Online Criminal Justice Degrees

An online criminal justice degree opens doors to a number of rewarding careers serving the public through law enforcement, the legal system, and corrections. Those who typically excel in a criminal justice degree online are critical thinkers with strong verbal and written communication skills. An eye for small details and the ability to explain difficult concepts are also key for criminal justice professionals. Prospective online criminal justice students should not have any felony convictions, domestic abuse convictions or DUI convictions, and should not have used illegal drugs for three years prior to their job application.

Those who feel called to protect the public can expect greater flexibility in criminal justice online degree programs, which makes it easier to continue working full-time or manage a busy schedule. Though many online criminal justice degree programs can be completed fully online, some will require several visits to the campus.

It’s beneficial to take on a relevant internship locally, as well, to gain experience before entering the job market. These may be found in community police departments, legal offices and elsewhere. It’s also wise to check out relevant certifications, such as the Criminal Justice Awareness and Terminology Certification, as detailed further below.

Regardless of which program is right for you, an online criminal justice degree properly prepares graduates for a rewarding and meaningful career. To learn more about how you can pursue your degree online, be sure to check out our guide below.

Meet our expert

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Mary Lou Chernik Criminal Justice

“Earning a master’s degree has enhanced my reputation as a medicolegal death investigator and has allowed me to pursue my dream of becoming a teacher.”

Online Criminal Justice Degree Overview

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, police and detective work will grow at a rate of 4% between 2014-2024. Graduates of online criminal justice degree programs will have an edge over the competition, making it far easier to secure a job. Employers in the criminal justice field value professionals who demand and deserve respect, and earning your degree will demonstrate your commitment to justice.

Degree Avg Degree Cost Avg Loan Default Rate Time Commitment Early Career Pay Mid-Career Pay Unemployment Rate
Associate $12,837 15.78% 1+ years $30,600 $46,000 8.9%
Bachelor's $18,070 11.51% 4 years $36,900 $62,900 4.7%
Master's $16,476 10.39% 1+ years $43,100 $62,900 3.9%
Whether you are new to the field, or looking to advance in your current career, you should weigh the costs and time of getting a new degree against its benefits. There is no one-size-fits-all degree. The best choice for you will depend on your current educational background, financial standing, employment history, and area of interest. For instance, those with no experience may want to consider an associate degree, due to its shorter time commitment and lower cost. If finances are tight for you, then you should prioritize the student loan debt and default categories, as you will want to choose a degree that offers you the best chance of improving your financial standing with minimal risk. If your employer or someone else is paying for your education, then you might want to consider the degree that will offer you the highest salary. All salary information is sourced from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and/or PayScale

If you want to ensure public safety on the ground in your community, an associate degree will take you less time and money to earn while ensuring opportunities for advancement as a police officer. If you have more specific interests in criminal justice, a higher-level degree such as a bachelor’s or master’s may be a better fit. A bachelor’s degree requires less financial investment when spread across four years and results in stronger employment opportunities. Though a bachelor’s degree will, on average, cost approximately $5,000 more than an associate degree, the average difference in salary between the two degrees is $6,300, making a bachelor’s degree a worthwhile financial investment. A master’s or doctoral level program requires additional financial investment, but will likely yield higher salaries across the span of your career.

Choosing Your Criminal Justice Career

Average Criminal Justice Salaries

$55,360
$44,570
$75,720
$49,060
$58,630

Computer Forensic Investigator

Salary: $55,360
Growth Rate 2014-2024 Number of Jobs: 2014 Degree Certifications
27% 14,400 Bachelor's None

Computer forensic investigators examine computer systems and data in order to present information for legal cases. They can also help determine when and how a hacker gained access to a system, as well as discover hidden digital information. A bachelor’s degree in computer forensics will provide the necessary background for a successful career in this area. In addition, analytical and problem solving skills are key, as well as effective verbal and written communications abilities, and an interest in the latest technological advances.

Legal Investigator

Salary: $44,570
Growth Rate 2014-2024 Number of Jobs: 2014 Degree Certifications
5% 34,900 Associates Licensed Private Investigator / Certified Legal Investigator recommended, not required

A legal investigator, more commonly known as a private investigator (PI), is a for-hire detective. They may search for clues by studying crime scenes, conduct surveillance and background investigations, report information to the authorities, and testify in court. PIs often work undercover. In addition to their help in the criminal justice field, PIs may also be hired to escort valuable property from place to place or to guard high-profile individuals. There are no formal educational requirements to be a PI, but most states require PIs to obtain a license. To be successful in this field, PIs must be assertive, unafraid of confrontation, possess effective communication skills (including the ability to question or interrogate individuals), and be extremely detail-oriented. They must also be at least 18 years old and have no criminal record.

Detective

Salary: $75,720
Growth Rate 2014-2024 Number of Jobs: 2014 Degree Certifications
4% 108,720 High School Diploma or Equivalent On-Job Training

Detectives investigate crimes. They gather evidence, interview witnesses, conduct background checks on victims and suspects, identify responsible parties, prepare for court, and assist in the prosecution of offenders. The scope of the work varies by location, and the work itself can be stressful and dangerous, so a detective must have mental and physical endurance. The minimum education requirements for a detective are a high school diploma, law enforcement certification, and experience as a sworn law enforcement officer. However, many agencies require a two- or four-year degree in criminal justice, forensic science, or a related field. Additionally, detectives should possess strong communication skills, the ability to remain objective, and the patience and empathy necessary to work through the long investigation process.

Probation Officer

Salary: $49,060
Growth Rate 2014-2024 Number of Jobs: 2014 Degree Certifications
4% 91,700 Bachelor's State Specific Licensing Requirements

Probation officers, also known as parole officers, help criminal offenders re-enter society after serving their sentences. Based on their supervision of and interaction with the offender, parole officers attend hearings and make suggestions to the parole board. Parole officers may encounter dangerous situations and heavy workloads of 70 to 130 cases at a time. Most state and federal parole agencies require applicants for this position to hold a bachelor’s degree, typically in either criminal justice, psychology, social work, correction, sociology, counseling, or business administration. Most parole officers must be at least 20 years of age, have a valid driver’s license, and must attend required training and certification courses. They must also have a license to carry a firearm, undergo background investigation and drug screening, and pass a psychological examination.

Uniformed Police Officer

Salary: $58,630
Growth Rate 2014-2024 Number of Jobs: 2014 Degree Certifications
4% 806,400 High School Diploma or Equivalent Police Academy Training

Uniformed police officers protect the public by enforcing local, state, and federal laws within their jurisdiction. Police officers have a number of specific responsibilities, including preventing and investigating criminal activity; apprehending criminals; conducting routine safety patrols; enforcing traffic laws; conducting safety inspections on roads and highways; and participating in public safety community programs. Education requirements to become an officer vary by state or city. Some police departments require a candidate to have a minimum of a high school diploma or GED, though several years of college coursework, such as an online associate degree in criminal justice, is often needed. Higher degree levels typically equate to higher pay and more opportunities for promotion and advancement. Candidates must be US citizens, 21 years of age, and must meet rigorous physical criteria include tests of stamina, agility, vision, hearing, and physical and mental strength. Military police experience is highly advantageous.

Online Criminal Justice Degree in Action

Mary Lou Chernik Criminal Justice

Mary Lou Chernik is an Air Force vet with more than 27 years of investigative experience that has earned a master of science in management for criminal justice, and a bachelor of science in criminal justice from Colorado Technical University (CTU), online. She also earned two associate of applied science degrees by going to on-ground campuses part-time while in the Air Force.

As a board certified fellow with the American Board of Medicolegal Death Investigators, she has worked in private, federal, and state agencies. She has 24 years of experience as the administrator of a woodworking company and ran her own private investigations business for 16 years. In addition to teaching criminal justice courses online, she works part-time as a field deputy medical investigator.

Why did you pursue your criminal justice degree online?

I live in a rural community with limited access to higher education. I had three choices—do nothing, move to a city where I would have access to an on-ground campus, or complete my degree online. I really liked CTU's accelerated program. I was just going to finish my bachelor's degree for my own satisfaction, but found I really liked online learning. Earning a master's degree has enhanced my reputation as a medicolegal death investigator and has allowed me to pursue my dream of becoming a teacher.

What were the biggest advantages for you as you studied online?

The biggest advantages for me were the flexibility of online learning and not having to waste time by driving to a campus. I continued to work, while going to school full time.

What were the challenges or obstacles you faced as an online student?

Time management was a challenge throughout my degree programs, along with self-discipline. The same flexibility that was an advantage was also a challenge because it was up to me to decide when to study or when to participate, rather than going to weekly class meetings. Balancing work, family, and school required both self-discipline and time management skills.

How did the online format help prepare you for your career?

I now teach criminal justice online degree courses for an online college. My experience as an online student helped me become familiar with online classrooms, submitting assignments, working with others through discussion boards, and the like. I know many of the challenges my students face. I know I would not be teaching online college courses if I had not been an online student first.

Online Criminal Justice Degrees

Associate

Although there are good jobs in the criminal justice field that don't require more than a high school diploma or GED (like uniformed police officer), an online criminal justice associate degree can seriously strengthen a candidate's credentials to work as a police officer, detective, or legal investigator. At an average cost of $12,000 for one to two years of study, an online associate degree can help an applicant secure an average salary level approximately 2.5 times higher than the cost of tuition.

Sample Courses
Fundamentals of Policing, Crime in America, and Criminal Investigation
Common Majors
Arts in Criminal Justice, Justice in Criminal Justice, and Applied Science in Criminal Justice
Potential Jobs
Uniformed Police Officer, Detective, and Corrections Officer
Average Income
$49,060 per year, $23.59 per hour for Probation Officers; $58,630 per year, $28.19 per hour for Uniformed Police Officers
Employment Prospects
4% growth rate per year

The Top 5 Online Associate Degrees in Criminal Justice

Rank School Name School Logo City Cost
1

South Texas College

McAllen
  • in-state tuition: $3,306
  • out-of-state tuition: $3,590
2

Northampton County Area Community College

Bethlehem
  • in-state tuition: $8,100
  • out-of-state tuition: $12,000
3

Southeastern Technical College

Vidalia
  • in-state tuition: $2,284
  • out-of-state tuition: $4,324
4

Northern Kentucky University

Highland Heights
  • in-state tuition: $8,856
  • out-of-state tuition: $8,858
5

Western Wyoming Community College

Rock Springs
  • in-state tuition: $2,282
  • out-of-state tuition: $6,074

See full rankings

Bachelor’s

A criminal justice online degree at the bachelor's level opens the doors to a number of careers in the criminal justice field. Some examples include the probation officer, detective, and computer forensic investigator careers described above. Although earning a bachelor's degree requires four years and an average investment of $18,070, the cost per year is much cheaper than earning an associate degree. Also, salary levels with this degree can be much higher than with an associate or high school diploma/GED.

Sample Courses
Drugs and Society, Statistics in Criminal Justice, and Crime Prevention
Common Majors
Criminal Justice, Computer Forensics, and Science in Criminal Justice
Potential Jobs
Probation Officer, Computer Forensic Investigator, and Homicide Detective
Average Income
$58,630 per year, $28.19 per hour
Employment Prospects
4% growth rate per year

The Top 5 Online Bachelor's Degrees in Criminal Justice

Rank School Name School Logo City Cost
1

University of Central Florida

Orlando
  • in-state tuition: $6,317
  • out-of-state tuition: $22,416
2

University of Massachusetts - Lowell

Lowell
  • per credit hour online: $370
3

Florida State University

Tallahassee
  • in-state tuition: $6,507
  • out-of-state tuition: $21,673
4

Saint Leo University

Saint Leo
  • annually: $19,920
5

Sam Houston State University

Huntsville
  • in-state tuition: $7,022
  • out-of-state tuition: $15,518

See full rankings
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Master’s

Earning a master's in criminal justice degree online can help working individuals secure promotions and higher salaries. Depending on your area of study, you can earn a master's degree in one to three years. This advanced degree explores niches within criminal justice and will likely open doors to additional career paths.

Sample Courses
Organizational Behavior, Victimology, and Policing Special Populations
Common Specializations
Homeland Security, Science in Terrorism and Counterterrorism, and Science in Criminal Justice
Potential Jobs
Criminal Investigator, Youth Correctional Officer, and Victim's Advocate
Average Income
$44,570 per year or $21.43 per hour
Employment Prospects
5% growth per year

The Top 5 Online Master's Degrees in Criminal Justice

Rank School Name School Logo City Cost
1

Michigan State University

East Lansing
  • in-state tuition: $12,862
  • out-of-state tuition: $33,750
2

Florida State University

Tallahassee
  • out-of-state tuition: $6,507
  • out-of-state tuition: $21,673
3

University of Central Florida

Orlando
  • in-state tuition: $6,317
  • out-of-state tuition: $22,416
4

University of Louisville

Louisville
  • in-state tuition: $9,946
  • out-of-state tuition: $23,834
5

University of Colorado - Denver

Denver
  • in-state tuition: $7,933
  • out-of-state tuition: $22,057

See full rankings

Doctorate

A doctorate in criminal justice will help those people who are seeking high-level careers in academia, private or governmental research agencies, or criminal justice leadership. An online doctorate in criminal justice will allow you to pursue a variety of specializations while continuing to work.

Sample Courses
Contemporary Public Safety Leadership, Race and Ethnicity in Crime and Criminal Justice, and Management and Leadership Theory
Common Specializations
Criminology, Criminology and Criminal Justice, and Criminal Justice
Potential Jobs
FBI Agent, FBI Investigator, and First-Line Supervisor of Police Officers
Average Income
$68,400 to $115,720 per year
Employment Prospects
N/A

Professional Requirements

State law prescribes whether or not you need to pursue a professional certification to work in criminal justice. Generally, uniformed police officers are required to be certified with the Peace Officer Skills Training Certification before they can work in the field. A Certified Criminal Justice Professional Certification will likely enhance a probation officer’s credentials. Take a look below for more information.

The Criminal Justice Awareness and Terminology Certification

Whether or not you hold a college-level degree, this short, ultra low-cost, and highly recognized multiple choice certification is a great way to demonstrate your professional prowess and boost your résumé.

Is it required?

No

How long will it take?

35 minutes

Certified Criminal Justice Professional

Parole or probation officers who work with recovering drug users may pursue this clinical certification. Specific requirements vary by state, but a bachelor’s degree is usually required. Additional hours of work-experience and specialized education may also be required depending on your jurisdiction.

Is it required?

Varies by state

How long will it take?

At least 4 years to earn a bachelor's degree

Peace Officer Skills Training Certification

This certification is required in order to work as a uniformed police officer. In some jurisdictions, correctional officers are also required to have this certification. Only candidates who have successfully completed 500 hours in an approved peace/police officer academy and have at least a high school diploma or GED are eligible for this certification.

Is it required?

Varies by state

How long will it take?

500 hours