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The criminal justice field relies on well-trained individuals to protect public safety, uphold laws, and ensure a fair and equitable justice system. Earning a criminal justice degree can help students prepare for various jobs at different career levels.

Becoming a police officer or detective is a popular career path for those with an undergraduate degree in criminal justice. Employment in law enforcement is expected to grow by 3% through 2031. Police officers and detectives earn a median yearly salary of $66,020. Meanwhile, earning a master’s in criminal justice can prepare students for jobs as forensic psychologists, whose median annual salary is $81,040. Job openings in this field are expected to increase by 6% through 2031.

To help students narrow their options, reviewed dozens of programs and created this list of the best online criminal justice programs of 2023. Additionally, this article provides insight into what students can expect from an online criminal justice degree program, the field’s career outlook, and how to choose the right program.

What Can I Expect from an Online Criminal Justice Degree Program?

Criminal justice jobs can be physically, mentally, and emotionally demanding. Police officers, FBI agents, and correctional officers often work in dangerous situations and interact with violent or vulnerable populations. While criminal justice degree programs help students develop their critical thinking, communication, and perception skills, individuals considering a career in criminal justice should determine if they have the natural aptitudes necessary for succeeding in this field.

What students can expect from their program will vary based on the degree they seek:

Degree level Degree title Number of credits
Associate AA, AS, AAS 60
Bachelor’s BA, BS 120
Master’s MA, MS 30-60


An associate degree program in criminal justice will introduce students to foundational concepts and skills related to criminal justice, with courses in criminal law, ethics, law enforcement, and corrections.

Bachelor’s programs cover foundational and intermediate criminal justice principles and may include hands-on learning through an internship or field study. The curriculum also likely includes general education requirements in humanities, STEM, and more.

At the master’s level, students will learn advanced skills related to a specific area of criminal justice, such as homeland security, law, public policy, forensic science, or criminal psychology. Depending on the program, students may be required to complete a field experience, thesis, or capstone project.

Online programs are usually delivered in one of two formats. In a synchronous program, students participate in live virtual classes at predetermined times. While this format offers more interaction with classmates and faculty, asynchronous learning is more flexible. With that delivery method, there are no class meetings; students can review lessons and complete assignments independently. A third, less common option is a hybrid program in which some classes are online and some are in person.

The Top 63 Online Criminal Justice Degree Programs

Best Criminal Justice Degree Programs Badge

University of Arkansas at Little Rock

Franklin University

Liberty University

Saint Leo University

Campbellsville University

University of Oklahoma

Miami Dade College

Eastern Kentucky University

University of Cincinnati

Missouri Southern State University

The University of Akron

New England College

St. Petersburg College

Indian River State College

Ashland University

Wayland Baptist University

Reinhardt University

Colorado State University Global

Fisher College

Georgia Southern University

Union Institute & University

Florida Atlantic University

Central Christian College of Kansas

Lewis University

National University

Arkansas Tech University

Herzing University

Southeast Missouri State University

Southwestern College

Kennesaw State University

City University of Seattle

Indiana University

University of Alaska Fairbanks

Bethel University

Mount Vernon Nazarene University

Concordia University St. Paul

Polk State College

NMSU Global Campus

Florida International University

Excelsior University

The University of Alabama

University of Maryland Global Campus

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How We Rank Schools

This list features some of the best online criminal justice degree programs in the U.S. All are offered at nonprofit, accredited institutions, either public or private, with a high standard of academic quality for post-secondary institutions.

We evaluated each degree program on tuition costs, admission, retention and graduation rates, faculty, reputation, and student resources. We also compared our picks to a list of aggregated college rankings from reputable publications like the U.S. News & World Report, among others. Using this data, we calculated an Intelligent Score for each program on a scale of 0 to 100. Read more about our ranking methodology.

Still Looking for the Right Fit? Discover Similar Programs

While a criminal justice degree provides valuable preparation for various careers, it may not fit all students. For those who are interested in this field, other options include:

What Can I Do With an Online Criminal Justice Degree?

Career outlook

Depending on the degree you seek, there are several potential career paths within criminal justice.

  • Police officers and detectives — Although students must complete further academy training to qualify for most law enforcement positions, an associate or bachelor’s degree is a good foundation for this role.
    • Median annual salary: $66,020
    • Projected employment growth (through 2031): 3%
    • New jobs projected: 64,500 per year
  • Forensic science technicians — Students who combine criminal justice with physical science at the bachelor’s or master’s level can work in this investigative role.
    • Median annual salary: $63,740
    • Projected employment growth (through 2031): 13%
    • New jobs projected: 2,600 annually
  • Emergency management directors — Those with a bachelor’s in criminal justice can obtain entry-level positions in emergency management, while a master’s can help students qualify for leadership positions.
    • Median annual salary: $79,180
    • Projected employment growth (through 2031): 3%
    • New jobs projected: 900 per year
    • Median annual salary: $60,250
    • Projected employment growth (through 2031): No projected change
    • New jobs projected: 8,000 per year

How to Choose the Online Criminal Justice Degree Program That’s Right for You

Step 1: Choose your area of study

Gaining clarity on your educational and career goals is a key first step in selecting the right online criminal justice degree program.

What type of job do you seek, and what skills and knowledge will you need to qualify for those positions? Is there a particular area of criminal justice that you want to focus on, such as criminal psychology, law enforcement, or computer forensics? Are you interested in an internship or field experience? Thinking about all these factors now will help you set parameters for the type of program that you want.

Also, consider the degree level you need based on your current education level, professional background, and career aspirations. Undergraduate students can pursue an associate degree, with an option to apply their credits to a bachelor’s degree later. For those with work experience, a master’s can be a way to learn advanced skills and prepare for higher-level positions.

Students should also take logistics into account, including whether they want a synchronous or asynchronous program and whether they’ll be enrolling on a full-time or part-time basis. The more specific you are about what you need, the easier it will be to find appropriate programs.

Step 2: Research schools and programs

With parameters set, you can begin researching online criminal justice degree programs.

When considering any online school, it’s a good idea to confirm that it’s accredited by a recognized accrediting body. Accreditation is an indicator of the quality of the school and its programs. Students must be enrolled at an accredited college to be considered for federal financial aid, and most employers will want job candidates with degrees from an accredited school.

Once you begin exploring schools, there are several questions you should get answered:

  • Who are the program faculty, and what are their qualifications?
  • What is the program’s curriculum, and does it align with your interests and goals?
  • How do online students interact with faculty and classmates?
  • What support services are available to online students (for example, technical support, tutoring, counseling, academic and career advising)?
  • What financial aid does the school offer, including scholarships, grants, and fellowships?

Most of this information is published on the school’s website. Students can contact the school’s admissions office if they have additional questions. Other ways to learn more about schools and determine if they’re a good fit include following programs and institutions on social media and participating in online open houses and information sessions.

Step 3: Prepare for applications and tests

Part of the research process also includes learning more about the school’s admissions processes and requirements. Students can also find this information online or by contacting an admissions representative. The process will likely vary between schools, so keeping track of everything on a spreadsheet or checklist can be helpful.

In general, to apply to an online criminal justice degree program, students will have to submit:

  • Completed application and fee
  • Official transcripts from all previously attended schools
  • Letters of recommendation from teachers, employers, colleagues, or community leaders
  • Personal statement or essay
  • Resume/CV

Undergraduate students may have to submit SAT or ACT scores, although it’s less common than it once was. Students should check on standardized test policies before taking these exams.

Students applying as transfer students should prepare to send official transcripts from any other colleges they’ve attended. This way, their new school can evaluate their coursework and decide what will apply to their new program.

At the graduate level, GRE scores may be required. Programs may also want applicants with an undergraduate degree in a specific field, prerequisite coursework, or professional background.

Step 4: Select your program

The number of programs a student applies to is a personal choice. Some students want to increase their odds of acceptance and apply to many schools. Others focus on one or two programs based on their interests or needs. Individual students should do what works best for them, although they should keep in mind that most schools charge application fees, which can become quite expensive for those applying to multiple colleges.

Once you receive acceptance, compare your options and find the one that best fits your needs regarding curriculum, cost, and content delivery methods.

Step 5: Determine how you’ll pay for your degree

While researching programs, students should also gather information about what a program costs and the school’s financial aid options. Students should inquire about need-based and merit-based institutional aid like scholarships and grants. These types of financial resources don’t need to be repaid and can significantly decrease the cost of a program.

Completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is also a good idea. This application is what schools use to determine eligibility for need-based aid, federal student loans, and work-study jobs. Although private education loans are available, federal student loans have more favorable terms, interest rates, and repayment options.

Other ways of paying for an online criminal justice degree include employer tuition assistance benefits, military discounts, GI Bill benefits, and payment plans.

Frequently Asked Questions About Online Criminal Justice Degree Programs

Should I get a criminal justice degree in person or online?

Whether to get a criminal justice degree online or in person often comes down to personal learning preferences and logistical needs. In most cases, the quality of programs is similar regardless of their delivery format, as many schools adapt their traditional curriculums for remote learning.

Students who learn best through hands-on projects and discussions with classmates and faculty may find an in-person classroom setting meets their needs more sufficiently. A synchronous program can be an excellent middle ground for students who want to learn remotely but still benefit from an interactive classroom.

Those who need maximum flexibility may find that an asynchronous online program best meets their needs. However, this program requires strong time management, organization, self-motivation, and accountability skills.

How do I apply to an online criminal justice degree program?

An admissions counselor from the school you’re applying to can provide the most accurate information about how to apply to a specific online criminal justice degree program.

Generally speaking, students must submit an online application, usually through a school’s admissions portal. Undergraduate students may have the option to use the Common Application to apply to multiple schools at once. Most schools also accept other application materials like transcripts, letters of recommendation, and essays electronically.

Students should be aware of the program’s eligibility requirements, including a minimum GPA, prerequisite coursework, professional experience, or a specific undergraduate degree. They should also keep track of application due dates. Some schools accept students on a rolling basis, while others have hard-and-fast deadlines. Enrollment may be delayed if students don’t complete their applications on time.

What is the average cost of an online criminal justice degree?

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the average tuition for undergraduate programs was $9,596 at public four-year colleges and $37,222 at private four-year institutions during the 2021-22 academic year. For graduate students, the average tuition was $12,394 at public schools and $26,621 at private universities.

Many factors influence how much students spend on an online criminal justice degree. As demonstrated above, public universities are often less expensive than private colleges. However, students enrolling in a public school in a different state should check if they will be charged an out-of-state tuition rate, which may be higher than in-state tuition.

Students should also remember that most schools charge additional fees for things like virtual classroom technology, tech support, and online academic resources.

At the same time, attending school online can save students money. Remote learning means fewer transportation costs and more flexibility to live in an area that fits your budget. Because of the flexibility of online learning, students can continue to work and have a steady income while earning their degree.

How long does it take to complete an online criminal justice degree program?

Completion time primarily depends on the type of degree a student is earning and their enrollment status. For full-time students, an associate degree usually takes two years, a bachelor’s takes four, and a master’s takes one or two years, depending on the total number of credits required. Part-time students can expect to add another one to two years to their completion time.

Students interested in completing their degree faster can look for accelerated programs, which condense the curriculum into a shorter time frame. While these programs can help students graduate more quickly, they are more academically rigorous and require more focus and discipline than traditionally-paced programs.

Is an online criminal justice degree worth it?

While many jobs within protective service don’t require a degree, students seeking mid- or high-level positions with more earning potential will benefit from having a formal education in the criminal justice field. Students pursuing careers as psychologists or lawyers will need an undergraduate degree, and criminal justice offers a solid foundation in many relevant areas.

Having a degree can also impact wages and unemployment rates. According to the BLS, the median weekly earnings for bachelor’s degree holders is $1432, and their unemployment rate is 2.2%. Those with a master’s degree earn $1661 weekly and have a 1.9% unemployment rate.

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