Undergraduate criminal justice degree programs are available online at both the associate's and bachelor's degree levels. In these programs, students can learn about law enforcement, the legal system, criminology and legal procedures. Some programs may allow students to specialize in a specific area of the criminal justice system. While many schools offer these programs fully online, some schools offer hybrid programs. Some programs may have internship requirements. Online programs are also available in several areas related to criminal justice, including justice studies, criminology, corrections, and criminal justice administration.
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Program Overview and Requirements
An undergraduate degree program in criminal justice provides students with a comprehensive overview of the criminal justice system. Students study criminology, courtroom process, criminal justice administration and basic criminal procedure while gaining an understanding of the history, science and practice of criminal justice in the United States. Some online programs expect students to choose an area of concentration, such as cybercrime, forensics, law enforcement or corrections.
Coursework introduces students to the three main areas of the criminal justice system: corrections, police and the courts. Comprised of both general education requirements and a core group of criminal justice courses, most programs require an average of 120 credit hours. Elective courses provide students with the opportunity to gain in-depth knowledge of certain aspects of the criminal justice system. Some programs require completion of hands-on experiences, often through a final capstone course that incorporates volunteer or internship opportunities.
List of Common Courses
Online criminal justice courses provide both practical and theoretical instruction, often including the following:
This course covers the history of criminal law in the U.S. and introduces students to the modern criminal justice system. Students learn about judicial code, rules of evidence, sentencing laws, criminal processing and offender corrections.
Lessons focus on criminal characteristics, crime types and social reactions to crime. Students examine the nature and extent of modern day crime and the social climate in which it occurs.
Ethics in Criminal Justice
Students study ethical issues in criminal justice, such as deception and coercion in law enforcement, the relationship of law to justice and the purpose of criminal punishment. Coursework examines the policies and practices of the criminal justice system.
Criminal justice graduates are prepared for careers in law enforcement, corrections, corporate security or crime analysis. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, private investigation employment opportunities were expected to grow at a rate of 5% between 2014-2024, which is about average for all occupations during this decade. During the same time frame, the BLS also reported job opportunities for police and public investigators, as well as probation and corrections to grow 4%, which is a slower-than-average rate for all occupations. As of May 2015, the median annual salary for police and patrol officers was $58,320, and the median annual wage for criminal investigators was $77,210. Salaries and wages vary depending on employer and criminal justice specialty (www.bls.gov).
Some career fields within the criminal justice system require additional education and training. For instance, individuals interested in becoming prosecution or defensive attorneys must apply to law school after completing a bachelor's degree in criminal justice. Those looking to become police officers have to complete police academy training before receiving their first assignments. Although not required for most entry-level criminal justice positions, a master's degree may be helpful for individuals interested in pursuing jobs that require leadership and management abilities, such as federal agent, police chief or investigation supervisor.
There are many online degree programs in criminal justice offered at both the associate's and bachelor's degree levels; some programs even allow students to specialize in areas of criminal justice, such as criminology and criminal justice administration. Most programs allow students to complete lectures and coursework online, and some programs require students to complete a hands-on internship as a part of the course requirements for graduation.