu.edu/online-degrees/bachelors/bs-in-criminal-justice, accessed October 2018
  • Gardiner, C., Policing around the Nation: Education, Philosophy, and Practice, 2017,https://www.policefoundation.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/10/PF-Report-Policing-Around-the-Nation_10-2017_Final.pdf
  • Legal Occupations, Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, April 2018, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/legal/home.htm
  • Major: Criminal Justice, BigFuture, The College Board,https://bigfuture.collegeboard.org/majors/security-protective-services-criminal-justice-corrections-criminal-justice, accessed October 2018
  • Master of Science in Criminal Justice, Capella University, https://www.capella.edu/online-degrees/masters-criminal-justice/, accessed October 2018
  • Online Master of Arts in Criminal Justice, Arizona State University, https://asuonline.asu.edu/online-degree-programs/graduate/master-arts-criminal-justice, accessed October 2018
  • Paralegals and Legal Assistants, Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook,https://www.bls.gov/ooh/legal/paralegals-and-legal-assistants.htm, accessed October 2018
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  • Private Detectives and Investigators, Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/protective-service/private-detectives-and-investigators.htm, accessed October 2018
  • Policy Brief: Top Trends in State Criminal Justice Reform, 2017, The Sentencing Project,https://www.sentencingproject.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/01/Top-Trends-in-State-Criminal-Justice-Reform-2017.pdf
  • Probation Officers and Correctional Treatment Specialists, Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook,https://www.bls.gov/ooh/community-and-social-service/probation-officers-and-correctional-treatment-specialists.htm, accessed October 2018
  • Protective Service Occupations, Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, April 2018,https://www.bls.gov/ooh/protective-service/home.htm
  • Security Guards and Gaming Surveillance Officers, Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/protective-service/security-guards.htm, accessed October 2018
  • State Trends in Law Enforcement Legislation 2014-2017, August 2018, National Conference of State Legislatures, http://www.ncsl.org/documents/cj/StateTrends_LawEnforcement_final.pdf
  • Undergraduate Certificate in Criminal Justice, Liberty University Online Programs,https://www.liberty.edu/online/government/bachelors/certificate/criminal-justice/, accessed October 2018
  • Undergraduate Certificate| Criminal Justice, Ashworth College, https://www.ashworthcollege.edu/undergraduate-certificates/criminal-justice/, accessed October 2018
  • PhD in Criminal Justice, Walden University, https://www.waldenu.edu/online-doctoral-programs/phd-in-criminal-justice, accessed October 2018
  • Doctorate Degree in Criminal Justice, MSU Criminal Justice, https://cj.msu.edu/programs/doctorate/, accessed October 2018
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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.

The overall theme of state legislative trends from 2014 to 2017 has been improving police-community relations in order to create safer communities and increase police effectiveness.

An online criminal justice degree can open up the path to a number of careers, working with different demographics of people in diverse aspects of the criminal justice system. They may also work for private organizations. Some occupations and their related duties include:

Probation officers, who are typically involved in:

  • 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

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.

Career
Employment
(2018)
Average Salary
(2018)
Projected Job Growth
(2016 - 26)
Criminal Justice and Law Enforcement Teachers, Postsecondary14,890$72,39012.5%
Police and Sheriff's Patrol Officers661,330$65,4007%
Probation Officers and Correctional Treatment Specialists87,660$58,7905.7%
Source: 2018 Occupational Employment Statistics and 2016-26 Employment Projections, Bureau of Labor Statistics, BLS.gov.

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:

Probation Officers and Correctional Treatment Specialists
Education Level Required & Percentage of Respondents
Some college
7%
Bachelor's
86%
Masters
14%
Source: 2018 Occupational Information Network (O*NET), U.S. Department of Labor, onetonline.org

The following sections outline the various criminal justice degrees you can pursue online and what you can do with them.

Law enforcement agencies are taking advantage of emerging technologies such as body-worn cameras and drones.

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
  • Corrections

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:

  • Bailiff
  • Correction facility officer
  • Police officer
  • Security guard

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

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
  • Victimology
  • 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

Watch This Success Story: Former UN police officer pulls off two online degrees under pressure

Video_Image
"Mike Sanchez had a challenging career as an international police officer working for the United Nations Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK), but his lack of a degree was standing between him and career advancement. So Sanchez turned to online education to help him earn two criminal justice degrees and further his career. Find out how he pulled off his perfect GPA while working abroad as a UN police officer"     — Mike Sanchez


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
  • Profiler

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

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.

Specializations

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:

  • Corrections
  • Criminology
  • 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:

Employment Statistics

Probation Officers and Correctional Treatment Specialists

Industries with the highest concentration of employment
  • State Government, excluding schools and hospitals
  • Local Government, excluding schools and hospitals
  • Facilities Support Services
  • Individual and Family Services
  • Outpatient Care Centers
States with the highest level of employment
  • California
  • Texas
  • New York
  • Pennsylvania
  • Florida
Top-paying metropolitan areas
  • Sacramento-Roseville-Arden-Arcade, CA
  • Anaheim-Santa Ana-Irvine, CA Metropolitan Division
  • Bakersfield, CA
  • Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario, CA
  • Oakland-Hayward-Berkeley, CA Metropolitan Division

Detectives and Criminal Investigators

Industries with the highest concentration of employment
  • Federal Executive Branch
  • State Government, excluding schools and hospitals
  • Local Government, excluding schools and hospitals
  • Postal Service
  • Psychiatric and Substance Abuse Hospitals
States with the highest level of employment
  • Texas
  • California
  • New York
  • Florida
  • Arizona
Top-paying metropolitan areas
  • Nassau County-Suffolk County, NY Metropolitan Division
  • Washington-Arlington-Alexandria, DC-VA-MD-WV Metropolitan Division
  • San Francisco-Redwood City-South San Francisco, CA Metropolitan Division
  • Los Angeles-Long Beach-Glendale, CA Metropolitan Division
  • Oxnard-Thousand Oaks-Ventura, CA

Police and Sheriff's Patrol Officers

Industries with the highest concentration of employment
  • Local Government, excluding schools and hospitals
  • State Government, excluding schools and hospitals
  • Federal Executive Branch
  • Colleges, Universities, and Professional Schools
  • Junior Colleges
States with the highest level of employment
  • California
  • Texas
  • New York
  • Florida
  • Illinois
Top-paying metropolitan areas
  • San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, CA
  • San Francisco-Redwood City-South San Francisco, CA Metropolitan Division
  • Vallejo-Fairfield, CA
  • Napa, CA
  • Oxnard-Thousand Oaks-Ventura, CA

Criminal Justice and Law Enforcement Teachers, Postsecondary

Industries with the highest concentration of employment
  • Junior Colleges
  • Colleges, Universities, and Professional Schools
  • State Government
States with the highest level of employment
  • North Carolina
  • New York
  • Texas
  • Florida
  • California
Top-paying metropolitan areas
  • Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario, CA
  • Providence-Warwick, RI-MA
  • Des Moines-West Des Moines, IA
  • Sacramento-Roseville-Arden-Arcade, CA
  • Orlando-Kissimmee-Sanford, FL

Source: 2016 Occupational Employment Statistics, Bureau of Labor Statistics, BLS.gov.

There are plenty of scholarships and financial aid programs available for students of online criminal justice programs. Check with your college or university to see what financial aid they can offer you. Here is a sampling of some scholarships pertaining to the field:

Other resources

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