Written by James Mielke
June 29, 2022

Online Criminal Justice Degree

An online criminal justice degree introduces students to foundational elements of our judicial system, government, law, and law enforcement. In preparation for various jobs, including police officers, security professionals, and lawyers, a criminal justice degree provides graduates with the tools they need to enter the workforce and jumpstart their careers.

Throughout the following page, we explore the ins and outs of online criminal justice degrees and what you can expect when you begin an online program. We spotlight common criminal justice classes, various career options, and how you can fund your academic journey.

Keep reading to learn more about criminal justice degrees and how you can begin your career.

What Can I Expect From An Online Criminal Justice Degree?

Those pursuing an online criminal justice degree gain the theoretical and practical skills related to careers in fields like law enforcement and corrections. Additionally, this academic track is a popular option for students interested in pursuing a legal career. Whether pursuing a BA or BS degree in criminal justice, degree-seekers complete a mix of general education requirements, major coursework, and various elective classes.

Alongside general education requirements and core classes, many criminal justice programs offer academic concentrations. These specializations can include topics such as administration, computer science, forensics, and public policy.

Throughout an online criminal justice program, students traditionally complete about 120 credits before graduation. While varying between schools, many online programs accept a sizeable number of transfer credits—those with ample transfer credits can often complete major requirements in just a couple of years.

In addition to traditional coursework, many online criminal justice programs encourage students to complete an internship in a professional environment. An internship not only provides a first-hand glimpse into the inner workings of a criminal justice career, but this experience can help build professional connections and expand career opportunities.

When applying to your online criminal justice degree program, note that admission requirements can vary between schools. Prospective students traditionally submit an online application with official transcripts, letters of recommendation, standardized test scores, and an admission essay.

Keep reading as we highlight some common courses you can expect when completing your online criminal justice program.

Online Bachelor of Criminal Justice Coursework

Academic requirements can vary between criminal justice programs, but most require students to complete about 120 credit hours. In addition to general education and core classes, online students often complete courses in criminology, criminal law, and emergency management. Students also can tailor their curriculum to their academic and professional interests through various elective courses. 

We highlight some common criminal justice courses below.

Introduction to Criminal Justice

This foundational criminal justice class introduces students to essential topics relevant to careers at local, state, and federal levels. This course also reviews career options and the skills required for various law enforcement careers. 

Cultural Awareness in Criminal Justice

Throughout this course, students explore how various cultural elements impact issues within criminal justice and legal environments. Degree-seekers explore topics like implicit and explicit biases, their impact on interpersonal behavior, and how biases can influence relationships in communities.

Communication for Criminal Justice Professionals

Communication skills play a significant role in a profession, and this course allows learners to develop strong written, verbal, and non-verbal communication skills. Students explore interviewing techniques, crafting effective written reports, and communicating in high-stress situations.

Policing in the United States

This online course spotlights the history of policing in the United States, how it has evolved, and how that history impacts criminal justice issues today. Students also explore the value of community relationships and how they impact public safety. This course also provides an opportunity for students to hone various communication skills.

Contemporary Issues in Criminal Justice

This course introduces students to various contemporary issues in criminal justice spanning from the death of George Floyd to the need to prioritize emotional and mental health in the criminal justice field. This class also showcases the various ways technology has impacted criminal justice careers. 

Online Criminal Justice Bachelor vs Associate Degree

An associate degree focusing on criminal justice does offer individuals a pathway towards a career in law enforcement. Students pursuing an associate degree typically graduate after about two years of full-time attendance. During their tenure, associate degree-seekers complete a mix of general education and criminal justice major requirements. 

Many students use an associate degree as a first step toward earning a bachelor's degree in criminal justice. Earning an associate degree allows students the chance to complete a significant number of credits without paying the higher tuition rates associated with a four-year institution. Upon graduation, those with an associate degree can often complete a bachelor's degree in 18-24 months.

Those with a bachelor's degree in criminal justice typically have broader career options and earning potential. Additionally, those graduating with a bachelor of science in criminal justice can pursue graduate degrees in areas spanning from criminal justice to law. Additionally, the curriculum for a bachelor's in criminal justice allows students to choose academic specializations that can prepare them for specific career goals in areas like cybersecurity or law.

Regardless of which degree you choose, all higher education requires students to complete high school or a GED, and many programs require a minimum GPA to consider enrollment. Before choosing a criminal justice program, make sure your potential school has received accreditation.

Criminal Justice Career Paths

Career paths can vary for students graduating with a degree in criminal justice. Graduates often pursue careers within the criminal justice system in areas spanning from homeland security to public policy and work for local police departments, the FBI, or as a juvenile justice or correctional officer. Owing to this degree's significant number of academic specializations, graduates also hone skills essential to careers in cyber security or public policy. 

We spotlight some common careers for criminal justice graduates below with median salaries reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

Police Officers

Police officers tackle a wide variety of responsibilities, from responding to emergencies to conducting routine traffic stops. These professionals craft detailed reports, patrol their assigned areas, and experienced workers take on leadership roles. 

Median Annual Salary: $66,020

Job Outlook: 7%

Correctional Officers

These professionals oversee incarcerated individuals and those who have been arrested and are awaiting trial. Correctional officials maintain order in jails and prisons, keep records of inmate conduct, and oversee various facilities to ensure security and safety. 

Median Annual Salary: $47,920

Job Outlook: -7%

Private Investigators and Detectives

These workers utilize investigative skills when searching for relevant information regarding various financial, legal, and personal information. Private detectives and investigators are trained to conduct surveillance and research, sometimes for criminal investigations. These professionals often work as contractors but also work for finance and insurance companies and government entities.

Median Annual Salary: $59,380

Job Outlook: 13%

Online Criminal Justice Degree Financial Aid

In addition to their inherent flexibility, many students choose to pursue an online degree because they're often more affordable than many in-person options. Online programs allow working students the chance to work and keep up with personal responsibilities while completing academic requirements. Online learners also save on travel costs and various campus-based fees.

Those enrolling in an online bachelor's program typically file the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). This program opens up access to various financial aid resources, including grants, loans, and federal work-study programs. 

In addition to FAFSA-based financial resources, students can apply for a wide variety of scholarships. You can review our deep catalog of scholarships through our scholarship search tool.

FAQ

  • What degree is best for criminal justice?
    • While many degrees can lead to a criminal justice career, an online bachelor's in criminal justice offers students both essential foundational knowledge and specialized knowledge in cybersecurity, computer science, security management, and homeland security.
  • Is criminal justice a hard degree?
    • Like other undergraduate programs, a criminal justice degree requires students to complete a combination of general education, elective, and core courses. This academic track is ideal for individuals wanting to pursue a career in various criminal justice fields.
  • Are criminology and criminal justice the same?
    • Criminology is its own field that is often an academic specialization within a criminal justice degree. Criminal justice is a broad term, whereas criminology refers to the study of crime and criminal behavior.