Online Criminal Justice Degrees
Featuring expert interview with Diane Sjuts
Criminal justice is a sprawling field that employs millions of Americans within its three branches: law enforcement, the courts, and corrections. While not all criminal justice professionals need to have a college education, many positions require a degree or prefer candidates who have one. You can earn a criminal justice degree at all levels of education, from a certificate up to a doctorate—and, in many cases, you can do it all online.
“Due to the increased popularity of online classes, most colleges and universities offer the criminal justice degree totally online. Most online classes are creatively developed so that students still have opportunities for internships [and] community service projects,” said Diane Sjuts, who directs the criminal justice program at Metropolitan Community College in Omaha, Nebraska.
This page will introduce you to our top picks for online criminal justice programs, the different paths to earning an online degree in the field, and the wide variety of careers available to you once you graduate.
Top Online Criminal Justice Programs in 2020
While there are many online programs in criminal justice, some stand out more than others. Many boast prestigious faculty with extensive scholarly and field experience, some offer rigorous curricula designed to foster critical thinking and analytical skills, while others provide exceptional value. Many offer a combination of these benefits.
We have chosen 25 exceptional online schools in criminal justice. Most programs are 100% online, although a handful require a small percentage of coursework to be taken on campus. All will give you an education that can lead to a successful career in criminal justice.
View our ranking methodology.
Arizona State‘s criminal justice program is nationally recognized for its distinguished faculty and cutting-edge research. The online graduate criminal justice program was ranked #6 by U.S. News & World Report as of April 2020.
Their bachelor’s program in criminal justice provides extensive coursework in all areas of the field. It also focuses on developing students’ analytical, communication, and research skills.
The master’s program includes classes about crime and its impact on society, program management and evaluation, and applied data analysis. It culminates in a capstone course that requires students to write a research paper focusing on criminal justice practice or policy.
Both programs are taught by professors who are renowned scholars in their field and have expertise in areas such as gangs and fraud.
A 4+1 accelerated program option is available for undergrad criminal justice students who achieve a GPA of 3.40 or higher early on in the bachelor’s program. This option allows them to complete their B.S. and M.A. in criminal justice in five years.
Students who are interested in specializing can take advantage of certificate programs in homeland security, corrections, and law enforcement administration.
Florida International University is not new to distance learning—the school has offered online programs for over 20 years. It is one of the largest providers of online learning in the country.
In addition to its B.S. in criminal justice, FIU offers a unique bachelor’s degree in crime science. The program integrates forensics and computer science with traditional criminal justice coursework. Students will need to take prerequisite courses in biology, chemistry, and statistics. Core classes include GIS and Crime Mapping, Forensics and the Courts, Terrorism and Homeland Security, and Ethical Hacking and Countermeasures. The school also offers a combined B.S. and M.S. in Criminal Justice for those who have completed at least 75–90 credits in the bachelor’s degree program and meet the admissions criteria
FIU’s Professional Master in Forensic Science is a hybrid program that includes both online classes and hands-on learning through a capstone internship program. The multidisciplinary coursework deals with advanced concepts in forensic science as well as management skills, with the goal of giving students a competitive edge in the job market. Through the internship students have the opportunity to connect with potential employers.
The master’s in global affairs program combines the fields of international crime and justice with global affairs. Students will delve into international relations, domestic and international justice and law, mapping, GIS, and cybercrime-related issues.
UC Denver has been ranked both as a nationally-recognized college and for its graduate criminal justice program. “CU Online” offers a bachelor’s and master’s in criminal justice that prepares students for the most demanding of careers in the field.
Both degree programs give students the option of specializing in an area of interest. At the bachelor’s level, concentrations are available in law enforcement and victims and victim services. At the master’s level students can choose from crime analysis; disasters, hazards and emergency management; emergency management and homeland security; or nonprofit management.
The bachelor’s program requires students to complete a one-semester internship. Students in the master’s program must complete either a thesis or an applied research capstone project. Master’s students with no previous experience in criminal justice also are required to complete a 3-credit hour internship.
The University of Wisconsin–Platteville‘s online program is not only flexible, but it also lets you test the waters first: it offers single-course enrollment for those who are not ready to commit to a full degree program.
The 120-credit bachelor’s program offers foundational coursework in criminal law, criminology, policing, corrections, and criminal justice research. Electives give students the opportunity to explore topics such as juvenile justice, private security operations, and criminal investigation. Students can also take an internship in criminal justice.
Students in the master’s program can choose from one of three emphasis areas:
1. Criminal Justice Theory is designed for students who want to go on to get a Ph.D. or conduct research.
2. Criminal Justice Management prepares students to advance into a supervisory role.
3. Victim and Offender Services is tailored for students who are interested in working with crime victims, juveniles, or probation and parole clients.
Students can also choose a master’s in the specialized area of cybersecurity.
Columbia College offers more than 800 online undergraduate courses and 29 degree programs. Their criminal justice programs are designed primarily for students interested in leadership roles.
This is one of a handful of schools that offer an associate degree in criminal justice administration. The program has an interdisciplinary focus that integrates perspectives of psychology, sociology, and political science. Major elective areas include general psychology, general sociology, American government, and American history.
Columbia College offers both a Bachelor of Science and a Bachelor of Arts degree in criminal justice administration. The B.A. is recommended for students who already have experience working in criminal justice. The B.S. is best suited for those who have no experience—it offers practicum and internship opportunities that can help bridge the gap. Students interested in forensics can take electives in forensic anthropology, fingerprint evidence, and forensic pathology, but these courses must be taken on campus.
Although the M.S. program provides theoretical and analytical coursework, it places an emphasis on criminal justice administration. Students may choose from two management tracks: in Law Enforcement Administration or Corrections Administration (CA).
The Crime Scene Investigation (CSI) certificate program is a hybrid program—9 to 15 of the required 18 credits must be completed on campus. It is available to Columbia College students or to those who have earned an associate or bachelor’s degree from another regionally accredited school.
Online Degrees Offered Include:
FSU is home to the Center for Criminology and Public Policy Research, which conducts federal, state, and local research in a variety of areas of criminal justice. Ranked #8 in online graduate criminal justice programs by U.S. News & World Report, FSU’s program is taught by a prestigious faculty who are major contributors to the field of criminal justice.
The online criminal justice programs at FSU use state-of-the-art technology as it’s “one of the most ‘wired’ universities” in the country. Students are provided with guidance every step of the way to ensure their success.
Students in the bachelor’s program will learn the fundamentals of criminal justice and delve into criminology, which looks at why crime occurs. The 36-credit master’s program places an emphasis on theory and research. Core coursework includes research methods, statistics, and a survey of criminal justice theory. Students can choose electives that focus on a variety of topics, including social justice, criminal law, approaches to corrections, and victimology.
CSU Global focuses on producing professionals who are successful in their field—and they seem to be good at it. Data from a College Measures EdPay Report shows CSU Global graduates earn more on average than others in their field.
Both their bachelor’s and master’s programs provide students with a practical knowledge of the law enforcement field. In addition to receiving a foundational education in all areas of criminal justice, bachelor’s students will learn how careers in the field are changing due to advances in technology and gain real-world experience through interactive simulations.
The master’s program prepares students to be leaders in criminal justice. Students can customize their degree program with a focus on either fraud management or information technology. All students must complete a capstone project and an internship to graduate.
If the sheer number of online criminal justice degree offerings doesn’t entice you to study at Sam Houston, their reputation should: the school was ranked #2 in online graduate criminal justice programs by U.S. News & World Report. The criminal justice master’s program is also accredited by the Forensic Science Education Programs Accreditation Commission of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences.
Bachelor’s degrees are offered as both a B.S. and a B.A. The B.S. has a social science emphasis and requires additional hours in courses such as psychology, sociology, and political science. The B.A. requires additional hours in a foreign language. Seniors in all bachelor’s programs can gain hands-on experience through internships with organizations such as INTERPOL, the FBI, local police departments, and many more.
The master’s program also offers degrees in specific areas. It has two degrees that focus on management, one in criminal justice and the other in homeland security. The digital forensics degree is accredited by the Forensic Science Education Programs Accreditation Commission (FEPAC) and requires students to complete an internship in a forensics lab and a research project.
Certificate programs are geared toward working professionals who want to learn more about a particular area. Students who earn a certificate can advance halfway to a master’s program. Each certificate program is 18 credits and can be completed in one year for full-time students.
UMass Lowell‘s School of Criminology and Justice Studies is known for excellence in scholarship and a commitment to using its cutting-edge research to address real-world problems. Faculty members conduct national research projects, working collaboratively with communities and agencies to assist with policy, crime analysis, and strategic problem solving. Its online graduate program was ranked #3 (tie) by U.S. News & World Report.
The bachelor’s curriculum includes a strong liberal arts focus as well as courses in areas such as criminal law, corrections, policing, criminology, homeland security, emergency management, terrorism, hate crime, victimology, and criminal profiling.
The master’s in criminal justice focuses on preparing students for administrative leadership positions. Students can take a wide range of electives in areas such as intimate partner violence, sex crimes and offenders, forensic psychology, and child maltreatment.
The master’s in homeland security program is taught by world-renowned faculty in terrorism studies, criminology, and engineering and information technology. Students have the opportunity to conduct research at UMass Lowell’s Center for Terrorism and Security Studies.
Undergraduate and graduate certificate credits can be applied to bachelor’s and master’s degree programs. Undergraduate certificates require 18 credits, and graduate certificates require 12 credits.
Online Degrees Offered Include:
In addition to its exceptional faculty and rigorous coursework, the University of Louisville‘s online learning program is known for supporting active military who wish to further their education. It has won a number of awards for being military-friendly and provides exceptional support and discounted rates. In some cases, military training can be applied as credit toward the criminal justice B.S.
Both the B.S. and M.S. programs provide working knowledge in all areas of criminal justice. They focus on both juvenile and adult issues and make connections between theory and policy. The master’s program is geared toward helping students launch a leadership career and expand their expertise in areas such as corrections, cybercrime, international terrorism, and juvenile justice. Electives include courses on capital punishment, violent crime, substance abuse, and criminal justice in media.
Lamar University, a member of the Texas University System, is known for its affordable online programs that help students achieve targeted goals quickly and efficiently.
The bachelor’s program offers accelerated eight-week courses and Police Training Academy credit (known as TCOLE credit) for academic credit. In addition to 42 credits of foundational criminal justice courses, the program offers students a wide variety of electives. Those interested in technology can take courses in programming, web design, game design, digital media, and computer law. There are numerous business courses as well as courses in geography (Middle East, Latin America), political science, and history.
The Master of Science in Criminal Justice program is geared toward current law enforcement or criminal justice professionals who want to advance to careers in federal security agencies such as the FBI or CIA. The curriculum includes 11 applied criminal justice courses ranging from corrections and police law to the study of crime as it relates to class, race, and gender. All students are required to complete a capstone project.
Those interested in management positions in criminal justice, including managing people, budgets, and marketing, can get an MBA in criminal justice management. This degree is designed for both established criminal justice professionals or current business leaders who wish to work in criminal justice.
UC ‘s criminal justice department is one of the best in the country—U.S. News & World Report ranked it as #3 (tie) in 2018. Their online program is also consistently ranked as one of the best. According to an alumni survey conducted in 2018, 87% of their online students got a job within 90 days.
Students can get a comprehensive education in criminal justice through two degree programs: Bachelor of Science and Master of Science. Students in the bachelor’s program will study the many complex theories within the field of criminal justice. They will evaluate research and explore ethics and morality in criminology.
The comprehensive 11-course master’s program can be completed in one year full-time or two years part-time. It is designed both for those who wish to work in research and university settings and those who are interested in leadership positions. The curriculum requires students to assess problems through exacting research and perform high-level policy analysis. It also provides information about the latest developments and trends in criminal justice.
CU also offers three graduate certificates available to those with a bachelor’s degree in any subject. They can typically be completed in a year.
Liberty University has been offering distance learning since the mid-1980s, when their courses were recorded on VHS tapes and sent through the mail. Now Liberty boasts state-of-the-art digital resources that allow students to connect with classmates and professors, access over 750,000 electronic books, journals, and articles, and participate in online student communities. They also provide discounts and other amenities for military and first responders.
The school has criminal justice programs at six levels, from associate degree to master’s degree to advanced graduate certificate. The associate program teaches the fundamentals of our criminal justice system, including law enforcement, the court system, and corrections.
Students can choose from a number of specialties in the bachelor’s program, including crime scene investigation, juvenile justice, and criminal psychology. The eight-week format means students can graduate in less than four years.
The master’s program is also offered in an eight-week format and can be completed in one and a half years. The curriculum provides specializations in cybercrime investigation, forensic psychology, homeland security, and law enforcement leadership. The program is accredited by the Forensic Science Education Programs Accreditation Commission of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences.
The university’s certificate programs are designed to help current criminal justice professionals advance their career. The undergraduate and graduate certificates can be completed in half a year, while the advanced graduate certificate typically take one year to complete.
Online Degrees Offered Include:
UFC has been offering online courses for over 20 years. In addition to providing high-quality education, UFC supports online students through their UFC Online Connect Center and online coaches. Each student has a coach that helps them stay on track, connect to resources, and develop plans that align with career goals.
UFC’s bachelor’s degree program can be taken completely online, although students also have the option of taking a hands-on elective that consists of both an internship and independent study. It is a comprehensive study of criminal justice that includes courses in all three areas of criminal justice (law enforcement, the courts, and corrections) as well in research methods and data analysis. All students must complete a capstone project that focuses on ethical issues in criminal justice. Those pursuing the B.A. will need to demonstrate foreign language proficiency at the college level.
As with the bachelor’s program, students at the master’s level can opt to take hands-on coursework—but again, this is not required. The culminating capstone project for the criminal justice degree is a Proseminar in Criminal Justice in which students review and integrate the core courses in the program.
The forensic science curriculum offers three concentrations— forensic analysis, forensic biochemistry, and forensic professional. Students can choose either a thesis or no-thesis option. The former requires students to conduct research either onsite or at the facility they work at. The nonthesis option is for students who currently work in a forensics lab or have at least three years of experience.
Graduate certificate programs are designed to allow criminal justice professionals or graduate students to specialize in several areas. All four graduate certificates consist of 12 credit hours and are 100% online.
U.S. News & World Report ranked the University of the Cumberlands #7 in graduate criminal justice programs, and it should come as no surprise. The master’s program—indeed all their degree programs in criminal justice—is taught by first-rate professors who have extensive credentials in their field.
In both the associate and bachelor’s programs, students will learn the fundamentals of criminal justice, explore how cultural differences impact the field, strengthen their analytical skills, and develop an understanding of research methods. The associate degree prepares students for entry-level positions or further study, while the bachelor’s degree opens the door to careers in criminal justice and corrections.
Every student entering the master’s program is already employed. This allows students to interact with other professionals and gain first-hand knowledge of the workings of criminal justice in a variety of settings. The overarching goal of the program is to enable students to become ethical leaders in areas such as corrections, homeland security, law enforcement, and family services.
UNO is known for its support of the military and veterans and has won a number of awards for this support. It offers a Bachelor of Multidisciplinary Studies that was designed with military and adult students in mind. Concentrations include criminal justice and cybersecurity. The school was named one of the nation’s leaders in community engagement by the Carnegie Foundation in 2015, and its graduate program in criminal justice was ranked #5 by U.S. News & World Report.
The bachelor’s program touches on each area of criminal justice—law enforcement, courts, and corrections—to give students a well-rounded education in the field. Internships are strongly recommended but not required. In the semester they plan to graduate, all students must complete a senior assessment, which is designed to assess student learning, monitor school performance, and identify changes needed.
The master’s program is offered in a flexible online format in which students have the option of completing the program totally online or partly online and partly on campus. Course offerings in the 36-credit curriculum include Women and Criminal Justice; Race, Ethnicity, and Criminal Justice; Nature of Crime; and Administration of Justice. Students must complete a capstone project that reflects their cumulative understanding of the concepts they have learned.
WSU‘s criminal justice program was founded in 1943; it is the second oldest continuous criminal justice program in the country. WSU Global Campus was first established in 1992 and is nationally recognized for its online bachelor’s programs.
The bachelor’s program combines a focus on practical knowledge and advanced critical thinking skills. Core courses in the curriculum include criminal justice administration, research methods, criminal law, and criminology theories. Students can choose from electives such as Violence Toward Women, Crime Control Policies, Juvenile Justice and Corrections, and Criminal Courts in America. An internship is available but not required, and all students must complete a capstone project.
UWO‘s online bachelor’s programs in criminal justice are geared toward current professionals who want to enhance their skills and advance in their careers. In fact, the B.A. and B.S. programs require two years of professional experience to gain entry into the program. Students can take the program completely online or enroll in a hybrid format in which at least 25% of courses are completed online.
UWO provides three pathways to earning a bachelor’s in criminal justice: a B.A., B.S., and B.A.S.—Bachelor of Applied Science. The B.A. and B.S. curricula are the same, except B.A. students must take 14 foreign language credits while B.S. students need to take eight credits in natural sciences and three in math. The core curriculum focuses on policing, the correctional process, criminal law, and research procedures. Electives include Criminal Courts: Proof of Guilt, Illegal Bias in the CJ System, Organized Crime, and Police Administration. Students can opt to take an internship or do independent study.
The B.A.S. program is for full-time students who have an associate degree in a related field. At least 60 credits from their previous program must be transferable. Because of the transferred credits, the degree can be completed in as little as two years. The curriculum offerings are the same as in the B.A. and B.S. programs.
Southeast Missouri State (SEMO) has a success rate they can be proud of. Of recent online criminal justice grads, 87% are either employed or in grad school. Some of this might have to do with the fact students have a clear choice between an academic versus career-oriented curriculum.
The B.S. program has two tracks: the Academic/University track and the Law Enforcement Academy track. The former is for students who want a comprehensive education in all areas of criminal justice, including theoretical and research coursework. The latter is for those who are interested in specialized law enforcement training. Students who follow this track will complete 760 training hours in 19 weeks. If they successfully finish the training they will earn 24 credits toward their degree. SEMO also offers undergraduate an Accelerated Graduate Program in which they can earn graduate credit while still an undergraduate student.
Those in the master’s program can also differentiate their learning through three graduate capstone options: thesis, internship, or leadership. The thesis option is for those who want to pursue research. Students will develop a research question, collect data, and analyze the data. The internship option requires 240 hours of employment in a criminal justice-related agency and is ideal for those who want to move into a career in a particular agency. The leadership option is for those who want to apply what they have learned in agencies as managers or administrators. Students who chose this option must complete specific courses beyond the regular coursework in the program. They will develop a portfolio, evaluate leadership theories, and analyze policy.
Tarleton is a member of Texas A&M University System, which means the institution has the financial and educational backing of one of the largest university systems in the country. Students can take courses 100% online or in a blended format, in which they can supplement some virtual coursework with on-campus classes.
The Bachelor of Applied Arts and Sciences (B.A.A.S.) is designed for working professionals in criminal justice who want to advance within their agency or move to a different type of agency. Students must have at least 180 hours of work experience, which translates into credit hours. Training is accepted from the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement (TCOLE), federal criminal justice training, military training, and approved training from other states. The curriculum covers all areas of criminal justice.
Master’s students can choose from either a non-thesis or thesis track. Students who plan on continuing their education beyond a master’s should follow the 36-hour thesis track. These students will conduct an original research project and write a thesis about their results. Non-thesis students will complete 30 hours, with the program culminating in a comprehensive exam.
The university offers three, 12-hour graduate certificates in specific areas of criminal justice. The Graduate Certificate of Strategic Studies focuses on global security issues. The alternative dispute certificate offers courses in mediation and other dispute resolution methods. The cybercrime field response certificate provides applied knowledge in cybersecurity, cybercrime, and digital forensics.
DeSales University has an impressive number of degree options in criminal justice, including accelerated bachelor’s programs and a five-year bachelor’s-to-master’s program. Much of their focus is on homeland security, counterterrorism, and digital forensics, but students can also get a comprehensive criminal justice education. Working professionals who pursue graduate studies get a 20% tuition discount.
Accelerated B.A. degrees can be completed in less time than usual due to a number of flexible options: two, six-week summer “mini-semesters,” a three-week winter “mini-semester,” and the option of combining day and evening classes with online classes.
The accelerated B.A. in criminal justice offers two tracks: Criminal Justice Intelligence and Criminal Justice Rehabilitation. Undergraduates interested in homeland security can pursue an accelerated B.A. program that prepares them for careers in a variety of settings, including the Department of Homeland Security, the U.S. Secret Service, and state emergency management agencies.
Graduate students can take a comprehensive criminal justice program or narrow their focus to areas such as homeland security, digital forensics, and leadership. Programs range from 30 to 36 credits and require completion of a capstone project.
Four 12-credit graduate certificate offerings allow working professionals to gain expertise in a specialized area without having to get a master’s.
Rowan is known for its eco-friendly research endeavors—it has won 13 awards for green initiatives since 2007. Its criminal justice programs are rigorous academic programs that provide a comprehensive education in criminal justice and also focus on developing skills in critical thinking, writing, and logic.
The B.A. degree includes coursework in criminal justice theory, criminal law, corrections, and research. It requires students to analyze and evaluate current policy and laws to gain an understanding of the intended and unintended consequences of decisions made by criminal justice professionals. Students can choose from electives about our court system, policing in America, and government and politics. The program is a hybrid program—students must complete at least 30 hours on campus as well as a three-credit-hour internship.
The Master of Arts (M.A.) in Criminal Justice is a 100% online part-time program. The 30-semester-hour program is offered in an accelerated format, which means it is possible to complete it in only five consecutive semesters. The goal of the program is to prepare students for leadership and research positions in criminal justice agencies or for further study in a doctoral program. Coursework focuses on contemporary issues in criminal justice, research, and policy analysis. Students can take electives such as White Collar Crime; Altruism, Cooperation, and Criminal Justice; Gender and Crime; and Administrative Law/Ethics. At the end of the program students can opt to write a thesis, which is worth six credits, or take a comprehensive exam.
Boston University is a nationally-recognized school with an outstanding academic track record. U.S. News & World Report ranked it #40 overall in National Universities and #3 for its online graduate criminal justice program (tie). The master’s in criminal justice was BU’s first online program, launched in 2002. It is taught by prominent criminal justice faculty with extensive professional experience and scholarship in law enforcement, the judicial system, and corrections.
Students pursuing the crime analysis concentration will learn to critically analyze data and use the results in criminal justice investigations and policy. There are two core courses for this concentration: Crime and Intelligence Analysis and GIS and Spatial Analysis. Electives include coursework in data mining and using Python for data analysis.
The cybercrime investigation concentration requires coursework both in cybercrime and digital forensics. It prepares students to take the digital forensics exam. Students can take one of two electives: IT Security Policies and Procedures and Mobile Forensics and Security.
The strategic management concentration is geared toward students who want to pursue careers in leadership. The two core courses deal with public emergency management and criminal justice planning and management. Students can choose from a range of electives, including victimology, applied digital forensic investigation, juvenile justice, and terrorism.
BU also offers four graduate certificates, one in criminal justice and the other three in the concentrations listed above. The programs are 16 credit hours each and can be applied to the M.S. degree program.
Online Degrees Offered Include:
Western Carolina University‘s criminal justice program is one of its largest. It has ranked on several sites as being one of the most affordable for its bachelor’s degree program.
WCU’s online bachelor’s program is designed for working criminal justice professionals who have at least one year of experience under their belts. They also need to have an associate degree from an accredited community college. In addition to learning the fundamentals of criminal justice, the program has a concentration in administration of justice. Core courses include Criminal Justice Management, Criminal Procedure and Judicial Process, Legal Liability in Criminal Justice Personnel, Criminal Justice Policy, and Social Justice and the Law. Students can choose electives such as Stress Management in Criminal Justice, Computer Applications in Criminal Justice, Geographic Information Systems and Criminal Justice, Cyber Crime, and Issues in Correctional Treatment.
Michigan State University was ranked #10 in online graduate criminal justice programs by U.S. News & World Report. Its faculty are nationally and internationally known, with expertise in areas such as law, criminology, and public health. Degree programs feature the latest innovations in criminal justice, including crime control strategies, law enforcement intelligence, and counterterrorism.
Students in the criminal justice master’s program focus on public policy and practice, in addition to research methodology. The master’s in criminal justice offers five specialty areas: Crime Causation, Prevention, and Control; Design and Analysis in Criminal Justice Research; Criminal Justice Management; Security Management; and Security Administration. Students have the option of participating in an internship at selected criminal justice agencies.
Two other master’s degrees are available, one in judicial administration and the other in law enforcement intelligence and analysis. The former is geared toward students who already work in the court system but wish to advance to a leadership position. The latter deals with intelligence at the local and state levels, rather than national security intelligence.
Online Degrees Offered Include:
Aggregate Ranking Methodology
There are many rankings published every year about criminal justice programs and schools. In researching the best criminal justice programs, you might spend a lot of time combing through scores of rankings before insights emerge about certain programs you are interested in.
CriminalJusticeDegrees.com has reviewed multiple rankings across different publishers and combined them into an overall aggregate ranking. To appear on the CriminalJusticeDegrees.com ranking, a criminal justice program must be ranked on one of many popular rankings we compiled. The more times a school’s criminal justice program appears on these rankings, the higher it ranks in the aggregate ranking. A school’s program also ranks higher if its average rank among the source rankings is higher.
Source rankings were compiled in spring 2020 and include: U.S. News, OnlineU, Best Colleges, College Choice, Criminal Justice Degree Hub, Guide to Online Schools, Value Colleges, The Best Schools, and Affordable Colleges Online.
What Online Degrees Are Available in Criminal Justice?
You can earn a criminal justice degree online at all levels of higher education. Except for a doctoral degree, which is the highest degree you can earn, each degree can be a stepping stone to a more advanced degree.
Online Associate Degrees in Criminal Justice
An online associate degree provides a foundational education in the core concepts, theories, and practices of criminal justice. While having this degree won’t be enough to land you a job in most federal agencies, it can lead to entry-level positions in corrections and law enforcement. Alternatively, if you decide to continue pursuing your education, you may be able to transfer some of the credits to a bachelor’s degree program.
Most associate programs award a general degree in criminal justice. However, you can also find associate degrees in more specific areas such as cybersecurity, criminology, or paralegal studies.
Criminal Justice Online Bachelor’s Degrees
A bachelor’s degree is a common requirement for non-leadership jobs in law enforcement and corrections. It also opens the door to a variety of positions in the court system, although lawyers and judges require additional education. But the bottom line is once you earn this degree, you should be able to enter the workforce in all three branches of criminal justice.
Online bachelor’s degrees provide you with a foundational education in criminal justice, but most degree programs also allow you to focus on the particular area of criminal justice that you are interested in. Online schools offer bachelor’s degree programs with concentrations in areas such as corrections, homeland security, counterintelligence, law enforcement, and forensics.
Online Master’s Degrees in Criminal Justice
You might consider pursuing an online master’s degree in criminal justice if you want to advance your current career or are interested in moving into a leadership position. To enter any master’s program you will need a bachelor’s degree.
Examples of degree options include a master’s in global security, public safety, homeland security, law enforcement administration, or cybersecurity.
Criminal Justice Online Doctoral Degrees
A doctoral degree is the highest academic credential you can earn. Although some doctoral programs require you to have earned a master’s, many are open to students who have an undergraduate degree. Earning a doctorate entails a blend of high-level academic coursework as well as hands-on training in the form of an internship or practicum. Thus, online doctoral programs will require at least some face-to-face training and education. These programs also include capstone projects such as doctoral dissertations, which require intense research and writing.
Examples of degree options include Ph.D.s in public policy and administration, homeland security leadership and policy, and computer information security.
Online Undergraduate and Graduate Certificates in Criminal Justice
Certificates are not complete degree programs but instead provide specialized training in a specific area of criminal justice. They also offer credentials that make you more marketable to employers who are looking for candidates with training beyond a standard criminal justice degree. Examples at both the undergraduate and graduate levels include certificates in corrections management, law enforcement administration, criminal sentencing, and criminal supervision.
What Can I Expect in an Online Criminal Justice Program?
In many ways online criminal justice programs are similar to on-campus programs. They use the same curricula as on-campus programs. The degree you receive upon completing the program is typically the same. And the coursework is just as rigorous and demanding as in the same classes taught on campus. In fact, many distance learners find online study more challenging due to the level of self-discipline that’s required.
Online classes require diligence, organization, and self-control, so be prepared to study hard, work hard, and stay organized. It is very easy to fall behind in an online class. To avoid this, students must make this class a priority and allow enough time to complete the weekly assignments, discussion posts, and quizzes.
The primary difference between online and on-campus classes is in how the coursework is delivered. Each online learning program uses a learning management system (LMS) such as Moodle or Blackboard. You’ll access and log onto this system from your device to connect with instructors and peers, watch lectures, receive and submit assignments, complete tests, receive grades, and get frequent updates—including inspiring or encouraging messages.
Here’s a look at the key learning methods you’ll access while you earn your online criminal justice degree:
Coursework in Online Criminal Justice Programs
The courses you take will vary by school, your area of focus, and the degree you are pursuing. Diane Sjuts outlines the required coursework for the criminal justice associate degree program at Metropolitan Community College, where she teaches:
Sample Online Associate Degree Curriculum (99 credit hours)
General education classes – 27 credit hours
Includes: Psychology, Sociology, Business Math, and Ethics
Major requirements – 40.5 hours
Includes: Intro to Criminal Justice, Intro to Corrections, Courts, Report Writing, Criminal Law, Interview and Interrogation, Contemporary Issues in Criminal Justice, Criminology, and Rules of Evidence
Coursework in either a Law Enforcement track or Corrections track – 31.5 credit hours
Law Enforcement track: Criminal Investigation, Police and Society, Police Field Services, Homeland Security, and Forensics
Corrections track: Intro to Probation and Parole, Legal Issues in Corrections, Correctional Facilities, Correctional Client, and Community Based Corrections
Should I Get a Criminal Justice Degree Online?
There are many reasons to earn a criminal justice degree online, but probably the most significant benefit of all is the flexibility it provides. Unlike earning a degree on campus, you won’t have to drive to a specific place at a specific time. Instead, you can usually work at your own pace and on your own schedule in the comfort of your home—or any other place you desire.
The biggest benefit of earning your criminal justice degree online is you can attend your classes anywhere, which is a plus because many online students work full-time and have families. Another benefit is you can work on your classes…at any time of the day. You are not confined to a classroom. Online classes for some students may be less intimidating.
This is significant for working adults, parents, people who live in remote rural areas, and anyone whose non-academic obligations make it difficult to earn a degree in the traditional way.
Note, however, that an online degree isn’t for everyone. Diane Sjuts comments: “I do believe that online programs work best for students who have practical experience in criminal justice. While I understand the popularity of online programs, it is my professional and academic opinion that students without any criminal justice working/ professional experience would do better in a combination of both online and traditional criminal justice classes.”
How Do I Choose a Criminal Justice Online School?
Before you begin researching schools and programs, it’s essential to ask yourself a few questions to make sure you choose the program that’s right for you.
Once you have a sense of your educational goals and situation, follow these tips to help you choose a school that best will best fit those needs.
What to Look for in an Online Program
Accreditation involves an unaffiliated, third-party governing body evaluating the quality of an academic program. Choosing a school that has been accredited ensures that you’re receiving training and education that meet rigorous academic and professional standards.
Unaccredited degrees rarely satisfy the requirements of employers, transfer schools, or advanced degree programs. You are also ineligible for federal financial aid and many scholarships if the program you attend is not accredited.
Both individuals and entire schools can be accredited by general bodies such as the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA), which recognizes seven regional accrediting bodies under its jurisdiction. Other organizations, such as the Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences (ACJS), award accreditation specifically to criminal justice programs.
Accreditation ensures that standards of quality are met, but a program’s reputation is more complex—and nearly as important. Some distance programs are quite new, while others trace their roots back to the 1990s. Read reviews, interact with current or former students from the program, connect on social media, and search for online testimonials. If current and former students are pleased with their education, this lets you know that the program produces positive results.
Financial Aid, Grants, Scholarships
Financial aid can come from the state or federal government as well as from individual schools. It’s available to students who can demonstrate a need for assistance.
Scholarships are awards that don’t have to be paid back. They’re available at all levels of education and can be based on need, like financial aid, but are also awarded based on merit. In some cases, scholarships are reserved for specific population groups, often those that are frequently underrepresented, like African-Americans, Native Americans, women, or LGBTQ+ students.
Grants are financial awards that are usually based on need. Like scholarships, they do not need to be paid back.
It’s important to know what percentage of enrollees complete the program at your chosen institution. Low graduation rates can be a red flag that the school isn’t equipped to help students succeed. You can find a school’s graduation using resources such as the U.S. Department of Education College Scorecard tool or Collegeresults.org.
Loan Default Rate
According to the New York Federal Reserve, the national default rate was 10.9% at the end of 2019, the most recent year for which statistics are available. High default rates could indicate that a program’s graduates are not succeeding in finding work in their fields and are therefore having trouble paying their student loans. You can find default rate information at the U.S. Department of Education.
Popular Careers in Criminal JusticeThere are hundreds of careers in criminal justice spread out across the three branches: law enforcement, the courts, and corrections.
Salaries from O*Net.
Law Enforcement Careers
Law enforcement professionals are the tip of the criminal justice spear. Their job is to keep people safe and enforce the law. They conduct investigations, respond to emergencies, arrest and process criminal suspects, keep the peace, testify in court, and enforce court orders.
Crime scene investigators collect, process, and store evidence. Forensic experts analyze evidence and work with investigators to draw conclusions about a crime and the suspect accused of committing it.
Federal law enforcement professionals work for national agencies like the FBI and DEA. They protect our country’s borders and conduct investigations into white-collar crimes with the help of professionals like forensic accountants. Some federal law enforcement professionals disrupt criminal organizations with international reach. Others have inter-state and international jurisdiction to pursue fugitives.
Careers in the Courts
Once criminal suspects are arrested and processed by law enforcement, they are turned over to the courts to receive the due process that they’re afforded by the Constitution. That doesn’t always mean, however, that their cases go to trial in an actual courtroom.
This is a broad category that is by no means limited to judges, prosecutors, and bailiffs. Law clerks, staff attorneys, public defenders, administrators, pretrial services officers, and other professionals all contribute to the American court system.
Prosecutors—with the aid of their assistant attorneys, paralegals, researchers, and clerks—present the state’s case against the accused. That means giving evidence and calling, questioning, and cross-examining witnesses. In many cases, however, they’ll negotiate plea deals that allow cases to conclude without ever going to trial. Judges ensure both the state and the defense follow all rules and procedures and that the accused receives a fair trial.
The projected job growth rate for judges is about 3%, and lawyer careers are growing at 6%. The job growth rate for bailiffs is decreasing on a national level, at –1%. However, this varies by state—for instance, Utah is expecting a growth of 13% between 2016 and 2026.
Careers in Corrections
Once suspects are convicted or plead guilty in the courts after being arrested and charged by law enforcement, they’re turned over to the custody of corrections.
Many people employed in this area work in jails, prisons, or the prison system at large. Correctional officers and their supervisors manage prisons and jails and secure the prisoners who are awaiting trial or serving sentences there. They transport prisoners to and from court and correctional facilities. Correctional counselors work to counsel offenders in prisons or prepare offenders for release.
Corrections professionals, however, don’t work only in jails and prisons. Probation and parole officers enforce court-ordered supervision. A probation officer monitors offenders who don’t go to prison but instead are placed on probation—they are supervised and must meet certain conditions such as community service. A parole officer works with criminals who are released on parole before the end of their prison sentences.
Job growth in the area of corrections is generally stable or decreasing slightly. The projected job growth rate for corrections officers is –2% and for probation officers is 2–3%.
Scholarships for Online Criminal Justice Programs
You may wonder whether you are eligible for a scholarship if you are taking a criminal justice online program. Good news: You are. “If students are eligible for federal aid or scholarships, online students have the same eligibility as on-campus students,” Sjuts explains. “Colleges don’t distinguish between whether students are taking online classes or classes on campus.”
There are many scholarships available for criminal justice students. Many schools offer them, so check with schools you are interested in to see what they offer. In addition, refer to our comprehensive Criminal Justice Scholarships page.
Meet the Expert
Diane Sjuts has over twenty-five years of professional experience working in the field of probation. She began her career in 1979 as a probation officer, was promoted to Chief Deputy in 1988, and five years later was selected by the Supreme Court as the Chief Probation Officer. Following her retirement from probation, Diane began her second career—in education. She was hired in 2006 to teach criminal justice full time at Metropolitan Community College in Omaha, Nebraska, and in 2013 she became the director of the program. Diane has written several articles on topics such as restorative justice, crimes and punishment, the criminal justice system, and interactive-participatory classrooms.