Can You Get a Criminal Justice Degree Online?

Learn everything you need to know about getting a bachelor’s degree online, as well as
the 20 best online schools for Criminal Justice

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Top 20 Online Schools for Criminal Justice

  • University of Phoenix
  • Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU)
  • Purdue University
  • Maryville University
  • Indiana Wesleyan University (IWU)
  • Capella University
  • Rosemont College
  • Utica College
  • Sam Houston State University
  • Liberty University
  • University of Oklahoma-Norman Campus
  • Florida International University (FIU)
  • Bethel University
  • American InterContinental University (AIU)
  • Troy University
  • Saint Leo University
  • Bemidji State University
  • Arizona State University (ASU)
  • University of Cincinnati‎ (UC)
  • University of South Florida

FAQ: Types Of Online Criminal Justice Degrees

If you’re interested in working with the police department, court system, or even the department of homeland security, there is an applicable online criminal justice degree that can provide the training and education to equip you for a strong career. The field of criminal justice encompasses a wide range of potential career options, and with a certified online degree, your chances of landing a job are greatly increased. In law enforcement, many individuals pursue careers as police officers, detectives, or corrections officers. Other popular careers in the court system include paralegals and court reporters, both of which can be attained through earning a criminal justice degree.

What are the benefits of a career in criminal justice?

Careers in criminal justice are much less affected by economic slumps or downturns than other professions. In fact, the demand for criminal justice professionals can actually increase during times of economic duress; so job security is strong. If you plan on or are even considering pursuing a law degree a good place to start is with criminal justice. Not only does it familiarize you with the processes of the justice system, but it also gives you the added benefit of seeing how things work as you iron-out any career uncertainties you might have.

What online degrees are available right now?

There is a degree for every aspect and facet of criminal justice spanning from law enforcement and the justice system to investigation and corrections. These degrees will prepare you for fieldwork and are largely based on analytical and statistical problem solving as well as tactics.

  • Forensic Sciences
  • Law Enforcement
  • Public Safety Management
  • Security
  • Corrections
  • Court Reporting
  • Criminal Justice Administration
  • Homeland Security
  • Legal Studies
  • Paralegal/Legal Assistant
  • Crime Scene Investigation

The salaries of the potential careers associated with these degrees range from moderate to very high paying. It was reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics that in 2008 criminal justice professionals earned between $49,421 and $113,930 per year.

Regardless of the type of criminal justice degree you ultimately decide to pursue, having a degree in this subject will afford you many opportunities and diverse career options. It is not uncommon for those that have received a degree in law enforcement to pursue work with the police force; often times, after working as a police officer for a number of years an individual may consider pursuing criminal law and becoming a prosecuting attorney. Unlike other career fields, criminal justice is very adaptable, and once you have attained one particular degree you are not necessarily bound to it forever. There are endless possibilities within the field of criminal justice ranging from federal agencies to local state governments, and from social work to police work.

On-Campus vs. Online Criminal Justice Degrees

Getting an Online Criminal Justice Degree vs. Traditional Criminal Justice Degree

As criminal justice degree programs expand significantly to the online education platform, becoming nationally recognized and accredited, students may have difficulty choosing between online and traditional degree programs. Advantages exist for both traditional and online methods of education; ultimately, personal learning style and career goals are important factors in choosing a degree program. Some key differences in traditional and online education include:


Online programs typically cost slightly less per credit than traditional programs. In addition, most online institutions allow students to attend school during nonworking hours, such as evenings or weekends. This allows students to continue current employment, which can lessen their student loan debt. Working during school also allows criminal justice students to increase their career potential and achieve advanced positions within a company.

However, while traditional programs do not offer as much flexibility, students can often find part-time work on campus. Graduate students may have an opportunity to teach courses to fund their school as well. Accredited institutions, whether online or traditional, will have access to federal student aid funds.


Whether a traditional or an online program would work best depends highly on the learning style of the student. Online programs offer flexibility in class and study times, while traditional programs offer more structured education environments. Potential students who can self-motivate, have a strong commitment to the program, and are independent workers should consider an online program. Students who have not attended school for a long duration and are unsure of their skill level, or those who enjoy face-to-face interactions with professors would likely fit better into a traditional college program.

Access to Technology

Online criminal justice programs assume the student has access to a computer with a reliable internet connection. A particular program may have other technology requirements that will create a successful program for the institution. Students who have regular access to the required technology should consider an online program. Traditional colleges have technology labs on campus, which is helpful to those who do not have in-home technology access. Students who do not own a computer or who do not have consistent access to a fast internet connection should consider a traditional college environment.


Students who enjoy working one-on-one with others would benefit from a traditional program. Many traditional criminal justice programs have internship opportunities at local facilities, and utilize group work during class. Students who benefit from contact with others should consider a traditional college program.

Students who work better independently should consider an online program. Those who have outside commitments that make their availability for internships or group work difficult should also consider an online program.

What to Consider When Choosing a Criminal Justice School

Will I be able to take online and offline classes in my program?

Colleges for criminal justice offer both classroom-based courses and online courses. It is usually better to pursue your degree through traditional schools, because you will have the chance to learn hands-on skills in a more realistic environment. If your degree consists of only online courses, you will not be able to learn certain skills, like negotiation and conflict resolution, as well as you could in a classroom environment. But if you have no other option, you can take accredited online classes.

However, if you are considering earning a degree like an online bachelors from online criminal justice schools due to time constraints or the inconvenience of a rigid class schedule, you may wish to consider a hybrid degree. Hybrid degrees combine the top criminal justice classes online with some in-class learning so that you get personal instruction and a little more flexibility in your learning.

What kinds of subjects will I study in my classes?

The best online classes will teach you about the theoretical aspect of the field. You can expect to take courses in the criminal justice process, criminal law, forensic science, crime theory and police ethics.

Criminal Justice Process

Online classes will discuss the criminal justice process, which is the way that criminal suspects are arrested, detained and judged innocent or guilty. The roles of the main branches of the criminal justice system, including law enforcement, courts and corrections, will be studied in depth.

Criminal Law

The rules that different civilizations and societies use to control threatening behavior are called criminal laws. In the United States, criminal laws include all federal, state and local laws. In this online class, students will debate theories of punishment, consider the lawmaking process and discover the causes and effects of common crimes.

Forensic Science

Forensic science is where scientific principle and the law meet. Students will learn how to use the principles of biology, chemistry and genetics to gather and preserve criminal evidence. They will also practice providing scientific testimony in a mock court. Due to its hands-on nature, forensic science is not a recommended online course.

Crime Theory

Crime theory uses a sociological perspective to explore the reasons why people choose to break laws and what methods are best to deal with criminals. These criminal justice courses online encourage debate about issues like whether society has a responsibility to try to rehabilitate offenders.

Police Ethics

Police ethics is an important class that provides a place for students to discuss and debate controversial issues that law enforcement officers are likely to encounter on the job. Some of the ethical topics that students can expect to address are citizens’ rights, affirmative action, profiling and the judicious use of physical force.

What skills will I learn in my criminal justice classes?

Traditional and online courses will include classes about statistical analysis, legal research methods, negotiation, critical thinking and communication.

Statistical Analysis

Part of your criminal justice education will include learning to extract meaningful patterns and relationships from numerical data, which is also called statistics. You will understand how the reliability of statistics can be compromised and you will learn to use computer programs that let you model statistical data.

Legal Research Methods

In your criminal justice program, you will practice conducting legal research. Your classes will teach you to gathering information from many sources including computers, written documents, interviews and direct observation.


You will use negotiation frequently if you choose to pursue a legal career or a job in law enforcement. Therefore, your classes will teach you to learn as much as you can about a given problem before acting. You will learn several tactics for calmly diffusing conflict.

Critical Thinking

The critical thinking skills that you learn in your program will teach you to use logic to solve problems. You will learn to see many different sides of a problem so that you can use reason to choose the best possible solution.

Interpersonal Skills

Communication skills are essential in the criminal justice field. Your courses will teach you a range of interpersonal skills like awareness of your body language, active listening, choosing your words carefully and establishing boundaries between yourself and criminal suspects.

What Should I Expect From Criminal Justice Classes?

What are the best schools to attend?

You can earn degrees from 4-year universities and 2-year community colleges. You can also attend schools online if you do not have the option to attend a brick-and-mortar school for your education, but make sure that you only apply to accredited online schools if that is the case.

What are the most important factors I should consider when I am choosing a school to attend?

As you look for colleges for criminal justice, the most important factor that you should take into consideration is the opportunity that you will have to practice your hands-on skills. You must be able to perform your job safely and to the letter of the law as a criminal justice professional, whether you want to be on the front lines as a police officer, behind the scenes as a paralegal or somewhere in between.

In order to make sure you gain this experience, you should look for a program that offers an internship where you can learn skills like negotiation, interviewing and marksmanship, as well as experiencing the reality of trial proceedings. Therefore, you should look for a school that has formed relationships with organizations in your area, like local police departments and law firms.

What resources should my brick-and-mortar or online school provide?

The most important resources that you will have access to are your criminal justice teachers. Whether you attend a brick-and-mortar school or an online school, you should investigate the faculty to make sure that they are respected professionals in their field. Schools often list their faculty along with short biographies on their websites so that prospective students can feel comfortable with the staff who will be teaching them.

Your school should also provide you with career resources to help you find employment when you graduate. Before you apply, check with the schools that you are considering to see what kind of resources they offer to help you find an internship, write your resume and look for job openings.

Can I go to an online school to get my degree?

Although it is recommended that you pursue your degree from a traditional brick-and-mortar school, many busy adults have responsibilities to their families or careers that they cannot put on hold in order to meet the inflexible schedules of campus-based criminal justice programs. Therefore, if you have no other option, it is acceptable to earn your degree from a criminal justice online school. As long as your school is accredited, you will learn the theory of criminal justice that you need to do well in the field.

But if you want to attend a school online, you should know that some online criminal justice programs will be better for your career than others. For instance, an important component that the best online schools have in their curriculums is an internship. An internship at law enforcement agencies, courts or correctional facilities will give you a chance to learn the practical skills that you cannot gain through a purely online school.

And in addition to helping you develop hands-on skills, an internship makes an excellent foundation for your resume because it proves that you have successfully completed some work experience in the field. That will give you an advantage in the job market over someone who has just graduated and who has no criminal justice experience.

Where can I get more information about criminal justice degree programs?

To learn more about degrees and what you can do with them, you can visit resources on the web. One of the best ways to learn more about what you can do with your degree from the top online criminal justice schools is to visit professional organizations that conduct research in the field. A good website to visit for more information is the Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences. And although criminal justice is a distinct field from criminology, you may benefit from knowing a little about this related subject. Therefore, you can learn about criminology from the American Society of Criminology.

If you would like to work in corrections, you should check out the information made available to you from the American Correctional Association, the American Jail Association and the American Probation and Parole Association. Each of these organizations offers links on their websites to training opportunities as well as regional and national events like seminars and professional conferences. You can also find specific information about subjects like accreditation and professional certification in the corrections systems.

Who is Hiring CJ Majors?

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