Online Law and Criminal Justice Degree Programs

Law and criminal justice professions have been glamorized by television series covering everything from forensic psychology and crimes scene investigations (think NCIS and CSI) to courtroom dramas like Suits. What you don’t see on TV is the work put in by the characters to obtain their criminal justice and law enforcement degrees.

With a population of over 327,000,000 people, as reported by the U.S. Census Bureau, you can imagine the number of personnel needed to keep the citizens of the country safe. With growing law enforcement budgets, agencies are very likely to see an increasing demand for qualified candidates.

Today’s criminals are often tech geniuses and therefore professionals in this field must be willing to adapt to changing technology to stay one-step ahead. Big data systems, drones, automated license plate scanners, GPS systems and gunshot technologies are just some of the high-tech sophistication being used to help officers on the street combat crime.

It’s not just the police systems that need to continuously expand their tech capabilities. Traditional law firms are seeing big changes in the way they operate. A 2017 article in the International Journal of Economics and Management Sciences states that globalization can lead law firms to adopt and provide services in multiple countries along with using social media to promote their services. Virtual law offices can mean that more lawyers may be able to freelance and work from home.

Those who are good communicators, detail-oriented and interested in different aspects of the law, including psychology, can be good candidates for a career in law and criminal justice, according to the College Board.Online degree programs allow high school graduates, working professionals and those with family commitments to maintain their busy lifestyles while earning the credentials needed to qualify for a variety of jobs in these fields.

Nearly all criminal justice and legal careers require some level of formal education, from certificate programs for court reporters to graduate and doctoral degrees that may be held by federal officers, judges and criminologists. Whether you are interested in law and criminal justice, forensics or protection and security, take a look below at the variety of online degree programs available to you.

Be sure to click on the buttons under each section to find data-driven insights that can help you as you consider the variety of online degree programs in law and criminal justice.

Explore our list of top online college choices, crafted using factors that prospective online students should consider to maximize their distance education experience.

Online Law and Criminal Justice Degree Programs

Graduates of criminal justice degree programs may find jobs in police and court-related occupations, administrative positions in law and in the field of criminal justice as probation officers and correctional treatment specialists. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the continuing need for safety by citizens is likely to lead to new openings for police officers.

Explore your options in online criminal justice and law enforcement degree programs by clicking on the buttons below. This can help you compare the different degree programs by coursework, salaries, jobs you may qualify for and the career outlook.

Online Protection and Security Degree Programs

Public safety is of paramount importance especially in today’s often chaotic world. Occupations that contribute to the protection and security of citizens may involve apprehending criminals or responding to local, state or national emergencies, while others may offer support services. According to the BLS, the demand for protective and security occupations is expected to grow as fast as the average for all occupations in the decade leading up to 2026.

By clicking on the buttons you can gain insights on the typical coursework by degree level, the kind of jobs you might be able to qualify for, typical wages related to each degree program. 

Online Forensics Degree Programs

The BLS predicts that forensic technologists may be able to add more value to the investigation of crimes due to advances in technology and the increasing reliability of forensic evidence. It also predicts that the employment of forensic technicians may increase by 17 percent over the decade leading up to 2026, which is much faster than the average for all occupations.

Click on the buttons below to explore these online degree programs in forensic sciences. Find information related to salaries you might be able to expect, top occupations related to each degree program, and coursework you may encounter.

With the large number of criminal justice and law degree programs available online, it can be difficult to choose one that best caters to your needs. In order to help you choose, we’ve ranked colleges based on criteria like the ratio of undergraduate students participating in distance education to total enrollment, in-state tuition, financial aid, credit for life experience and more. Have a detailed look at our methodology at the bottom of the page to be assured that these are the best online colleges for you to consider.

Top Colleges for Online Associate Degrees in Law and Criminal Justice

Associate degrees require a minimum of two years to complete and can help you find entry-level roles in the legal system.

Top Colleges for Online Bachelor’s Degrees in Law and Criminal Justice

Bachelor’s degree programs typically take full-time students four years to complete. Degree programs with a law and justice major may allow you to choose a specialization based on your interests.

Top Colleges for Online Master’s Degrees in Law and Criminal Justice

Master’s degree programs in criminal justice may take you about two years to complete while a professional law degree can take three years. Over 35 percent of law agency CEOs have earned a master’s degree making it an important degree to hold if you want to climb the career ladder.

The BLS reports that the employment of law and criminal justice occupations is expected to grow as fast as the average for all occupations from 2016 to 2026 with a strong demand for paralegals and legal assistants as law firms attempt to increase their efficiency. What are the highest-paying jobs in law enforcement? Take a look at the table below using data from the BLS to describe the top occupations with the average wages and projected employment growth for each.

Occupations In-Demand for CRIMINAL-JUSTICE-LEGAL-SAFETY
Job Openings
Median Salary
Typical Entry Level Education
Administrative Law Judges, Adjudicators, and Hearing Officers80097,870Doctoral or professional degree
Compliance Officers30,70069,050Bachelor's degree
Criminal Justice and Law Enforcement Teachers, Postsecondary1,70062,860Doctoral or professional degree
Emergency Management Directors90074,590Bachelor's degree
Fish and Game Wardens50057,500Bachelor's degree
Forensic Science Technicians2,40059,150Bachelor's degree
Judges, Magistrate Judges, and Magistrates1,500136,910Doctoral or professional degree
Judicial Law Clerks80054,010Doctoral or professional degree
Law Teachers, Postsecondary2,200113,530Doctoral or professional degree
Lawyers45,700122,960Doctoral or professional degree
Legislators4,30029,270Bachelor's degree
Loan Officers29,90063,270Bachelor's degree
Paralegals and Legal Assistants40,40051,740Associate's degree
Probation Officers and Correctional Treatment Specialists8,20054,290Bachelor's degree

Methodologies and Sources

See Methodology Information Here

To be included in our rankings for the top colleges for online degrees in law and criminal justice by degree level all colleges had to meet the following 4 requirements:

  • Offer a degree or certificate program in that subject, either in an online or hybrid format
  • Have at least 1% of students attending some form of distance education
  • Have awarded at least one degree or certificate in that subject in 2015-16
  • Have reported data for all 19 ranking variables for associate/bachelor’s and 11 ranking variables for master’s (listed below)

We then ranked colleges and universities in the United States that fit our criteria, using 2016-17 data from the National Center for Education Statistics and the weights specified. The final totals were:

  • 259 colleges for online associate degree in law and criminal justice
  • 232 colleges for online bachelor’s degree in law and criminal justice
  • 125 colleges for online master’s degree in law and criminal justice

We then scored the final list of colleges by degree level on a 100-point scale using these specific data points:

Associate/Bachelor’s

  1. Associate’s/Bachelor’s Program prominence, based on how many of the degrees and certificates awarded via distance education in 2016-2017 were in this particular subject
  2. Ratio of undergraduate students participating fully or partially in Distance Education to Total Enrollment
  3. Average in-state tuition for undergraduates
  4. Retention rate
  5. Percent of undergraduate students awarded federal, state, local, institutional or other sources of grant aid
  6. Average amount of federal, state, local, institutional, or other sources of grant aid awarded to undergraduate students
  7. Student-to-faculty ratio
  8. Variety of Programs, based on the number of similar topics for programs in relevant CIP codes that are offered via distance education at any level
  9. Total electronic library collections, including digital books, databases, and media
  10. The availability of any tuition plans (Payment, Guaranteed, Prepaid, Other)
  11. Services (Academic/Career Counseling, Placement for Completers)
  12. Credit offerings (Dual, Life, AP, Military)

Master’s

    1. Master’s Program prominence, based on how many of the degrees and certificates awarded via distance education in 2016-2017 were in this particular subject
    2. Ratio of graduate students participating fully or partially in Distance Education to Total Enrollment
    3. Average in-state tuition for graduates
    4. Credit offerings (Life, Military)
    5. Services (Academic/Career Counseling, Placement for Completers)
    6. The availability of any tuition plans (Payment, Prepaid, Other)
    7. Total electronic library collections, including digital books, databases, and media

Methodology Sources

        • Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) 2016-17, National Center for Education Statistics, http://nces.ed.gov/ipeds/

Sources

      • Forensic Science Technicians, Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/life-physical-and-social-science/forensic-science-technicians.htm, accessed October 2017
      • Full-Time Employees in Law Enforcement Agencies, 1997-2016, Bureau of Justice Statistics, U.S. Department of Justice, August 2018, https://www.bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/ftelea9716.pdf
      • 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
      • How Much Do U.S. Cities Spend Every Year On Policing?, Forbes, August 2017, https://www.forbes.com/sites/niallmccarthy/2017/08/07/how-much-do-u-s-cities-spend-every-year-on-policing-infographic/#b528e34e7b7d
      • Justice and Law Majors: The Basics, BigFuture, The College Board, https://bigfuture.collegeboard.org/explore-careers/college-majors/justice-and-law-majors-the-basics, accessed October 2018
      • Lawyers, Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/legal/lawyers.htm, accessed October 2017
      • Legal Occupations, Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, April
Source: 2019 Occupational Employment Statistics and 2018-28 Employment Projections, Bureau of Labor Statistics, BLS.gov.
Methodologies and Sources