Criminal justice is the practice of enforcing the law. The criminal justice system is complex, with many different institutions in its mix, so a degree in criminal justice is recommended if you want to work in law enforcement or criminal justice. There are many career opportunities in criminal justice at the associate degree level, which provides an introductory education in the field. In a criminal justice associate degree online program, you will learn about basic policies, procedures, practices, laws, and systems that you must understand to work in law enforcement, corrections, or criminal law.

Why an Associate Degree?

An associate degree in criminal justice is a strong choice because it can lead to a number of criminal justice career paths without a significant commitment of time and money to complete your education. Associate degrees usually take at least two years of full time study to complete, which is half the time of a bachelor’s degree. Fewer credit hours also mean less tuition, which is an advantage if you want to minimize your costs for education. You will find a wide selection of online associate degree programs in criminal justice that allow you to complete your degree in your free time without having to leave your current job to go back to school.

In addition, an associate degree in criminal justice might be the biggest bang for your buck when it comes to career possibilities. Criminal justice has a variety of careers that require a high school diploma or associate degree to qualify, making this degree level a strong choice for breaking into the field. With an associate degree, you can work as a paralegal, law enforcement or corrections officer, or security officer, among other positions. If you want a hands-on career in law enforcement, an associate degree can take you there.

Getting Into an Associate Degree Program

Admissions requirements for criminal justice associates degree online programs are fairly minimal. Some might require SAT or ACT test scores, but most will not. In general, you will need the following items to get into a criminal justice associate degree program:

  • High school diploma or its equivalent

Inside a Criminal Justice Associate Degree Program

An online associate degree in criminal justice will include a combination of general education courses and major courses in criminal justice. General education courses might include writing composition, English, basic math, and a selection of social science, history, and life sciences courses. Major criminal justice courses with include mostly introductory and some intermediate courses in topics like criminology, psychology, criminal law, criminal procedures, crisis intervention strategies, and more. You can expect class lectures delivered in video format in most cases, with assignments that are delivered electronically. Assignments might include research essays and slide-show presentations, with regular exams to test your knowledge of the material.

Most associate degree programs require 60 course credit hours, or a minimum of two years (four semesters) of coursework. Some accelerated programs that allow you to complete the degree in less time are available online. You can also work toward the degree on a part time basis in most case, especially if the lectures or classes times can be completed on a flexible schedule.

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What’s Next for Criminal Justice Associate Degree Holders?

With an online criminal justice associate degree, you can pursue various opportunities in law enforcement. These include positions in corrections, city or state police, and more. Many law enforcement agencies require a high school diploma and some college coursework, while others might require an associate degree or even a bachelor’s degree, so it’s important to confirm the job requirements for the agency of your choice.

A criminal justice associate degree can also lead to a career as a paralegal or administrator. Paralegals work under attorneys to perform research, keep records, and draft legal documents and must have at least an associate degree. A degree in criminal justice is most useful for paralegals working in a criminal law environment.

If you want to extend your education in criminal justice beyond the associate level, you have the option to do so. Bachelor’s, master’s, and even some doctoral programs are available in this field. Some bachelor’s degree programs allow you to apply your associate degree credits toward your bachelor’s degree, also known as a degree completion program. Many of these programs are available online. A bachelor’s degree program may increase your job prospects, allowing you to compete for law enforcement jobs more aggressively, as well as be eligible for jobs at government agencies, like the FBI, that require at least a bachelor’s degree.