Online Criminal Justice Degrees
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. And some online classes require students to interview professionals from the field.
This page will introduce you to the world of online criminal justice education, the different paths to earning an online degree, and the wide variety of careers available to you once you graduate.
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 Justice
There 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.
Editor’s Picks: Featured Online Schools for 2020
No matter the degree level, you have a huge selection of quality online criminal justice programs to choose from. The CriminalJusticePrograms.com editorial team selected the below sampling of accredited programs to showcase a variety of online programs that offer a range of cost, degree types, reputational strength, and other factors. Stated tuition costs are per credit unless specified otherwise, but it’s important to note that tuition does not include fees, the cost of supplies, and other expenses, and many schools offer financial aid as well as discounts for military service and other special occupations.
Many of ASU’s online programs are nationally ranked and the school maintains outside partnerships to complement its academic offerings. The school boasts an online criminal justice program that’s ranked No. 6 in the nation and states that 87% of graduates get a job offer within 90 days.
Degrees offered: Undergraduates can earn a B.S. in criminology and criminal justice while graduate students can pursue a Master of Arts degree in either criminal justice or global security. There are also several certificates available related to the discipline.
Tuition: $520-$728 per credit hour for undergraduate degrees and $522-$1,397 for graduate degrees. Use their site’s tuition estimator to learn the exact cost of your specific program.
Ball State University offers more than 70 degrees completely online, and the programs are all created and taught by the same faculty who teach equivalent on-campus courses. The school has a generous policy in terms of accepting transfer credits, even if you earned those credits several years ago.
Degrees offered: You can earn an Associate of Arts degree in criminology completely online, as well as a B.A. or B.S. with a major in criminal justice and criminology.
Tuition: $334 per credit for 1-11 credits or $4,007 flat rate for 12-18 credits for Indiana residents. Out-of-state distance learners pay $543 per credit or a $4,007 flat rate plus $243 per credit. There are additional costs per credit over 18.
Cal U Global Online offers more than 75 fully online degrees and exempts distance learners from on-campus service fees. In many cases, online learners enjoy competitively reduced non-resident tuition rates.
Degrees offered: Undergraduates can pursue a B.S. degree in criminal justice: homeland and international security. There are also four options at the master’s level, including an M.A. in criminal justice studies, an M.A. in criminal justice studies: applied criminology, an M.A. in criminal justice studies: forensic linguistics, and an M.S. in legal studies: criminal justice. There’s also a doctoral degree (criminal justice D.C.J.) and a licensure/certificate program.
Tuition: Distance education costs at least $328 per student, but that number can change depending on a range of variables. The school offers an online tuition and fees calculator to help you determine the true cost of your individual program. Graduate students should use the calculator, as well.
All Campbell University Online programs are 100% web-based, and the school offers special discounts and other incentives to military personnel. Campbell’s distance learning program dates back to 1999 when it was exclusive to the Camp Lejune campus before it became a separate program in 2004.
Degrees offered: Campbell University Online offers Bachelor of Arts degrees in criminal justice, criminal justice pre-law, and homeland security. All three of those tracks can be pursued as Bachelor of Applied Science degrees, as well. There’s also an associate degree in criminal justice, which is delivered in eight-week accelerated terms.
Tuition: $450 per credit hour.
Capella’s online criminal justice programs are backed by partnerships the school maintains, with more than 500 related institutions and security organizations. The FlexPath format lets you learn at your own pace.
Degrees offered: You can pursue degrees at the undergraduate and graduate levels through B.S., M.S., and Ph.D. criminal justice programs.
Tuition: $357-$411 per credit or $2,500-$3,200 per 12-week FlexPath session for undergraduate programs, $435-$805 per credit or $2,400-$2,800 per FlexPath session for master’s programs, and $540-$800 per credit or $4,385-$4,900 per quarter for doctoral programs.
The state of Florida named FSU a Preeminent University, a designation that acknowledges the school’s status as one of the most significant higher-learning institutions in the state. The school boasts 16 colleges and more than 275 degree programs.
Degrees offered: You can pursue a bachelor’s degree in criminology as well as a master’s degree online through the College of Criminology and Criminal Justice.
Tuition: $180.49 for in-state undergraduate students, $686.04 for non-resident undergrads. In-state graduate students pay $444.26 and non-resident graduate students pay $1.075.66.
More than 70,000 students have pursued online degrees through Grand Canyon. The university welcomes transfer students by keeping the tuition the same for in-state and out-of-state learners and not requiring GREs or entrance exams as part of the transfer process if you’ve already begun work at a different school.
Degrees offered: Undergrads can pursue a Bachelor of Science degree in criminal justice. Graduate students can pursue a Master of Science in criminal justice with an emphasis in either law enforcement or legal studies.
Tuition: $470 per credit for undergraduates and $530 for graduate students.
Founded in 1951, Grantham has been offering distance education since the late 1990s and is now completely online. The faculty who teach Grantham University’s online criminal justice programs have experience in the field, which they build into the curriculum that you’ll follow in your program.
Degrees offered: Grantham offers criminal justice degrees at the associate and bachelor’s levels. If you’re pursuing a B.A., you have the option of specializing in computer forensic investigation or homeland security.
Tuition: $295 per credit hour.
LeTourneau University is a Christian polytechnic school. The university boasts a 97% placement rate for graduates of arts and sciences programs, which includes criminal justice.
Degrees offered: For undergraduates, a Bachelor of Science degree in criminal justice is available online, as is a criminal justice B.C.J. degree program. There’s also a fully online Associate of Science degree.
Tuition: $9,585-$12,825 a year, depending on the program and incoming transfer credits.
Liberty University’s criminal justice programs are delivered through the Helms School of Government. The Helms School coordinates student activities through partnerships with law enforcement and homeland security agencies at both the federal and local levels.
Degrees offered: Criminal justice degrees at Liberty are offered at the A.A., B.S., M.S., and Ph.D. levels.
Tuition: Full-time and part-time undergraduate students pay $390 and $445 per hour, respectively. Online graduate students pay $565 and $615.
More than 1,500 graduate and undergraduate distance learners are enrolled in online courses at New England College. Criminal justice is the second most highly enrolled field at the college and totals about 11% of the student body. The school boasts a 13:1 student/teacher ratio and a 93% job and graduate school placement rate within the first year.
Degrees offered: Criminal justice degrees are available at both the Associate of Arts and Bachelor of Arts levels.
Tuition: $405 per credit hour.
Northcentral is an affiliate of the National University System. The nonprofit institution boasts 100% doctoral faculty and one-to-one learning.
Degrees offered: Graduate students can pursue several unique, mixed-discipline offerings, including a Master of Public Administration (M.P.A.) degree with a criminal justice specialization. A Doctor of Criminal Justice (D.C.J.) degree is available as is a specialized Doctor of Business Administration (D.B.A.) criminal justice degree.
Tuition: M.P.A.: $2,148 per course; D.C.J.: $3,417 per course; D.B.A.: $3,222 per course.
Saint Leo’s online offerings are delivered through Saint Leo Worldwide, which provides the same coursework, quality of education, and faculty you’d find teaching on the Florida campus.
Degrees offered: There are 13 online degree programs at all levels, starting with an Associate of Arts in criminal justice. There’s also a B.A. in criminal justice, but the program can be modified with concentrations in criminalistics and homeland security. At the graduate level, there’s a Master of Science in criminal justice. That program can be modified with an emphasis on behavioral studies, corrections, criminal investigations, forensic science, or legal studies. Finally, doctoral students can pursue a Doctor of Criminal Justice degree with a specialization in either education or homeland security.
Tuition: $370 per credit hour for associate and bachelor’s degrees, $590 for master’s degrees, and $770 for doctorate degrees.
Sam Houston State University has a 135-year history as a Texas institution. Its online programs are taught by the same faculty who teach on campus, and credits are identical to the ones you’d earn learning face to face.
Degrees offered: You can choose either a B.A. or B.S. criminal justice degree at the undergraduate level, and criminal justice minors are available, as well. At the graduate level, there’s a criminal justice Master of Science degree as well as a criminal justice leadership and management M.S. degree. The latter offering is also available as a certificate.
Tuition: Undergraduate tuition per credit starts at $698.50 for Texas residents and $1,120.50 for non-residents. Tuition for in-state graduate students starts at $777.75 per credit hour, while non-residents pay $1,199.75.
Southern New Hampshire offers more than 200 degree programs completely online. The format is highly flexible—you will not be required to be online at any specific time, as long as you complete the weekly assignments before their deadlines, which you can do on your own schedule.
Degrees offered: Undergraduates can pursue an A.S. or B.S. criminal justice degree, the latter of which is available in six specialties: corrections, criminology, homeland security and counterterrorism, human services, legal studies and advocacy, and police administration and operations. A Master of Science is available with concentrations in either advanced counterterrorism or public safety administration, and an M.B.A. is offered with a concentration in criminal justice. You can also pursue a B.S. undergraduate degree in justice studies with four related concentration options: crime and criminology, law and legal process, policing and law enforcement, and terrorism and homeland security.
Tuition: $320 for undergraduate programs, $627 for graduate programs.
The U.C. Irvine Department of Criminology, Law, and Society boasts an experienced faculty with unique, real-world experience. Some were presidents of the American Society of Criminology, others were fellows of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, and others headed the Law and Society Association.
Degrees offered: Master of Advanced Study (M.A.S.) in criminology, law, and society.
Tuition: $4,798 per session or $14,394 per year.
The University of Cincinnati stands on two centuries of tradition. Today, its online programs boast an 87% placement rate in terms of graduates who get jobs within 90 days. The school’s distance learning programs and degrees are the same as those taught on campus, and the online format lets you work according to your own timeline and schedule.
Degrees offered: Bachelor of Science in criminal justice or Master of Science in criminal justice.
Tuition: The bachelor’s program costs $459 or $474 per credit for in-state or out-of-state students, respectively. The master’s program costs $724 and $739.
The University of South Florida earned the title of Preeminent Research University by the state of Florida. As a distance learner, you’ll have access to both the Electronic Campus and Florida Virtual Campus databases, resources, and programs.
Degrees offered: Undergrads can pursue either a Bachelor of Applied Science in criminal justice or a Bachelor of Arts in criminology. At the graduate level, there’s an M.S. in cybercrime.
Tuition: $105.07 for undergraduates, $347.91 for graduate students.
Founded in Central New York in 1946, Utica College boasts a low 11:1 student/teacher ratio. The school cites evidence that its graduates are among the top third of earners nationwide.
Degrees offered: Undergraduates can pursue a B.S. in criminal justice or criminal intelligence analysis, and there are several other related offerings at the undergraduate, graduate, and certificate levels, including disciplines like cybersecurity and economic crime and fraud management.
Tuition: $450 for criminal justice B.S., $475 for criminal intelligence analysis.
More than 88% of Walden faculty hold doctorate degrees and the school’s alumni network is more than 132,000 strong. Distance learning options are flexible, and online learners receive immediate feedback on tests.
Degrees offered: You can earn a B.S., an M.S., or a Ph.D. in criminal justice, the latter of which is offered in seven specializations. An alternative master’s program is the M.S. in criminal justice leadership and executive management.
Tuition: Ph.D.: $620 per quarter hour, M.S.: $505 per quarter hour, B.S.: $325 per quarter hour.
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.