Online Criminal Justice
Degree Programs & Majors

The first step for those interested in the field of criminal justice is to research the different avenues for education, such as traditional and technology-based academic programs. Students aiming at criminal justice degrees also need to explore the level of training corresponding to various professional opportunities. This guide examines available degree programs and associated coursework, preparing students to choose the on-campus or online criminal justice school that best aligns with their goals and lifestyle.

Online Criminal Justice Colleges

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Types of Criminal Justice Degrees

Criminal justice programs provide training and education at multiple levels, from the associate through the graduate level. An associate degree in criminal justice explores subjects like criminal law and juvenile justice, with social sciences and English classes to build crucial communication skills. Bachelor’s degree programs in criminal justice focus on techniques and theories to expand upon the fundamentals learned at the associate level. A bachelor’s in criminal justice can be an excellent stepping stone for those planning to enter related professions. Graduate students delve deeper into the psychological aspects of criminal behavior and management techniques in law enforcement.

Choosing Online Criminal Justice Schools

There are hybrid and online criminal justice programs available across the country, some of which allow students to work at their own pace. In many programs, students can complete the majority of coursework in a flexible online format, but they must complete a practicum in the field. Students earning online criminal justice degrees can utilize a variety of distance learning tools. They typically collaborate with peers and instructors via online forums, phone and computer video programs, and other media such as Skype or Blackboard.

Before enrolling in an online program, prospective students need to gather all the details about graduation requirements. For internships or field work, does the school help students find an agency in their own area where they can gain supervised practical experience? It’s also vital to research the educational qualifications for local employers. Application criteria for criminal justice positions vary widely–for example, most police officers complete specialized studies at a professional training academy. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, some police departments and most federal law enforcement agencies require applicants to hold a college degree.

Program Highlight:
Online Bachelor’s in Criminal Justice

Bachelor’s degree programs in criminal justice are structured to provide both practical skills and conceptual knowledge useful in the adult and juvenile justice system or law enforcement agencies. Programs generally consist of 120 to 130 credit hours, depending on the college. If attending classes full-time, many students can finish the degree in four to five years. Many online criminal justice programs do not require on-campus visits, although field work is a common element of studies.

Students in online criminal justice degree programs receive background and training in criminology, law, philosophy, psychology, science and sociology. In addition to the core curriculum, most programs allow students to choose a concentration such as terrorism, constitutional law, criminal investigation, forensics or homeland security. After completing all degree requirements, graduates have a foundation for further specialized training in protective services, law and corrections, and crime prevention or support. The Bureau of Labor Statistics notes that a substantial number of applicants for police officer positions already have some college coursework under their belt.


Name: Serina B.

Degree: Bachelor’s Degree in Criminal Justice

Mode: Online

What has been the biggest benefit of distance learning at your college?

The biggest benefit of distance learning is flexibility. As a full-time student and a full-time worker, online courses give me the power to create my own schedule. Professors give a wide window for assignments to be finished which leaves allows students to pick the when they want to work. With professors responding quickly and stating instructions clearly, online learning is not much different from traditional classes.

What role has technology played in your online program and courses?

Students have to log in everyday using the internet. They need a computer or some way to access the internet in order to see what is needed of them. Without technology, they could miss important deadlines, messages, and updates about their course. Without technology, I do not see how a students could use these programs and courses.

How does your online program help prepare you for a career after graduation?

My online programs help me prepare for a career immensely. You have to build your schedule to fit assignments and make sure you do not miss deadlines. This will serve students well for their careers in the future. Independence in the courses teach students to work with freedom while still following instructions from the professor.

Associate Degree: Online Criminal Justice School

The two-year program in criminal justice may be offered as an Associate of Applied Science or Associate of Science degree at community colleges and technical schools. General education subjects in areas like sociology and psychology can help establish a valuable basis for the courses required for the major. Curriculum begins with core subjects such as English and mathematics, moving on to foundational courses in the American legal system, correctional systems and social issues. Elective courses in corrections, juvenile justice, criminal courts and law enforcement provide additional training.

COURSE NAME overview
Intro to the Criminal Justice System Overview of the U.S. criminal justice system. Covers philosophy and development of the system, the current state of agencies and institutions, and the issues and challenges facing them.
Criminal Investigation Covers the legal significance of evidence and the investigative process, from crime scene preservation to case preparation and courtroom presentation. Presents various techniques used during criminal investigations, such as photography, interviewing, evidence handling and scene reconstruction.
Criminal Procedure Constitutional protection and due process afforded every person arrested in the U.S. Thorough review of the U.S. justice system from time of arrest through sentencing.
Capstone in Criminal Justice Problem-solving techniques and research skills for real-world situations, building on criminal justice concepts. Students identify and analyze situations, recommending and defending proposed solutions.

Bachelor’s Degree: Online Criminal Justice School

An undergraduate degree in criminal justice covers law enforcement techniques, the court system, the correctional system and criminal justice theory. Electives allow students to explore social and political issues related to law enforcement as they develop an understanding of human diversity and multiculturalism. Curriculum choices such as foreign languages, speech and English composition can enhance written and oral communication abilities. Some of the courses offered in criminal justice baccalaureate programs are described in the following table:

COURSE NAME overview
Criminology Covers the nature and causes of crime and antisocial behavior as well as victimization, social and psychological theories, and various types of criminology.
Research Design and Analysis in Criminal Justice Introduces the basic principles, common perspectives and various methodologies available for research in the criminal justice system. Covers ability to conduct research and skills necessary to evaluate findings.
Substantive Criminal Law Discusses substantive criminal law, including common law crimes and how they have been used as a foundation by the statutory scheme of criminal laws.
Applied Criminal Justice Ethics Covers the dynamics of ethical behavior. Topics include ethics in justice policy, administration and research, and the impact on individuals and society.
Managing Criminal Justice Organizations Provides a foundation in the management and leadership discourse surrounding criminal justice agencies.
Intro to Forensic Science Focus is on the field of forensic science, where science and the law merge. Topics include criminalistics, dentistry, psychiatry, handwriting and fingerprinting comparison, criminology, toxicology and serology.
Intro to Policing Surveys the role of policing in society, including study of the historical evolution of the concepts and methods in policing. Analyzes the effectiveness of traditional and non-traditional techniques of law enforcement control of crime and social disorder.

Online Criminal Justice Degree: Master’s

It takes approximately two years of full-time study to complete a Master of Science or Arts in this field. Students receive an in-depth education in the administration of justice and research methodology, while strengthening skills often found in management positions in the field of law enforcement. Candidates for master’s degrees also take courses in the judicial system, victimology and correctional institutions. Through lectures and research, students learn about the law, statistics and ethics in the context of criminal justice. Some of the core courses in a typical graduate criminal justice degree program include:

White Collar Crime Examines the nature and extent of corporate and white-collar crime, including detection, deterrence and criminal liability sanctions. Covers social and legal changes related to corporate illegality, as well as securities fraud, money laundering, professional deviance and political corruption.
Crime and Punishment Defines social justice as it applies to police officers, corrections officers, probation and parole officers, youth service officers, federal law enforcement agents and court professionals. Discusses applications of ethical actions as they pertain to issues of social justice.
Victimology Introduces an emerging area of specialization within criminology, including restoration, repayment and victim/offender mediation. Explores the relationships between crime victims and social groups and institutions (media, business, politicians, special interest groups and social movements).
Analytical Methods Emphasizes the use of quantitative data in analyzing the criminal justice system. Studies the role of statistical analysis in planning and policy development.
Research Methods Introduces the practice, theory and philosophy of social science research, with a special focus on criminal justice. Investigates ethical issues associated with research. Discusses surveys, data gathering in the field and experimental designs.
Forensic Behavior Analysis Examines forensic psychology, the way the law and mental health intersect, and how forensic psychologists help the courts in addressing a variety of cases and issues. Topics include not guilty by reason of mental illness pleas, competency to stand trial, prediction of future violence, predators, psychopaths, the forcible medication of mentally ill patients and civil commitment.
Emergency and Risk Communication Presents best practices for effectively working with government, industry, the media and the general public during crises and longer-term threats involving health, safety, security and the environment. Also discussed: core principles of emergency and risk communications and risk perception.

Online Criminal Justice Degree: Doctorate

The highest level of academic achievement in the criminal justice field is a doctoral degree. These advanced programs involve the study of criminology and criminal behavior theories, as well as the penal system and methods for deterring crime. A doctorate in criminal justice is a comprehensive, in-depth study of legal traditions and codes, local through worldwide.

PhD online criminal justice degree programs combine core courses, specialized subjects and extensive research, all guided by an academic advisor. Programs may also incorporate comprehensive exams, and graduation usually require 54-80 credit hours. Students complete a written dissertation and then defend it successfully, either virtually or in person. Certain distance learning programs integrate on-campus attendance in the form of limited residencies.

What’s Next for Graduates of Online Criminal Justice Schools?

Individuals with criminal justice training work in several different fields–in the private sector, occupations range from detectives to security personnel. In the public sectors, professional paths include police officers, government agents, correctional officers and correctional treatment specialists. Although opportunities are more numerous at the local and state level of government, there are also options at the federal level. Common criminal justice careers include the following.

Featured Careers

  • Bailiffs

    Charged with keeping order, these security officers ensure that appropriate behavior is maintained inside the courtroom. They protect jury members from outside influence and sometimes escort judges to the courtroom. These court officers also screen individuals who wish to enter the building or the courtroom. Bailiffs may patrol inside or outside the courthouse to ensure the safety of staff and the public. Bailiffs accompany prisoners entering and exiting the courthouse and guard these inmates during their time in the courtroom.

    Median Salary: $36,840

    Median Hourly: $17.71

    Est. Growth: 5.3%

    No. Employed: 16,240

    Minimum Education: High School Diploma

  • Correctional Officers/Jailers

    Correctional officers and jailers maintain security in prisons and other institutions by guarding inmates and overseeing their behavior. These professionals also ensure that prisoners are safely transported between the jail and the courtroom. Sometimes known as public safety officers, guards follow standard regulations and procedures to prevent escape or inappropriate conduct in penal institutions. They may also be in charge of keeping records such as logs of inmate activities or disturbances.

    Median Salary: $39,040

    Median Hourly: $18.77

    Est. Growth: 4.9%

    No. Employed: 434,870

    Minimum Education: High School Diploma

  • Detectives/Criminal Investigators

    Detectives and criminal investigators usually work for police departments or other government agencies. Sometimes known as special agents, these professionals may concentrate on certain areas of crime such as homicide, narcotics, financial fraud or kidnapping. As uniformed, plainclothes or undercover investigators, they collect physical evidence and other information relating to cases of suspected criminal activity. Detectives and investigators identify the types of evidence needed to address the charges or complaints, and keep careful records of their research and activities for possible use in a court of law.

    Median Salary: $74,300

    Median Hourly: $35.72

    Est. Growth: 2%

    No. Employed: 109,230

    Minimum Education: High School Diploma

  • Fish/Game Wardens

    Within their assigned area, wardens are responsible for preventing violations of fish and game laws. In addition to patrolling these areas, they may take part in search and rescue operations or the investigation of hunting accidents. Serving as wildlife management staff, they could collect data on animal populations and evaluate damage to property by wild animals. As public officers, they make arrests for illegal conduct and present evidence in court proceedings. Fish and game wardens also educate hunters, trappers, fishermen, commercial entities and the public about wildlife conservation and legislation.

    Median Salary: $48,070

    Median Hourly: $23.11

    Est. Growth: 1.2%

    No. Employed: 6,320

    Minimum Education: High School Diploma

  • Police/Sheriff’s Patrol Officers

    Working for police and sheriff’s departments, patrol officers enforce laws and regulations as well as investigate accidents and respond to emergencies and calls for assistance. These public safety officers, also called law enforcement officials, work to prevent crime and protect the general public. Patrol officers differ from other police officers in that they may focus on the enforcement of traffic laws. Police patrol officers may be employed at the state or city level, tasked with monitoring traffic violations in a given jurisdiction. Sheriffs, deputy sheriffs and sheriff’s patrol officers enforce the law within a particular county.

    Median Salary: $55,270

    Median Hourly: $26.57

    Est. Growth: 5.9%

    No. Employed: 632,000

    Minimum Education: High School Diploma

  • Private Detectives/Investigators

    In order to identify actions that break the law or company rules, private detectives and investigators collect and interpret information relating to individuals and organizations. Private investigators conduct research on personal and financial background information to find evidence for legal proceedings, and they may appear as witnesses in the courtroom. When investigating the activities of certain persons, surveillance may involve undercover work and taking photographs. These professionals also guard against and investigate store robberies or shoplifting, and in this context, they are often known as loss prevention officers or asset protection detectives.

    Median Salary: $45,740

    Median Hourly: $21.99

    Est. Growth: 11.2%

    No. Employed: 23,390

    Minimum Education: High School Diploma