Pursuing an Online Criminal Justice Degree
By pursuing an online criminal justice degree, you’re setting yourself up for a fascinating adventure into the realm of criminal law, procedure, corrections, and beyond. When you earn a degree in criminal justice, you’ll explore:
- How law works for societies (or how it fails them)
- How justice is administered at local, state, federal, or international levels
- The differences, successes, and failures of correctional and rehabilitation systems
- How to act ethically and astutely in a diverse and dynamic field
- So much more! The possibilities are endless and shaped by your degree’s level and intention.
5 Key Things You’ll Learn When Earning an Online Criminal Justice Degree
- The theories and practical applications that shape criminal justice as a field and discipline.
- How laws, courts, and correctional systems exist within criminal justice.
- The ethics that shape criminal justice administration.
- The scope of criminal law and procedure in practice.
- Policing, security, and/or homeland security as they relate to criminal justice.
Core and Elective Curricula for Online Criminal Justice Degrees
The core and elective courses that students take to earn an online criminal justice degree depend on the type and level of degree or certificate. While students seem to most commonly pursue criminal justice degrees and certificates, there are also other legal studies programs available. For example, paralegal studies, homeland security, and “legal studies” itself might all fit the bill for students interested in law and justice.
In terms of the level of degrees and certificates available, there are 5 that you can choose from:
- Associates degrees
- Bachelors degrees
- Undergraduate and graduate certificates
- Masters degrees
- Doctorate degrees
What you’ll study when you earn an online criminal justice degree depends, of course, on the school, the goal of the program, and your preferences. However, we can give you a sense of what you might study as you pursue an online criminal justice degree. But first, there are two things to consider when exploring your options.
- The degree’s core curricula: Core coursework encases the primary focus of your degree. In many cases, it is through the core curricula that you’ll cover the majority of subjects.
- The degree’s elective curricula: Elective coursework allows you to explore subjects within criminal justice that you find interesting or that relate to your career. It is through your elective curricula that you’ll focus or broaden some of your knowledge.
An online criminal justice degree or certificate’s core and elective curricula give you a good sense of what you must study and options for what you can elect to study. The collective forms your curricula and helps you meet the goals of the program overall. Look at core and elective curricula to help ensure that the degree will help you meet your academic, professional, and personal goals.
What Will I Study When I Earn an Online Criminal Justice Degree?
The breadth and depth of what you might study varies by each type of online criminal justice degree and certificate.
In terms of scholarly breadth, some online criminal justice degrees cover primarily the basics of criminal justice, acting as an introduction to the field. In those cases, you might study:
- Theories, philosophies, and practices that comprise the criminal justice system
- Criminal law and procedure
- Criminal justice ethics
- Corrections and rehabilitation
- Research methodologies in criminal justice
Others will address the basics of criminal justice and (a) specific area(s) of criminal justice, such as:
- Homeland or private security
- Public policy and criminal justice
- Specific kinds of crime, such as white collar, political, or economic
- Psychology of women, victims, and criminals
- Border security
- Juvenile justice
If you opt to earn an online certificate in criminal justice, you might study just the very basics criminal justice or one specific component of the subject.
In terms of depth, different levels of degrees invite you into distinct depths of knowledge. In general, certificates allow for the lightest level of study; doctorate degrees the deepest. Consider the number of courses completing each type of online criminal justice degree requires:
- Students typically take four to six courses in criminal justice to earn certificates.
- Students typically take ten courses in criminal justice to earn an associates degree.
- Students commonly take ten to twenty courses in criminal justice to earn a bachelors degree.
- Students commonly take twenty courses in criminal justice to earn a masters degree.
- To earn a doctorate degree, students commonly take sixteen to twenty courses in criminal justice and complete five to six “courses” conducting extensive research in criminal justice.
Simple math enforces that you’ll dive deeper into criminal justice by taking 20 or more courses than you will by taking four to ten. However, the extent to which you understand criminal justice as a field and discipline depends not only on what degree you earn, but also what degree(s) you earned beforehand and what experience you have in the field.
Also, you might opt to stack up your elective courses in one specific area, or you might take courses across an array of elective areas. Each option influence how deeply you’ll study a given topic.
Note: Keep in mind that if you earn an online criminal justice degree at the bachelors or associates degree level, you’ll have to take general education courses along with major core and elective courses. Certificates, masters degrees, and doctorate degrees, however, typically focus only on the primary subject: criminal justice or another area of law and justice.
6 Concepts You Will Likely Study if You Earn a Bachelors Degree in Criminal Justice Online
- Functional (and dysfunctional) systems of law and criminal justice
- Theories, concepts, and practical applications in law and criminal justice
- Preventing and controlling crime
- Law enforcement at local, state, federal, and international levels
- Rehabilitation and correctional models and efforts
- Historical and contemporary issues in criminal justice
5 Concepts You Will Likely Study if You Earn an Associates Degree in Criminal Justice
- The historical and contemporary theories and practices of the legal system, corrections, and other parts of criminal justice such as investigation.
- The theories and practical applications of criminal justice in the U.S.
- Ways to use creativity, logic, critical thinking, and analysis to solve complex criminal justice issues.
- How to use technology, such as information systems and computer programs and applications, to work in criminal justice.
- How to affect positive change in a diverse and incredibly dynamic field.
2 Core Concepts You Will Likely Study If You Pursue a Certificate in Criminal Justice
- Base-level knowledge and skillsets of criminal justice
- A specific component of criminal justice such as policing, corrections, domestic violence, or juvenile justice
Bachelors degrees, associates degrees, and certificates are the most commonly earned degrees in criminal justice.i You can read more about what you’ll study in masters and doctorate programs on our pages devoted to them.
What Is the Structure of an Online Criminal Justice Degree?
As we mentioned above, there are 5 kinds of criminal justice degrees online: Associates, bachelors, masters, and doctorate degrees and certificates. Each has a distinct structure. Let’s give you a sense of what they are:
Online Associates Degree in Criminal Justice
Typical Time to Degree: Up to two years of full-time study
- To pursue an associates degree, you must first earn a high school diploma or GED.
- One year of classes, or up to 10 classes, will likely fill general education requirements.
- Keep in mind that certain options such as self-paced curriculum can affect your timeline.
- Another year, or up to 10 classes, will likely be core and elective courses devoted to criminal justice.
- Having earned an associates degree could be your final goal or a stepping stone to a more advanced degree.
Options: Students pursuing an associates degree in criminal justice can pursue:
- An Associates of Art in Criminal Justice (A.A.)
- An Associates of Science in Criminal Justice (A.S.)
- An Associates of Applied Science in Criminal Justice (A.A.S.).
Details: The A.A. and A.S. degrees in criminal justice engage students in a more academic curricula, designed primarily to help students pursue additional education down the road. Students graduating with an A.A. or A.S., for example, might eventually opt to pursue a bachelors degree in criminal justice or a related area.
The A.A.S. degree in criminal justice engages students in a more technical, career-oriented study of an area of criminal justice. The primary point of such a program is to help students pursue particular careers without necessarily pursuing additional education.
Online Bachelors Degree in Criminal Justice
Typical Time to Degree: Up to four years of fulltime study
- To pursue a bachelors degree, you must first earn a high school diploma, GED, or associates degree.
- Two years of classes, or up to ten classes, will likely fill general education requirements
- Another two years of classes, or up to twenty classes, will likely fill core and elective courses devoted to criminal justice.
- Having earned a bachelors degree could be your final goal or launch you into the next level of degree: the masters degree
Options: Students pursuing an associates degree in criminal justice can pursue:
- The Bachelor of Arts in Criminal Justice (B.A.)
- The Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice (B.S.)
- Within the B.A. and B.S. designations, students can also study subjects such as criminology, law enforcement, crime and justice studies, law and society, and more.
Details: The B.A. and B.S. degrees in criminal justice help students gain significant knowledge and skill sets applicable to criminal justice fields. Students might opt to minor in something to enhance their major (such as psychology, business, or political science, for example). Once students earn a bachelors degree, they can then pursue a masters degree or, in some cases, a doctorate degree. Alternatively, they might opt to earn a graduate certificate in criminal justice.
Online Certificate in Criminal Justice
Typical Time to Degree: Six months to one year of fulltime study
- There are two types of certificates: undergraduate and graduate. To pursue an undergraduate certificate, you typically must have a high school diploma, GED, or associates degree. You might also be in the middle of earning a bachelors degree (though that is quite rare). To pursue a graduate certificate, you must have a bachelors degree or higher.
- All four to six of the classes in a certificate program will likely connect directly to criminal justice or an area of criminal justice.
- Earning a certificate in criminal justice could help you test the water to see if you want to pursue additional education in the subject. It could also help you specialize your knowledge.
Options: There are numerous options for pursuing a certificate in criminal justice or another area of legal studies. Focuses and concentrations abound!
Online Masters Degree in Criminal Justice
Typical Time to Degree: One to two years of fulltime study
- To pursue a masters degree, you must hold a bachelors degree.
- All one to two years of your classes will fill core and elective requirements in criminal justice. You typically will not have general education requirements.
- Having earned a masters degree could be your final resting spot, or you could opt to continue forward to pursue a doctorate degree.
- To earn a masters degree, you will likely need to research and write a thesis.
Options: Students pursuing an associates degree in criminal justice can pursue:
- The Master of Arts in Criminal Justice (M.A.)
- The Master of Science in Criminal Justice (B.S.)
- The Master of Business Administration in Criminal Justice (M.B.A.)
- Within the M.A. and M.S. designations, students can also study subjects such as criminology, law enforcement, crime and justice studies, law and society, and more.
Details: The M.A. and M.S. degrees in criminal justice guide students into more specialized or in-depth knowledge. Some degrees require students to have concentrations, generally geared toward a particular field. Some examples of concentrations include behavior analysis, behavior management, Federal law enforcement, and intelligence and crime analysis. M.B.A. degrees in criminal justice generally help students pursue leadership jobs or jobs as administrators in criminal justice.
Online Doctorate Degree in Criminal Justice
Typical Time to Degree: Four to six years of fulltime study
- To pursue a doctorate degree, you must at least hold a bachelors degree. In many cases of online criminal justice doctorate degrees, you must also hold a masters degree.
- You will devote the entirety of your degree to core, elective, and research work in criminal justice or a related field.
- A doctorate degree is the highest degree you can earn in the field of criminal justice. Having one typically helps you pursue work as an educator, researcher, or leader.
- To earn a doctorate degree, you will need to research, write, and defend a dissertation and most likely take one or two comprehensive exams.
Options: Students can pursue the following types of doctorate degrees:
- The Doctor of Philosophy in criminology, criminal justice, justice studies, or a related subject
- The Doctor of Business Administration with an emphasis in criminal justice
- The Doctor of Philosophy, Psychology, or Management, each with an emphasis in criminal justice, homeland security, or another related subject
Details: When earning doctorate degrees, students often become experts in their fields. Students typically graduate able to produce original and independent research in the field and expand the knowledge and skillset leaders, institutions, and organizations in the industry have in the subject.
What Are the Most Commonly Earned Online Criminal Justice Degrees?i
In 2019, the majority of criminal justice degree-seeking students earned their bachelors and associates degrees. Forty-six percent of that number of criminal justice students, or 55,297 students, earned bachelors degrees in the subject. Nearly twenty-three percent, or 30,792 students, earned associates degrees in the subject. This means that almost seventy-two percent of degree-seeking criminal justice students earned either a bachelors or associates degree. Earning a certificate in criminal justice was also particularly popular in 2019.
After bachelors and associates degrees, masters degree were the next most commonly pursued. In 2019, just over seven percent of criminal justice students, or 7,748 students, earned a masters degree. Just 159 students, or significantly less than one percent, earned doctorate degrees in criminal justice. (Note that doctorate degrees are highly specialized, catering to a very specific group of criminal justice professionals.)
The Top 5 Skills for a Criminal Justice Academic and Professional
According to Data USA, professionals in the field of criminal justice must adeptly exercise the following five skills:i
- Active listening
- Reading comprehension and writing
- Critical thinking
- Judgement and decision-making
By earning an online criminal justice degree, you can begin to cultivate these skills (or build upon existing ones) by delving into your coursework, studying for tests, communicating with classmates (even online!), and otherwise meeting the requirements of the program.
Which Criminal Justice Degree Is for Me?
Only you can decide! But we can help you.
On this page, you’ll find an assortment of options for earning an online criminal justice degree or a degree in a related field. You can also use our menu to refine your options and explore based on your specific curiosities. When you visit another one of our degree pages, you’ll find additional information to help you wrap your brain around your next endeavor.
And, don’t forget to click on as many program options as you like! By doing so, you can get more information and contact the school for a packet.
Given that pursuing an online criminal justice degree requires real rigor, we want to make finding one as easy as possible.