Best Online Bachelor’s in Criminal Justice

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A bachelor’s in criminal justice can lead to careers in law enforcement, social work, or legal studies. This degree exceeds the minimum education requirement for some protective services positions and qualifies graduates for advanced positions in federal law enforcement and corrections. Many students build experience to become private detectives or criminal investigators.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects a 5% growth rate from 2019-2029 for police and detectives. The field is competitive, but candidates can increase job prospects with education and field experience. The top criminal justice degree programs prepare enrollees for job training programs through policy and ethics coursework.

This guide explores some of the nation’s best online criminal justice programs.

Top 10 Criminal Justice Degree Programs Online

Rank School Location
1 Concordia University-Saint Paul Saint Paul, MN
2 LeTourneau University Longview, TX
3 Trine University Angola, IN
4 Drexel University Philadelphia, PA
5 Peirce College Philadelphia, PA
6 Mercer University Macon, GA
7 Baker University Baldwin City, KS
8 Champlain College Burlington, VT
9 Bay Path University Longmeadow, MA
10 Norwich University Northfield, VT
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What Is Criminal Justice?

Criminal justice uses a multifaceted approach of processing criminals and delivering justice. American criminal justice comprises multiple agencies and institutions under the federal government, including local and state levels. Responsibilities of the U.S. criminal justice system include crime prevention, effective incarceration, and offender rehabilitation.

Critical elements of the criminal justice system include law enforcement, lawyers, courts, and incarceration facilities. These institutions require qualified criminal justice professionals with field-specific communication skills, empathy, and sound judgment.

The best online bachelor’s degrees in criminal justice explore the correctional system, criminology, and victimology.

Students can tailor the bachelor’s in criminal justice to their career goals. Many schools offer generalist criminal justice degrees or concentrations geared specifically toward aspiring law enforcement officers, criminal investigators, or correctional specialists. Aspiring paralegals and social workers can also pursue bachelor’s in criminal justice degrees toward niche professions of their choice.

Earning a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice online enables enrollees to complete internships or continue working while satisfying core requirements. Especially in fields like federal law enforcement and private investigation, which value extensive experience, distance programs can provide an affordable, accelerated path to graduation.

Why Get an Online Criminal Justice Bachelor’s?

The best bachelor’s in criminal justice programs provide a pathway to careers in law enforcement, social work, or legal studies. A bachelor’s in criminal justice can provide substantial benefits, including:

A bachelor’s in criminal justice meets the minimum education requirement for jobs in areas of law enforcement, including probation officer, private detective, or federal agent. Other options span the fields of law and social work, including occupations like paralegal or arbitrator, respectively.
Healthcare and Retirement
Criminal justice jobs offer annual salaries exceeding $40,000 and generous health insurance and retirement benefits. Many law enforcement positions guarantee a pension after just 20 years of full-time service in the field.
Steady Growth
BLS projections indicate a 3% increase in protective service occupations from 2019-2029. Within this sector, some jobs exceed this projected growth rate. For example, police and detectives receive a 5% projected employment growth rate, while the BLS projects employment for private detectives and investigators to increase by 8% from 2019-2029.

The Top Online Bachelor’s in Criminal Justice Programs

  1. Concordia University-Saint Paul

    Saint Paul, MN



    A Christian university in the Twin Cities, CSP offers an online bachelor's in criminal justice aimed at working professionals. Participants can enroll in two tracks: one for those interested in Minnesota licensure and one for those with other goals. The 44-credit curriculum runs asynchronously, and students at CSP must earn a total of 120 credits for a bachelor's degree. All candidates must complete the university's general education requirements.

    This program takes a multidisciplinary approach to criminal justice education. CSP emphasizes current trends in law enforcement, professionalism, ethics, creative decision-making, and leadership. The core consists of 10 classes, after which students select from coursework in forensics and Minnesota law and traffic codes. The Minnesota Board of Peace Officers Standards and Training has given this curriculum their stamp of approval.

    CSP alumni enjoy a 95% employment rate within a year of graduation. The Higher Learning Commission accredits all CSP programs.

  2. LeTourneau University

    Longview, TX



    A Christian polytechnical institution in Longview, Texas, LETU hosts criminal justice programs online and on campus. The school infuses biblical teachings into its 120-credit curriculum, and distance learners must complete 12 credits of theological learning. Criminal justice students can select from concentrations in human trafficking, homeland security, and criminal justice studies. Available entirely online, this program follows an accelerated format.

    The major requires 36 credits in the core curriculum and nine in a concentration area or elective courses. LETU emphasizes an understanding of criminal behavior and psychology, progressive methods of conflict resolution, and real-world field knowledge. Highlighted classes explore ethics, cybercrime, restorative justice, and addiction theory. Students must maintain a C average in all major coursework.

    LETU evaluates applicants based on character, service, transcript, test scores, and class rank. Veterans and law enforcement professionals may already have transferable credits. Online learners pay a flat tuition fee.

  3. Trine University

    Angola, IN



    A private institution in Angola, Indiana, Trine offers a bachelor's in criminal justice through its TrineOnline virtual campus. Renowned for integrating psychology into law enforcement training, the program allows students to focus their studies in law enforcement, agency administration, addictions, academy and professional training, or forensic and correctional psychology. Trine is one of only a few undergraduate schools in the U.S. to offer a correctional psychology specialization.

    The 120-credit curriculum breaks into several parts. Students must earn 42 credits in general education, 63 credits in the major, and 15 credits in their concentration. Classes run asynchronously in accelerated, eight-week sessions. Some distance learners with transferable credits can earn their degrees in as little as a year.

  4. Drexel University

    Philadelphia, PA



    A private research university, Drexel offers one of the nation's best online bachelor's in criminal justice. The program brings together sociology, psychology, chemistry, biotechnology, computer science, and criminology to prepare students for 21st-century criminal justice careers. Distance learners can earn all necessary credits without having to visit the school's Philadelphia campus.

    Available on a part-time basis, the curriculum proceeds asynchronously in four, 10-week quarters. Students complete 11 classes in the major curriculum, two in research methods and analytics, five in a criminal justice concentration, and 10 in electives. These electives explore topics like cybercrime, investigation, domestic violence, terrorism, and law, and degree candidates can use them to focus their studies to meet their professional goals. They must also complete the university's general requirements.

    Applicants must submit evidence of a high school diploma or the equivalent, plus SAT scores. Drexel holds accreditation from the Middle States Commission on Higher Education.

  5. Peirce College

    Philadelphia, PA



    A career-oriented institution in Philadelphia, Peirce offers a bachelor's in criminal justice, which students can pursue online, on campus, or both. Taught by experienced law enforcement professionals, the 121-credit curriculum features classwork on criminal court systems, victimization, homeland security, criminology, and computer crimes.

    Founded for working adults, Peirce set up its asynchronous program to accommodate most schedules. Distance learners gain a deep understanding of crime and criminology and learn executive skills that help in any career. These include effective writing, research, and technology skills. Ambitious students can join Alpha Phi Sigma, the criminal justice honor society.

    Graduates earn up to 57 credits for training at the Philadelphia Police Academy and up to 27 for Philadelphia Divisions of Prisons training. Peirce accepts up to 90 transfer credits for this program. Peirce holds accreditation from the Middle States Commission on Higher Education.

  6. Mercer University

    Macon, GA



    The oldest private university in Georgia, Mercer hosts an online criminal justice bachelor's degree emphasizing leadership skills. The Macon institution established this program to blend criminal justice theory and practice. It teaches students to make good decisions in the field, think critically, and act in an engaged, professional manner.

    The 120-credit curriculum comprises 42 major credits, 39 general education credits, and 39 elective credits. Classes follow accelerated, eight-week sessions. Highlights include supervision in criminal justice, a leadership seminar, and an independent study project, which lets distance learners explore a related area of interest. Requirements include a field experience with an approved agency.

    Mercer admits students to its program five times per year. The college boasts a generous transfer policy, accepting as many as two-thirds of its required credits. Applicants should hold a minimum 2.25 GPA.

  7. Baker University

    Baldwin City, KS



    A private liberal arts institution, Baker offers online and on-campus courses from its home in Baldwin City, Kansas. Affiliated with the Methodist Church, the school hosts one of the country's top online bachelor's in criminal justice. The 33-credit program prepares students for careers in law enforcement or to advance to graduate-level study.

    Baker's curriculum proceeds in a lock-step format, offering one class at a time. Required coursework covers subjects such as criminology, victimology, policing, youth and crime, and white-collar crime. A bachelor's at the university requires a total of 124 credit hours. Degree candidates must complete 36 general education credits before enrolling in a major, and they must maintain a minimum 2.0 GPA while completing the program.

    The university's Prior Learning Assessment Center provides a straightforward way to earn credits for police, fire, or military training. Baker offers a comprehensive resource package.

  8. Champlain College

    Burlington, VT



    Set in Burlington, Champlain hosts one of the nation's most unique online criminal justice programs. The Vermont school focuses its curriculum on economic crime, teaching students to investigate white-collar offenses. The course of study proceeds entirely online, using hands-on exercises to develop the skills to fight crimes like embezzlement and fraud. Graduates leave ready to pursue careers in law enforcement, accounting, and risk management, and to sit for professional exams.

    The 120-credit curriculum comprises 66 credits in professional courses and 54 in general education. It combines coursework in accounting, computer science, criminal justice, psychology, and sociology. Distance learners also acquire skills in effective communication, problem-solving, and analytical thinking. The program prepares students for the certified fraud examiner and certified anti-money laundering specialist exams. Most professors use an asynchronous format.

    Champlain schedules two seven-week sessions per semester. The school's academic calendar has three semesters per year. The college accepts up to 90 transfer credits toward the degree.

  9. Bay Path University

    Longmeadow, MA



    Bay Path offers a women's-only bachelor's in criminal justice through the university's American Women's College. The program takes a public service approach to the field, featuring classes from the social services, corrections, probations and parole, juvenile justice, homeland security, and emergency management.

    The curriculum consists of 120 credits, including 42 in the university core, 42 in criminal justice, and 36 in general electives. Fifteen credits in criminal justice electives allow students to customize the program to their personal goals. Bay Path utilizes an asynchronous delivery format as part of the social online universal learning program. Professors use lectures, interactive discussions, and cases to hone participants' skills.

    Bay Path offers a minor in the field and encourages double majors. The university's generous transfer policy allows up to 90 credits toward baccalaureate degrees. Applicants should hold a minimum 2.0 GPA.

  10. Norwich University

    Northfield, VT



    Vermont's military college, Norwich, offers an online bachelor's in criminal justice focused on the nation's criminal justice system. The program explores the workings of law enforcement, the courts, and corrections, and how to make them run ethically and efficiently. Students can specialize in intelligence and security management or create their own concentrations through electives. All learning takes place online, requiring no visits to the Northfield campus.

    A bachelor's at Norwich requires 120 credits, but the major itself comprises just 57. These include 15 credits in foundational courses, 18 elective credits, 18 in field studies, and a six-credit capstone. Many distance learners earn this degree in 18 months by transferring in credits. The university requires at least 30 credits to enroll in the program, accepting up to 90 transfer credits.

    Norwich carries accreditation from the New England Commission of Higher Education.

What To Expect From a Bachelor’s Degree in Criminal Justice Program

The requirements of a bachelor’s in criminal justice vary by school and type. Schools most commonly offer a bachelor of science (BS), or more specifically, a BS in criminal justice (BSCJ). Though rare, some institutions feature bachelor of arts (BA), bachelor of applied arts (BAA), and bachelor of applied sciences (BAS) options.

Most online bachelor’s degrees in criminal justice require 120 semester credits. Many programs include optional practicums or internships. Common concentrations include:

  • Police management
  • Criminology
  • Corrections
  • Family violence
  • Juvenile justice
  • Law
  • Investigations
  • Security management

While most bachelor’s-level programs take four years to complete, many online bachelor’s in criminal justice degrees offer accelerated paths to graduation. Applicants commonly possess work or military experience, which may satisfy transfer requirements.

Distance degrees may deliver courses synchronously, with appointed class times, or asynchronously, through pre-recorded material. Some programs combine online and in-person learning through hybrid coursework.

Read More About Criminal Justice Programs

Admission Requirements

While admission requirements vary, most bachelor’s degrees in criminal justice share some common criteria. For example, most bachelor’s in criminal justice require applicants to submit official academic transcripts and ACT or SAT scores. Schools may require applicants with some college experience from associate degrees or undergraduate certificates.

Schools also routinely include a FAFSA requirement for undergraduate admission. Some programs require personal statements, resumes, and letters of recommendation. Most criminal justice programs do not require a criminal background check for admission, though aspiring law enforcement officers should expect to undergo this process to begin their careers.

Most schools now prefer online applications to traditional mail. Students increasingly use Common App to apply online. This service allows schools to manage large volumes of student applications, while candidates can conveniently enter application information for multiple schools at once.

Comparing Degree Types

Schools most commonly offer BSCJ degrees, though some feature BA, BAA, and BAS formats. The BSCJ outlines a broad core and elective curriculum, while the BA, BAA, and BAS emphasize practical career skills for entry-level employment. The bachelor’s in criminal justice meets the preferred education requirement for many advanced law enforcement positions, especially through the federal government.

The top criminal justice degree programs offer diverse concentrations. Popular options include police management, criminology, and corrections. Learners can choose from broad specializations, like law, or more acute areas, such as juvenile justice or domestic violence. Regardless of concentration, core coursework explores victimology, criminology, and the courts and correctional systems in the United States.

Employers place a premium on job experience, especially within federal agencies like the FBI. Aspiring police officers typically must complete police academy training programs in addition to their degrees. All bachelor’s in criminal justice prepare students for specialized job training after graduation.

Popular Criminal Justice Courses

A bachelor’s in criminal justice typically requires core, concentration, and elective coursework. Many offer optional practicums or internship experiences. At the bachelor’s level, the curriculum explores criminal justice theory, practice, and policy. Students also develop field-specific communication, critical thinking, and cultural awareness skills. Common courses include:

This comprehensive course introduces degree-seekers to the multifaceted field of criminal justice. Topics emphasize the overlapping of local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies and correctional systems. Enrollees also explore the differences between sworn and civilian occupations.
This course examines the broad and acute functions of the national correctional system in the U.S., including incarceration, punishment, and sentencing protocols. Many programs emphasize public policy and allied professions. Learners often take this class concurrently with a course in the U.S. judicial system.
Commonly included among the core courses in a bachelor’s in criminal justice, this class explores the criminal justice system from a victim’s perspective to develop stronger empathy skills. Topics include risk factors, victim statistics, and crime prevention techniques.
This course approaches the criminal justice system from the criminal mind. Topics include psychology, sociology, and criminal behavior. Many programs require core coursework in criminology, while others offer criminology as an in-depth concentration of criminal justice.
Many bachelor’s degrees in criminal justice offer optional internships as elective courses. Learners can pursue internship placement within local police departments, law firms, or social services providers. At the bachelor’s level, internships involve more technical, less practical experience than in a master’s degree.

How Much Will a Bachelor’s in Criminal Justice Cost?

The overall cost of a bachelor’s in criminal justice depends on several key components. For example, many schools set their tuition rates based on whether in-state or out-of-state residency. Additionally, a school’s location and public vs. private status may affect its rates. Distance education programs often charge in-state rates, regardless of location.

Even with set or in-state tuition rates, most college students need financial aid to earn their degrees. Most schools require undergraduate applicants to complete FAFSA forms to determine their financial aid eligibility. Candidates may qualify for federal or institutional scholarships and grants, employer reimbursement programs, and loans to supplement the cost of bachelor’s in criminal justice degrees.

Applicants should pursue scholarship and grant awards first, which do not require repayment. After exhausting these options, they can apply for loans, which they must repay.

Jobs for Bachelor’s in Criminal Justice Graduates

The BLS projects a 3% increase in employment for protective service occupations from 2019-2029. Beyond protective service occupations like police and detectives, the criminal justice field includes jobs like probation officer, correctional treatment specialist, and paralegal.

While many criminal justice positions require on-the-job training instead of a college degree, a bachelor’s in criminal justice may give candidates an edge over their competition.

Common roles that require or prefer candidates to possess bachelor’s degrees include:

  • Police or Detective

    Police officers and detectives protect people and property from illegal and criminal activity. Types of police and detectives include criminal investigators, fish and game wardens, and sheriff patrol officers. Generally, a police officer must be at least 21 years of age with a clean criminal record and complete a police academy training program. A detective may need to possess a bachelor’s degree, especially for federal positions.

    • Required Education: High school diploma or bachelor’s degree
    • Job Outlook (2019-29): +5%
    • Median Annual Salary: $65,170

  • Probation Officer

    Probation, parole, and pretrial services officers help law offenders transition from custody to supervised probate or parole programs. Probation officers must be at least 21 and typically must possess bachelor’s degrees in fields like criminal justice. Each candidate must also pass a criminal background check and a drug test. Federal and state agencies require students to complete training programs and pass a competency exam.

    • Required Education: Bachelor’s degree
    • Job Outlook (2019-29): +4%
    • Median Annual Salary: $54,290

  • Correctional Treatment Specialist

    Correctional treatment specialists may work alongside probation or parole officers to develop release plans for law offenders. Also commonly referred to as case managers or correctional counselors, these professionals use psychological testing and questionnaires to evaluate offenders for potential release. They typically must possess bachelor’s degrees in criminal justice, social work, or behavioral science.

    • Required Education: Bachelor’s degree
    • Job Outlook (2019-29): +4%
    • Median Annual Salary: $54,290

  • Private Detective or Investigator

    Most private detectives and investigators build experience in law enforcement, federal intelligence, or the military before entering this specialized field. Candidates with extensive experience may only need to possess high school diplomas, though most employers prefer that they hold associate or bachelor’s degrees in criminal justice. Most positions require candidates to complete extensive on-the-job training.

    • Required Education: High school diploma or criminal justice degree
    • Job Outlook (2019-29): +8%
    • Median Annual Salary: $50,510

  • Paralegal or Legal Assistant

    Paralegals and legal assistants support lawyers by organizing client files, performing legal research, and drafting legal documents. Some paralegals hold an associate degree in legal studies, though candidates commonly hold bachelor’s degrees in other majors, like criminal justice, along with a paralegal certificate. Legal assistants and paralegals may specialize in corporate- or litigation-based legal assistance.

    • Required Education: Bachelor’s degree
    • Job Outlook (2019-29): +10%
    • Median Annual Salary: $51,740

Explore Criminal Justice Careers

Choosing the Right Criminal Justice Program

Our rankings offer a sensible starting point in the search for the best bachelor of science in criminal justice. However, other criteria can affect the quality of a bachelor’s in criminal justice, especially accreditation. Schools may achieve national or regional accreditation through an agency approved by the Department of Education or the Council for Higher Education Accreditation.

Since even the top criminal justice degree programs do not include separate programmatic accreditation, students may prefer schools with regional institutional accreditation, which requires a more rigorous process.

Aspiring criminal justice majors should consider:

Aspiring criminal justice professionals often consider the location of a school and its potential to support local job opportunities after graduation.
Program Culture/Composition
Learners may prefer traditional BS programs in criminal justice or seek career-oriented BAA or BAS criminal justice degrees.
Cost/Financial Aid
Some candidates choose online bachelor’s in criminal justice degrees for their set or in-state tuition rates for online learning.
Transfer Admissions
Many applicants possess academic or military experience and can transfer the maximum credits allowed toward a bachelor’s in criminal justice.
Candidates should explore each prospective program’s concentration options to ensure that they align with their career goals.
Job Opportunities
The best online criminal justice programs prepare students for on-the-job training, including police academy programs and federal special agencies.

Why You Should Get Your Bachelor’s Degree in Criminal Justice Online

Bachelor’s degrees in criminal justice translate well to the online education experience. While many schools still offer in-person programs, distance degrees continue to grow in popularity. The best online criminal justice programs offer optional internships and benefits, including accelerated schedules, flexible enrollment, and in-state tuition rates. Online enrollees can continue to maintain employment while pursuing their degrees, also avoiding additional housing, commuting, and campus facilities costs.

Online bachelor’s degrees in criminal justice develop soft skills in communication, perceptiveness, time management, and sound judgment. Additionally, online programs familiarize students with the latest criminal justice technology, especially in law enforcement and private investigation.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Is a BA or BS better for criminal justice?

    Schools commonly offer both BAs and BS degrees in criminal justice. While the degrees share many of the same core course requirements, the BA includes more liberal arts electives than the technically oriented BS degree.

  • How many years is a bachelor's degree in criminal justice?

    Most bachelor’s degrees in criminal justice take four years to complete. However, many dual programs and online criminal justice degrees offer accelerated paths to graduation. Conversely, part-time students may take longer to complete the degree.

  • What jobs can you get with a bachelor of science in criminal justice?

    A bachelor’s in criminal justice can lead to occupations in law enforcement, social work, and law. Graduates commonly pursue employment as police officers, private investigators, probation officers, or paralegals.

  • What is the highest-paying job with a bachelor's degree in criminal justice?

    Police and detectives earn a median annual salary of more than $65,000 as of 2019. Within this professional group, detectives and criminal investigators earned more than $83,000 in 2019.

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