Affordable Online Criminal Justice Degrees

Do you want to work with cutting-edge technology in a fulfilling career promoting public safety? With a criminal justice degree, you can pursue a job in law enforcement, corrections, or even private investigation. It is estimated that as of 1950, there were fewer than 1,000 students studying criminal justice in the U.S. Today, criminal justice has become a popular degree choice for those who want to pursue a career in law enforcement, courts, corrections, and more. An online criminal justice program gives you the opportunity to embark on an exciting academic journey that will expose you to the inner-workings of our country’s complex criminal justice and law enforcement systems. Your degree will equip you with the skills and expertise necessary to work at the local, state, or federal level.

An online criminal justice program is an affordable and flexible alternative to traditional brick-and-mortar learning, and with job prospects growing steadily in the upcoming years, now is an opportune time to pursue a degree. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that the number of jobs in the most popular criminal justice tracks are expected to increase by around 4% between 2014 and 2024.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that the number of jobs in the most popular criminal justice tracks are expected to increase by around 4%.

If you have self-discipline and are dedicated to serving and protecting the public while truly making a difference in your community, earning a criminal justice degree online is the first step to launching your career. Read on to learn more about the many criminal justice careers you can pursue with your degree, and explore our ranking of the best online schools for criminal justice.

Did You Know?

The first modern American police forces were established in Boston in 1838, followed by New York City in 1844. Today, criminal justice students can pursue a wide range of careers in law enforcement, courts, corrections, and more. Learn more about your degree and careers options.

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What Can You Do With a Degree in Criminal Justice?

Police Officer

$60,270 Avg Annual Salary
Varies Degree Required

Police officers work in communities to prevent and intervene in crimes. They patrol our roads and highways, issue tickets to reckless drivers, and arrest those who break the law or threaten public safety. Exceptional police officers are expected to go above and beyond to make the lives of the public safer and better. Whether they are saving a life or simply interacting with the community in a positive way, compassionate and hard-working cops are needed now more than ever. Their careers are fast-paced, challenging, sometimes dangerous, and invaluable to the communities they serve.

  • Degree Required: High School Diploma, AA in Criminal Justice
  • Licensure Required: Graduation from an agency’s academy training program
  • Time Commitment: 2 years
  • Median Annual Salary (Entry-Level): $42,910
  • Median Annual Salary (Mid-Career): $58,320
  • Median Annual Salary (Late-Career): $76,160

Private Detective

$35,070 Avg Annual Salary
Varies Degree Required

A private investigator works for individuals or organizations collecting valuable evidence pertaining to legal cases or personal disputes. Private investigators frequently work alongside lawyers in criminal and civil cases to find and reveal information that aids clients. Some private investigators work on high profile capital punishment cases, while others work for organizations like insurance agencies to investigate possible cases of fraud. Private investigators help find the missing puzzle pieces other legal professionals may miss, and they play integral behind-the-scenes roles in the criminal justice system. Private investigators usually have prior experience working as police officers or as detectives for law enforcement agencies.

  • Degree Required: AA in Criminal Justice, BA in Criminal Justice
  • Licensure Required: Varies; may require licensing
  • Time Commitment: 4 years
  • Median Annual Salary (Entry-Level): $35,070
  • Median Annual Salary (Mid-Career): $45,610
  • Median Annual Salary (Late-Career): $62,820

Fish and Game Warden

$52,780 Avg Annual Salary
Varies Degree Required

Fish and game wardens, also known as conservation or wildlife officers, work for state and federal parks and wildlife departments. They ensure that wildlife areas are conserved and wildlife populations can flourish in their natural habitats. They stop and apprehend poachers and those caught destroying wildlife. They also provide safety information to tourists and visitors in the areas they serve. They are environmental experts regarding the wildlife and plants in their areas and know the best applicable conservation practices. If you love nature and have an interest in working in law enforcement, criminal justice careers in fish and game law enforcement might be a great fit for you.

  • Degree Required: High School Diploma, AA in Criminal Justice
  • Licensure Required: Basic training program.
  • Time Commitment: 4 years
  • Median Annual Salary (Entry-Level): $42,780
  • Median Annual Salary (Mid-Career): $52,780
  • Median Annual Salary (Late-Career): $62,870

Criminal Justice Careers by the Numbers

The career outlook for probation officers, police officers, and transit and railroad police officers will remain particularly stable over the next decade. Regardless of your niche and specific interests, criminal justice professionals working for local, state, or federal agencies are always in demand.

Top Criminal Justice Careers by Income and Growth Rate
Career Salary Job Outlook
Detectives and Criminal Investigators $77,210 – 1%
Police and Sherriff’s Patrol Officers $58,320 + 5%
Transit and Railroad Police $59,670 + 4%
Probation Officers and Correctional Specialists $49,360 + 4%
BLS employment projections data, 2014-2024

Highest Paying Criminal Justice Careers by Sector


What Does it Take to Succeed in Criminal Justice?

Successful professionals in the field of criminal justice typically share a similar set of skills, traits, and talents. The following are just some of the skills you will build upon in an online criminal justice degree program.

  • Empathy

    Police officers need to understand the perspectives of a wide variety of people in their jurisdiction and have a willingness to help the public.

  • Attention to detail

    Police officers and other criminal justice agents need to be able to notice details like erratic driving on the roads and missing information in suspects’ stories.

  • Problem-solving

    Careers in criminal justice almost always require the ability to solve complex problems and think on your feet. Some situations can be dangerous, which is why problem-solving skills are particularly important.

  • Communication

    This applies to both verbal and nonverbal communication skills. People should be comfortable speaking and sharing information with you, so listening and communication skills are both essential.

  • Conflict Resolution

    Criminal justice careers, particularly those of police officers, parole officers, and probation officers, inherently involve conflict with civilians and clients. Conflict resolution skills are a must to de-escalate possibly dangerous situations quickly.

  • Compassion

    Police officers and other law enforcement officials need to be able to put themselves in other people’s shoes so they can approach difficult interpersonal situations from a place of understanding and care, allowing them to make the best decisions for all involved.


Associate Degree in Criminal Justice: An Overview

Who should pursue an associate degree in criminal justice?

Many local and state law enforcement agencies require at least an associate degree for certain positions, including police officer positions. For positions that require a high school diploma, an associate degree can give you an edge in the market.

How long does it take to get a teaching degree at this level?

Two years.

Is a thesis or capstone usually required?

No.

What can you do with a teaching degree at this level?

Police officer, private investigator, correctional officer, fish and game warden.

What's the average salary for someone who holds this degree?

The average salary is $42,910.

Core Concepts

The core concepts covered in a criminal justice degree program at the associate level prepare you to work in a variety of careers that require in-depth knowledge of the justice system, court system, and advancements in the field. Here are some of the essential concepts you can expect to cover in two-year criminal justice online schools:

  • Social Justice: Evaluate issues of justice, professionalism, and ethics within law enforcement, the courts, and the private sector security industry.
  • Crime Prevention: Learn about the causes and factors that contribute to crime and ways to mitigate those factors to prevent future crimes.
  • Forensics: Develop an understanding of the basics of forensic science and its role in the criminal justice system.
  • Court and Corrections: Learn about how the corrections and court systems work and how careers in criminal justice relate to those systems.

Course Highlights

Introduction to Criminal Justice

Description This course covers the nature, scope, and impact of crime in the U.S., independent and interdependent operations and procedures of police, courts and corrections, and introductory theories of crime and delinquency.
Job Skill
  • Delve into the numerous components of the justice system including law enforcement, legal and judicial process, and correctional operations.
  • Career opportunities will be fully covered throughout the course.

Ethics in Criminal Justice

Description This course is an examination of the ethical dilemmas those in criminal justice degree careers face and how those ethical dilemmas can be dealt with in a way that improves society.
Job Skill
  • After completing this course, you will have the ability to view situations that arise using an ethical lens and respond to situations in ethically appropriate ways.

Writing for the Criminal Justice Professions

Description This course teaches you written communication skills you’ll need to file reports and produce documents for criminal justice, legal, and social services agencies.
Job Skill
  • Upon successful completion of this course, you will have the ability to help create a paper trail for criminal and legal cases.

Criminal Law

Description This course is an overview of the foundations of criminal law. It exposes you to pertinent laws and how courts handle situations when those laws are broken.
Job Skill
  • When you’ve completed this course, you’ll know more about how society is governed and how to properly police the civilian population according to major laws.

Affordable Schools With Online Associate Programs


Bachelor’s Degree in Criminal Justice: An Overview

Who should pursue a bachelor's degree in criminal justice?

Those interested in higher-level and administrative careers with criminal justice degree requirements.

How many years will it take to complete?

A bachelor’s degree is typically completed within four years of full-time study.

Is a thesis or capstone usually required?

Some programs may require the successful completion of a thesis or capstone.

What type of jobs does this degree prepare you for?

FBI agent, CIA officer, DEA agent, probation officer.

What's the average salary for someone who holds this degree?

The average salary is $63,000.

Core Concepts

The curricula covered in four-year online schools for criminal justice provide you with comprehensive knowledge about the legal system, the corrections system, criminal behavior, and human psychology as it relates to crime. These are some of the core concepts you will go over in a bachelor’s criminal justice program:

  • Legal System: Develop an understanding of the legal system as it relates to criminal law and the policing of communities.
  • Psychological Profiles: Learn about the psychological and sociological factors that contribute to crime.
  • Crime Research: Research methods of reducing crime, prison recidivism, and conflict in society as a whole.
  • Human Diversity: Study human diversity in criminal justice and learn how to work with diverse populations.

Course Highlights

Criminology

Description This course provides an introduction to the study of crime, criminal behavior, and laws that pertain to criminal justice careers. It will also delve into more specific topics that relate to policing communities.
Job Skill Empowered with the knowledge you need of the field of criminal justice, you will be able to provide unique insights into criminal cases on the job.

Criminal Law

Description This course will familiarize you with the most common laws that pertain to the criminal justice and corrections systems. It will also expose you to the history and trends of criminal law in our country and around the world.
Job Skill With key knowledge of laws, you will be able to successfully work with lawyers and court system employees.

Justice and Human Rights Advocacy

Description This course will expose you to the intersection of criminal justice and human rights and discuss what criminal justice systems around the world can do to ensure proper human rights.
Job Skill After taking this course, you will be able to approach your profession in criminal justice with awareness of key human rights issues that often affect community/police relations.

Social Research Methods

Description You will learn how to research behavior patterns in populations and use that research to inform the decisions you make.
Job Skill This course will prepare you to conduct research about populations if you end up in an administrative role in the criminal justice system.

Affordable Schools With Online Bachelor’s Programs


Master’s Degree in Criminal Justice: An Overview

Who should pursue a master’s degree in criminal justice?

Those who want to be being highly competitive applicants for administrative and technical positions and those who are interested in doctoral studies in the field.

How many years will it take to complete?

One to two years of full-time study.­

Is a thesis or capstone usually required?

Yes, and thesis or capstone requirements usually involve extensive research in the field.

What type of jobs does this degree prepare you for?

CIA analyst, computer forensics investigator, emergency management director, information security analyst

What's the average salary for someone who holds this degree?

The average salary is $73,750.

Core Concepts

While a bachelor’s criminal justice degree online prepares you to work with the legal system, corrections system, and the public, a graduate online criminal justice degree positions you as an expert in all of these sectors. Additionally, graduate online schools for criminal justice provide you with extra insights into human behavior and the use of technology in the criminal justice field. Here are some things you will cover as you earn your master’s online criminal justice degree:

  • Public Policy: Develop an understanding of how public policy affects crime and economic outcomes for communities.
  • Policing Methods: Use data to evaluate current criminal justice methods and suggest alternatives that would have a stronger impact.
  • Leadership: Learn about ethical leadership and effective administrative tactics for managing teams in the criminal justice field.

Course Highlights

Criminal Justice Policy Research and Development

Description You will learn how to conduct research for public policy and how to write policy briefs to inform legislators of policy recommendations.
Job Skill After taking this course, you will be able to work with policy leaders at the local, state, and federal levels to enact change in the criminal justice system.

Ethical Leadership in Criminal Justice

Description This course will explore ethical issues that pertain to the jobs of leaders and administrators in the criminal justice field and take a deep dive into employee management with a focus on ethics.
Job Skill Upon completion of this course, you will be able to oversee teams with ethical issues in mind and help prevent problems on teams due to ethical concerns.

Budgeting and Planning for Criminal Justice Managers

Description This course will teach you the financial side of running a criminal justice agency and provide you with real-world knowledge of how criminal justice agencies work.
Job Skill After taking this course, you will be able to work with policy leaders at the local, state, and federal levels to enact change in the criminal justice system.

Courts and Judicial Process

Description This course will offer insights into the inner-workings of courts and the judicial process as a whole. It will also help you develop a deeper understanding of how the public interacts with the judicial system.
Job Skill AWhen working with the courts and lawyers, the information you learn in this class will come in handy to help you better navigate the legal system.

Affordable Schools With Online Master’s Programs


PhD in Criminal Justice: An Overview

Who should pursue a PhD in criminal justice?

Those who are interested in becoming college professors in the field or criminal justice researchers who affect policy.

How many years will it take to complete?

Five years of full-time study.

Is a thesis or capstone usually required?

Yes, a research-intensive dissertation is usually required.

What type of jobs does this degree prepare you for?

College professor, academic researcher, public policy specialist.

What's the average salary for someone who holds this degree?

The average salary is $72,470.

PhD in Criminal Justice Overview

Online criminal justice degrees at the PhD level prepare you to become a criminology expert who can teach in higher education and at the policy level. PhD online schools for criminal justice will give you a chance to do the following:

  • Policies and Procedures: Conduct and publish research about criminal justice policies and trends.
  • Criminology: Develop an in-depth understanding of criminological theory.
  • Research Methods: Apply a mix of research methods to the study of crime causes, social behavior, and the judicial system.

Next Steps: Certification

Professional certifications look great on your résumé and help differentiate you from other job applicants who are competing for the same positions as you. Below are some criminal justice certifications that may interest you.

  • The Criminal Justice Awareness and Terminology Certification: The Criminal Justice Awareness and Terminology Certification is obtained by passing an exam that tests your knowledge of essential concepts, skills, and terms that pertain to the criminal justice system. This certification lets potential employers know that you have advanced knowledge of the field that will give you an edge in the market.
  • The Certified Criminal Justice Professional Certification: This is a link to a state-specific certification program for probation and parole officers. Many states offer such certifications, which provide proof of certain levels of clinical experience and certain numbers of clinical hours in the a clinical role working for a probation or parole department.
  • Peace Officer Skills Training Certification: For law enforcement positions that require additional responsibilities and authority, this certification can be of great help in boosting your skillset and making you a more attractive job candidate. In order to obtain this certification, you must complete an applicable training program.

Sites You May Also be Interested In

Criminal Justice Job Boards

  • PoliceEmployment.com This site contains a job search tool that allows you to find law enforcement positions by state. It is simple to use, and it provides you with access to thousands of open positions around the U.S.
  • USAJOBS.gov Do you find yourself asking “what can I do with a career in criminal justice?” This is the job board for all of the positions posted by the federal government. Many of the jobs you will find on site involve national security and law enforcement.
  • Officer.com This is a site where local and state law enforcement agencies frequently post open positions. It’s a good place to start if you want to be in-the-know about the latest job openings for police officers.

Criminal Justice Blogs

  • Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice This blog publishes articles about the latest research and statistics related to juvenile and criminal justice. If you’re interested in the facts and stats related to the field, you’ll enjoy this blog.
  • Cop in the Hood This blog is run by a former Baltimore City Police Officer and current criminal justice professor. It offers insight into criminal justice statistics and research as well as what it’s like to work as a police officer in an urban area.
  • Second City Cop This entertaining and informative blog is published by a Chicago police officer. It details some of his experiences and sheds light on news stories about criminal justice from the perspective of an officer.

Professional Organizations

  • American Criminal Justice Association This is a professional association for anyone and everyone involved in criminal justice in the U.S. The association’s site offers helpful job search tools, networking opportunities, and more.
  • National Association of Police Organizations This professional organization works with unions and other associations to advance the rights of police officers and advocate for them when things go unjustly awry. This is a good association to know about if you are interested in advocacy work.
  • Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association This is an association for federal law enforcement officers. The site provides helpful legal information, resources, and networking opportunities for members.