Online Associate Degree Programs in Criminology

The Most Affordable Paths & Career Potential in Criminology

Many prospective students wonder about the value of obtaining an associate degree. In general, postsecondary studies of any kind result in greater career options and higher earnings. Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce reports that associate degree-holders earn more than $1.7 million in their lifetime, and at least $400,000 more than someone with only a high school diploma.

The criminology field focuses on the causes, consequences, and prevention of crime in society. Earning a criminology associate degree online provides the necessary credentials and skills to enter a variety of careers in protective services, legal settings, and social services. This guide provides an overview of online criminology associate programs and the employment possibilities and salary prospects available to degree-holders.

Quiz: Is An Online Criminology Associate Program Right for Me?

For students considering an online associate degree in criminology or another related field, this quiz can help you understand the specifics that set a criminology program apart. Find out if what you’ll learn in this program matches your college and career goals.

Q: Are you interested in researching deviant criminal behavior -- creating profiles to track and potentially prevent crime -- as opposed to being on the front lines of police work?

A: Criminology is the study of crime, specifically how crime affects society. While earning an associate degree in criminology can help you build field-specific skills, the emphasis on sociology and psychology is what sets this degree apart from similar criminal justice programs.

If criminal behavior and psychological profiling isn't your main interest, consider earning an associate degree in criminal justice, which applies a broader spectrum of law enforcement and public service training.

Q: Does a two-year degree program feel like the right study timeline?

A: Online associate in criminology programs require at least 60 credits and typically take two years to complete. Online courses may allow you to work at your own pace, meaning you can take extra credits and complete this degree program more quickly. Students can also pursue a more balanced approach and take only a few classes at a time to maintain work or family obligations.

Course structures can also affect completion timeframes. Some schools require students to take classes as a cohort and work through the curriculum alongside their peers. Other schools offer self-paced options that allow learners to work through classes as quickly as possible. The best way to understand the degree completion time for an online criminology associate program is to review the curriculum at each prospective school.

Q: Do you have prior credits to transfer?

Holding transfer credits is not a requirement for students, since an online associate degree in criminology is generally the entry-level education for the field. However, using any prior college credits can accelerate your study timeline. Some schools also offer academic credit for work and life experience in public service or the legal field. Check with your prospective school's admissions office to find out if your previous college or work experiences will translate into credits toward a criminology degree.

Q: Are you interested in eventually earning a bachelor's degree?

An online associate degree in criminology can provide foundational training for some entry-level or practice-based occupations, such as legal assisting and general law enforcement. Although job requirements vary by employer, be aware that most careers, including options in forensics and homeland security, require a deeper understanding of criminology and law. These positions may require a bachelor's degree in criminology, a master’s in criminology or forensic psychology, or even a professional doctoral degree in forensic psychology or criminal profiling.

What Will You Learn in an Online Associate Criminology Program?

If you want to know more about what criminology is and the kinds of career paths it can open up for you, an online associate degree may be the place to begin. An associate degree in criminology will introduce you to the field and prepare you for a variety of entry-level positions. You will also gain the general education requirements needed to transfer into a bachelor’s program, if you decide to go that route.

On-campus and online criminology associate degrees typically include coursework on social science theories that address the causes and consequences of crime and criminal behavior. Students also examine the principles of criminal and constitutional law. Depending on the program, students may take courses in victim rights, juvenile delinquency, and rehabilitation.

Common Classes and Coursework

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    Introduction to Criminology: This introductory class applies various social scientific perspectives to the study of crime and criminal behavior. Students explore theoretical explanations and social constructions about crime and criminals, along with social-psychological determinants of crime. The course addresses an array of contemporary issues, including challenges in law enforcement, the threat of cybercrime, and the rise of domestic and international terrorism.
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    Juvenile Delinquency and Juvenile Justice: This analysis of juvenile delinquency and juvenile justice examines the factors shaping juvenile crime and responses by families, schools, police, courts, and the justice system. Students learn about the changing social definitions of childhood, adolescence, and delinquency; the social and legal contexts within which delinquency occurs; and the structure of the contemporary juvenile justice system.
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    Conflict Resolution: This course introduces students to theoretical perspectives for understanding conflict escalation and de-escalation, along with applied techniques for managing and resolving conflict. Coursework emphasizes alternative methods of conflict reduction, resolution, mediation, and negotiation. Students learn facilitative mediation techniques through interactive simulations and case studies, with applications to a variety of professional roles.
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    Police in Society: This course examines police work and law enforcement within a critical social science framework of policing. Students explore the perspective of policing as a structure of social control and police as agents of social control. Topics include policing in a multicultural society, community-based policing, and current issues and challenges in law enforcement.
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    Constitutional Law: The study of constitutional law provides an essential foundation for anyone interested in criminology-related careers. This course explores the U.S. system of separated judicial, legislative, and executive powers. The course centers on the proper role of the judiciary in limiting the action of other branches of government.

Skills You Will Gain

An associate degree provides several tangible skills that will serve you well as you enter the labor market or pursue advanced studies. All associate degree programs help students develop competencies most important to employers, including critical thinking, problem-solving, and written and oral communication skills. The general liberal arts and science curriculum of an associate degree introduces you to multidisciplinary perspectives with applications to many career paths. Learners also develop the capacity for lifelong learning.

In addition to providing an important credential for entry-level employment, an associate degree develops the academic skills needed to transfer into a bachelor's program, which in turn expands your career and educational options.

Earning a criminology associate degree online will equip you with the same skills and competencies as a traditional brick-and-mortar program, as well as prepare you to enter diverse career paths in the public and private sectors. These skills reflect the most important characteristics sought out by prospective employers in criminology and criminal justice-related fields, including an understanding of human behavioral patterns, the cultural competency needed to work with diverse populations, strong interpersonal skills, and adherence to ethical standards. The theories, concepts and applied practices acquired in a criminology associate degree prepare learners to advance into many professional roles, especially positions that require training in computer technology, statistics, research, and investigative methods.

Average Degree Length

The flexibility and affordability of an online associate degree appeal to many prospective students. These programs provide an entry-level credential for many jobs, allow students to enter the workforce earlier, and serve as a stepping stone to a bachelor's degree. Online degrees appeal to students who must balance work or family obligations with their studies.

Most online associate degrees require 60 credits. Full-time students usually complete all requirements in two years. Accelerated associate programs offer courses in five- or 10-week formats and allow learners to earn their degree in 12-20 months. While many online associate programs offer self-paced, asynchronous courses, some schools rely on hybrid courses that require an in-person component, which can increase the degree length.

Most online programs permit part-time enrollment, enabling students to maintain their employment or handle family responsibilities while earning their degree in 3-5 years. Because most schools calculate tuition on a per-credit basis, part-time students pay approximately the same amount as full-time students.

Career Opportunities With an Associate Degree in Criminology

Many prospective students cite employment prospects as the primary motivation for pursuing an associate degree in criminology. An associate degree allows students to acquire an entry-level credential for a variety of careers in criminology and criminal justice-related fields. Earning an associate degree allows learners to enter the workforce more quickly than those who choose four-year degree programs. This section provides insight on the potential careers and salary outlook you can expect with an associate degree.

Potential Careers and Salaries

The academic knowledge and applied skills you learn in a criminology associate degree program can set you apart from other candidates. This versatile and relevant degree can lead to a variety of interesting and well-paying employment opportunities in various settings, including law enforcement and corrections, legal and criminal justice systems, and private security and investigative industries.

While some law enforcement and government positions may not have required a postsecondary education in previous years, an associate degree now serves as the minimum education requirement for many entry-level positions. Criminology degree-holders can find employment outside of law enforcement working in various roles in social and community services, such as counselors for at-risk juveniles or victim advocates.

Forensic Science Technician

Forensic technicians collect evidence in crime scene investigations and conduct tests on evidence in laboratory settings. In addition to an associate degree, most agencies require specialized technological training or advanced credentials.

Median Annual Salary: $58,230

Paralegal or Legal Assistant

Paralegals and legal assistants perform a variety of tasks to support the work of attorneys and law firms. They conduct legal research, collect important documents, and organize and maintain paper or electronic files.

Median Annual Salary: $50,940

Police Officer or Detective

While the duties of police officers and detectives depend on the law enforcement agency, they generally spend their time investigating crimes, arresting suspects, and testifying in court. Most municipal and state agencies require an associate degree.

Median Annual Salary: $63,380

Probation Officer or Correctional Treatment Specialist

These specialists facilitate the rehabilitation of criminal offenders and help them fulfill the conditions of their probation or parole by connecting them with support services such as job training or drug counseling.

Median Annual Salary: $53,020

Social and Human Service Assistant

Social and human service assistants provide various supportive services to clients. Under this umbrella, victim advocates help connect crime victims with psychological, legal, or financial assistance and sometimes accompany victims and their families through court procedures.

Median Annual Salary: $33,750

Five Criminology Scholarships to Apply For

Students beginning their college education should investigate all sources of financial aid to help reduce the cost of their degree. Many professional organizations, honor societies, and foundations offer scholarships in criminology and related fields. This list, while not exhaustive, gives you an idea of the types of awards available for students enrolled in associate degree programs.

Alpha Phi Sigma Honor Society Scholarships

Who Can Apply: Undergraduates in criminology or criminal justice may apply for two Alpha Phi Sigma awards: the V.A. Leonard Scholarship and Regina B. Shearn Scholarship. Applicants must be members of the honor society, demonstrate academic achievement, and show leadership in co-curricular activities.

Amount: $1,500

Apply for Scholarship

American Society of Criminology Gene Carte Student Paper Competition

Who Can Apply: ASC offers this award to full-time undergraduate students in criminology or related degree programs. Students must submit an essay on a topic directly related to criminology and a letter of recommendation from their dean or department chair.

Amount: $200-$1,000

Apply for Scholarship

The McGaughey Family Scholarship

Who Can Apply: The Lint Center for National Security Studies provides this scholarship to outstanding undergraduate students in a variety of majors, including criminology. Applicants must demonstrate an interest in alliance building, counterintelligence, cultural understanding, and national security.

Amount: $1,000

Apply for Scholarship

(ISC)² Women’s Cybersecurity Scholarships

Who Can Apply: Awarded through the Center for Cyber Safety and Education, these scholarships encourage women to enter the cybersecurity or information assurance fields. Criminology students with an interest in cybersecurity and technology may consider the award. Undergraduate students attending school full time, part time, or online may apply.

Amount: $1,000-$6,000

Apply for Scholarship

Taylor and Ring Victim Advocate Scholarship

Who Can Apply: This law firm sponsors an annual award for undergraduate students interested in studying law with the goal of helping survivors of sexual assault, rape, child abuse, or sexual harassment. Applicants must be currently enrolled in an accredited college or university.

Amount: $5,000

Apply for Scholarship

Educational Advancement in Criminology

In addition to providing you with a credential that qualifies you for many entry-level positions, earning a criminology associate degree online or on campus gives you the academic background to continue your studies in a four-year program and beyond. You will earn the general education and liberal arts credits necessary for a bachelor's degree and learn about the criminology field through foundational courses. This section discusses the various educational avenues open to criminology associate degree-holders.

Should You Transfer to a Four-Year Degree Program?

An associate degree prepares you for the academic challenges of a bachelor's program while allowing you to earn up to two years or 60 credits in transferable courses. If you intend to earn a bachelor's degree, you should meet with an academic advisor in the first semester of your associate program. You should continue to work with an advisor throughout your studies to help you select courses that will transfer. Many community colleges boast transfer agreements with four-year institutions that enable the seamless transfer of credits.

What Degree Paths Should You Consider?

Criminology has become one of the most popular and versatile academic majors. Students who begin their study of criminology in an associate program discover that the field embraces multiple perspectives in social science and professional studies with applications in several areas. An associate degree in criminology serves as a strong foundation for several bachelor's programs.

Bachelor of Cybersecurity Designed for students with a technological interest, this degree leads to careers in fields such as computer security, information assurance, and network administration. The specific skills acquired in this program include combating hacking, setting up firewalls, and performing penetration testing.
Bachelor of Homeland Security The threats posed by domestic and international terrorism have expanded the demand for professionals in this field. This bachelor's degree provides the knowledge, applied skills, and technological expertise to recognize, combat, and prevent national security risks and weaknesses.
Bachelor of Criminology A BA or BS in criminology examines the roots and causes of criminal behavior and crime in society. This degree provides a comprehensive background in social scientific theories and methodology, and is particularly suited for students interested in pursuing advanced graduate studies or law school.

Professional Organizations and Resources

These professional organizations and online resources offer criminology students a wealth of information on latest developments across several specialties. Members can access career guidance, as well as opportunities for scholarships, internships, and networking.

  • American Society of Criminology: This professional association serves as the major resource for research, teaching and practice for scholars, practitioners, and students in criminology and criminal justice. ASC sponsors conferences, scholarships, an employment exchange, and career information.
  • Bureau of Justice Statistics: BJS serves as the primary source for official U.S. criminal justice data. The bureau collects, analyzes, and publishes information on crime, the court system, criminal offenders, victims, and sentencing. Local, state, and federal law enforcement and policymakers use this source.
  • Crime in the United States (FBI): This data resource, maintained as part of the FBI's Unified Crime Reporting Program, provides annual statistics for crimes such as murder, rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, larceny, motor vehicle theft, and arson.
  • Critical Criminology Resources: This website and accompanying Facebook page offer a variety of resources for professionals interested in learning about critical perspective on crime, law, and the justice system. The site provides access to original essays, books, videos, and news articles.
  • The Innocence Project: The Innocence Project, founded in 1992 at the Cardozo School of Law, advocates on behalf of the wrongly convicted through DNA testing. This network of independent local organizations works to exonerate the wrongfully convicted and bring about reforms in the criminal justice system.
  • National Association of Legal Assistants: NALA represents the interests of over 18,000 paralegals and legal assistants. The association offers webinars, job listings, and two certification programs. Members receive a subscription to the Facts and Findings academic journal.
  • National Archive of Criminal Justice Data: NACJD provides guides to statistical resources for professionals, academics, and students. Users find data on criminal justice expenditures, criminal justice employment, and crime rates. Researchers can also find current information in specialized areas, including terrorism, victimization, and violence against women.
  • National Criminal Intelligence Resource Center: NCIRC, maintained by the Department of Justice, provides information on crime and violence prevention for law enforcement, intelligence officers, researchers, and the general public.The center emphasizes access to digital technologies that contribute to crime reduction.
  • National Institute of Justice: This archive provides downloadable research, educational resources, and training courses for professionals and students working in criminology and criminal justice fields. The website includes journal articles, audio tapes, and multimedia presentations.
  • Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention: This government-maintained archive provides statistics, fact sheets, and research addressing all aspects of juvenile delinquency and juvenile justice systems. The OJJDP website offers downloadable publications on legislation, missing and abducted children, and children’s exposure to violence and gang violence.