Best Accredited Online Colleges For Criminal Justice

Criminal justice incorporates aspects of the judicial system, law, and government. Criminal justice professionals include police officers, lawyers, probation officers, judges, and security guards.

A bachelor’s in criminal justice meets or exceeds the minimum education requirement for many entry-level jobs in law enforcement, including specialized agencies like the FBI and CIA.

Many students now forgo on-campus courses and instead study criminal justice online. Virtual programs may offer accelerated schedules and set or in-state tuition rates, potentially saving students thousands of dollars in tuition and fees.

Graduates of bachelor’s degree programs in criminal justice possess interdisciplinary skills with widespread career applications. They may qualify for positions as paralegals, forensic analysts, and public policy officials. Students who continue on the path toward a terminal criminal justice degree can become judges, lawyers, or government specialists.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects positive job growth and lucrative wages for entry-level criminal justice professionals, including police and detectives.

What Can I Expect From an Online Bachelor’s in Criminal Justice Program?

A bachelor’s in criminal justice can prepare graduates to enter fields including law enforcement, corrections, and security. Schools may offer a bachelor of arts (BA) or a bachelor of science (BS) in criminal justice, respectively incorporating a philosophical or practical approach. BA degrees tend to include a liberal arts core, while BS degrees may focus on technical aspects of this career field.

These degrees sometimes offer a choice of wide-ranging criminal justice concentrations. Options may include computer science, forensics, public policy, administration, or human services. A college may offer a criminal justice program through its social sciences, humanities, political science, or law department.

A typical four-year bachelor’s degree requires students to complete 120 credits. Some online programs require learners to earn the same number of credits; however, they commonly accept transfer credits for previous educational experiences and may offer accelerated schedules. Many criminal justice programs occur 100% online.

While not always required, internships are strongly recommended to enhance an online criminal justice program. Students can gain invaluable field experience by pursuing an internship, practicum, or apprenticeship in their concentration and/or chosen field. Even online programs may require occasional visits to campus.

What Courses Will I Take in an Online Bachelor’s in Criminal Justice Program?

Introduction to Criminal Justice

Students in this course gain an overview of state, local, and federal criminal justice sectors and their respective and interdisciplinary functions. Coursework also explores the variety of government, civilian, and sworn criminal justice professions in the United States.

The Judicial System in the United States

This course focuses on the multiple levels of the federal court system. Students explore common judicial policies and procedures. They also learn the responsibilities of sworn and civilian professionals and allied organizations in handling cases through the courts.

Technology in Criminal Justice

This course explores the role of technology in both committing crimes and pursuing criminal justice. Students examine the common patterns of tech-based crimes. They also explore cutting-edge technological tools used by investigators and prosecutors.

The Correctional System in the United States

Students in this course discuss wide-ranging issues including public policy, sentencing, and incarceration. Coursework examines the organizations affecting the correctional system, laws regarding punishment in the U.S., and the concept of systemic incarceration.

U.S. Law Enforcement

This course chronicles the history and evolution of policing in the United States. Students examine the responsibilities of police officers, including building positive community relationships and maintaining transparency and accuracy in reports and other documentation.

What Are the Admission Requirements for an Online Bachelor’s in Criminal Justice Program?

The admissions requirements for an online bachelor’s in criminal justice may vary by school and program. Most of the requirements are the same for online and in-person bachelor’s degrees, though perks often exist for those interested in online programs. For example, many online programs offer rolling admissions and may waive SAT or ACT score requirements.

Application

Submitting a formal application is the first step toward enrolling in an online criminal justice program. Applicants must confirm they completed certain requirements. The application also verifies a student’s residence to determine whether they qualify for in-state tuition rates, if applicable.

Test Scores

Online bachelor’s programs in criminal justice commonly require SAT or ACT scores from the last five years. Some schools maintain test-optional admissions policies. Standardized test scores enable admissions officers to build a broader picture of an applicant’s academic potential within a college program.

Letters of Recommendation

Letters of recommendation are important validations of character for potential college students. Applicants commonly request letters of recommendation from sources they know and trust, such as mentors, teachers, counselors, faith leaders, employers, or coaches. Students should give each referrer at least 3-4 weeks to write a letter of recommendation.

Essays

Undergraduate essays offer applicants the opportunity to make an impression on admissions officers directly, in their own words. Essay prompts are designed to inspire self-reflection and give insight into an applicant’s goals, potential, and state of mind. Essays also convey an applicant’s written communication skills.

Official Transcripts

Academic transcripts are always required with a student’s undergraduate college application. Official transcripts outline the applicant’s academic performance in high school. Students must also submit separate transcripts for any previous college experience. Most colleges require students to arrange for transcripts to be sent directly from their high school or community college to their new institution.

What Can I Do With an Online Bachelor’s in Criminal Justice Degree?

Career Outlook

A bachelor’s degree exceeds the minimum education requirement for some entry-level law enforcement jobs. Police officers, for example, must possess a high school diploma and complete police academy training to enter the field. Police officers and detectives with a bachelor’s degree may qualify for senior administrative roles in law enforcement.

According to the BLS, police and detectives earned a median annual salary of $66,020 in May 2021. These positions are popular among criminal justice graduates. Criminal investigators earned a median annual wage of $83,640 during the same period. The BLS reports that probation officers earned about $60,250 in May 2021.

The BLS also projects jobs for private investigators will grow 13% from 2020-2030, a much higher rate of growth than the average of 8% across all occupations. A bachelor’s in criminal justice can also lead to careers in arbitration, mediation, and conciliation, a field the BLS projects will grow 10% by the end of the decade.

Career Paths

Police Officer

Police officers patrol an assigned territory to protect the citizens of their community. Police officers often work in a specialized area of law enforcement, such as transit, narcotics, or the FBI. They must have at least a high school diploma and police academy training to enter the field.

Median Annual Salary (May 2021): $66,020

Correctional Officer

Correctional officers maintain order among incarcerated people in jails, prisons, and other detention centers. They may oversee detainees who are awaiting sentencing along with those already sentenced. Education requirements vary by state; however, most correctional officers undergo corrections training.

Median Annual Salary (May 2021): $47,920

Probation Officer

Probation officers supervise people who receive sentences of probation instead of incarceration. They meet regularly with probationers to ensure their compliance with the conditions of probation and document their progress. Probation officer jobs typically require a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice or a related major.

Median Annual Salary (May 2021): $60,250

Private Investigator

Private investigators search for financial, legal, and personal information to assist in cases. They may verify a person’s identity, prove or disprove the existence of an injury for insurance claims, or locate a missing person. Some hold criminal justice degrees, though that’s not always required. Most states require licensure for private detectives and investigators.

Median Annual Salary (May 2021): $59,380

Arbitrator, Mediator, or Conciliator

Arbitrators, mediators, and conciliators help opposing parties resolve conflicts before they escalate to the U.S. court system. They assist in facilitating communication between the two parties, ideally resulting in mutually beneficial terms. They typically hold a bachelor’s degree and years of experience in a field like criminal justice, business, or law.

How Do I Choose Online Bachelor’s in Criminal Justice Program?

Cost

A variety of elements impact the cost of an online bachelor’s in criminal justice, including whether a school is public or private and whether a student qualifies for in-state or out-of-state tuition rates. Many online programs disregard residency status and offer set or in-state tuition rates for all enrollees. Students should also factor in cost considerations for expenses like textbooks, learning supplies, and access to campus amenities.

Program Format

Most online bachelor’s in criminal justice include synchronous or asynchronous coursework, though others may combine the two methods or enable students to choose their preference. Many online programs also condense the full curriculum of the bachelor’s degree into an accelerated schedule or offer a choice of full- or part-time enrollment.

Location

While the majority of online programs are accessible from anywhere, their location still matters. Some bachelor’s in criminal justice may require occasional in-person attendance for orientations or workshops, or offer sought-after internships in field-specific hot spots, like Washington, D.C. Additionally, residing near campus can enable students to pursue a hybrid program or take advantage of the campus library, technology lab, or sports complex.

Accreditation

The importance of choosing an accredited college or university cannot be overstated. Only schools that endure the rigorous accreditation process through the Department of Education receive this designation. While some bachelor’s in criminal justice programs formerly received programmatic accreditation through the Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences, no current accreditation process exists for this program.

Student Support

Student support for online degrees should be as comprehensive as the support for on-campus programs. An online bachelor’s in criminal justice should offer accessible technical and technology support. Additionally, an online bachelor’s should also include career services, tutoring, and virtual meetings with instructors. Mentorships, internships, and alumni events are also critical to students’ success in an online program.

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