Best Online Bachelors Degree Programs In Criminal Justice 2020

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The minimum educational requirement for many protective service occupations, a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice provides a pathway to careers in law enforcement, forensic investigation, homeland security, and victim advocacy. Students entering these fields experience a stable job market and solid pay. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, police and detectives can expect to earn a median annual salary of about $63,000.

This guide helps prospective students figure out what program works best for them. Use this information to learn about online programs, accreditation, financial aid opportunities, coursework and specializations, and career prospects.

Top 10 Online Colleges

Rank School Location
1 Peirce College Philadelphia, PA
2 Humphreys University Stockton, CA
3 Florida International University Miami, FL
4 Mercer University Macon, GA
5 Trine University Angola, IN
6 St. Joseph's College-Long Island Patchogue, NY
7 McKendree University Lebanon, IL
8 University of South Florida Tampa, FL
9 Drexel University Philadelphia, PA
10 Ball State University Muncie, IN
Advertisement is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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Best Online Bachelor’s Programs in Criminal Justice for 2020

Choosing an online program depends on your personal needs and career goals. Use this guide to research program cost, admission and transfer policies, accreditation and academic reputation, delivery formats, curriculum, available specializations, and on-campus requirements.

The most affordable online colleges typically offer in-state tuition rates or reduced rates for distance learners. Several bachelor’s programs offer classes entirely online in asynchronous formats that enable students to access course materials at their convenience. Other programs rely on synchronous formats and schedule classes at fixed times. Hybrid or blended formats may require some face-to-face sessions and/or on-campus meetings.

  1. Peirce College

    Philadelphia, PA



    Established in 1865, Pierce College in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, offers a variety of academic programs for working students, including one of the most affordable online criminal justice degrees in the country. The 121-credit online BS in criminal justice accepts up to 90 transfer credits. Students can receive up to 27 credits for Philadelphia Division of Prisons training and up to 57 credits for Philadelphia police academy training. The completely online degree costs the same for in-state and out-of-state students. The curriculum includes courses like ethics in criminal justice, law enforcement and policy in society, and victims and victimization. Students culminate the degree with a criminal justice capstone. Graduates qualify for criminal justice careers in local, state, and federal agencies. Pierce College is regionally accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE).

  2. Humphreys University

    Stockton, CA



    A nonprofit institution with campuses in Stockton and Modesto, California, Humphreys University offers one of the most affordable online bachelor's degrees in criminal justice. The practical, hands-on BS in criminal justice features small classes; 11-week quarters; and instruction from faculty with experience as detectives, chiefs of police, and lawyers. The program accepts applications year-round and offers four start dates each year. The 181-credit degree includes general education, criminal justice core, concentration, and elective requirements. Distance learners can choose from two concentrations: corrections, probation, and parole; and law enforcement. Regardless of their concentration, all students take classes in multicultural issues in criminal justice, police and community relations, and criminal procedure. Students must also complete a criminal justice capstone to graduate. The program offers credit for CDC corrections and C.A. Post certificates. Humphreys College is regionally accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC).

  3. Florida International University

    Miami, FL



    The Steven J. Green School of International and Public Affairs at Florida International University offers an affordable online criminal justice degree. The BS in criminal justice combines computer science and forensics topics with traditional criminal justice theory and practice. The program prepares students for careers in law enforcement and related fields. The fully online, 120-credit degree requires courses like research methods in criminal justice, survey of forensic science, and terrorism and homeland security. Prior to enrolling in core courses, students must complete prerequisite classes in statistics, biology, and chemistry. The program requires a grade of "C" or better in all major courses. Students can gain professional experience and specialized training while earning academic credit through FIU's law enforcement apprenticeship program. Florida International University is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC).

  4. Mercer University

    Macon, GA



    Located in Macon, Georgia, Mercer University offers one of the most affordable online bachelor's degree programs in criminal justice. The BS in criminal justice leadership explores the structural, theoretical, and practical aspects of the criminal justice system. Students can begin the program in August, October, January, March, or May. The 120-credit program includes classes like theoretical forensics criminalistics, current trends in criminal law and procedure, and issues in interpersonal violence. The university accepts transfer credits and associate degrees from regionally accredited colleges. All distance learners pay the same tuition rate regardless of residency. Graduates can work in roles like law enforcement officer, victims advocate, and forensic examiner. Mercer University is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC).

  5. Trine University

    Angola, IN



    Trine Online in Fort Wayne, Indiana, offers a variety of online education opportunities for nontraditional students. The online BS in criminal justice ranks among the most affordable online criminal justice degrees, allowing all students to pay the same tuition rate regardless of residency. New classes start every eight weeks. The 120-credit program includes instruction from experienced judges, law enforcement officers, lawyers, and administrators. Core courses include criminal procedures and evidence, juvenile justice, and state and local government. The program also requires a law enforcement internship or criminal justice capstone demonstration. Students can choose from the following concentrations to tailor the degree to their interests: law enforcement, forensic/correctional psychology, agency administration, addictions, academy training/professional training. Trine Online is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC).

  6. St. Joseph's College-Long Island

    Patchogue, NY



    Saint Joseph's College in Brooklyn, New York, offers an online BS in criminal justice practice and policy that incorporates concepts from psychology, sociology, forensic bioscience, and political science. The 120-credit program includes 60 liberal arts and 60 major credits. The curriculum provides an overview of the criminal justice system and explores prevention and control of crime. Students take classes like quantitative applications for criminal justice; race, class, and gender in criminal justice; and crime analysis and policy. The program also requires a criminal justice capstone experience. Graduates can pursue careers like law enforcement officer, social worker, corrections officer, and investigator. Saint Joseph's College - New York is regionally accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE).

  7. McKendree University

    Lebanon, IL



    McKendree University in Lebanon, Illinois, offers a fully online BA in sociology with a criminal justice emphasis. One of the most affordable online bachelor's degree programs in criminal justice, the program prepares students for careers in law enforcement, court services, and corrections. Students take accelerated, eight-week classes through the Blackboard learning management system. The curriculum includes classes like correctional institutions, juvenile delinquency, race and ethnic relations, and police and urban society. The program's instructors hold years of professional experience in the criminal justice system. Students learn to think critically about social justice issues relevant to the field. As a member of the Yellow Ribbon Program, McKendree offers special support and services for active-duty military members and veterans. McKendree University is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC).

  8. University of South Florida

    Tampa, FL



    A public research university located in Tampa and founded in 1956, the University of South Florida serves more than 37,000 undergraduate students each year. The school's bachelor of science in applied science in criminal justice ranks among the most affordable online criminal justice degrees. The bachelor's degree-completion program is designed for students with an associate degree. The 120-credit program includes general education, concentration, writing intensive, and elective courses. Required courses include theories of criminal behavior, survey of the criminal justice system, and a criminal justice senior capstone. Applicants need an associate degree with a minimum 2.0 GPA. The University of South Florida is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC).

  9. Drexel University

    Philadelphia, PA



    Founded in 1919, Drexel University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, is one of the largest private postsecondary institutions in the United States. The university offers a fully online BS in criminology and justice studies that explores topics like corrections, law enforcement, and the judiciary. Students complete four 10-week quarters each year, completing the degree at an accelerated pace. Students can transfer up to 135 quarter credits or 90 semester credits from an accredited institution toward the 182-184-quarter-credit degree. Graduates can pursue a variety of criminal justice and private security jobs or graduate study in areas like computer science or forensic science. Drexel University is regionally accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE).

  10. Ball State University

    Muncie, IN



    A public research institution based in Muncie, Indiana, Ball State University emphasizes service to others. Ball State Online boasts seven online bachelor's degrees, including a fully online BS/BA in criminal justice and criminology that prepares students for careers in policing and law enforcement, community corrections, the courts, and the private sector. Many of the program's students are currently employed in prisons, jails, law enforcement agencies, and community corrections agencies. The curriculum includes core classes in applied research methods, corrections, criminology, and policing. Students culminate the program with a criminal justice capstone that synthesizes degree knowledge and content. A transfer-friendly institution, Ball State awards credit for prior academic coursework, military service, and police training. Ball State University is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC).

Best Online Associate in Criminal Justice

How Much Can You Make with a Criminal Justice Degree?

A bachelor’s degree in criminal justice opens up a variety of rewarding employment possibilities and offers a competitive advantage over applicants without degrees. The following chart gives you an idea of the career and salary prospects for common careers pursued by graduates, including law enforcement, corrections, parole and probation work, and investigative and security fields.

A growing number of protective service positions require an undergraduate degree for entry-level positions or for advancement into supervisory roles. Federal agencies like the FBI or the U.S. Marshals Service offer a variety of career opportunities requiring a bachelor’s degree or higher. Students may also consider nontraditional fields, such as fraud prevention, mediation, and substance abuse counseling.

While employment projections differ for specific occupations, the demand for trained professionals remains constant as individuals retire or move into other roles. Jobs that offer less competitive pay levels often compensate by providing superior healthcare, retirement, and other benefits.

  • Probation Officer and Correctional Treatment Specialist

    Probation Officer and Correctional Treatment Specialist


    JOB GROWTH (2018-28): 3%

    Job Description
    This criminal justice professional works with individuals in custody, on probation, or on parole. Their responsibilities often include determining effective rehabilitation and/or treatment programs, attending prehearing investigations and testifying in court, counseling, and writing and maintaining case reports.

  • Police and Detective

    Police and Detective


    JOB GROWTH (2018-28): 5%

    Job Description
    Police officers and detectives perform a variety of duties, depending on their work environment. They investigate crimes, issue citations for violations, patrol designated areas and monitor suspicious behavior, and testify in court. Fish and game wardens also perform policing functions by enforcing hunting, boating, and fishing laws and investigating complaints and accidents.

  • Private Detective and Investigator

    Private Detective and Investigator


    JOB GROWTH (2018-28): 8%

    Job Description
    Lawyers, businesses, and other individuals hire private detectives and investigators for many different reasons. These professionals conduct surveillance, verify a person’s background, and help find missing persons. Detectives and investigators carry out their activities as private citizens, requiring an in-depth understanding of local, state, and federal laws to ensure the gathered evidence is admissible in a court of law.

  • Security Guard and Gaming Surveillance Officer

    Security Guard and Gaming Surveillance Officer


    JOB GROWTH (2018-28): 4%

    Job Description
    Security guards monitor alarms and security cameras, control building or property access, respond to emergencies, and detain violators or trespassers. Gaming surveillance officers survey casino gaming areas for suspicious activities, such as cheating, theft, or drunkenness. They make sure both the establishment and patrons comply with state rules and regulations, maintaining and organizing security and surveillance camera recordings.

Source: BLS

Find the Best Online Criminal Justice Program for You

Finding the best online degree program is a personal decision, depending on your educational needs and career interests. However, prospective students should take time to learn about essential program and curriculum features before deciding on a target school. The following sections describe differences between online and campus-based programs, coursework and specializations, financial aid and scholarships, accreditation, and career advancement after graduation.

Common Courses in an Online Criminal Justice Degree

While online bachelor’s degrees in criminal justice establish distinctive curriculum and graduation requirements, they typically share common features, such as general educational classes and survey courses on the legal and criminal justice systems. Many programs require students to take courses in criminal justice theories and research methods as well as complete a culminating capstone or project.

Although specific requirements vary by school, students can expect to encounter courses similar to those described here.

Introduction to Criminal Justice

This gateway course examines the role, development, policies, and management of the different public agencies and organizations that constitute the U.S. criminal justice system, including police, courts, juvenile justice, and corrections. The course highlights critical issues in due process, community policing and corrections, domestic violence, and institutional and community-based treatment programs for juvenile and adult offenders.

Community Corrections

This course introduces community corrections as an alternative to traditional incarceration for convicted criminals and people on probation and parole. Students explore the philosophy and history of community corrections, theories of offender treatment, and the legal framework. The course addresses the goals and functions of alternative models and the suitability of offenders for community corrections placement.

Criminal Law

Students gain an understanding of the theory and practice of criminal law through an analysis of the penal code and state statutes. Readings and lectures explore sentencing procedures, the establishment of guilt, justification of punishment, and definitions of criminal conduct. Course participants engage in discussions of current public policy issues related to criminal law.

Criminological Theory

Criminology is the scientific study of the causes of criminal behavior. This course analyzes major theories of crime causation through a review of biological, psychological, economic, and sociological perspectives on the etiology of crime. Students explore and evaluate the major criminological theories, including classical, differential association, labeling, and routine activities approaches.

Prisons and Society

This critical approach to corrections explores changing perspectives on punishment and social control, emphasizing how economic, political, moral, technological, and social forces shape the use of prisons in society. Students learn about methods of punishment, rehabilitation, restitution models, and current controversies related to correctional practices, the treatment of juveniles, chemically dependent offenders, and other special populations.

Specialties and Fields of Study in Criminal Justice

Criminal justice undergraduates often incorporate specialties within their degree plan that focus on a career or personal interest. Usually structured as a set of related courses, these specialties enable students to tailor their criminal justice degree, strengthening their knowledge in a singular subject and giving them a competitive edge in the job market.

Sometimes called specializations or concentrations, the specific fields of study available within the major vary by program, but they generally reflect current trends in criminal justice or areas of faculty expertise. While the criminal justice discipline embraces many subfields, some of the most popular include corrections, homeland security, and cybercrime.

A corrections concentration appeals to students interested in working as correctional officers and supervisors, probation officers, and counselors for both juvenile and adult offenders. Courses focus on correctional administration, policies and procedures, penology, and crisis management, while also introducing best practices for treatment, supervision, rehabilitation, and the reduction of recidivism.

Concerns about border security and international and domestic terrorism drive the growing interest in the field of homeland security. This specialization covers national safety, disaster preparedness, risk assessment, and emergency management. Homeland security training leads to careers in immigration enforcement and border protection, transportation security administration, and related intelligence fields in federal government agencies and the private sector.

Undergraduates who possess a strong foundation in computer and technological applications may choose to study cybercrime and cybersecurity. This specialization explores ways to protect data and computer systems, and detect and prevent system and network vulnerabilities. Coursework typically addresses areas of digital forensic investigation, hacking, firewalls, and data encryption.

Attending Online vs. On-Campus

Students new to distance learning should weigh the pros and cons of traditional campus-based degrees versus those offered in online formats.

For most prospective students, tuition and fees represent the most important consideration in choosing a program. A campus-based four-year college can cost twice as much as an online degree. While most schools charge out-of-state students a higher tuition rate, some colleges make exceptions for online students, charging them the same rate as in-state residents. Distance learners also save on transportation and campus housing costs.

Potential distance learners should consider how the different delivery formats work with their scheduling needs. Fully online asynchronous course delivery provides the most flexibility, allowing students to log in at any time, completing coursework at their own pace while respecting assignment deadlines. Online courses delivered synchronously require specific log-in times for lectures, class discussions, or group work.

Within a degree program, delivery formats differ from school to school and even from class to class. Some online programs mandate on-campus attendance for workshops, orientations, or other requirements, or they require face-to-face blended or hybrid classes. Criminal justice programs frequently incorporate internships as part of their degree requirements but may permit students to arrange placements at locations near their homes.

Online criminal justice degrees offer affordable and convenient options for prospective students who need to keep their full-time jobs, maintain family responsibilities, or want to enter a program unavailable at a nearby school. Before deciding on the program that works best for you, learn more about how online programs work.


Accreditation is one of the most important factors to consider when searching for an affordable online bachelor’s degree in criminal justice. This evaluative process ensures that schools meet certain standards agreed upon by federal, state, and nongovernmental agencies. Independent accreditation commissions evaluate an institution’s mission, academic quality, financial health, and administrative practices.

Schools that engage in the accreditation process are more likely to provide quality education and adequate support for the academic and career goals of their students. An unaccredited school can negatively affect financial aid eligibility, credit transferability, and even employment opportunities. The Council for Higher Education Accreditation and the U.S. Department of Education maintain an online database of all accredited colleges and universities in the United States.

School Accreditation

Legitimate colleges and universities receive either regional or national accreditation. National accreditation is typically reserved for technical, trade, and vocational colleges, for-profit institutions, some religious-sponsored colleges, or schools that prepare students for one specific employment, such as automotive technology or culinary arts. These schools may offer more lenient admissions requirements, shorter program lengths, and inexpensive tuition.

Regional accreditation requires higher academic standards associated with degree-granting higher education institutions, including four-year colleges and universities and those that offer master’s and doctoral programs in academic and professional programs. Regionally accredited colleges and universities maintain strict admission requirements and charge relatively higher tuition rates than nationally accredited schools.

Regional accreditation has received recognition as the preferred and most popular accreditation designation. Credits from regionally accredited schools transfer more easily than those from nationally accredited schools. Most graduate programs only admit bachelor’s degree-holders from regionally accredited schools. Approximately 85% of U.S. institutions of higher learning hold regional accreditation.

Program Accreditation

A third designation, programmatic accreditation, applies to specific degree programs or departments that function within a college or university. Programmatic accreditation agencies typically focus on a professionally oriented discipline, such as business, counseling, nursing, and criminal justice.

Graduation from a program holding approval from a programmatic accreditation agency may serve as a prerequisite for employment in certain fields, such as psychology, healthcare, or law. Even if not required for employment, some industries and professions view graduates of these programs as better trained and career-ready.

The Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences (ACJS) awards programmatic accreditation to a small group of high-quality graduate programs in criminal justice. Widely recognized as the most prestigious credential in the discipline, few programs hold the ACJS designation. However, given the large number of first-rate criminal justice programs across the country without ACJS standing, the absence of this accreditation should not deter students from considering a school’s program.

Scholarships and Financial Aid for Criminal Justice

Students seeking the most affordable online degrees should not overlook financial aid opportunities like scholarships, grants, and loans. Both scholarships and grants, as “free money,” do not need to be repaid. Although often used interchangeably, the two terms refer to different kinds of awards.

Grants are need-based — funded by state and federal government, schools, and nonprofit organizations — to assist lower-income students. Most scholarships are merit-based, although they may also contain a need-based component. Students with specific academic, artistic, athletic, or other kinds of talent may apply for targeted scholarships.

Federal or bank loans represent another kind of financial aid; but, unlike scholarships and grants, they require repayment upon completing the degree or leaving a program. Government loans and school-sponsored assistance require students to file the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).

The College Learning and Resource Center provides useful information about financial aid and support services to help students succeed in college.

Martin Luther King Jr. Scholarship

This scholarship opportunity is open to minority students who have been accepted to, or are currently enrolled in, an undergraduate criminal justice program. Scholarship hopefuls must be nominated by a member of the American Correctional Association. Nominees should submit a 250-word essay on the philosophy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and how they have attempted to emulate these ideals. The scholarship amount is $1,000.

Melissa Linville Criminal Justice Scholarship

Crimcheck administers this annual scholarship program worth $500. The scholarship benefits freshmen who plan to major in a criminal justice field or students currently enrolled in a criminal justice program. Applicants must submit an essay describing their reasons for choosing a career in criminal justice, their professional objectives after graduation, and the scholarship’s function in their long-term goals.

Ritchie-Jennings Memorial Scholarships

This scholarship offers $1,000; $2,500; $5,000; and $10,000 award amounts. Applicants must be enrolled in an accounting, business administration, criminal justice, or finance program in an accredited U.S. college or university. Students must plan to pursue a career in anti-fraud after graduation and demonstrate their current interest in this arena. Applicants must submit two letters of recommendation, academic transcripts, and a completed application form.

After Graduation: Options for Criminal Justice Graduates

One of the most versatile undergraduate degrees, a bachelor’s in criminal justice serves as a stepping stone to an array of professional opportunities. This degree not only prepares graduates for several careers in law enforcement, corrections, security, and related fields, but it also provides a strong foundation for graduate work and advanced training in specialized fields.

Pursuing a graduate degree and advanced credentials beyond a bachelor’s can expand career prospects and salary potential. The remainder of this guide describes what to expect from a graduate degree program and provides some examples of post-baccalaureate certifications in specialized areas, such as addictions, security management, and forensic analysis.

Advancing Your Criminal Justice Degree

A master’s in criminal justice offers benefits beyond those acquired in an undergraduate degree. A graduate education teaches the analytical and critical thinking skills necessary for a range of supervisory and administrative roles. This degree emphasizes leadership, policy, and management skills with applications in law enforcement, corrections, rehabilitation, counseling, security, risk management, and emerging fields, such as digital forensics and cybercrime.

Prospective students can find several online master’s programs in criminal justice that offer a flexible option to traditional brick-and-mortar graduate degrees. For professionals already working in criminal justice fields, an online master’s provides a pathway to promotion, higher salaries, and broader opportunities in related employment areas.

Students interested in the legal aspects of the justice system may pursue a master’s in preparation for a law degree or to move into administrative positions in the court system, corrections, or law enforcement. A master’s also provides a solid base for students who plan to enter a doctoral program, leading to careers in scientific research, postsecondary education, or high-level professional roles in forensic psychology, security consulting, and emergency and risk management.

Many students complete a master’s degree in two years if attending full time. Part-time online programs may require up to three years to finish, while accelerated programs may take as little as 12 months. Most semester-based programs consist of 40-50 credits.

While coursework varies by program, students can expect to take courses in criminal justice theory, quantitative methods and research, organizational management, and policy development and evaluation. Depending on the program focus, electives and specializations might address homeland security, corrections administration, emergency management, cybercrime investigation, and victim advocacy. Many programs incorporate a thesis or capstone research requirement.

Admission requirements vary by school but generally specify a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice or a related field and a minimum undergraduate GPA of 2.75-3.0. Applicants must arrange to send official transcripts showing proof of graduation from an accredited college or university. Some schools request GRE or other standardized test scores but may waive this requirement for applicants with work experience or a high GPA. Programs often request a personal essay or statement of interest and/or a resume documenting professional or volunteer experience in criminal justice fields.

Certifications and Licensure

Specialized certifications verify proficiency in criminal justice fields through advanced coursework and examinations. Several professional organizations offer criminal justice-related certifications that correspond to personal and professional interests. Although not required in all fields, certifications can help bachelor’s degree-holders advance in rank and salary, and expand marketability in the workplace.

For example, a Criminal Justice Addictions Professional Certification, administered by the International Certification and Reciprocity Consortium, offers advanced training for law enforcement, corrections, and probation officers who work with drug offenders or supervise others working in this area. The Certified Protection Professional credential, designed for security managers, covers best practices in risk management, information systems, security threat awareness, and other key areas.

The American Correctional Association offers many types of certification in adult, juvenile, and healthcare corrections. Finally, the growing need for specialists in cybercrime and forensic investigation has driven the development of several certification programs, such as the Certified Computer Hacking Forensic Investigator and the Certified Forensic Computer Examiner.

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