Earning Your Criminal Justice Degree Online
With an increased national focus on law enforcement, immigration, and public safety combined with major advances in distance-learning technology, earning a criminal justice degree online is now more attractive than ever. Online criminal justice degrees are perfect for those who are interested in pursuing a career in the field, but need the flexibility to take classes at their own pace — and on their own schedule. For professionals already working in the field and seeking to pursue an advanced degree, enrolling in one of the many criminal justice online schools allows professionals to balance work and school.
Most online criminal justice degrees can be completed almost entirely online, but some institution’s programs require a short internship or shadowing component. Coursework mirrors that of traditional programs, and is taught by the same instructors as the brick-and-mortar school alternatives. Students also take part in discussions in online forums, watch live and recorded lectures, and take exams online. Distance learners can expect classes in topics such as criminology, security and police administration, juvenile justice, and law.
Job Outlook for Criminal Justice Graduates
The Bureau of Labor and Statistics estimates a 4% growth in job opportunities for individuals in this field through the year 2024. However, as the field of criminal justice encompasses many areas (including law enforcement, corrections, the legal system, and criminal investigations), some careers within the field are seeing even higher growth numbers. As national security, border protection, and globalization continue to be frequent topics of discussion and debate, the profession is likely to continue to grow.
This job growth, coupled with increasing interest in the field and a growing need for trained criminal justice professionals, might be a factor in the increased enrollment in degree programs. Last year, Missouri Southern State University reported a 27% increase in enrollment in their criminal justice degree program.
Steven Brancazio, faculty chair for Capella University’s Criminal Justice Undergraduate Studies, believes that advanced degrees in criminal justice are crucial, and will continue to become more common. “Policing is changing,” he said. “It used to be authoritative, reactive, a very strict hierarchy and chain of command. Today, officers are given more authority and are more involved in the community. They need better critical thinking skills. More decision-making responsibility at lower levels means a law enforcement officer needs to know what’s involved.”
“The bottom line is that a criminal justice degree can improve your prospects in law enforcement,” Brancazio said. “Education is probably the most powerful weapon any officer carries.”
Types of Criminal Justice Careers and Salaries
Criminal justice is a wide and varied field, with concentrations and careers to meet every professional’s area of interest. These areas include law enforcement, forensics, criminology, corrections, and even social work. Each comes with its own specific job functions and payscale.
- Forensic Science Technician
No doubt in part due to the rise of popular television shows focused on the field, crime scene investigator positions are on the rise. Professionals in this field gather evidence from crime scenes, and then conduct research in labs and write reports on their findings. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that job growth will be high through 2024, increasing by 27% and boasting an average salary of $56,750.
- Police Officer
Police officers enforce laws, patrol neighborhoods and assigned areas, and respond to emergency situations. This is a job many people probably think of when hearing “criminal justice,” and it’s a demanding and stressful position. The median salary for a police officer is $61,600.
- Probation Officer
Probation officers work with released probationers to ensure they don’t commit new crimes. They set up frequent evaluations to make sure probation violations aren’t occurring, and help probationers find a place of employment. Probation officers make an average of $50,160 every year.
- Pretrial Service Officer
Pretrial officers work with defendants from the moment they are booked in jail until they enter the courtroom. They ensure their legal rights are protected and process all of their items and information. This position’s average salary is $59,024.
- Correctional Officer
Professionals working in this area of criminal justice focus work in jails or prisons, where they perform a variety of tasks. For example, they supervise inmates and ensure order is kept at all times. A correctional officer’s average salary is $42,820.
Types of Criminal Justice Degrees
Research shows that police officers and criminal justice professionals perform better on the job with advanced training and degrees. Those who receive their bachelor’s, master’s, and even doctorate enjoy better opportunities for job promotion, and are better equipped to handle the potentially stressful and demanding functions of their profession.
Individuals in criminal justice fields receive a considerable amount of on-the-job training, but additional degrees can work to the professional’s advantage as they advance in their careers, providing them with more expertise in management, human behavior, and criminal justice ethics and policy.
|Degree Level||Definition||Possible Concentrations||Median Annual Salary|
|Associate||Two-year program providing students with a basic understanding of law enforcement and similar fields.||Security
|Bachelor’s||Typically a four-year program focusing on the broader issues of criminal justice, crime control, and the law.||Forensic science
Mental health counseling
Business intelligence analysis
|Master’s||Pursuing a master’s degree in the field allows students to focus on a specific subsection of criminal justice and involve higher levels of research and theory.||Homeland security
Emergency management & preparedness
Forensic science administration
|Certifications||Notable certifications include the Criminal Justice Awareness and Terminology Certification, Certified Criminal Justice Professional (CCJP) certification, and the Professional Peace Officer Certification.||Entry-level criminal justice
Local law enforcement
Criminal Justice Certifications and Licensing
A variety of criminal justice certifications and licensing options are available for practitioners in the field. First, the Criminal Justice Awareness and Terminology Certification is crucial for learners seeking an entry-level criminal justice position. An excellent resume-enhancer, individuals receive this certification by simply passing a test.
Many online criminal justice degree programs also offer the Criminal Justice Certificate, which is intended as an add-on to an individual’s prior coursework or criminal justice degree. The certificate is perfect for professionals interested in specializing in a specific criminal justice area, like juvenile crime, policing, and criminal behavior.
The Professional Peace Officer Certification is for those officers seeking a position in law enforcement. They must take a curriculum of courses in criminal justice, complete their local law enforcement department’s training program, and pass the final written and physical exams. Varying from state to state, this certification is often required to become, for example, a police officer.
Criminal Justice Scholarships
In an effort to build a pipeline of committed and prepared criminal justice professionals, organizations and memorial funds offer numerous scholarship opportunities for those interested in entering the profession. While online criminal justice degrees are an affordable alternative to in-person programs, the scholarships are still helpful in making the cost more manageable.
- Criminal Justice Scholarship Award
Offered by Crimcheck (a private company specializing in background checks), this scholarship provides financial assistance to students interested in pursuing a career in criminal justice. High school senior or undergraduate enrolled in criminal justice program with a minimum 3.0 GPA.
- Amount: $500
- Deadline: August 1
- Ronnie Williams Foundation Criminal Justice Scholarship
This scholarship was made in honor of Ronnie Williams, a Delaware police officer, and is awarded to students majoring in criminal justice. High school seniors in Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania with a GPA of at least 2.5.
- Amount: $1,000
- Deadline: May 1
- My Alarm Center Scholarship
Awarded by home security company My Alarm Center, this scholarship is intended for students studying law enforcement. Graduating high-school senior or freshman or sophomore in college, must not be related to any My Alarm Center staff (or extended family), must meet formatting requirements
- Amount: $1,000
- Deadline: July 1
- Brian Terry Scholarship
Awarded in honor of Brian Terry, a U.S. Border Patrol Agent killed in the line of duty, this scholarship is intended students interested in careers in law enforcement. Students accepted or currently enrolled in college and interested in criminal justice (see site link above for details)
- Amount: Varies
- Deadline: May 31
- WIFLE Scholarship Program
Women in Federal Law Enforcement (WIFLE) offers scholarships to individuals interested in law enforcement. Must be currently enrolled and completed at least one year at a postsecondary institution, majoring in criminal justice or related discipline
- Amount: $2,500
- Deadline: May 2
- The Harold Johnson Law Enforcement Scholarship
Founded in memory of Police Chief Harold Johnson, this scholarship is awarded to students who want to pursue a career in police work, corrections, or criminal justice. Minimum 2.5 GPA and graduating senior or graduate from the San Francisco Bay Area
- Amount: $5,000
- Deadline: February 22
- Sheryl A. Horak Law Enforcement Explorer Memorial Scholarship
The scholarship is awarded in honor of Sheryl A. Horak, a Law Enforcement Explorer. 12th grade students or above, based on a variety of requirements, including their personal statement on “Why I Want to Pursue a Career in Law Enforcement.”
- Amount: $1,000
- Deadline: March 31
- Martin Luther King Jr Scholarship Award
Applicants must write a personal essay on the ideals and philosophies of Martin Luther King, Jr. Minority students with demonstrated need in assistance toward obtaining education in criminal justice field.
- Amount: $1,000
- Deadline: June 1
- Captain James Regan Memorial Scholarship
This scholarship is awarded to students interested in programs in law enforcement, forensic activities, and technical surveillance. Must be a 12th grade student planning to attend a criminal justice program or currently enrolled. Applicants are judged based on academic history and personal statement.
- Amount: $500
- Deadline: March 31
Jobs in the criminal justice sector can be taxing and demanding, and finding a group of individuals who understand exactly what you are going through can be a great way to stay connected to the mission of your work. Professional organizations can help you network and learn from others in your line of work, and are a particularly great resource when looking for new positions and hunting for the most up-to-date information in your field.
And when you’re just starting out, it can be important to connect with veterans in the field, who can provide helpful mentoring and guidance. Professional organizations are a treasure trove of continuing education information and provide an array of opportunities to link up with others.
Below are a few great criminal justice professional associations for newcomers and experts alike.
- Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences (ACJS): Perfect for those just starting out, the ACJS promotes education, research, and policy analysis for those in the criminal justice field. Membership is $75 a year ($30 for students) and includes a subscription to the ACJS’s bi-monthly journal, Justice Quarterly, as well as opportunities for field focus in areas such as Corrections, Minorities and Women, and Restorative and Community Justice.
- International Association of Women Police (IAWP): International Association of Women Police members receive a subscription to the quarterly magazine WomenPolice, reduced fees for IAWP’s annual training event, and opportunities for professional development. Student members gain access to IAWP’s international network of women and job board.
- National Criminal Justice Association (NCJA): The NCJA represents local, tribal, and state governments in matters involving crime control and prevention. Membership ($95 for professionals, $40 for students) provides access to the NCJA’s weekly newsletter, free webinars, discounts to trainings and conferences, and justice funding opportunities.
- American Correctional Association (ACA): Focused on matters of corrections and correctional effectiveness, the ACA is the oldest criminal justice association in the world. ACA members receive professional development opportunities, a subscription to Corrections Today Magazine, discounts to conferences, and discounts from national companies. Professionals can join for as low as $35 and students can join for $25.
- American Jail Association (AJA): The AJA is the only criminal justice professional association that works specifically on issues of correctional facility operations. Members ($48 for professionals and $15 for students) get discounts to the AJA’s annual conferences and events, access to the AJAlert newsletter, and discounts at national retailers.
The most successful criminal justice professionals keep up with changes in law, procedure, and protocol. Educations helps professionals learn how to handle the difficulties inherent in the field. Additional training aids in keeping criminal justice professionals safe on the job and primes them for promotions.
Diving right into the jargon and fundamentals of your online coursework might be a bit overwhelming, especially if you’re just starting out. Fortunately, there are a variety of free criminal justice courses online that can help prepare students before they take classes for formal credit. In this demanding field, it’s important to stand out, and additional training through available online classes can do nothing but help your chances for getting a job when you graduate.
Fundamentals of Criminal Justice
- Intro to Criminal Justice: Freed-Hardeman University
- Introduction to Forensics: Liberty University
- What is Crime: Open University of Hong Kong
Criminal Justice Cultural Competency
- Criminal Justice Ethics: Liberty University
- Improving Understanding and Collaboration Among First Responders: Johns Hopkins Center for Public Health Preparedness
- Law and Society: Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Advanced Criminal Justice Studies
- Forensic Psychology: Virtual University
- Criminal Investigations: Liberty University
- Legal Studies: XSIQ
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