Your Complete Guide to

Online Criminal Justice Degrees

The best CJ programs, benefits, list of universities, rankings, FAQs and everything you ever wanted to know.
Grant Aldrich on March 13, 2023

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Choosing to go back to school to pursue your college degree is a great choice because it allows you to improve your life and the financial security of your family. Well, if you are looking for an exciting career that offers a fantastic yearly salary, then a degree in criminal justice can get you there. Once you obtain a criminal justice degree, you have multiple career paths in front of you. Work within the court system, go into police work, security, pursue becoming a lawyer (or someday judge), or the mysterious world of forensic science.

No matter what field you choose to go into, a degree in criminal justice will provide you with the education and credentials you need to serve your community. Regardless of where you decide to work within the criminal justice system, the judiciary, enforcement agencies, or corrections, you have just as much chance at making difference and contributing towards a better and just society. Your degree will also help you stand apart from the crowd of other candidates all vying for the same position.

In this article, we’re going to explore everything you need to know about earning a criminal justice degree. We’ll cover the best criminal justice degrees that offer the biggest career potential, compare online programs with traditional programs, and take a look at the differences between Associate’s, Bachelor’s, Master’s, and Doctorate degrees.

We encourage you to read this ENTIRE article because we’re also going to tell you exactly how could help you save a lot of time and money toward your tuition!

Let’s get started…

7 Best Online Criminal Justice Degrees

Before we get to the specific online criminal justice degrees available to you, let’s talk about WHY we believe these degrees are the best.

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They Offer Financial Security

The following online criminal justice degrees set you on a lucrative and stable career path. Let’s face it, we never know what the economy will do from one day to the next, but we will always need a justice system. A career in criminal justice comes with a great deal of employment security since the need for highly trained professionals in the field is not going to go away. There will always be a need to adapt laws to evolving society and the nature of the crime as well as to come up with new policies to meet newer challenges.

Additionally, a degree will ensure that trained professionals are rewarded with employment stability and constant growth in the field. A criminal justice degree gives you the skills that are always in-demand, no matter what the economy is doing.

Perfect Career Changer

Many adults that have been part of the workforce for some time get to a point in their career where they feel they need a change. Maybe they’ve lost interest in the field, picked up a new interest, or simply aren’t making enough money for their family. A degree in criminal justice lays down a strong basis for those looking to change their career or even those who are looking to start from scratch. It can be a game changer for achieving success in the field.

A Flexible and Affordable Education

We’ve decided to focus on those criminal justice degrees that can be earned online because they allow busy working adults the opportunity to make a profound change in their lives without having to compromise on both their personal and professional lives. Online education allows you to study at your own pace when is most convenient for you.

Online degrees are also far more affordable than traditional degrees offered at brick-and-mortar schools. They come with the advantage of earning while studying, making it really useful option for those who find themselves surrounded by multiple commitments and a desire for professional growth.

Now that you know why we chose the online criminal justice degrees we did, let’s dive in:

Criminal Justice Degree

By earning a bachelor of science degree in criminal justice, you will gain the credentials to one day hold senior-level positions in law enforcement. Students learn everything interesting about the field, such as criminology, law, sociology and criminal justice, preparing them for varied and rewarding careers as detectives, crime scene investigators, prison administrators, and more. This degree is also the ideal starting point for aspiring defense lawyers or prosecutors.

What the Future Holds with This Degree

The sad reality is that crime is and always will be a concern for communities across this country. Because of this, there will ALWAYS be a need for police officers, detectives, crime scene investigators and lawyers, and the chance for someone like you to serve and protect their communities.

Now let’s take a look at some of the specializations you can go into with a criminal justice degree:


The exciting field of forensics is a cross between the medical and legal sectors. The degree is normally a Criminal Justice Degree with a Specialization in Forensics, and these professionals play an important role in society as they do everything from solving serious crimes to supporting defense and prosecutions in court. A specialization in forensic science will require you to take chemistry, biology and physics courses so that you will be able to analyze and interpret criminal-related data. This multidimensional aspect of Forensics is what makes it worth your time, with plenty of skills and knowledge once you finish. Similarly, the opportunities are also as diverse.

Here are some of the top forensic science jobs available:

  • Fingerprint Analyst – Work in the crime lab as well as at active crime scenes studying and evaluating fingerprints. The national average salary is $55,932 a year.
  • Evidence Technician – Collect evidence and process it for the legal system. The average annual salary is $55,932 a year.
  • Forensic Science Technician – Work at crime scenes gathering and analyzing evidence. These pros typically work for crime labs, police departments and medical examiner’s offices. The average annual salary is $61,930 per year.
  • Forensic Specialist – These professionals analyze specific materials found at crime scenes such as drugs, biological fluids and gunshot residue. They also frequently serve as expert witnesses in court cases. The average annual salary is $51,653 a year.
  • Forensic Pathologist – Conduct autopsies to determine the cause of death. Typically assist in the investigation of crimes like murder. Medial annual salary is $208,291.

Juvenile Justice

Juvenile justice officers are probation officers who work with troubled youth who have been convicted of crimes that would typically result in jail time or a prison sentence were they to be tried as an adult. They may also serve as detention or residency officers, which is someone that supervises children and young adults who are serving a sentence in a juvenile justice facility. It is serious work, with lots of responsibilities and challenges but that’s what makes it rewarding as you will be helping the younger generation.

Duties of a juvenile justice officer include:

  • Counseling troubled youth
  • Supervising probationary youthful offenders
  • Providing courtroom testimony
  • Producing written reports
  • Assessing juvenile offenders
  • Guarding incarcerated youth
  • Working closely with police officers and courts
  • Working with parents and guardians

These professionals play a vital role in their community because they work with troubled youth, who are often discarded by other members of society, to help them become trusted and productive adults.

According to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median national salary for all probation and control officers, including juvenile officers, is around $60,250.

Crime Scene Investigation

If you’re a fan of the hit TV show CSI, then a career as a crime scene investigator may be right for you. These professionals apply their forensic science knowledge to documenting and helping solve crimes. CSIs collect and analyze evidence at crimes scenes to piece together theories about potential events that may have occurred. While these guys are not at the frontlines of investigation, they sure are the backbone of their team with their dedication and rigor.

Crime scene investigators’ tasks include:

  • Collecting fingerprints
  • Collecting and documenting trace evidence of DNA
  • Determining the time and cause of death
  • Examining weapons and devices
  • Testifying as an expert witness in court
  • Conducting interviews with relatives, law enforcement officials, and medical professionals
  • And more…

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, crime scene investigators earn a median annual salary of $61,930.

Criminal Psychologist

It’s not every day that you find a career path that brings all your interests together, but for those people who have a passion for criminal justice AND psychology, they have a great option. A career as a criminal psychologist may be the perfect fit. These professionals spend much of their time conducting evaluations of both the accused and the victims. They also provide expert testimony working in civil, family, criminal and even military courts.

While therapy is not typically a criminal psychologist’s duty, some do offer therapeutic services to those individuals who have been required to participate in treatment by the court. This could involve family therapy for parents after custody has been determined or individual therapy for someone who has been found guilty of a crime.

Criminal psychologists are also trained to dissect criminal behavior by understanding how their minds work and what lies behind their behavior. This makes their contributions extremely beneficial for the prevention of crime and the provision of justice in the legal system.

The employment outlook for these professionals is strong. While the BLS does not offer specific data regarding this field, they have noted that psychology, in general, is set to experience double-digit job growth through 2028. And according to PayScale, the average annual salary for a criminal psychologist is $59755, and this on top of following your passion.

Homeland Security Degree

A homeland security degree will set you on an exciting career path helping to protect our country from enemies and catastrophic events that could compromise our nation’s security. Graduates can find work in law enforcement, government agencies, the military as well as private firms. Also, earning a bachelor’s degree in homeland security will provide you with the foundational knowledge needed to go on and specialize in disciplines such as border patrol and emergency planning. Not only does such a position fulfil career needs, but also makes people proud for serving and protecting their country as well as their fellow countrymen.

Career Outlook

The BLS reports excellent job prospects for graduates with a homeland security degree. They also report excellent annual wages for many in the field. For example, intelligence analysts earn a median annual salary of $84,400 with a 14% job growth for this position from 2018-2028. This is almost three times the average projected growth rate for all occupations in the U.S.

The BLS also reports that emergency management directors, those professionals who devise plans to respond to natural disasters, earned a median annual salary of $74,420 in 2018 with a job growth rate of 5%.

Cybersecurity Degree

Every day hackers and cybercriminals create and launch new, sophisticated computer viruses and malware with the intent of stealing important data from consumers, private businesses and government agencies. Research has actually shown that hackers steal roughly $600 billion each year from the world economy. $600 BILLION.

Cybersecurity experts are today’s real superheroes. These professionals are on the frontline, helping protect the economy from the billions that are being lost and potential security issues. These heroes keep our nation safe from those who wish to do us harm.

Your Future Career with This Degree

Organizations in all industries are in need of beefing up their network security protocols, which is why the demand for cybersecurity experts is on the rise. From finance and insurance providers to hospitals, construction, retail, and manufacturing… since no industry can afford to be offline in a growing digital world, hence no industry is safe from cybercrimes. Due to this, individuals having expertise in computer systems, having the ability to identify vulnerabilities, and specialising in cyber security are in great demand.

Thanks to growing concern about cyberattacks, demand for cybersecurity experts has dramatically increased. This means you have a chance. In fact, the BLS has projected a whopping 32% increase in employment of these professionals between 2018 and 2028. This is almost 8 times the growth rate of all other occupations!

As you might expect, the median annual salary for cyber security experts is also higher than the median for most other occupations, with the cyberseek reporting it at $107,000 in 2021.

The BLS also noted five sectors that paid the highest median cybersecurity salary:

  1. Finance and insurance: $107,000
  2. Computer systems design and related services: $101,980
  3. Information: $100,560
  4. Management of companies and enterprises: $102,450
  5. Administrative and support services: $99,290

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Online Vs Traditional Campus Criminal Justice Degrees

Now that you’ve read through what we feel are the most promising degrees offered in criminal justice, you may be wondering why we are advocating for online degrees instead of obtaining your degree through a traditional college campus program.

The answer is simple: We understand the needs of adult learners. Adult students often face barriers to a traditional education that prevent them from obtaining their degrees. Between cost and scheduling conflicts, adult students face big challenges when it comes to “going to college.” Managing work, family and on top, studies is no easy thing and we want to help.

We believe adult students should have access to higher education, so they become empowered to make positive changes in their life. And that is why we feel online degrees are the way to go.

Here are 3 reasons why an online degree makes a LOT more sense!

  1. A Flexible Learning Schedule

It is not an easy task to juggle full-time work as well as family commitments with a conventional academic schedule. In fact, it is almost impossible. But with the introduction of online education, students enjoy the flexibility and the ability to learn at their own pace, offering them the freedom to address their educational needs without compromising on other needs whether financial, emotional or health. This means NEVER missing work or your child’s soccer game!

  1. An Affordable Tuition

Online degrees are usually far more affordable than the traditional brick-and-mortar tuitions. Additionally, online degrees don’t require the cost of room and board, or even gas money to get to campus!

As an added bonus, you can continue to work while you pursue your degree. 

  1. Criminal Justice Degrees Fit Online Learning Perfectly!

You can earn just about any degree online these days. But unlike some degrees, such as those in certain science fields that require lab work, the field of criminal justice is perfect for online learning. And even though online, these criminal justice degrees still come with the opportunity to dig deeper into specialisations in the field even outside the conventional classroom environment.

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Benefits of a Criminal Justice Degree

Here are just a few benefits of getting a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice:

Market Demand

The skills and credentials obtained with these degrees are always in demand. The simple truth is that crime exists and, sadly, it isn’t going anywhere. If you are looking for a career that offers real job security and where you feel a sense of fulfilment and pride, then getting a criminal justice degree makes sense.

In addition, those candidates who have taken the initiative to earn their degree will have a leg up on the competition when it comes time to land that dream job!

High Earning Potential

As you saw with many of our career/specialization examples, a criminal justice degree can lead to an above average annual salary. It is also expected that the demand for professionals will continue to rise, which means that the field is one that comes with stability, opportunities for advancement, and higher earning potential. And, should you decide to further your education (we’ll talk bachelor’s vs master’s vs associate’s degrees in just a little bit), you have the potential to earn even more!

Job Versatility

A degree in criminal justice offers individuals a wide array of skills that allows them to then choose between various career paths. With degree in hand, you can decide to become a defense lawyer or prosecutor, a homeland security specialist, a homicide detective, forensic psychologist, DEA agent, probation officer and much more! You are never short on career options.

Cost and Tuition of Obtaining a Criminal Justice Degree

Going back to school for your degree is definitely a financial investment for you and your family. And you have probably already begun to think about how you will pay for school. Another important factor to consider is the time investment. It can be an uphill task, to manage education with work and other familial commitments, but the benefits of a job well done and the joy of achieving your objectives make it all worthwhile. In addition to discussing financial aid options with your school advisor, there are definitely many ways you could save.

First, we encourage you to read our article on 5 ways you can save on college tuition. Many people don’t know there are some really great savings options out there.

Next, take some time to use our free Smartplan to find ways to save at various schools across the country. Our Smartplan will show you how you can take advantage of free courses, discounts and more. In fact, that’s why we created so that everyone could have access to an affordable education.

Choosing the Right Type of Criminal Justice Degree

What type of degree is right for your career goals? Let’s take a look:

Associate’s Degree in Criminal Justice

An associate’s degree is typically a two-year degree that can be earned either online or at a community college or vocational school. Earning an associate’s degree in criminal justice will provide you with foundational knowledge and skills that will allow you to be qualified for entry-level criminal justice positions.

So for example, many police officers pursue an associate’s degrees and can be hired with this degree. However, if your goal is ultimately to be promoted to more senior-level positions, such as a detective, you will have to hold a bachelor’s degree. With more knowledge comes more responsibility!!

All of the degrees we listed are bachelor’s degrees. These degrees will give you a competitive edge over other candidates, help you advance quickly and start earning sooner.

Bachelor’s Degree in Criminal Justice

While a two-year associate’s degree can be applied as the first 2 years of a 4-year bachelor’s degree, most students enroll straight into a bachelor’s degree program. This is because it is understood that bachelor’s degrees are required to be hired in many instances. Bachelor’s degrees, again, are what will help you stand apart from the crowd and start earning more, sooner.

Master’s Degree in Criminal Justice

A master’s degree is an advanced degree you may choose to complete once you’ve obtained your bachelor’s degree. While master’s degrees can vary in length, most require and additional one to four years of study.

You may wonder if it’s worth it for you to eventually obtain your master’s in criminal justice. After all, if a bachelor’s degree will get you hired and earning a fantastic salary, why bother continuing with your education?

The answer to that is that obtaining your master’s can lead to greater career advancement, which ultimately comes with more credibility, a stronger salary and even MORE opportunities for advancement down the road.

So for instance, while an associate’s or bachelor’s degree will satisfy the minimum requirements for many entry-level law enforcement and corrections careers, a master’s degree will allow you to pursue specialized work, say, as a criminologist, where you can earn $82,000 a year.

Doctorate Degree

The most advanced degree you may earn in most academic disciplines is the doctorate degree. Those that hold this degree are regarded as authorities in their field and can expect higher pay and even more advancement options.

There are a variety of doctorates in the field of criminal justice, all of which serve different purposes. But what they all have in common is that they can eventually lead to a career teaching at the college level.

Here are some of the doctorate degrees available to those seeking a career in criminal justice:

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in Criminal Justice

You will focus on research and academia and usually concentrating on criminology, cybersecurity, homeland security, social work and policy.

Doctor of Criminal Justice (D.C.J.)

The latest doctorate degree offered in criminal justice, the D.C.J. is for someone who wants to hold a leadership role in their field. Concentrations usually include policy and homeland security.

Doctor of Psychology (Psy.D.) in Criminal Justice

Psy.D. candidates in criminal justice fields focus on the environmental and mental challenges that lead to criminality. Your eventual career can focus on figuring out WHY people commit crimes and try to offer solutions. Concentrations typically include social work, forensic science, juvenile justice and criminal profiling.

Doctor of Public Administration (D.P.A.)

A D.P.A. program will provide you with the skills to analyze and plan for policy improvements in a variety of fields within the criminal justice system. Common concentrations include administration of justice and policy.

Choosing the Correct University or College for Criminal Justice

Now that you have a good idea of which online criminal justice degree interests you, it’s time to find the right school that will help you reach your educational goals.

We understand that it’s not easy for adult students to find schools that are geared toward their specific needs. We want to help you in your selection process, so here are some criteria we have found to be incredibly important for adult students:

  • Online Programs
  • $0 application fees
  • Doesn’t require SAT/ACT testing scores
  • Faculty and professors that understand adult students’ needs
  • Offer discounts or scholarships
  • Convenient enrollment dates year-round (so you don’t have to wait for Spring or Fall)
  • Accredited

Finding adult-friendly schools that match these criteria can certainly be challenging!  That’s why we created our Smartplan.  

We realize that every student has unique circumstances and goals. When you use our Smartplan, we could help you find the right school you’re looking for AND has these crucial criteria to make pursuing your degree that much easier.

Register today to get your free Smartplan and compare different colleges! >>

Salary Data for Criminal Justice Professionals

As we’ve mentioned, a criminal justice degree can lead to a wide variety of career paths. To give you an idea of the kind of earning potential these degrees offer, let’s take a look at some of the salaries for common occupations according to data from the BLS:

  •         Correctional officer: $47,920 per year
  •         Crime scene technician: $39,624 per year
  •         Junior legal assistant: $56,230 per year
  •         Private investigator: $59,380 per year
  •         Forensic specialist: $46,006 per year
  •         Law clerk: $51,070 per year
  •         Criminal investigator: $83,640 per year
  •         Police officer: $66,020 per year
  •         Forensic accountant: $77,250 per year
  •         Judge: $148,030 per year


Q: What careers can I have with a Criminal Justice degree?

A: Let’s add to the list we have going!

  •       Juvenile Correctional Officer: $35,822 per year 
  •       Fraud Investigator: $19.53 per hour 
  •       Probation Officer: $44,516 per year 
  •       Customs Officer: $51,085 per year 
  •       Intelligence Analyst: $56,603 per year 
  •       Border Patrol Agent: $60,347 per year 

And we haven’t even exhausted the list of potential career paths. Without question, a degree in criminal justice will set you up for a variety of different career paths, all equally exciting.

Q: Why should I major in Criminal Justice?

A: If you are someone that has always wanted to help people and contribute positively to your community… if you like to use your mind to analyze data and solve problems, then this a great major for you.

Q: What skills do I need as a criminal justice major?

A: Many careers require a skillset that goes beyond what you learn in the classroom, and a criminal justice is no different. Going into this field will require students possess solid communication and time management skills, as well as excellent critical thinking and decision-making skills.

How to Get Started 

Okay, we’ve just covered a LOT of information. You may be wondering what you should do next.

We highly recommend you take a few moments to use’s Smartplan to find the right school that offers all of the criteria you’re looking for.   We’ve provided this helpful and free tool for you to help you make the right decision, and find ways that could end up saving you a LOT of time and money toward your online criminal justice degree!

Register today for free >>

Full List of Online Criminal Justice Degrees

About the Author
Grant Aldrich
Grant founded with a purpose-driven mission: make college accessible and affordable for everyone. After graduating college with an overwhelming amount of debt, he was determined to change how students embark on their education. He's a frequent speaker and author in higher education, and has been featured in Forbes, Bloomberg Businessweek, Business Insider, American Express, AOL, MSN, Thrive Global, Reader's Digest, Inside Higher Ed, Evolllution, EducationDive, and nearly 100 radio shows and podcasts.

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