Majoring in criminal justice prepares students to work in diverse positions such as law enforcement, the FBI, corrections, certain types of counseling, and advocacy positions. A criminal justice degree lays the foundations for understanding legal systems and interpersonal skills required to work in this area.
This guide explores what it takes to complete an online criminal justice degree and what students can expect once they finish.
What Is an Online Criminal Justice Degree?
A criminal justice degree introduces students to three critical components of the U.S. justice system: policing, courts, and corrections. Students take on research and learn foundational skills in criminology theory and the psychology of criminal behavior.
As part of the social sciences, criminal justice focuses on society and people — making cities safer, seeking fair justice, and exploring concepts in restorative practices or evolving laws.
Students can also specialize their studies based on their interests and where they intend to work after studying. Concentrations fall into one of the three broad categories above, with newer programs also focusing on new technology aiding in investigations as well as causes for new types of crimes.
Students with a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice make an average yearly salary of about $68,000 per year1. Some common positions available to students with bachelor’s degrees include private investigator, FBI agent, crime scene investigator, or criminal profiler.
Master’s level work offers more opportunities for those in the criminal justice system. Positions at this level include CIA analyst, forensic accountant, forensic psychologist, or cybersecurity investigator. Students with law degrees can pursue positions as lawyers or court judges.
Criminal justice students now possess choices for quality education online. An online degree makes it possible for students to study and work full time or to enroll in universities and colleges far from where they live without worrying about relocation.
How Can I Use an Online Criminal Justice Degree?
Once students complete their degree, they have a range of choices for employment. The field continues to recruit talent in multiple fields and concentrations with no signs of stopping. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicts growth in several critical criminal justice areas:
Police and Detectives Average Annual Salary: $67,290
Police and detectives enjoy a nationwide average salary of just over $67,000 per year2, with job growth of 7% predicted between 2020 and 20302. Typically, candidates need a high school diploma, degree, and special training from their chosen department2 to receive a position.
Probation Officers and Correctional Treatment Specialists Average Annual Salary: $55,960
Probation officers and correctional treatment specialists make an average of just under $56,000 per year3. People in these positions aid in the rehabilitation of offenders, whether in custody or after release. BLS predicts slightly slower growth than the average industry3, but the field will still employ around 3,500 people each year between 2020 to 20303.
Forensic Science Technicians Average Annual Salary: $60,590
Forensic science technicians will experience faster-predicted growth than average3 and an average salary of just over $60,000 per year4. Forensic science technicians collect and analyze evidence, aiding investigations and preventing missteps in the pursuit of justice. Potential job seekers need training in forensic science and chemistry or biology4.
Post-secondary Teachers in Criminal Justice Average Annual Salary: $74,740
Students who complete a criminal justice degree and gain experience can earn an average of $74,740 per year teaching criminal justice concepts5. Students can transition into one of the thousands of positions in criminal justice departments at junior colleges, four-year colleges, and large universities5.
Lawyer Average Annual Salary: $126,930
Some criminal justice students move on to law school to complete a post-secondary degree, earning well over six figures per year6. BLS predicts average growth over the next 10 years as current lawyers retire and new law offices open. Lawyers can work in the public, government, or private sector.
Crime Scene Investigator Average Annual Salary: $48,607
Crime scene investigators put their problem-solving and observational skills to use and earn an average annual salary of about $49,0007. Students in this field assist in investigations and help process the clues that can lead to solving crimes. They also assist in trials.
Paralegals and Legal Assistants Average Annual Salary: $52,920
Paralegals make an average yearly salary of just over $50,000 assisting lawyers8 and law offices with the work of prosecution, trials, defense, and other criminal law activities. The field could grow as much as 12% over the next 10 years8 — faster than average growth for other industries.
Online Criminal Justice Courses and Programs
Online programs provide flexibility for students who cannot relocate or must also work full time. Depending on the degree type, students may study asynchronously or through live, synchronous courses.
Two- and four-year criminal justice degrees require core coursework as well as coursework in the major. Students should prepare for labs in areas such as forensics. Some degrees may also require internships. Potential students should check the degree program to find out if core courses happen online in addition to major courses and if lab requirements occur on-campus.
Common major-specific coursework for an associate or bachelor’s degree includes:
- Introduction to law enforcement
- Constitutional law
- Social psychology
- Courts and sentencing
- Crime and delinquency prevention
Students pursuing graduate work take courses in their chosen concentration or niche. Students working in law fields take courses that cover general law and then focus on criminal law fields as well.
Online Criminal Justice Concentrations
Criminal justice is a large field. Students receive foundational training in the criminal justice sector but can also choose to concentrate in specific areas within the field. Criminal justice students can find specialized concentrations in a variety of areas.
Students in this concentration focus on the rehabilitation of currently incarcerated offenders. Corrections also includes treatment and processing for those awaiting trial.
Criminology and crime analysis
Students in this concentration focus on crime prevention and theory. Their positions will focus on crime in society and the conditions that cause it.
Police operations or administration
Law enforcement specialties focus on the policing system, policy, and crime analysis.
Students in this concentration gain a deep understanding of the principles of domestic and foreign terrorism and their causes. They examine the history, current terrorist groups, and response concepts.
The criminal justice field needs deeply knowledgeable people to examine current policies, advocate for substance abuse offenders, and understand best practices in rehabilitation.
This concentration focuses on online threats, crime, and their prevention. It combines criminal justice knowledge with a deep understanding of the technology that drives cyber crimes.
Graduate students in criminal justice can work with public administration and policy to change laws, create new processes, and advocate for justice.
While not an exhaustive list of possible concentrations, this list outlines how students can customize their criminal justice degree to fulfill their career expectations. With advanced degrees, students can specialize even further.
How Long Does It Take to Earn an Online Criminal Justice Degree?
Criminal justice associate degrees typically take students two years of full-time study and include state-required core courses. Bachelor’s degrees also include state-required core courses and usually take four years of continuous full-time study.
For master’s level students, coursework doesn’t require core courses but can take one to two years of full-time study after completing a four-year undergraduate degree. Law degrees happen over the course of three years on average after students finish an undergraduate degree, and doctoral students finish between three to five years beyond these master’s level studies, depending on the work required for a thesis.
In some cases, students may need to pass a certification or training course before employment. For example, police stations require training2 lasting several months, while paralegals can become certified with a semester-long certification course7.
Discover More About Online Criminal Justice Programs
Q. What can I do with a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice?
A bachelor’s degree opens many doors within the criminal justice world. It helps students gain employment in policing, investigations, legal assistance, counseling, and corrections. It also provides the foundation for other positions in law and public administration as a requirement for pursuing an advanced degree.
Q. What is the criminal justice degree application process?
Associate and bachelor’s seekers need a high school diploma and must apply to their chosen school before declaring a major. Graduate students need a bachelor’s degree in a related field. Students should prepare to take standardized tests for all levels, including the SAT, GRE, or LSAT.
Q. Does criminal justice offer scholarships?
Students should check with their chosen school to find scholarship opportunities. Students may also apply for loan forgiveness for working in a public field such as policing or corrections9.
Q. Is an online criminal justice degree worth it?
BLS predicts a salary of over $60,000 per year for the average criminal justice employee with a bachelor’s degree1. The field should remain steady for employment over the next 10 years, and some concentrations show faster than average growth.
Q. Does location matter when pursuing a criminal justice degree?
Online criminal justice degrees provide students with access to the education and training they need to break into the criminal justice field. Location does not matter as much with quality online education choices.
Q. Are online criminal justice degrees available?
Yes. Students can find both associate and bachelor’s degrees in criminal justice in online formats.
 PayScale. (2021). Bachelor’s Degree in Criminal Justice Average Salary. https://www.payscale.com/research/US/Degree=Bachelor%27s_Degree%2C_Criminal_Justice/Salary
 Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2020). Occupational Outlook Handbook: Police and Detectives.https://www.bls.gov/ooh/protective-service/police-and-detectives.htm
 Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2021). Occupational Outlook Handbook: Probation Officers and Correctional Treatment Specialists.https://www.bls.gov/ooh/community-and-social-service/probation-officers-and-correctional-treatment-specialists.htm
 Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2021). Occupational Outlook Handbook: Forensic Technicians.https://www.bls.gov/ooh/life-physical-and-social-science/forensic-science-technicians.htm
 Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2021). Occupational Wage and Employment Statistics: Occupational Employment and Wages.https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes251111.htm
 Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2021). Occupational Outlook Handbook: Lawyers.https://www.bls.gov/ooh/legal/lawyers.htm
 Payscale (2021). Crime Scene Investigator Average Salary. https://www.payscale.com/research/US/Job=Crime_Scene_Investigator_(CSI)/Salary
 Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2021). Occupational Outlook Handbook: Paralegals and Legal Assistants.https://www.bls.gov/ooh/legal/paralegals-and-legal-assistants.htm
 Federal Student Aid. (2021). You may be eligible to have all or a portion of your Federal Perkins Loan canceled (based on your employment or volunteer service) or discharged (under certain conditions).https://studentaid.gov/manage-loans/forgiveness-cancellation/perkins