Guide to Online Criminal Justice Bachelor’s Degree Programs

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What Is an Online Bachelor’s Degree in Criminal Justice?

The criminal justice field covers a broad range of careers, many of which offer high salaries without significant education requirements. With an online bachelor’s in criminal justice, graduates can find careers in law enforcement, the legal system, and government agencies.

A bachelor’s in criminal justice combines a liberal arts education with courses in law, sociology, ethics, and psychology. These programs teach students to understand current legal systems and work for both the government and individuals. Through a combination of studying and internship experience, graduates complete their degrees ready to begin their careers.

Career outcomes for criminal justice degree-holders vary. Some criminal justice graduates find careers as forensic science technicians. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), this high-growth career pays a median wage of $59,150, though some forensic science technicians earn more than $97,350 annually. Graduates who enjoy the outdoors can become fish and game wardens, earning a mean annual wage of $57,690, according to the BLS.

Some careers may require additional education, so many online bachelor’s in criminal justice degrees also prepare students to begin graduate programs. However, bachelor’s degree-holders can find plenty of career opportunities without continuing their education.

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Featured Online Programs

Explore program formats, transfer requirements, financial aid packages, and more by contacting the schools below.

Why Get an Online Bachelor’s Degree in Criminal Justice?

Prospective bachelor’s in criminal justice students may wonder if earning a degree online pays off. Online bachelor’s degrees in criminal justice teach employable skills, and their online format offers flexibility for those who must continue working while earning the degree. Criminal justice programs teach an array of skills, and graduates end up in various fields and careers. Learners earn their bachelor’s degrees for various reasons, including the following benefits.

  • Career Advancement

    Individuals currently working in criminal justice-related fields earn bachelor’s degrees to advance their current careers, increasing their salary potential.

  • Transfer Fields

    Recent high school graduates and working adults use online bachelor’s degrees in criminal justice to enter the criminal justice field, even if they have no relevant professional experience.

  • Learn New Skills

    Criminal justice degrees blend multiple fields, teaching students an array of valuable skills. These skills help graduates find employment or increase their earnings.

  • Why Should You Get Your Degree Online?

    New students looking at earning bachelor’s degrees must choose between on-campus and online programs. Online degrees require the same courses, cover the same materials, and match the same quality of on-campus degrees. However, online students also benefit from distance learning, and many programs allow students to complete courses asynchronously, at their own pace. Some programs even offer discounted tuition rates to online learners.

    Many of the concepts covered by bachelor’s in criminal justice programs do not require in-person studies, which means the degree is well-suited to online students. Some programs also offer hybrid options, allowing learners to complete some of their courses online. This format also benefits students interested in internships.

    Online education offers many benefits to students, but some learners prefer to study entirely on campus. Consider the benefits of each option before committing to online education.

    Career and Salary Outlook for Online Bachelor’s Degree in Criminal Justice Graduates

    Students who earn online degrees in criminal justice benefit from many possible career outcomes. Criminal justice careers include law enforcement, corrections, forensics, homeland security, and private sector work.

    Some criminal justice graduates find careers in substance abuse counseling. According to the BLS, substance abuse counselors — along with behavioral disorder and mental health counselors — earn a median wage of $46,240, with the highest 10% of earners making more than $76,080.

    Other graduates find positions as police officers and detectives, earning a median salary of $65,170 per year, according to the BLS. These skilled professionals sometimes see wages exceed $100,000, and detectives working for the federal government earn a median salary of $88,060. However, some higher-paying positions, such as CIA officer, could require master’s degrees in criminal justice.


    • Private Investigator

      Private investigators work independently to gather information, analyze evidence, and assist law enforcement professionals. Some also work for private employers to perform other investigatory tasks. Private investigators perform tasks including surveillance, background checks, researching suspects, and gathering information.

      Median Annual Salary: $56,493

      LEARN MORE


    • FBI Agent

      FBI agents work for the U.S. government to investigate and solve crimes. Agents sometimes specialize in specific fields, interview persons of interest, analyze data, make arrests, and testify in court. Most agents go on assignments across the United States. While not required, many FBI agents complete bachelor’s degrees in criminal justice or criminology.

      Median Annual Salary: $65,574

      LEARN MORE


    • Homicide Detective

      These detectives specialize in investigating and solving homicide cases. Day-to-day tasks include examining crime scenes, collecting evidence, interviewing persons of interest and witnesses, researching suspects, and making arrests. Homicide detectives work at every level of government but earn the highest wages working for the federal government.

      Median Annual Salary: $74,377

      LEARN MORE


    • Substance Abuse Counselor

      Substance abuse counselors work with individuals or groups of people who suffer from alcohol or drug abuse. These counselors often work for the government and may work on site with patients at correctional facilities. Most substance abuse counselors earn bachelor’s degrees, though some choose to complete master’s degrees.

      Median Annual Salary: $39,411

      LEARN MORE


    • Forensic Ballistics Expert

      Sometimes referred to as forensic scientists, forensic ballistics experts work with other law enforcement professionals to collect firearm evidence at crime scenes. These professionals gather evidence, match bullets, analyze projectile and explosions, and help determine suspects based on analysis.

      Median Annual Salary: $56,860

      LEARN MORE


    Online Bachelor’s Degree in Criminal Justice Careers: Median Salaries by Experience, 2020

    JOB TITLE ENTRY LEVEL (0-12 MONTHS) EARLY CAREER (1-4 YEARS) MID-CAREER (5-9 YEARS) EXPERIENCED (10-19 YEARS)
    Private Investigator $45,940 $47,070 $57,710 $59,470
    FBI Agent $52,000 $60,000 $65,000 $81,000
    Homicide Detective $60,000 $73,000 $74,000 $85,000
    Substance Abuse Counselor $36,730 $38,870 $43,550 $46,320
    Forensic Ballistic Expert $49,000 $53,000 $65,000 $74,000
    Source: PayScale
    EXPLORE MORE CRIMINAL JUSTICE CAREERS

    Interviews with Criminal Justice Professionals

    From county sheriffs to forensic psychiatrists, criminal justice professionals cover a wide array of fields. Anyone interested in criminal justice bachelor’s degrees could benefit from learning more about the many potential careers, what each career entails, and long-term career expectations.

    EXPLORE CRIMINAL JUSTICE INTERVIEWS

    Types of Online Bachelor’s Degrees in Criminal Justice

    When researching various bachelor’s in criminal justice degrees, learners might notice multiple degree types. Schools offer bachelors of science or arts in criminal justice, or sometimes both options. While both degrees take roughly four years to complete and teach similar topics, their specific courses vary. Each degree prepares students for different careers and graduate degrees.

  • Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice:

    A bachelor of science in criminal justice focuses more on technical skills and the scientific components of jobs in the field, like forensics.

  • Bachelor of Arts in Criminal Justice:

    Unlike a bachelor of science, a bachelor of arts in criminal justice focuses on broad, theoretical concepts. Much of this degree emphasizes the liberal arts, examining the sociology and psychology of crime.

  • Online Bachelor’s in Criminal Justice Concentrations

    Because criminal justice covers a broad range of topics, many programs offer concentrations. Concentrations allow students to specialize their degrees in specific fields, learn skills specific to certain careers, and study preferred materials. For example, concentrations in forensic psychology prepare students for all psychology-related careers — not just those under the criminal justice umbrella.

    When looking at bachelor’s in criminal justice programs, consider concentrations, specializations, and emphases. All three work similarly to each other and allow students to study niche fields. Some programs might offer concentrations, but not require students to select one.

    Potential criminal justice concentrations include:

    Popular Online Bachelor’s Degree in Criminal Justice Courses

    Learners enrolling in online bachelor’s in criminal justice programs can anticipate taking general education, core, and elective courses. However, specific course requirements and availability depend on the school, program, and specialization.

    All programs require a set of core courses for the criminal justice major, though course requirements differ between BS and BA degrees. Some schools require students to complete a thesis or capstone project during the final semester. Other programs might require learners to complete internships related to their specialty. Requirements vary, but many programs offer the following courses.

  • CRIMINOLOGY

    Criminology focuses on various types of criminal acts, why people conduct criminal activity, and policies implemented by law enforcement to prevent and punish these acts. This reading-intensive course explores professional journals covering criminology, sociology, psychology, and criminal justice.

  • THE AMERICAN LEGAL SYSTEM

    Usually offered as a lower-division introductory course, the American legal system covers various legal issues at the local, state, and federal levels. Students discover the legal powers of legislative, executive, and judicial branches and analyze the checks and balances set to distribute legal power between the three branches.

  • INTRODUCTION TO POLICING

    An important introductory course required by most criminal justice programs, introduction to policing opens with the history of policing and covers the role of police and law enforcement professionals in criminal justice. This course also looks at various law enforcement agencies and their relationships with citizens and each other.

  • GENDER, CRIME, AND CRIMINAL JUSTICE

    This course explores the important association between gender and crime. Learners cover the social constructs surrounding women’s involvement in crime, analyzing the sociological and criminological factors. Programs emphasize women’s involvement in crime, both as offenders and victims, and focus on how the legal system treats women.

  • TECHNOLOGY IN CRIMINAL JUSTICE

    Sometimes known as criminal justice technology, technology in criminal justice explores how law enforcement and criminal justice professionals use technology. Learners also discover how criminals use technology to commit crimes. This course touches on the positive and negative impacts of technology on criminal justice.

  • Pairing Internships With Your Education

    To learn new skills, gain experience, and potentially cover tuition expenses, criminal justice learners use internships. Internships provide individuals with real-world experience, and some internships help students gain the skills for their career of choice.

    Aside from experience, some internships also offer hourly compensation or a stipend. Some criminal justice programs also extend college credits to students who complete relevant internships. Schools might even connect learners with local internship opportunities.

    Internships also allow students to form connections with current professionals. Networking through internships could lead to careers after graduation.

    Selecting Your Online Bachelor’s Degree in Criminal Justice Program

    While researching undergraduate criminal justice programs, applicants should pay attention to several factors, including:

    Cost and Financial Aid

    While some programs charge steep tuition rates, some online programs offer tuition and fee discounts. Prospective learners must consider schools offering generous financial aid packages.

    Concentrations and Specializations

    Strongly consider selecting a criminal justice program with concentration offerings, which allow students to dive into specific fields of criminal justice.

    Program Length

    Most online bachelor’s in criminal justice degrees take four years to complete, though some online and accelerated programs take less time, providing students with faster routes to employment.

    Alumni Network

    An extensive alumni network helps learners find internship opportunities and graduates find jobs.

    Online vs. In-Person

    Online education provides more flexibility than on-campus programs, but some schools offer discounted tuition rates to online learners. However, in-person students benefit from face-to-face interactions with faculty and other students.

    Accreditation

    As we explore later on, accreditation plays a significant role in selecting criminal justice programs. Only apply to accredited colleges and universities.

    Admission Requirements for Online Criminal Justice Programs

    All colleges and universities require applicants to earn high school diplomas or GEDs. Applicants should demonstrate a minimum 2.5 high school GPA, though many programs prefer GPAs exceeding 3.0. Students with previous college experience or associate degrees must demonstrate a 3.0 GPA, and most programs only accept college credits earned at accredited institutions.

    Some schools no longer require standardized test scores, but high school students typically take the SAT and/or ACT. Test score requirements vary by school, but students should earn at least a 1400 or 22 on the SAT or ACT, respectively.

    Finally, applicants must submit personal essays, transcripts, letters of recommendation, and application fees. Fortunately, many schools use the Common App, allowing students to apply to multiple schools at once.

    Accreditation for Online Bachelor’s Degree in Criminal Justice Schools and Programs

    Perhaps the most important factor to consider when comparing schools is accreditation. Accreditation indicates that a school and/or program meets standards set by an accrediting organization, and accrediting organizations receive recognition from the government-backed Council for Higher Education Accreditation.

    First, prospective students should look for regional or national accreditation. Awarded to colleges and universities, regional and national accreditation both demonstrate quality. However, many employers and graduate schools prefer candidates with degrees from regionally accredited institutions.

    Next, criminal justice learners should look for programmatic accreditation. Though less common than in other fields, some criminal justice programs receive accreditation from organizations like the Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences. However, many high-quality online and on-campus criminal justice degrees do not hold programmatic accreditation. When programs do not hold programmatic accreditation, make sure their institutions hold regional accreditation.

    Ranking Your Top Schools

    Tuition expenses, course offerings, degree quality, and accreditation status play important roles in ranking schools. However, dozens of factors determine the best criminal justice programs for you. Decide which factors matter most, then research all criminal justice programs meeting your personal requirements. To start, check out our ranking of the top online criminal justice programs.

    EXPLORE OUR LIST OF THE BEST ONLINE BACHELOR’S IN CRIMINAL JUSTICE PROGRAMS

    Resources

    Frequently Asked Questions

    • Can I get a criminal justice degree online?

      Yes, many schools offer bachelor’s degrees in criminal justice online. Other schools offer hybrid programs, where students complete some of their coursework online. Both options allow for more flexibility than regular on-campus criminal justice degrees. 

    • What's the best online college for criminal justice?

      The best college for an online criminal justice degree depends on each student. Bachelors of science and arts differ, and each program features its own concentration options and tuition rates. Students should research schools to pick the best option for their needs.

    • How much is an online criminal justice degree?

      The total cost of an online criminal justice degree depends on school affordability, financial aid awards, and previous college credits. However, students can easily find online programs under $10,000 per year, and some programs are even cheaper.

    Scholarships for Online Bachelor’s Degree in Criminal Justice Programs

    As education costs continue to rise, many students reduce expenses through scholarships. Thousands of students receive scholarships each year, and many awards go to specific students. Along with academic, athletic, and other scholarships, criminal justice students could qualify for the following scholarships.

    • Jim & Anna Hyonjoo Lint Scholarship

      Who Can Apply: This scholarship goes to students studying international affairs, national security, or counterintelligence, and who demonstrate financial need. Winners may use the funds to cover tuition and fee costs for classes.

      Amount: $1,500

      Apply for Scholarship

    • Thomas Reuters Student Scholarship

      Who Can Apply: Offered through the National Federation of Paralegal Associations, the Thomas Reuters Students Scholarships go to two students pursuing degrees related to paralegal studies. The first winner earns $3,000 and the second $2,000.

      Amount: $2,000-$3,000

      Apply for Scholarship

    • Console Associates Legal Scholarships

      Who Can Apply: High school seniors enrolling in college and current undergraduates may apply for this one-time award. Applicants must demonstrate a minimum 3.0 GPA and plan to pursue law-related degrees.

      Amount: $1,000

      Apply for Scholarship

    • Edward J. Kiernan Memorial Scholarship

      Who Can Apply: Applicants must be children of IUPA-affiliated unions and pursue degrees related to law enforcement. The IUPA selects winners based on career goals, academic excellence, and financial need.

      Amount $2,500

      Apply for Scholarship

    • LivSecure Scholarship

      Who Can Apply: Current college freshmen and sophomores, along with recent high school graduates, may apply for this essay-based scholarship. Winners must plan on or currently be pursuing degrees in criminal justice or related fields.

      Amount: $1,000

      Apply for Scholarship

    Professional Organizations for Criminal Justice

    Along with pursuing an education, current students and recent graduates can boost their chances of finding criminal justice jobs through professional organizations. Professional organizations usually charge membership fees, but members access many useful resources, including networking events, job boards, professional development, and online education.

    These organizations also help professionals advance their current careers and stay current on important industry information. Consider several criminal justice professional organizations.

    AMERICAN SOCIETY OF CRIMINOLOGY
    The society connects criminal justice and criminology professionals from around the world. Members receive access to exclusive publications and an invitation to an annual meeting.

    ACADEMY OF CRIMINAL JUSTICE SCIENCES
    Created in 1963, ACJS works to help criminal justice professionals grow. Members gain access to various discounts, publications, and networking opportunities. They can also connect with mentors.

    INTERNATIONAL ASSOCIATION FOR CORRECTIONAL AND FORENSIC PSYCHOLOGY
    IACFP offers student and professional memberships, and members receive industry discounts and access to online tools. Members also receive access to IACFP’s publication, Criminal Justice and Behavior.

    Additional Reading

    EXPLORE OTHER CRIMINAL JUSTICE CAREERS

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    Advertisement CriminalJusticeDegreeSchools.com is an advertising-supported site. Featured programs and school search results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other information published on this site.

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