Online Bachelor’s Degree in Criminal Justice

What Is a Bachelor’s Degree in Criminal Justice?

A bachelor’s in criminal justice prepares students to work in law enforcement, corrections, and public safety. Learners are taught theoretical concepts and investigative skills. According to data from PayScale, police officers with an associate degree earn an average of $48,656 annually, while police officers with a bachelor’s-level education earn an average of $56,172 each year.

Choosing a Bachelor’s Degree in Criminal Justice

The best online criminal justice degree will include core criminal justice topics and an array of electives that enhance foundational knowledge. Some degrees include a practicum that allows students to acquire practical experience prior to graduation. Prospective students employed in a criminal justice setting often select courses that align with their current career path. Learners can enroll in a variety of electives, including family law, victimization, and intelligence analysis. Students often have the opportunity to specialize in an area such as criminology, digital forensics, or juvenile corrections.

When choosing an online criminal justice bachelor’s degree, many students consider cost of attendance, location, and program format. Attending an in-state program typically costs less than attending an out-of-state program, although some online degrees offer a flat tuition rate for distance learners. The delivery format of a program also plays a significant role in where a student decides to attend, and learners seeking a campus experience and active social life may opt for an on-campus program. Students who desire convenience benefit from enrolling in an online program. Hybrid programs that feature a combination of on-campus and online courses allow students to interact with peers face to face while offering greater flexibility.

Online Bachelor’s in Criminal Justice Concentrations

An online criminal justice bachelor’s degree allows students to pursue careers in areas such as law enforcement, legal assistance, and social services. Students complete courses that familiarize them with key concepts, including legal proceedings, constitutional laws, and criminal justice professionalism. In addition to foundational coursework, students often have the option of completing electives that fit their professional goals or pursuing a concentration. Popular concentrations in the field of criminal justice include homeland security, criminalistics, and public administration. Students who plan on earning an online master’s degree in criminal justice or attending law school may select elective courses that emphasize research and writing.

Curriculum for a Bachelor’s Degree in Criminal Justice

The following courses demonstrate the multitude of topics that students encounter when pursuing their online criminal justice bachelor’s degree. While course requirements vary by school, most online criminal justice degree programs include a combination of the following courses. Major coursework builds upon core knowledge of the the American legal system, preparing students for a broad range of occupations.

Example Courses

American Legal SystemThis course examines historical and contemporary perspectives of the U.S. legal system, constitutional laws, and basic legal processes. Students acquire knowledge of due process, court structures, and the evolution of laws in American society. This core course provides the foundation for careers in law enforcement, including policing and private investigation.
Criminal BehaviorExploring the biological and environmental determinants of behavior, this course familiarizes students with the possible causes of abhorrent behavior. Learners develop an understanding of theories of criminal motivation and learn about sociological factors that correlate with crime. Knowledge gained through this course prepares students for careers as detectives and private investigators.
Criminal Justice Administration and LeadershipWith a focus on management strategies in criminal justice, this course examines the profession of policing, leadership and communication styles, and common police personnel issues. This course equips students with skills needed to pursue leadership positions, such as senior officer or sergeant, within law enforcement agencies.
Criminal Justice EthicsNot only do students enrolled in this course examine case studies to identify and resolve ethical dilemmas, they also explore the multifaceted societal issues faced by modern criminal justice professionals. Topics include racial discrimination, theories of punishment, and the evolution of the prison system. This course prepares police officers and correctional specialists for careers rooted in morality and professionalism.
Law and Criminal ProcedureThis course provides an overview of procedural due process. Students learn about legal proceedings in areas such as criminal, civil, and business law. Preparing students for careers in law enforcement and legal assistance, this course examines court structures, evidentiary standards, and the law of torts.

How Much Does It Cost to Get a Bachelor’s Degree in Criminal Justice?

The best online criminal justice degree is different for every student; however, one of the biggest concerns for most learners is tuition. A bachelor’s degree from a public university costs approximately $10,000 to $15,000 annually for in-state students, while in-state private school tuition rates may average $35,000 or more each year. Out-of-state students typically pay $10,000 more per semester than in-state students. Some programs offer flat tuition rates; this is common among online programs.

College students face other costs, including housing, technology fees, transportation, and basic living expenses. Students who are considering enrolling full time may benefit from reduced tuition rates. Many colleges offer incentives for taking larger course loads, including flat tuition rates for 12 or more credits per term. Online criminal justice degree programs allow students to save money by eliminating commuting and on-campus housing costs. Technology fees may be applied.

How Long Does It Take to Get an Online Bachelor’s in Criminal Justice?

Online criminal justice degree programs usually consist of 120 credits. Full-time students who enroll in 15 credits per 15-week semester can earn their degree in four years. Some online programs use an eight-week term format in which students take one or two courses per term, including summer sessions, and graduate at a quicker pace. Students with prior learning credits gained from relevant professional experiences or training programs may have the opportunity to waive courses and graduate sooner. Completing optional fieldwork experiences may extend the length of your program.

When selecting an online criminal justice bachelor’s degree, students may seek a cohort or a self-paced program. Cohort learning emphasizes peer collaboration. Self-paced programs offer individualized learning paths that promote independent study. Both program types cater to student learning styles.

Employment Outlook for Bachelor’s in Criminal Justice Graduates

Graduates who have earned an online criminal justice bachelor’s degree find that employment opportunities and average annual earnings vary by location and industry. According to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the highest-paying employers of first-line supervisors of police and detectives include the federal, state, and local government, respectively. Professionals in this field who reside in California, New Jersey, and the District of Columbia earn the most money. Individuals who reside in the mid south tend to earn the least amount of money for this profession, pointing to a discrepancy in pay between rural and urban criminal justice professionals, with city dwellers earning more. Other potential careers for students earning their online criminal justice degree include police and sheriff’s patrol officers, paralegals, and probation officers. California, New Jersey, and the District of Columbia lead the nation in annual earnings for these criminal justice professionals.

Most criminal justice graduates who hold at least a bachelor’s qualify for entry-level positions. Professionals with prior work experience who earn their bachelor’s degree in criminal justice may qualify for supervisory positions that often lead to higher annual earnings. According to PayScale, the average entry-level professional with an associate degree earns a median annual income of $35,100. In contrast, starting professionals with a bachelor’s degree earn an average of $43,200 annually.

Online Bachelor’s in Criminal Justice Careers

Police Detective and Private Investigator

These law enforcement professionals help solve crimes, provide key information for legal disputes, and may serve as witnesses in legal proceedings. Job duties of police detectives and private investigators are similar and include interviewing suspects and witnesses, gathering evidence from crime scenes, and enhancing cases with data retrieved from online sources.

Police Officer

With the primary duties to protect and serve citizens, police officers enforce laws, respond to emergencies, and apprehend perpetrators. Police officers undergo extensive training at a police academy. Although a college degree may not be required for employment with a local or state agency, an online criminal justice bachelor’s degree improves an officer’s chances for career advancement.

Legal Assistant

Most often employed by legal offices, a legal assistant investigates information provided by clients, prepares legal reports to assist attorneys in trial preparation, and oversees the storage of electronic records. A legal assistant may accompany an attorney to trials to help with exhibits, note taking, and transcription analysis.


Paralegals engage in a variety of job duties similar to those of a legal assistant. Job tasks include researching laws relevant to a case, collecting data to support a case, and arranging for interviews with witnesses and clients. An online criminal justice degree equips prospective paralegals with the knowledge needed to earn a certificate in paralegal studies.

Probation Officer

These public service professionals supervise individuals who are placed on probation as a result of criminal activity. Probation officers routinely meet with probationers and their families to develop rehabilitation strategies and evaluate the effectiveness of current treatment plans. Often working with juvenile offenders and adults suffering from drug addictions, probation officers connect probationers with community resources to support their recovery.
Occupations and Salary for Online Bachelor’s in Criminal Justice Graduates
PositionMedian Annual SalaryProjected Growth Rate
Police Detective and Private Investigator$50,70011%
Police Officer$50,2017%
Legal Assistant$42,05115%
Probation Officer$51,4106%
Source: BLS, May 2017

Accreditation for Online Bachelor’s in Criminal Justice Degrees

Institutional accreditation protects consumers from low-quality academic experiences and ensures that students are investing their time and money in professional training that adheres to national standards. More than 85% of U.S. colleges maintain regional accreditation. Seeking a program from a regionally accredited university has numerous benefits, including national recognition of quality, acceptance of credits by other regionally accredited institutions, and the ability to receive federal financial aid.

Another less common type of accreditation sought by colleges is national accreditation. Nationally accredited schools generally emphasize vocational training and typically feature less strict admission requirement. Graduates of an online criminal justice associate degree from a nationally accredited school may not be able to transfer to a four-year program offered by a regionally accredited institution. Some schools seek accreditation with the Distance Education Accrediting Commission, an organization that specializes in the promotion of quality online programs.

Financing Your Online Bachelor’s in Criminal Justice

Paying for an online criminal justice bachelor’s degree may seem like a major undertaking. Online criminal justice degree programs offer the flexibility to attend school while juggling numerous responsibilities. Distance learners have access to a variety of financial aid resources, including scholarships and grants, low-interest loans, and federally funded programs.

Prospective criminal justice students begin the process of receiving federal financial assistance by completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), a free online form that determines a student’s aid eligibility. Once the FAFSA is complete, students know what types of federal assistance they qualify for, such as work study programs, grants, and loans. Graduates of online criminal justice degrees who took out federal loans may qualify for student loan forgiveness if they work for a government agency or nonprofit organization. Learners may seek scholarships and grants. These financial awards do not require repayment, and many scholarships cater to criminal justice majors, such as the ones highlighted below.

Criminal Justice Scholarships

Scholarships offer the opportunity for graduating high school seniors and current college students to earn money for their education that does not have to be repaid. Many scholarship programs offer recurring awards based on student performance, while others may be one-time rewards. Scholarships help reduce the cost of an online criminal justice bachelor’s degree, and a variety of criminal justice scholarships exist that support aspiring law enforcement professionals.

Online Bachelor’s in Criminal Justice Scholarships

Alpha Phi Sigma- The National Criminal Justice Honor Society Scholarship $1,500

Recipient must be a current member of Alpha Phi Sigma and write an essay. View Scholarship

Brian Terry Scholarship Varies

Recipient must be a U.S. citizen or legal resident currently enrolled in or accepted into a criminal justice or related undergraduate program with a GPA of 3.0 or better. View Scholarship

CrimCheck Criminal Justice Scholarship Award $500

Recipient must be enrolled full time or part time in a criminal justice program with a minimum GPA of 3.0 or a high school senior planning on pursuing a degree in criminal justice. Applicants are required to write an essay. View Scholarship

My Alarm Center Student Scholarship $1,000

Recipient open to graduating high school seniors or freshmen and sophomore college students studying law enforcement or criminal justice. View Scholarship

Sheryl A. Horak Law Enforcement Explorer Memorial Scholarship $1,000

Recipient must be a law enforcement explorer who is a senior in high school or a current college student. View Scholarship

Top Bachelor’s in Criminal Justice Programs