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Online Criminal Justice Certificates and Certificates in Legal Studies

Online criminal justice certificate programs explore elements of criminal law and procedure. Classes show how the legal and justice systems work. Students will also learn how employees within the system strive to administer justice. Most importantly, you will discover what possible roles you might play in the process.

What Will I Study When I Pursue My Online Criminal Justice Certificate?

Criminal justice is one part of a broader subject: legal studies. So you might be interested in criminal justice, or you might be interested in a closely related field such as law, public policy, or security, to name a few.

Given that criminal justice is one part of the broader subject of legal studies, the question is, What are you interested in learning about?

5 Topics You May Study

  1. Criminal justice
  2. The paralegal profession
  3. Homeland security
  4. Public policy
  5. Or “legal studies” more broadly

Your answer to this question will direct what kind of certificate you will pursue and therefore what you study.

If you decide to pursue an online criminal justice certificate, here are some subjects you may explore:

  • Introductory material to criminal justice
  • Criminal law
  • Criminal procedure
  • Ethics in criminal justice
  • Policing
  • Corrections
  • Private security
  • Domestic violence
  • Juvenile justice
  • Report writing

If you’re interested in becoming a paralegal, you might pursue an online certificate in paralegal studies. Through that you’ll study subjects such as:

  • Legal terminology
  • Stages of litigation
  • Evidence
  • Interviewing clients
  • Law office investigation
  • Legal analysis
  • Legal memorandum
  • Index research
  • Pleading preparation
  • Discovery preparation and coordination
  • Preparing for and digesting depositions
  • Authority identification
  • Legal research
  • Motions, notions, and briefs
  • Law office etiquette

Paralegal studies may also include law office administration, such as file maintenance, calendar systems, legal forms, and billable hours. Other topics of study may be any of the following:

  • Legal and law office ethics
  • Legal advice
  • Legal representation
  • State and federal court structures
  • Electronic discovery
  • Contract, tort, criminal, and/or business law
  • Resume preparation and strategies for employment
  • Resume preparation

Perhaps you want to pursue an online homeland security certificate. If so, you might study subjects such as:

  • Introductory material to homeland security
  • Homeland security and defense in practice
  • Theories of and approaches to homeland security
  • Strategic planning in homeland defense and security
  • Organizational imperatives in homeland defense
  • Comparative homeland security
  • U.S. homeland security law
  • Homeland security policy
  • Civil authorities

By studying public policy, you’ll learn about subjects connected to laws, or policies, that governments create. You might learn about: 

  • Public policy as a field
  • Strategic policy
  • Behavioral economics
  • Intergovernmental relations
  • Regulation policy

If you opt to study legal studies broadly, you will get to explore different areas of law and discover your interests. Those interests might lead you to pursue a particular specialization or career or a more advanced degree focused on a specific area. If you dive into legal studies broadly, you might studya variety of topics.

For instance, you may focus on a particular area of law, such as one of these 11 topics:

  1. Business law
  2. Corporate law
  3. Employment law
  4. Entertainment industry law
  5. Business organization law
  6. Environmental law
  7. Criminal law
  8. Real estate law
  9. Elections law
  10. Constitutional law
  11. Sports law

One broad area of study is international law. Topics within international law could include:

  • Introduction to international law
  • International legal transactions for businesses
  • International human rights law
  • Global law
  • Global history and law
  • Global justice
  • International governance, policy, and social justice
  • International environmental law

Another area of study is theories, practices, and norms in law. These may include subjects such as:

  • Introduction to American law
  • Economics of law
  • Negotiation, conflict resolution, and alternative dispute resolution systems
  • Special topics in law and legal studies
  • Business ethics
  • Law and ethics
  • Historical and contemporary legal debates
  • Legal reasoning
  • Rules of evidence
  • Court procedures
  • Psychological and legal issues
  • Critical reading

You might also look at some situations that call for general legal practice. These may include:

  • Mergers and acquisitions
  • Intellectual property
  • Commercial property
  • War crimes, genocide, and justice
  • Education
  • Higher education policy and law
  • Religion
  • Democracy
  • Capitalism
  • Taxation
  • Sustainability
  • Museums policy and law

General elements of law offices and administration may also be covered. Topics may include:

  • Liability insurance
  • Legal writing

As you can see, the scope of criminal justice and the field of legal studies is incredibly broad. As you earn an online criminal justice certificate or certificate in a similar area, you might focus on one particular subject or study numerous subjects across areas.

What Are My Options for Criminal Justice Certificate Programs Online?

Well, you have 2 options.

You might earn (1) an undergraduate online criminal justice certificate—one that you pursue through a community college or four-year college before you earn a bachelors degree; or you might earn (2) a graduate online criminal justice certificate—one that you pursue through a four-year or graduate college after you’ve earned a bachelors degree.

  • Earning an undergraduate certificate could launch your pursuit of an associates or a bachelors degree in criminal justice or another area of legal studies, or it could enhance an existing associates degree.
  • Earning a graduate certificate could kick-off your pursuit of a graduate degree, or it could enhance your existing bachelors degree by giving you a specialization in a specific area of knowledge.

3 Reasons to Earn a Criminal Justice Certificate Online

If you are (1) fresh out of high school and aren’t sure what you want to study, you could pursue an undergraduate online criminal justice certificate or a certificate in another area of law. Doing so could help you taste the subject and see if it fits your fancy. If it does, you might then consider pursuing an associates or a bachelors degree in the same or a similar subject.

If you (2) have earned your bachelors degree—either recently or long ago—you might realize, either by already being in a career or pursuing one—that you need some specialized knowledge in criminal justice or another area of law. Pursuing an online criminal justice certificate in this case can help you change the course of your career or become more competitive for a new one.

If you (3) want to pursue a masters degree but are not sure what to study, consider pursuing a graduate level online criminal justice certificate. Doing so could help you enhance your knowledge, add more education to your resume, and explore a subject as a potential focus in a graduate program.

3 Ways to Pick a Certificate in Criminal Justice or Legal Studies

As you consider an online criminal justice certificate or a different certificate in an area of legal studies, keep these 3 things in mind:

  1. Your background
  2. Your interests
  3. Your intentions

Number 1 - Your Background

  • Do you have a high school diploma (or GED), associates degree, or bachelor’s degree? The level of degree you currently have determines whether you pursue an undergraduate certificate or graduate certificate. Narrow your options down to undergraduate or graduate level certificates.
  • Do you have a career that requires specific knowledge? If so, the kind of knowledge you need to gain determines what kind of certificate you should pursue. For example, if you have a bachelors degree in psychology and want to work at a prison, it might make sense to pursue a certificate in criminal justice. If you have a masters degree in international affairs and want to apply your knowledge to global conflicts, you might earn a certificate in international law. Talk to your employer and consider your long term career goals to determine what kind of certificate might be best.

Number 2 - Your Interests

  • Are you passionate about criminal justice administration or reform? Do you want to improve communities and the justice system? If so, pursuing an online criminal justice certificate might be perfect.
  • Do you like criminal justice as a field but also feel curious about other areas of law such as environmental law, international law, homeland security, or public policy? If so, you might consider the plethora of options available in legal studies.
  • Could having specialized knowledge in law impact your career outside of law? If you’re a journalist who interviews police officers or politicians, for example, could having knowledge in criminal justice or public policy be useful? Or could studying a part of law help you understand your own field more broadly?

Number 3 - Your Intentions

  • Perhaps you intend to earn a degree, but you want to explore the field of criminal justice or legal studies before you commit to a more extensive degree program. Taking classes across areas of legal studies could help you find what piques your curiosity.
  • Maybe you have a bachelors degree in criminal justice, sociology, political science or another companion field and want to specialize your knowledge in an area of criminal justice or legal studies. Maybe your intention is to become an expert in a particular area, in part through education.
  • Perhaps you’re ready for a career change and want to become a paralegal or other legal professional. In that case, you might choose a certificate that helps prepare you to test for paralegal certification. Note that pursuing a certificate in paralegal studies is not the same thing as becoming certified to practice as a paralegal. However, many programs help students prepare to take the certification test.

Consider your interests, background, and intentions to narrow down your list of potential certificates.

The Structure of Online Criminal Justice Certificate Programs

Whether at the undergraduate or graduate level, online criminal justice certificates and online certificates in other areas of law are typically offered entirely online, with no requirements to set foot on campus.

6 Facts About Your Online Criminal Justice Certificate Program

  1. Most offer a blend of required and elective courses.
  2. Many include five to 10 courses.
  3. Many are designed to be completed within one year of full-time study.
  4. Many are student-paced, meaning that students may be able to complete a certificate program faster than is typical. Some students might also opt to take longer than one year to earn a certificate. 
  5. Some certificate, such as those in paralegal studies, might have more than 10 courses. It simply depends on the certificate program’s intent.
  6. Some online certificates in criminal justice and other areas give students access to online course materials for a certain amount of time post program. This could be useful as professionals apply what they’ve learned on the job.

What Can I Do with a Certificate in Criminal Justice or Another Area of Legal Studies?

Here are some areas in which professionals with education in criminal justice or legal studies might work.

12 Jobs You Can Do with a Certificate in Criminal Justice or Legal Studies

  1. Law
  2. Law enforcement
  3. Law administration
  4. Court administration
  5. Rehabilitation services
  6. Protective services
  7. Security
  8. Public policy
  9. Crime prevention
  10. Victim support
  11. Administration (police, corrections, or legal administration)
  12. Management 

And here are some estimated salaries for employees in occupations across criminal justice and law, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ (BLS) 2016 survey.

7 Examples of How Much Money People Made with a Online Criminal Justice Certificate

  1. Police and detectives earned a median annual wage of $61,600.i
  2. Probation officers and correctional treatment specialists earned a median annual wage of $50,160.ii
  3. Correctional officers and bailiffs earned a median annual wage of $42,820.iii
  4. Social workers earned a median annual wage of $46,890.iv
  5. Paralegals and legal assistants earned a median annual wage of $49,500.v
  6. Administrative services managers earned a median annual wage of $90,050.vi
  7. Security guards and gaming surveillance officers earned a median annual wage of $25,840.vii

As of 2016, the BLS reported that professionals either needed a high school diploma, associates degree, or bachelors degree to work in these occupations. Pursuing an online criminal justice certificate or certificate in another area could enhance your knowledge in preparation for a certain occupation. It could also specialize an existing degree or put you on the path toward earning a degree. All may go a ways toward shining up your resume.

Which Is Right for Me? An Online Criminal Justice Certificate? Something Else?

Now that you are armed with information about different options and reasons for pursuing an undergraduate or graduate certificate, you can explore criminal justice certificate programs online. You can also explore certificates in paralegal studies and other areas of legal studies.

You’ll see we have many program options listed on this page. When you click on program icons, you can see institutions’ accreditation status, learn about programs’ structures and details, and check out online options. Best of all, you can use our “Request Information” form to contact the school and get information catered to your needs and interests. As you look through your options, keep your interests, background, and intentions in mind and consider how a given program might help you meet your goals.

Contributing to the health and well-being of local, national, and global communities by participating in the legal system could prove a wonderful and rewarding opportunity. Begin to pursue it now.


i bls.gov/ooh/protective-service/police-and-detectives.htm#tab-1 | ii bls.gov/ooh/community-and-social-service/probation-officers-and-correctional-treatment-specialists.htm | iii bls.gov/ooh/protective-service/correctional-officers.htm | iv bls.gov/ooh/community-and-social-service/social-workers.htm | v bls.gov/ooh/legal/paralegals-and-legal-assistants.htm | vi bls.gov/ooh/management/administrative-services-managers.htm | vii bls.gov/ooh/protective-service/security-guards.htm

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