Everything You Need to Know About Criminal Justice Degrees Online

justice and gavel

By Sarah Stevenson

Online education is booming in every area, including the criminal justice field, which boasts online programs in areas as wide-ranging as conflict resolution, police science and homeland security. It's no surprise that more and more aspiring police, paralegals and probation officers are choosing to improve their career opportunities by earning a criminal justice degree online.

Although some criminal justice careers require only a GED or high school diploma, one of the greatest advantages of earning a criminal justice degree, online or otherwise, is the opportunity to work in more challenging positions that earn considerably higher salaries. Imagine being able to rise quickly through the ranks from police officer to detective, sergeant or lieutenant; or helping apprehend perpetrators using the analytical techniques of forensic science. Not every job promises the suspense and excitement portrayed in television crime dramas, but your career opportunities become much more appealing with a college degree in hand.

Use our criminal justice degree online resource center to investigate degrees, careers in criminal justice and salary statistics:

What Careers Are Available?

If you choose to pursue a criminal justice degree online, you'll likely focus on one of four major career paths: legal or paralegal, law enforcement, forensic sciences, or corrections.

  • Criminal Justice Degree Online in Legal or Paralegal Studies: Working in the legal field isn't just for lawyers—administrative professionals from court clerks and reporters to paralegals and law office managers help lawyers in and out of the courtroom. Learning the basics of the law and the criminal justice system is essential for these positions.
  • Criminal Justice Degree Online in Law Enforcement: When people think of criminal justice, one of the first areas to come to mind is law enforcement—police officers, detectives, state troopers and other individuals responsible for enforcing the law, preventing crime and ensuring public safety. Many law enforcement careers are available at the state and local level, but opportunities are also available with the federal government, such as FBI agent and U.S. marshal.
  • Criminal Justice Degree Online in Forensic Science or Criminology: Professionals in forensic science or criminology use specialized scientific, technological or legal knowledge to help prevent and solve crimes. Forensic psychologists, for instance, help advise on psychological matters in a legal context. Computer forensics experts specialize in locating and recovering computer data for use in investigations, and criminologists study sociological and other factors relating to crime, criminals and the law.
  • Criminal Justice Degree Online in Corrections: Corrections can be one of the most demanding—and rewarding—areas of criminal justice. After an offender is apprehended, the correctional system comes into play, from detention and punishment to rehabilitation and supervised release. While careers such as corrections officer and probation officer are open to those with a GED or high school diploma, jobs in counseling or management may require a criminal justice degree online.

What to Expect

If you're already juggling work and family, you might not feel like you have time for a college degree. In that case, a criminal justice degree online can be a great option if you're looking for scheduling flexibility. Communicating with your professors and fellow students through online chats, videoconferencing, instant messaging and bulletin boards can feel just as interactive as an in-person degree program. What's more, the quality of your education won't be compromised if you attend a school that's been nationally or regionally accredited. Here are some of the most popular criminal justice online degree options:

  • For a career as a law enforcement or corrections officer, you'll want to look into a criminal justice degree online at the associate or 2-year level.
  • Many legal administration and paralegal careers are also available with an associate's degree, though many paralegals choose to pursue a bachelor's degree.
  • If your goal is federal law enforcement, corporate investigation, correctional counseling or forensic technology, a bachelor's degree is usually a must.
  • For careers in criminology, forensic psychology and the practice of law, a graduate degree is necessary.