The criminal justice system is composed of everyday heroes. Professionals in this sector work hard every day to keep their communities safe by upholding the law and standing up for what is right. For high school seniors who aspire to do the same, an online bachelor’s degree in criminal justice might be the postsecondary program for them.
Criminal justice majors focus on understanding how the judicial system works as well as the different aspects of a criminal investigation that affect proceedings. Graduates often go on to have an above-average earning potential as well as plenty of job opportunities. In fact, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), those who are looking to land roles as police officers or detectives can expect a 5% growth in job demand.
If you are interested in earning a degree in this field of study, this guide to an online bachelor’s degree in criminal justice will walk you through the information you need to know. Among the topics covered are common admission requirements, average cost, and courses to expect once you start the program. There is also a discussion on what you should consider when choosing a program to help you gauge your prospective schools as best as possible.
With the COVID-19 pandemic having forced everyone to stay at home as much as possible, many industries had to compromise to continue operating. In the case of the education sector, the outbreak caused a surge in the availability of massive open online courses (MOOCs) and online certification programs. Additionally, many universities and colleges have shifted to offering their degree programs either partially or completely online.
A 2020 survey exploring the demand for online studies revealed that 85.1% of international students say they are taking classes online due to COVID-19 (Witherow, 2020). What is more, 25% of these students say they feel that the shift would be long term. This can only suggest that due to the student demand for it and the increasing interest of administrators, this class format could only become more commonplace in the future.
Source: Educations.com, 2020
Since the outbreak, employers have become more accommodating of applicants with online degrees. It seems that as more schools shifted to online learning, the format through which a student earns his or her degree has ceased to be the focus of recruitment efforts. A recent survey by FutureLearn mentioned that 34.5% of hiring managers place more value on where an applicant got their degree (Kogan, 2020). Only 25.3% reported that they focus on how an applicant earned their credentials.
This is echoed in a study titled “A Conceptual Study on Employer Perception Towards Hiring Employee with Online Degree/Certification ” published in the International Journal of Information and Communication Technology Education in which authors Naresh and Rajalakshmi analyzed employer perception of the online education system.
According to their findings, employers nowadays focus mostly on the reputation of the schools where the online degree was earned (Naresh & Rajalakshmi, 2020). However, there are still concerns about the quality of online courses being offered today. As such, they recommended that school administrators and government agencies step up optimizing this learning format in the future.
In their research, they cited “the stakeholders of the educational sector should recognize the growing demand for online education among students in recent times. The employability of the applicants with online degrees is perhaps not on par with the rapid growth of the online learning environment. Consequently, employers also realize the impact of their decision on the evolution of education to offer courses completely through online mode”
Source: FutureLearn, 2021
One of the biggest concerns that students have when it comes to earning their degree online is whether they will be able to use these credentials to find work or seek further studies abroad. In fact, 41.42% of students are worried about their degree recognition if all university courses go digital (Witherow, 2020).
With the current status of the education system worldwide, the reputation of online degrees has surely improved. That said, students can expect that their online degrees to be recognized worldwide. However, it is best to note that there may be limitations to this.
Education systems vary from country to country and so do employment standards. As such, you may be asked to earn extra credits, complete certain certifications, or the like before you are hired or admitted.
Earning an undergraduate degree in criminal justice is not too different from taking up a traditional program. However, they do have a few differences worth noting. Some examples include:
Criminal justice programs focus mostly on helping students understand criminal law, law enforcement best practices, as well as the criminal justice system. So, the coursework naturally involves attending lectures, reading case studies and dissecting laws and policies rather than doing fieldwork.
If you are taking up synchronous classes through video conferencing, you might find that the learning environment is not too different from face-to-face classes. You will still be listening to your professor in real-time and even be asked to participate from time to time. However, if the class format is asynchronous, the learning environment changes drastically. Here, you will have to independently accomplish your coursework with little interaction with your instructor or your classmates.
This may pose a problem for some, with students citing that upon shifting to online learning, they had trouble staying self-motivated (68.87%) and felt that they had a lack of social interaction (63.64%) (Witherow, 2020). However, for working students and those with family obligations, this may be seen as a huge advantage due to the schedule flexibility that it offers.
Opportunities for hands-on training
Online degree courses in criminal justice, in many cases, are enough to equip you for the workforce, especially as they require less field training like criminology or forensics. However, getting hands-on experience like observing focus groups and criminal justice professionals on the job can help you gain a better grasp of what the job entails.
Taking up a completely online bachelor’s degree in criminal justice may mean foregoing these opportunities. That said, if you intend to earn your degree online but still have the opportunity for field experience, you may want to ask your school if they have alternatives for you.
Duration of program
A criminal justice degree usually takes 120 to 128 hours of credit hours to complete. For traditional programs, this is equivalent to four years of study. Meanwhile, for online degrees, the time it takes for you to complete the program can vary.
The duration of online degree programs, particularly those in the asynchronous format, greatly rely on the pacing of a student. If you are able to complete your modules quickly, there is a good chance that you can accelerate the time it takes for you to earn your diploma. There are also programs that allow you to earn credit for your work experience, which is easy to earn if you have a flexible work-study schedule.
In many cases, online degrees can be cheaper than traditional programs.
The latest tuition data shows that the average cost of attendance in criminology schools can fall anywhere between $30,594 and $49,328 (Univstats, 2021), depending on whether you are an in-state or out-of-state student. Other factors may include your room and board costs, facility fees, books, and supplies, as well as other living expenses.
Meanwhile, online programs can cost roughly $38,496 (Kerr, 2020). However, this amount can be reduced depending on whether you are taking an accelerated course and other factors like the scholarships and financial aid you can secure. In addition, you can also consider the savings from not having to spend on transportation when commuting to school.
Online programs are patterned after their campus-based counterparts. They have similar curricula and course requirements. Plus, in many cases, the coursework is as rigorous, if not more rigorous, than face-to-face classes.
This is why as early as 2010, a survey by CareerBuilder.com has revealed that 83% of executives believe online degrees are as credible as campus-based ones (Zupek, 2010). With the current pandemic, more employers and students have also begun to realize the merits of online programs.
Source: Educations.com, 2020
On average, online programs can amount to around $38,496 (Kerr, 2020). However, the real cost of earning your online bachelor’s degree in criminal justice will depend on a variety of factors.
Tuition fees may vary depending on what school you attend. Public schools often offer programs at lower rates than private institutions. The only caveat is that some public colleges and universities charge online students with out-of-state tuition fees, regardless of where they reside. In addition, the tuition will also depend on how much a school will charge you for technology fees. Often, this covers the use of the school’s learning management system (LMS), the development and maintenance of online courses, access to online resources, and the like.
Other potential costs associated with earning a degree online include internet subscriptions and purchasing and maintaining a computer. Some courses may also require you to buy headphones and a webcam so you can participate in real-time lectures.
A degree in criminal justice can lead to lucrative careers in law enforcement as well as in security and investigations. Depending on the level of education attained, the certifications earned, and career path taken, a criminal justice graduate can earn $49,811 to $106,666 per year. They can land jobs such as security managers, police investigators, or paralegals, among others.
Aside from the good compensation, graduates of this program can also enjoy a stable job outlook. Recent data shows that the job demand for detectives will grow by 5% from 2019 to 2029. Plus, as most positions are being offered by the government and the legal industry, they can expect plenty of job opportunities regardless of economic disruptors such as the pandemic.
Source: PayScale, 2021
Admission to an online bachelor’s degree in criminal justice varies from school to school. After all, each university and college has different admission standards. With this in mind, before you start applying to your prospective schools, you should inquire what their required documents are first. Among the requirements you should expect to prepare are:
As an online student, you will need to have your own equipment to access coursework and attend virtual lectures. So, upon admission to an online degree program, be sure to have these at the ready:
Online degree programs in criminal justice offer more or less the same courses as traditional degree programs. Students will be expected to complete at least 120 credit hours, which include written coursework as well as practical training. Upon completing these requirements, they will have a strong grasp of industry best practices, correctional methods, incarceration theories, as well as rehabilitation strategies. Among the core courses that you can expect to take are:
Source: DataUSA, 2020
Choosing an online degree programs in criminal justice can be daunting, especially with the number of universities and colleges offering this course of study. This is why students must carefully assess their prospective schools. Among the factors that you might want to consider are:
The reputation of the school from which you earned your degree bears great weight in the eyes of employers. So, as you select a school, be sure to take a look at local and global rankings to see how they compare to other schools. It may also be good to take a look at student retention rates, graduate employability rates, and the faculty’s credentials. This allows you to get a sense of not only what your experience with the school will be but also how well your credentials will be received as you enter the workforce.
Aside from the abovementioned factors, you should also verify whether the school or program you are interested in is accredited. Some organizations you can check with are:
You can also check with regional accrediting associations if they recognize your prospective schools. Some examples of this are the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools (NCACS), New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC), and the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACSCOC)
Criminal justice is a multifaceted field of study. During the course of their program, students may choose from a variety of specializations. Examples include:
However, not all schools are able to provide the concentration that you are interested in. So, before you choose a university or college, verify whether an online criminal justice program has the necessary courses that will help you carve the career path you want.
Current student loan statistics suggest a rising cost of higher education. Unfortunately, while the federal government’s budget for student grants is $32 billion, only $30 billion‘s worth is claimed every year (Hanson, 2021). This is why as you choose a program and school, be sure to verify the financial aid and scholarship options that they support.
Some of the key scholarships you can look into for your criminal justice academic path are:
Earning a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice can lead to fulfilling job roles in law enforcement, criminal investigation, crime prevention, and correctional officer, among others. What is more, taking this up online will give you the flexibility you need to gain professional experience as you earn your credentials.
However, in order to make the most out of your investment, you must be thorough in choosing your school and program. Not only must they offer a tuition fee that falls within your budget, but they must also have the proper accreditation and quality of faculty to ensure that you are getting the best possible education so that you can hit the ground running when you enter the workforce. To start your search, you can take a look at these top schools for criminal justice and law enforcement.
In case you want to expand your job opportunities, you can also choose to earn a master’s degree in criminal justice. With this, you can gain further specialization in the career path that you choose.