Online Schools to Become a Cop: How to Choose

Criminal justice degrees are a common choice for aspiring police officers and can be earned online from many colleges and universities. See what choices you have and how to best select a school for a career as a cop.

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You'll find that many law enforcement organizations and positions require college coursework or a degree. Let's investigate a few schools that offer online programs that can help you become a police officer or advance in the field.

How to Select an Online School to Become a Police Officer

A bachelor's or master's degree in criminal justice is an appropriate choice for someone who wants to enter law enforcement. Once college coursework is complete, graduates can apply for the police academy. Recruits usually undergo 3-4 months of specialized in-person training on topics such as law, civil rights, first aid, firearm use, patrol and accident investigation. They must also demonstrate good physical and mental health and pass knowledge exams before being sworn in as a police officer. These programs are not offered online. Students should then weight state rules with the award level and accreditation.

Rules of State or Local Organizations

Beyond the basics common to all, the process of becoming a police officer in the U.S. varies by agency and state, so prospective applicants should carefully research the specifics of their chosen organization. Even where a college degree is not required, it can provide an advantage in career advancement. Some agencies even pay for or contribute to tuition for law enforcement related degrees.

Award Level

Online criminal justice degrees can be found at both the bachelor's and master's levels. In general, baccalaureate degrees are designed for those new to the field, while graduate degrees are geared towards working professionals. There are also post-graduate certificates available online for graduates with unrelated baccalaureate degrees who want to pursue law enforcement careers.


Students should look for an accredited online school. This is important, since some employers do not recognize degrees from unaccredited institutions.

Find schools that offer these popular programs

  • Corrections Admin
  • Corrections, Probation, and Parole
  • Criminal Justice and Safety Studies
  • Criminal Science
  • Forensic Science
  • Juvenile Corrections
  • Law Enforcement Administration
  • Police Science and Law Enforcement
  • Securities Services Mgmt
  • Security and Theft Prevention Services

List of Online Police Officer Programs

Post-Baccalaureate Certificate in Criminology

This certificate takes from 1-2 years to complete and is appropriate for both those with an unrelated bachelor's degree and professionals wanting to update their criminology information. Core studies focus on criminal motivations, examining the cultural and political influences on crime throughout history, as well as methods for researching and solving crimes. Students may take electives of special interest, such as criminal rehabilitation or white-collar crime. Some of the required courses include:

  • Criminal law and reasoning
  • Research methodologies
  • American courts
  • Crime control strategies

Bachelor of Police Science and Law Enforcement

Criminal justice is a complex, interdisciplinary field of study. It incorporates knowledge of criminal motivations, human behavior, economics and culture, in addition to an understanding of how society responds to crime and seeks justice. Online bachelor's programs provide an interdisciplinary approach to these topics.

Through online lectures, live discussions, reading and writing assignments, students are prepared to be effective problem-solvers working in police departments and the court system, or with populations vulnerable to crime, such as youth, victims of violence and substance abusers. Graduates of this program may wish to immediately enter or return to the work force, or to apply to a master's program. Coursework includes:

  • Ethic decisions and police
  • Statistical analysis
  • Contemporary police strategies
  • Crime and delinquency perspectives

Master of Science in Criminal Justice

An online master's degree in criminal justice is primarily designed for professionals and takes 1-2 years to complete. The curriculum focuses on developing sophisticated leadership and research skills to make positive changes in the current criminal justice system. Such knowledge may help facilitate advancement into administrative and management positions that offer greater responsibilities and income. A thesis is not required, but some programs call for an independent research project that evaluates criminal justice policies and practices. Common topics include:

  • Critical analysis of justice administration
  • Statistical research
  • Emergent issues in leadership
  • White-collar crime
  • Community theory

Schools with Online Programs in Law Enforcement

Eastern Kentucky University offers two online degree programs in police studies. You can earn an Associate of Arts upon completion of 64 hours of study, which includes 15 hours of police studies core courses. A Bachelor of Science in Police Studies can be yours upon completion of 120 credit hours of study, which includes 24 credit hours of police studies core courses.

At Sam Houston State University you can earn a Master of Science in Criminal Justice in two years of online study. The 36-credit hour program is intended for working professionals. In order to qualify for admission, you must hold an undergraduate degree in a related field with a GPA of at least 3.0 and three letters of recommendation.

Portland State University (PSU) offers a trio of online programs related to law enforcement. Upon completion of a 24-credit hour curriculum you can earn an undergraduate Certificate in Criminal Behavior. PSU's online Bachelor of Science or Bachelor of Arts in Criminology and Criminal Justice (CCJ) calls for you to complete 180 credit hours, which mandates all 10 CCJ core courses in addition to 24 credits of CCJ electives. A 40-credit hour post-baccalaureate certificate program includes completing five core CCJ courses and your choice of two courses chosen from Policing in America, Punishment and Corrections, and American Courts.

While all police departments require in-person, specialized training, online degrees can meet the academic requirements mandated by the law enforcement department or organization you wish to join. Postsecondary certificate programs, degree programs and post-baccalaureate certificate programs are all available online.

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