Online Criminal Justice Degree Program Summaries

Dec 03, 2019

Research online criminal justice courses and programs. Find out what you can learn in these courses and what you'll need in order to participate in online learning to determine if it's right for you.

Essential Information

Online criminal justice degree programs are fairly popular, and they're available at the associate's, bachelor's and master's degree levels. Rarely, a school may offer a PhD program in criminal justice. Online bachelor's degree programs in this field are the most widely available. Distance learning criminal justice programs can typically be completed 100% online without any campus residency or practical work requirements. Some programs do require residencies and internships.

Undergraduate programs usually provide more generalized instruction and can prepare graduates to seek employment in a range of areas, like corrections offices, probation centers, justice departments or courts. At the master's degree level, students are usually seeking professional advancement, and they can often specialize in an area like behavior analysis, cyber forensics, forensic science administration or justice administration.

Associate's Degree in Criminal Justice

An associate's degree in criminal justice prepares an individual for entry-level positions in the field. Some possible occupations include investigator, legal assistant or security officer. Although specific skills are developed that pertain to each occupation, all students gain foundational knowledge of criminal behavior, the criminal justice system, justice policy research and ethics.

Applicants are required to have high school diplomas or GEDs, and they usually have to submit SAT or ACT scores. In some cases, a school may require an applicant to take the Scholastic Level Exam in order to determine suitable placement.

Program Information and Requirements

Lasting up to two years, the program is delivered entirely online with no in-person work required. Students access classes 24/7 by using a course management system, such as Blackboard. Typically, students log in several times each week. A syllabus is posted with assignments and exams noted. Communication takes place via discussion boards and e-mail.

Technical requirements include a computer with Internet access. The computer should have installed either Internet Explorer (6 or higher) or Firefox for Web browsing. Suitable computer operating systems include Microsoft Windows XP (or higher) or the comparable Mac system. A CD-ROM/DVD drive and JavaScript are also typically required.

Course Topics

The program offers students a broad coverage of criminal justice topics, including courts, law enforcement and investigation. In addition, general education courses are required in written communication, oral communication, psychology and sociology.

Introduction to Criminal Justice

Designed to help a student decide whether or not to pursue a career in the field, this course explores the history, the present and the future of the criminal justice system. Truths and misconceptions of criminal justice are discussed in detail.


The causes of crime and its various natures and extents are stressed in this overview course. Criminal behavior and its relationship to discipline and behavior modification are examined from a cause and effect standpoint.


Students develop skills that enable them to identify, investigate, collect and preserve evidence. Procedures, methods and techniques of forensic investigation are examined and applied.

Bachelor's Degree in Criminal Justice

The criminal justice program leading to a bachelor's degree may be undertaken as a full-degree program or as a degree-completion program. In preparation for careers in law enforcement, justice, corrections or corporate security, students receive instruction in the legal framework of the justice system and the concepts of ethics and professionalism.

The only prerequisite for first-time college students is a high school diploma or GED. SAT or ACT scores may or may not be required, depending on the school. Individuals wishing to transfer into the program at a higher level than freshman may do so provided they have an associate's degree with a minimum GPA of 2.0. Generally, appropriate courses with a grade of 'C' are acceptable for transfer.

Program Information and Requirements

Depending on the number of transfer credits applied, it takes 2-4 years to meet the requirements for an online bachelor's degree. Courses are delivered entirely online. Students generally access courses through pre-recorded lectures, sometimes provided online and other times via DVD. Communication takes place through chat rooms, discussion boards and e-mail. Assignments and exams are completed electronically.

Technical requirements include a computer with Internet access and at least Windows XP for the operating system. A DSL or Cable Internet connection is recommended. Speakers or headphones and a DVD-ROM drive are required. A minimum of 256MB of RAM and 15GB of available disk space is strongly suggested.

Course Topics

The number of courses required for the degree may vary according to concentration and number of transfer credits applied. General education courses completed in an associate's degree program may transfer as well. First-time students are required to complete a certain number of general education courses in areas like mathematics, computer science, psychology, communication, economics and composition.

Criminal Law

Students become acquainted with pre-trial dispositions, the jury system, laws of evidence and the concept of the burden of proof. Statutory offenses and common law are covered in this examination of procedural and substantive criminal law.

Juvenile Law

The focus of this course is on how the criminal court system deals with the juvenile offender. Students also investigate the nature and causes of juvenile delinquency, its prevention and methods of rehabilitation.

Management and Administration

How to deal with the issues that arise in the normal management and administration of law enforcement agencies is the theme of this course. The nature of relationships and interaction between local, state and federal agencies is examined, as is the interplay between civilian community leaders and law enforcement officials.

Master's Degree in Criminal Justice

This program is intended for individuals who are currently working in law enforcement. Capitalizing on undergraduate education and work experience, the criminal justice master's degree program paves the way for a move into the upper echelons of law enforcement.

Most programs allow students to specialize in such areas as homeland security, public administration, cyber crime and corrections. Prerequisites may include a bachelor's degree with a specified minimum GPA from an accredited institution. In lieu of the minimum GPA, applicants must attain minimum GRE or MAT scores.

Program Information and Requirements

The master's program can typically be completed in 18-24 months. Courses are delivered entirely online through a combination of methods, including online taped lectures, videos, interactive animation and discussion boards. Operated by way of a course management system, such as Blackboard, students have access at all times. They are expected to log in regularly in order to keep pace with assignments and discussion fields.

Technical requirements include a computer with Internet access and a Windows or Mac operating system of XP or OS X or newer. Recommended browsers include Internet Explorer 7 and Firefox 3.0. Computers should have at least 2 GB of RAM, and some courses may require a CD/DVD ROM drive.

Course Topics

Depending on the school and specialization, programs may be made up of 10-13 courses. A small number of these are considered to be core courses. The rest may be specialized or general courses.


This course is an overview and analysis of traditional and modern theories of criminal justice. Discussed are social, behavioral and biochemical causations of crime and criminality.


Students examine the problems, conflicts and dilemmas that arise with the application of ethics and morality to the criminal justice system. The role of ethical behavior in the practice of criminal justice is studied at length. Crime control policy development at all levels of law enforcement is also examined.


This is an examination into the causes and characteristics of terrorism as it has developed in the 21st century. The United States is only one of the numerous countries affected by terrorism examined throughout the course. International and domestic terrorism for political purposes and state-sponsored terrorism are focal points of the course.

Career Information

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), job opportunities for both private investigators and security guards were expected to increase 8% and 4% respectively during the decade of 2018-2028. In May 2018, BLS reported the national median salary for security guards was $28,490, while private investigators earned a median of $50,090 per year.

In most jurisdictions, investigators must be licensed. Qualified individuals can obtain certification through the National Association of Legal Investigators. Though not required, most security guards hold licenses. Certification for legal assistants is available through the National Association of Legal Assistants.

According to the BLS, job opportunities for police officers and detectives are expected to increase 5% from 2018-2028. During the same time period, job growth for probation and correctional treatment specialists is expected to increase 3%. In May 2018, the BLS reported the national median salary for probation officers to be $53,020. At the same time, the median annual salary for police officers was reported at $61,380.

The employment of an individual in the capacity of law enforcement officer hinges on successfully passing the appropriate Civil Service Examination. In general, federal agents are also required to have at least three years field experience.

There are numerous professional law enforcement organizations that provide members with access to professional development courses, career information, conferences and classes. Membership is advised at all levels in order to increase advancement opportunities.

Many schools offer online undergraduate and graduate criminal justice degree programs to prepare students for careers in law enforcement. Students study important topics ranging from criminology and forensics to criminal law and terrorism.

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