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Pursuing an Associates Degree in Criminal Justice Online

Pursuing an associates degree in criminal justice online immerses you in the basics of the judicial process, corrections, criminology, and criminal law. When you earn this degree, classes will emphasize the theories, principles, and applications that drive law and justice professions and industries.

Why Earn an Associates Degree in Criminal Justice Online?

There are 2 primary purposes for earning an online associates degree in criminal justice: 1). to start or enhance a career in the field, and 2)to prepare to pursue more advanced education, such as an online bachelors degree in criminal justice.   

Of course the biggest reason to earn an associates degree in criminal justice online is to pursue a career that you find fascinating, fulfilling, and aligned with your desire to contribute to the wellness of people and communities.

10 Things You’ll Learn with an Associates Degree in Criminal Justice Online

While every online criminal justice associates degree is different, you’ll likely explore topics such as:

  1. How laws are created and how court systems operate.
  2. The history of the legal system and criminal justice.
  3. The theories and philosophies that guide the U.S. legal and correctional system.
  4. How to apply critical thinking, analysis, creativity, and logic to solving complex problems related to policing and administering justice.
  5. How to use strategies, techniques, and theories to affect change in a dynamic legal and correctional system.
  6. The ideals and ethics of criminal justice as a field and profession.
  7. The investigative process and how to apply various techniques to gather evidence based on the type of crime.  
  8. How to write and research in the discipline and field of criminal justice.
  9. How technology and innovation influence social organization politically and economically.
  10. Computer and information systems knowledge, technical skills, and computer applications might be used on the job.

3 Options for Your Online Associates Degree in Criminal Justice

There are three common types of associates degrees in criminal justice:

  1. Associates of Art in Criminal Justice (A.A.)
  2. Associates of Science in Criminal Justice (A.S.)
  3. Associates of Applied Science in Criminal Justice (A.A.S.).

1 - A.A. and A.S. degrees in criminal justice are relatively similar; however, an A.A. degree in criminal justice might include more general education requirements than an A.S. degree. For example, in some A.A. programs, you might take more courses in English, science, social science, math, and other general education areas. Or, an A.A. degree in criminal justice might include more theory-based courses than skill-based courses.

2 - An A.S. degree in criminal justice might require you to take fewer general education courses or more skill-based courses than theory-based ones. However, that is not always the case. In many cases, A.A. and A.S. criminal justice curricula have similar general education requirements and offer a similar blend of theory- and skill-based courses. Both help students learn about criminal justice and prepare to pursue more advanced education in the future.

3 - The A.A.S. in criminal justice degree is designed to give students skills they can apply on the job immediately after graduating. Students who earn this type of degree may or may not plan on pursuing further education. These types of degrees are occupation-oriented and help students develop technical skills and knowledge for specific roles in criminal justice. Unlike A.A. and A.S. criminal justice degrees, A.A.S. degrees might have classes in:

  • General business
  • Personal finance
  • Business law
  • Business communication

3 Kinds of Courses You Will Take When You Pursue an Associates Degree in Criminal Justice Online

  1. Core courses connected to your major
  2. Elective courses connected to your major
  3. General education courses  

1). Core Courses Connected to Your Major

As you pursue an online associates degree in criminal justice, you’ll take core courses connected to your major. Your core courses are typically designed to give you a thorough overview of the American justice system, criminal law, corrections, and/or another key area of criminal justice.

Here are 13 of the most common subjects you’ll likely study through your core courses:  

  1. Criminal justice as a field and discipline
  2. Policing and corrections
  3. Criminal law and procedure
  4. Criminal investigation
  5. Ethics and leadership in criminal justice
  6. International criminal justice
  7. Juvenile justice and the juvenile justice system
  8. The American government
  9. Judicial administration
  10. Writing and research in the criminal justice field and profession

You might also take courses in 11). sociology, 12). political science, and 13). psychology that enhance your knowledge of criminal justice as part of your core curriculum.  

2). Elective Courses Connected to Your Major

The elective courses connected to your major are designed to give you specific knowledge in areas of criminal justice. They help you specialized and focus your knowledge in an area connected to your interests or prospective career.

10 subjects you might study as part of the elective curricula connected to your major may include:  

  1. Policing in the U.S.
  2. Correctional systems
  3. Private and public security
  4. Crime analysis
  5. Constitutional law
  6. Psychological profiling
  7. Forensic psychology
  8. Deviance and violence
  9. Domestic violence
  10. Preparing for a career in criminal justice 

As you can see, these are areas that fit within the more broad subjects you’ll study through your core work.

3). General Education Courses

To fulfill your general education requirements, which typically do not connect directly to your major but help you develop critical thinking, reading, and writing skills as well as knowledge in numerous areas, you’ll take courses across subjects.

In addition to a course or two that delve into strategies for online learning or academic success, you will likely take general education courses in:

  • English
  • Behavioral science
  • Social science
  • Humanities
  • Fine arts
  • Mathematics
  • Public speaking
  • Information technology

Together, the core and elective courses connected to your major and your general education courses combine to fulfill the requirements of an associates degree in criminal justice online.

3 Parameters of Earning an Online Criminal Justice Associates Degree

First, an associates degree in criminal justice online is designed to be flexible. Students who pursue this degree might be working or otherwise unable to commit to a traditional schedule. Therefore, many programs allow students to complete their programs at their own pace. Schools may also offer multiple start dates throughout the year.

Second, students typically have to earn 60 credits to obtain an associates degree in criminal justice online. This includes credits from general education and major courses. Many students take one to two years to earn an associates degree depending on their pace. Some schools allow students to transfer up to 45 credits from other schools into their degree. To conclude their degrees, students might have to take a capstone course to prove their knowledge across the criminal justice discipline.

Third, students who earn an associates degree in criminal justice online might need to meet certain licensing, training, educational, and other requirements to pursue certain careers in the field. These requirements vary by occupation and state. While some programs might prepare you to pursue licensure and meet other requirements, many will not. Therefore, you might want to consider your criminal justice associates degree a great starting point for pursuing increasingly higher education and more advanced training.  

5 Great Reasons to Earn an Associates Degree in Criminal Justice Online

  1. As you earn an associates degree in criminal justice online, you will likely engage in curricula designed with input from legal and criminal justice professionals.
  2. Consistent with that, some of your professors might be professionals who work in the criminal justice field; learning from them could help you understand the field and how theories apply in real-world situations.  
  3. Many courses in your program will impart real-world skills, such as decision-making, critical thinking, and communicating, that you can apply on the job, whether in the field of criminal justice or elsewhere.  
  4. An online associates degree in criminal justice lays a strong foundation upon which to build, either through on-the-job experience or by pursuing a more advanced degree.
  5. Pursuing an associates degree in criminal justice online could benefit experienced criminal justice professionals and those new to the field. Either way, gaining knowledge and developing your skills could expand future opportunities.   

Curious About Other Options? A Paralegal Associates Degree Online. . .

By pursuing a paralegal associates degree online, you can potentially work within criminal justice but from the vantage point of a law office. By pursuing your degree, you’ll learn the foundational legal concepts, theories, and applications that legal assistants and paralegals use every day. Many programs also make you eligible to sit for the National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA) national certification.  

2 Top Benefits of Earning an Online Paralegal Associates Degree

  1. Earning one helps you pursue entry-level positions as a paralegal or legal assistant.
  2. Having an associates degree in the subject provides a strong foundation for further training.

What Will I Study if I Pursue an Online Paralegal Associates Degree?

Just like you will if you pursue an associates degree in criminal justice online, you will take core and elective courses connected to your major in addition to general education courses. Your major will cover subjects that help you understand concepts and theories of law and the scope of paralegal activities. You’ll also learn how to use legal research tools and techniques and speak, write, research, and communicate within the field. Some specific subjects you’ll likely study include:

  • Legal terminology
  • Law and ethics
  • Law and the legal system
  • Investigations and interviews
  • Torts
  • Business law
  • Economics
  • Civil and criminal litigation
  • Family law
  • Real estate law
  • Wills and estates

These are just some of the many subjects you might study if you opt to pursue an online associates degree in paralegal studies.

10 Fields and Specializations to Which You Might Apply Your Knowledge and Skills

  1. Law
  2. Court administration
  3. Corrections
  4. Victim advocacy
  5. Dispute resolution
  6. Forensic science
  7. Court and legal-system support
  8. Crime scene investigation
  9. Forensics
  10. Business and corporate security

Here are some salaries you might earn in certain occupations once you’ve completed the requisite level of education. These figures are from the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ 2016 survey:  

  • If you are a police officer or detective, you might earn a median annual wage of $61,600.i
  • If you are a probation officer or correctional treatment specialist, you might earn a median annual wage of $50,160.ii
  • If you are a correctional officer or bailiff, you might earn a median annual wage of $42,820.iii
  • If you are a social worker, you might earn a median annual wage of $46,890.iv
  • If you are a paralegal or legal assistant, you might earn a median annual wage of $49,500.v
  • If you are an administrative services manager, you might earn a median annual wage of $90,050.vi
  • If you are a security guard or gaming surveillance officer, you might earn a median annual wage of $25,840.vii

As you consider your career options in criminal justice or law, keep in mind that local, state, and federal law enforcement offices might require education and training beyond the level of an associates degree.

Now’s the Time to Jump in

The road to becoming a criminal justice or paralegal professional starts here. As associates degree in criminal justice online can launch your journey into an exciting discipline and field. As you learn about criminal justice, including everything from criminology to law enforcement to the principles that govern our legal and justice system, you’ll gain a broad view of the America justice system. Or, if you opt to pursue an online associates degree in paralegal studies, you’ll learn how to navigate and succeed as lawyers’ paralegal or assistant.

Whatever you choose to do from here, you’re bound to engage in a diverse and comprehensive exploration of exciting areas: law and justice. With the knowledge and tools you gain on your journey, you just might help make our world more just and safe. Why wait to learn more?

Explore options for an online associates degree in criminal justice now. Click on programs to learn more about them. Use our contact form to contact schools and request support.  


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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