Online schools for criminal justice

Defending the accused, prosecuting law-breakers, fighting crime, preventing terrorism — if you have a passion for justice, the right degree from an accredited online criminal justice school can help open the door to numerous careers that let you put your values to work.

Online schools for criminal justice offer degrees at all levels, from a two-year associate degree to a full-fledged doctorate. Read on for information about the various criminal justice degrees online and what sort of skills you might learn when pursuing each.

Associate degrees

Depending on the institution, associate-level online criminal justice degrees may be offered on an associate of arts, associate of science or associate of applied science curriculum. There are subtle differences among them, but all three plans are designed to provide students with a strong foundation of knowledge in the basic concepts of criminal justice and take an average of two years to complete, for full-time students.

These are some of the course topics covered in a typical criminal justice associate degree program:

  • Criminal law
  • Constitutional law
  • Correctional systems
  • Criminal investigations
  • Basic forensic science
  • Community policing
  • Career development

Most criminal justice programs at this level also spend time teaching law enforcement ethics, essential problem solving strategies in criminal justice occupations, and the basics of navigating databases and computer information systems. General education courses in psychology, communications, mathematics and English composition are usually required as well.

Bachelor's degrees

Criminal justice bachelor's degrees require the study of the history, theory and social context of criminal justice concepts in greater depth than associate degrees. Criminal justice students at the bachelor's level can choose from one of several occupational specialties, such as degrees in forensic science, or one of the following disciplines:

  • Corrections and case management
  • Law enforcement
  • Homeland security
  • Crisis management
  • Political science

Students can earn either a bachelor of science or bachelor of arts degree in criminal justice online. The distinction between the two typically manifests as a different balance of science courses and humanities courses in the general education core.

Criminal justice graduate degrees

Master's degrees at traditional and online schools for criminal justice delve even deeper into the theoretical and analytical underpinnings of the concepts in law enforcement and the justice system. They can primarily be earned as master of science and master of arts degrees. Additional specializations at this level include behavior analysis, offender rehabilitation, crime prevention and judicial administration.

Some criminal justice programs may require master's degree candidates to have earned a bachelor's in criminal justice or a related discipline. Many programs, however, will accept a B.A. or B.S. in just about any subject — provided that the student is willing to enroll in a few foundational criminal justice courses before beginning their graduate-level coursework.

Those looking to take on leadership, policy-making, independent research or upper-level educational roles in the criminal justice community may go on to earn a Ph.D. in criminal justice. The doctoral degree is the highest level of education available in the discipline and may require a large-scale research project, a publication-quality empirical paper, a comprehensive exam, a successfully defended dissertation or any combination of the above.

Campus-based vs. online schools for criminal justice

Fortunately for busy working professionals, criminal justice is one of the disciplines that lend themselves well to instruction in the virtual classroom. Aspiring students can earn criminal justice degrees online at any academic level, as long as they meet the educational prerequisites listed among the institution's application requirements.

Choosing the right college or university among all the online schools for criminal justice is largely a matter of personal preference, but accreditation is one measure of academic quality that can't be stressed enough. Most employers and higher education admissions personnel will only accept accredited criminal justice degrees, so be sure to look into the accreditation status of your chosen institution before enrolling.

These schools (listed alphabetically) are among those offering highly regarded online criminal justice programs:

  • Arizona State University
  • Boston University
  • Colorado State University
  • Pennsylvania State University
  • University of Cincinnati
  • Washington State University

Some criminal justice degrees online can even be earned in shorter periods of time than their on-campus counterparts, if you have the available time in the day to approach the coursework as a full-time commitment. For example, the University of Cincinnati allows students to earn an online criminal justice master's degree in one or two years, and 18-month programs that lead to online associate degrees can be found at multiple institutions.

Criminal justice careers and certifications

Whether you choose to earn your criminal justice degree online or on campus, employers for most positions tend to favor candidates who have completed some formal training. Here's a partial list of careers available to graduates with associate or bachelor's degrees in criminal justice:

  • Correctional officer
  • Probation officer
  • Correctional treatment specialist
  • Private investigator
  • Police detective
  • Behavioral disorder counselor

The advanced knowledge imparted to students who earn a traditional or online master's degree in criminal justice can create opportunities in a new range of careers:

  • Criminologist
  • Forensic investigator
  • Forensic psychologist
  • Victim services specialist
  • Federal agent
  • Parole agent
  • Sheriff

Certifications and other credentials may be available in certain professions, and numerous occupational organizations exist to help criminal justice professionals connect with other members of their chosen field. Learn more about the degrees available from traditional and online schools for criminal justice and find out if one of the many challenging and rewarding careers in justice and law enforcement might be for you.

Sources:

"Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice," American InterContinental University,
http://www.aiuniv.edu/Degrees/Bachelors/Criminal-Justice

"Associate of Science Degree in Criminal Justice," Ashworth College,
http://www.ashworthcollege.edu/associate-degrees/criminal-justice/

"Criminal Justice Specialization, Doctor of Philosophy in Public Safety," Capella University,
http://www.capella.edu/online-degrees/phd-criminal-justice/

"What's the best online criminal justice program?," CriminalJusticeDegreeOnline.net, http://www.criminaljusticedegreeonline.net/

"Online Criminal Justice Program (AA)," Grantham University,
http://www.grantham.edu/online-degrees/criminal-justice-associates/

"Master's Degree in Criminal Justice Online," Michigan State University,
cj.msu.edu/programs/masters-program-in-criminal-justice-online/

"Graduate Criminology Careers and Jobs," Regis University,
http://criminology.regis.edu/criminology-degree/masters-criminology/graduate-careers-and-jobs

"Criminal Justice Degree Classes," Remington College,
http://www.remingtoncollege.edu/criminal-justice-as-training-courses/

"PhD," Rutgers School of Criminal Justice, Rutgers University,
http://rscj.newark.rutgers.edu/prospective-students/phd/

"Online Master's in Criminal Justice," Saint Joseph's University,
http://online.sju.edu/programs/criminal-justice-masters.asp

"Online Master's in Criminal Justice," University of Cincinnati,
http://cjonline.uc.edu/

"Criminal Justice Professional Organizations," University of Northern Colorado,
http://www.unco.edu/criminaljustice/professional_organizations.html

Police and Detectives, "Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition," Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Jan. 8, 2014,
http://www.bls.gov/ooh/Protective-Service/Police-and-detectives.htm#tab-7

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