Undergrad Application and Transfer Guide

Applying to criminal justice college programs can be a lengthy and stressful process for both first-time and transfer students. Before applying, aspiring students should determine what they want in a school, and seek out institutions that fit their needs, taking into account geographic location, online options, academic programs, tuition and financial aid opportunities, and overall campus culture.

Nearly 10% of college students transfer schools during their academic careers. Some move from a two-year to a four-year institution, while others shift between four-year universities. Students often transfer for financial reasons, though academic programming, career-related goals, and personal reasons may also play a role. Students hoping to transfer to a new college have to jump through a few more hoops than first-time students do: They must investigate potential schools while also collecting information from their current institution to make sure they can transition as easily as possible.

How to Choose an Online Criminal Justice Program

It’s important to take into account the length, scope, and focus of online criminal justice programs when choosing a degree. Online degrees in criminal justice can take either two years or four, depending on the type of degree and institution. Program applicants should also consider tuition costs, especially potential differences between in-state and out-of-state expenses. Schools that offer criminal justice programs online incorporate interdisciplinary coursework to provide students with a foundational knowledge of crime, criminals, judicial systems, and security. Many online criminal justice degrees have specializations and emphases, which may include cybersecurity, homeland security, and juvenile justice.

Coursework for online degrees in criminal justice may vary based on the institution, so applicants should make sure potential programs offer interesting classes that meet their needs. Transfer students need to pay special attention to their credit hours and whether or not their previous coursework meets transfer requirements for potential criminal justice programs. Some online criminal justice degrees may have on-campus components, which part-time students and distance learners should take into account. Online bachelor’s degrees in criminal justice often have final projects or capstone requirements, as well. Potential criminal justice students should also keep an eye out for programs accredited by the Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences.

Types of Criminal Justice Degrees

An associate degree in criminal justice takes two years to complete for a full-time student, and many of the courses are available online. Associate degree students in criminal justice learn basic theories, research, and practices in the field, while simultaneously completing general education classes. A two-year degree in criminal justice is ideal for students who already work in prisons, courtrooms, or security fields, and want to expand their options for career path and salary increase. Graduates holding an associate in criminal justice are also well-positioned to continue on to a four-year university.

Transferring from a community college to a four-year institution is a good option for students who want to move forward in their career and salary growth, but who can’t afford the financial and time commitments of a bachelor’s degree

Four-year degrees in criminal justice include bachelor of science and a bachelor of arts degrees, depending on the institution. Schools may offer both of these degrees, while others offer just one. Each program has similar course requirements, though a bachelor of arts in criminal justice often emphasizes humanities courses, including language, sociology, and history. A bachelor of science, on the other hand, usually includes additional coursework in mathematics and sciences, such as engineering and chemistry.

Transferring from a community college to a four-year institution is a good option for students who want to move forward in their career and salary growth, but who can’t afford the financial and time commitments of a bachelor’s degree. That said, bachelor’s degrees in criminal justice often lead to higher earning potential. Criminal justice positions in law enforcement, emergency management, and corrections are projected to grow between 6% and 7% from 2016 to 2026.

Average Salary by Degree and Years of Experience
Degree1-4 Years5-9 Years10-19 Years20+ Years
Associate Degree, Criminal Justice$39,481$41,632$48,616$50,811
Bachelor of Science (BS / BSc), Criminal Justice$43,439$54,130$64,188$74,750
Bachelor of Arts (BA), Criminal Justice $44,099$52,691$64,667$73,462
Source: PayScale

Typical Criminal Justice Program Entry Requirements

Online criminal justice program applicants need to submit a comprehensive set of documents required by their potential institution, usually including a formal application, fees, and transcripts from high school or previous colleges. In most cases, applicants can have their high school and previous colleges send transcripts directly, and standardized testing organizations do the same for ACT or SAT scores. Each criminal justice department has discretion over its entry requirements, so applicants may have to provide additional materials. Check program websites or call university representatives for more information on required application materials.

Applications for transfer students are similar to those for first-time students. Students transferring into an online criminal justice associate or bachelor’s degree from another college or university must submit all previous transcripts for consideration, plus military transcripts and evidence of prior criminal justice experience, depending on the student and potential institution. Transfer applicants should contact the admissions office at their potential school to see which credit hours may or may not transfer before deciding on a criminal justice program.

Students applying to an online graduate degree in criminal justice will need to provide evidence of a bachelor’s degree. Some schools may require that applicants’ undergraduate degree be in criminal justice, but many do not. Graduate applicants also must take into account GPA and GRE requirements, and whether applications include essays, letters of recommendation, or a background in criminal justice.

Applying to Criminal Justice Programs

Application Materials

Application materials vary depending on the school and program, but transfer students need to make sure they have access to some fundamental information:

College Application

College applications are available on most schools’ admission or future student web pages. Most can be completed online, or downloaded and submitted after completion. Applicants who would rather have a hard copy or don’t have access to a printer can contact the school directly to obtain physical application forms.

High School Transcript

Ask your high school to submit a transcript on your behalf to the school(s) you are interested in, but make sure to allow enough time to meet application deadlines. Often, guidance counselors and administrative professionals at high schools can assist you.

Letters of Recommendation

Many schools require at least one letter of recommendation for admission. These are submitted with application materials, but by the letter writers, not by the applicants. It’s good to have several people in mind that you can ask for letters, in case one is unavailable to write on your behalf.

SAT or ACT Scores

Some colleges require standardized test scores for admission. To have your scores for the SAT or ACT sent to the school(s) you have chosen, you can notify the testing organizations at the time of your exam. You can also have the scores sent when you apply to schools later, but there is often a fee involved.

College Transcript

College transcripts are usually available through the registrar’s office. Applicants can obtain transcripts by visiting office in person, or by making a request online or calling to have transcripts sent to potential schools. Many institutions charge a fee for sending transcripts.

Application Fees (or Fee Waiver)

Application fees can get as high as $100, and are due when you submit your materials. Some applicants are eligible for fee waivers, so check with the admissions office to see whether you might qualify for exemption.

When Should I Begin the Application Process?

Transfer students should prepare their application materials and check on application deadlines as soon as they know which school(s) they are interested in. Mid-year transfers may not afford much time for the application process. Communicate as soon as possible with the appropriate administrators at your current and past schools to ensure you complete your application with time to spare.

How to Transfer Colleges

  1. Research Your Prospective Transfer Schools: As soon as you decide to transfer schools, start looking at options. You can research colleges and universities online to find which ones best fit your needs, or talk to professors, advisors, or current college staff about your choices.
  2. Check Accreditation Status and Articulation Agreements: Articulation agreements exist between many community colleges and four-year schools to make transferring an easier process. These agreements clarify which course credits will move from one degree program to another.
  3. Contact School Advisers: The school(s) that you are interested in have advisers in their admission offices to assist you in the application process. You can also contact department faculty and staff to learn about academic programs and financial aid options.
  4. Confirm That Your Credits Will Be Transferred Over: Contact the registrar’s office and admissions office about transfer credits to find out how many, if any, will transfer, and whether there is a limit. You also may need to submit additional materials to support credit transferability.
  5. Research Financial Aid Options: Federal financial aid can be transferred from one institution to another, as long as you do the necessary paperwork and talk to the appropriate officials to make it happen. There may also be new financial aid opportunities available at your prospective school or through your degree.
  6. Begin Application Process: Once you have decided which school(s) you are going to apply to, collect the required materials and information. University websites often have application packet checklists available.

Types of Transfer Students

Several factors contribute to the decision to transfer schools, including personal, financial, and academic. Community college students transfer to four-year schools to complete a bachelor’s degree, while bachelor’s students often transfer schools during or between academic years. Some military service members transfer into college programs after they leave service, and international students may transfer between schools in different countries. Transfer requirements vary depending on why and when you choose to make the change.

  • Community College to Four-Year College Transfer: After completing a two-year degree at a community college, you may want to continue on to a four-year college to earn your bachelor’s degree. Moving from a community college to a four-year institution is a vertical transfer that allows you to move up in degree level using your associate degree for academic credit.
  • Four-Year College to Four-Year College Transfer: You can transfer between four-year institutions if you need new or different academic degree options, or for financial reasons or personal reasons. Transfers during the academic year occur between terms (semesters or quarters), but students may also transfer between academic years.
  • Military Transfer: Military service members can transfer into a college program after they leave military service or while they are still on active duty. Some military training, experience, and coursework may count for academic credit, depending on the school and the degree.
  • International Transfer: International transfer students may move to a school in another country for a specific academic program, to play a sport, or for other reasons. International students that transfer into a school for study abroad, exchange, or degree-completion must complete the same paperwork as domestic applicants, plus additional application requirements.

Transferrable Credits

The easiest transfers occur between schools in the same state. When researching potential schools, find out whether it is on the same term system, and whether there are limits to the number of credit hours that can transfer or if you have completed course credits that don’t transfer other schools. Each institution has the authority decide which credits, if any, will transfer when you are admitted.

What if My Credits Don’t Transfer Over?

The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that between 2004 and 2009, transfer students lost an average of 43% of their credits. This is due in part to accreditation issues, because many regionally accredited schools do not accept credits from nationally accredited schools. The GAO also reported that 4% of all transfer students moved from private for-profit schools to public schools, in which case they lost an average of 94% of their credits.

Failed transfers could also result from transfer credit caps. Some schools only accept a certain number of transfer credits when students are admitted, and some implement grade requirements. In most cases, credits may only transfer if the student received at least a “C” in the class. If your credits do not meet your new school’s requirements, you may have to retake courses.

Another potential hurdle has to do with a lack of preparation on behalf of the student. It’s important to know your potential school’s credit transfer policies, and which avenues are available to you to transfer as many credits as possible. You should also communicate with your past and current administrators to find out if you completed your credits within a reasonable amount of time for transfer. Most schools have options to appeal transfer credit denials, either by completing a form that starts an appeal process or submitting a formal letter of request to have your credits reconsidered.

In-State vs. Out-of-State Transfers

When choosing a transfer school, look at both in-state and out-of-state options. Keep in mind that tuition for in-state colleges and universities is usually more affordable than for out-of-state schools, and in-state transfers between community colleges and public universities is often easier, especially if there are articulation agreements in place. Articulation agreements clearly outline transfer conditions for students, especially those in associate programs. This encourages them to continue on to a four-year degree without too much stress or confusion.

Out-of-state tuition for public universities can cost more than twice as much as tuition for public in-state schools. Private institutions are often even more expensive, regardless of whether they are in-state or out-of-state. Between the 2016-17 and 2017-18 academic years, the costs of both out-of-state public and private school tuition increased at a higher rate than in-state public school tuition.

College Tuition Prices
Public 4-Year In-State College$9,670$9,970
Public 4-Year Out-of-State College$24,820$25,620
Private 4-Year Nonprofit College$33,520$34,740
Source: CollegeBoard

Benefits of Transferring From a Community College to a Four-Year School

Associate degrees often give students the opportunity to take classes in a smaller, more personal environment, and on a more flexible schedule. These degrees require less time commitment, and students can often complete them with part-time studies. Community colleges are also relatively affordable, since their tuition, fees, and other education costs are generally lower than those at four-year institutions. In fact, on average, a two-year degree from a community college costs just over one-third of the first two years at a four-year institution. On top of that, education expenses at four-year universities are rising faster than those at community colleges.

Two-Year and Four-Year College Tuition Prices
Public 2-Year In-State College$3,470$3,570
Public 4-year In-State College$9,670$9,970
Source: CollegeBoard

Other Factors to Consider When Transferring

Transferring from a community college to a four-year school is an exciting but potentially stressful experience. Four-year university schedules are often more rigorous, and most students attend school full-time. This is very different from community colleges, where learners of all ages take classes on all kinds of schedules. Additionally, making the change from a two-year to a four-year school is often complicated by having to apply all over again.


When you apply to a college or university as a first-year or transfer student, it’s important to research its institutional accreditation status. Colleges obtain regional accreditation through a rigorous review process, and regional accreditation is generally more prestigious than national accreditation. For-profit institutions and vocational and trade schools are often nationally accredited. Check to see if your current and potential schools are accredited at the Council for Higher Education Accreditation website.

Many regionally accredited colleges and universities do not accept transfer credits from nationally accredited institutions, but it this is not always the case. Generally, transferring between nationally accredited schools, between regionally accredited schools, or from a regionally accredited school to a nationally accredited school is easier.

Scholarships for Transfer Students

There are several funding opportunities for criminal justice students, including many specifically for transfer students. Transfer applicants may be eligible for scholarships or other financial aid opportunities based on their geographic location, ethnic heritage, academic background, or program of study.

Transfer Student Scholarships

Jackie Cook Kent Foundation Undergraduate Transfer Scholarship $40,000

Who Can Apply: The Jackie Cook Kent Foundation offers 45 scholarships annually to students who transition from community colleges to a four-year universities. Applicants must submit a formal application including test scores, grade records, activity lists, and essay responses. They need parental, academic, and personal references as well. View Scholarship

Phi Theta Kappa Hites Transfer Scholarship $75,000

Who Can Apply: Members of Phi Theta Kappa who are enrolled at a community college with a GPA of 3.5 or higher can apply for the Hites Transfer Scholarship. Applicants must have 50 semester hours (or the quarter equivalent), completed within the past five years. View Scholarship

Hispanic Scholarship Fund $500 to $5,000

Who Can Apply: Students of Hispanic heritage who are enrolled in a four-year academic program or in graduate school at a nonprofit, accredited institution may apply for financial support through the Hispanic Scholarship Fund. Applicants must be in good academic standing. All majors and courses of study are accepted, but there is an emphasis on STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) fields. View Scholarship

Brian Terry Scholarship Program Varies

Who Can Apply: This scholarship honors fallen law enforcement officer Brian Terry by providing financial aid to one undergraduate student studying criminal justice or a related subject. To apply, recently accepted or currently enrolled students should provide two letters of recommendation, a personal essay, and transcript information. View Scholarship

Women In Federal Law Enforcement (WIFLE) Scholarship $2,500

Who Can Apply: Open to students pursuing a degree in criminal justice or related field, the WIFLE scholarship is awarded based on academic success and commitment to community. Applicants must have completed at least one year of undergraduate study, hold a GPA of 3.0 or higher, have one letter of support from a community leader, and provide a 500-page essay describing their role in the community. View Scholarship

Melissa Linville Criminal Justice Scholarship $500

Who Can Apply: Offered through Crimcheck, the Melissa Linville Criminal Justice Scholarship honors former Crimcheck team member Melissa Linville by providing support to full-time students pursuing an undergraduate degree in criminal justice. Applicants must have a GPA of 3.0 or higher, and write an essay about their criminal justice career goals. View Scholarship

Ronnie Williams Foundation Criminal Justice Scholarship $1,000

Who Can Apply: The Ronnie Williams Foundation Criminal Justice Scholarship is open to residents of Maryland, Delaware, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey. Applicants must have a GPA of 2.5 or higher and be majoring in criminal justice. They must submit a formal application, transcript information, three letters of recommendation, and a 500-word essay about their criminal justice career goals. Students may only receive the award once. View Scholarship

My Alarm Center Scholarship Program $1,000

Who Can Apply: Open to graduating high school seniors or freshmen and sophomores in college, the My Alarm Center scholarship is open to law enforcement, criminal justice, or related-field students. To apply, students need to submit a 500- to 1,000-word essay about their relationship with law enforcement or their future career goals in the field. View Scholarship

Anderson Criminal Justice Scholarship $5,000

Who Can Apply: Supported by the Washington State Fair Foundation, the Anderson Criminal Justice Scholarship is available to students attending an accredited two- or four-year school that offers a criminal justice degree. High school seniors are encouraged to apply. Applicants must submit transcript information, a cover letter, and two letters of recommendation. View Scholarship

Constitutional Officers’ Association Of Georgia Scholarship $500 to $1,500

Who Can Apply: The Constitutional Officers’ Association of Georgia Scholarship is open to high school seniors and undergraduate students in the state of Georgia who are pursuing a degree in criminal justice, law enforcement, accounting, or a related field. Applicants must submit a formal application, a thematic essay, proof of Georgia residency, and proof of enrollment in an appropriate department. View Scholarship