Criminal justice is both a professional field and an area of academic study. In general, criminal justice is the practice and institutions that establish societal order, enforcing laws, and appropriately punishing individuals who violate them. Certificate programs are available at two levels of study in this field: the vocational level and the post-master’s level. A vocational certificate addresses the practice of enforcing the law and policing. A post-master’s certificate approaches criminal justice from a theoretical, academic perspective, with the goal of informing administrative efforts in the criminal justice system.

Types of Criminal Justice Certificates


A vocational certificate in criminal justice prepares you for an entry-level career with a law enforcement agency, or other criminal justice or security organization. Certificate programs are also a great way to become familiar with the field of criminal justice before committing to an undergraduate degree program on a full-time basis. The courses and credits of a certificate program met the job requirements for many administrative positions as well as some law enforcement personnel positions. However, many law enforcement agencies require a two-year associate degree to be eligible for law enforcement officer positions. If you think a vocational certificate is right for you, you will need the following qualification to be admitted to an online criminal justice certificate program:

  • High school diploma or its equivalent

Most certificate programs take one to two years of full-time study to complete. You will take classes in criminal law, criminal investigation, interviewing and report writing, police systems, traffic law, and ethics, among others. In an online program, many of these courses will be available through video lectures with grades based on exam scores and projects.

Post-Master’s Certificate

A post-master’s certificate in criminal justice is for professionals who already have a master’s degree but want to specialize in an area of the field. If you are currently working in criminal justice and would like to be gain specific expertise in a particular area without getting another degree, a certificate program might be for you. Some programs offer an easy enrollment process while others are fairly selective. However, you will need the following items to be eligible for a graduate certificate program:

  • Master’s degree in criminal justice

Graduate certificate programs can vary in length, but usually require between 15 and 30 hours of course credit. These programs offer specialization in a number of criminal justice concentrations, such as corrections, management and justice, behavior analysis, federal law enforcement, executive police administration, crime analysis, and others. The types of courses you take will vary depending on your chosen area of concentration. However, the courses will be advanced and delivered through live-streaming or video-conferencing in the case of an online program.

What’s Next for Criminal Justice Certificate Holders?

With a vocational certificate in criminal justice, you may be eligible for some law enforcement and security officer positions. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, a high school diploma is required for most police positions, so a certificate in criminal justice can increase your marketability for similar positions. However, hiring requirements can vary from one agency to the next and some require more advanced educational experience. With a post-master’s certificate in criminal justice, the possibilities are vast. For example, a criminal justice certificate with a specialization in crime analysis could lead to a career as a criminal investigator or crime intelligence analyst at a local or federal agency.

After completing a vocational certificate, you can expand your education with a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice. From there, you can complete a master’s program in criminal justice or in a related field, like criminology or corrections, if the demands of your career call for it. If you decide to complete a post-master’s certificate in criminal justice, you can also pursue further graduate study with a doctoral degree. Online degrees in criminal justice are available at most degree levels, although Ph.D. programs in online format are more difficult to find.