Best Online Bachelor’s Degrees in Criminal Justice: Guide to Online Programs for 2021

Best Online Bachelor’s Degrees in Criminal Justice: Guide to Online Programs for 2021
Imed Bouchrika by Imed Bouchrika
Chief Data Scientist & Head of Content

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.

Online Bachelor’s Degree in Criminal Justice Table of Contents

  1. Can you get a degree completely online?
  2. Will employers take my online degree seriously?
  3. Are online degrees recognized all over the world?
  4. Online vs. Traditional Bachelor’s Degree in Criminal Justice
  5. How much does an online bachelor’s degree in Criminal Justice cost?
  6. What are the requirements of an online bachelor’s degree in Criminal Justice?
  7. Courses to Expect in an Online Bachelor’s Degree in Criminal Justice
  8. Things to Look for in an Online Bachelor’s Degree in Criminal Justice

Can you get a degree completely online?

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

Will employers take my online degree seriously?

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

Are online degrees recognized all over the world?

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.

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Online vs. Traditional Bachelor’s Degree in Criminal Justice

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:

Learning environment
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.

Is an online degree cheaper?

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.

Is an online degree as good as a regular degree?

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

How much does an online bachelor’s degree in Criminal Justice cost?

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.

Is an online bachelor’s degree in Criminal Justice degree worth it?

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

What are the requirements of an online bachelor’s degree in Criminal Justice?

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:

Admission Requirements

  • Proof of secondary education. In most, if not all, cases, schools will require you to show proof of secondary education when you apply for an undergraduate program. This shows that you have acquired the prerequisites for a postsecondary education. Some documents you could submit are your high school diploma, home school completion certificate, or General Education Development (GED) certificate.
  • High school transcript. Aside from your diploma, you will be required to submit your transcript. This serves as a reflection of your academic performance. This said, it is ideal that you have passing marks on all subjects, particularly those that could come in handy for your major of choice. For most educational institutions, the minimum grade point average (GPA) requirement is 2.0 but this varies depending on the school.
  • Standardized test scores. There are schools that may ask for your American College Testing (ACT) or Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) scores. These help admissions officers determine your mastery of the subjects you have taken in school. Please note, however, that since the pandemic, some schools no longer require this but you may still choose to submit them as they can still impact your chances of admission.
  • English proficiency score. International students looking to pursue a degree in criminal justice may be asked to take an English proficiency test such as the International English Language Testing System (IELTS) or the Test Of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL). This is to ensure that you will be able to keep up with the medium of instruction. Local students who have taken these tests may also submit their scores as an additional document.

General Requirements

  • Interpersonal skills. Part of being a criminal justice professional is collaborating with team members and interacting with clients. As such, it is important to have good interpersonal skills. This will allow you to listen with empathy and resolve conflicts quickly. The ability to communicate efficiently will also make it easy for you to conduct presentations when needed.
  • Critical thinking. The field of criminal justice entails understanding cases, dissecting local and state laws, as well as making smart decisions. That said, it is important you hone your critical thinking and deductive reasoning skills. This will allow you to efficiently deal with stressful and tense situations throughout your career.
  • Computer proficiency. Industries, criminal justice included, are relying more on digital technologies. However, research shows that one in three employees lacks foundational digital skills (Bergson-Shilcock, 2020). As such, it is best that you begin honing your computer skills as you apply for online programs. After all, during your program, you will be expected to use tools such as crime mapping software, forensics visualization, and even criminal databases.

What are the technological requirements of students for online learning?

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:

  • Computer with at least 4 GB RAM and a processor that is 2.4GHz or faster
  • Webcam and headphones if you are participating in synchronous classes
  • Fast internet connection
  • An office suite for processing word documents, spreadsheets, and presentations
  • An updated antivirus software
  • An updated web browser

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Courses to Expect in Online Bachelor’s Degree in Criminal Justice

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:

  • Forensic Psychology. This course covers foundational psychological theories in relation to criminal behavior. As a criminal justice major, this will help you understand why certain people commit crimes and how to prevent people from committing crimes. This is particularly helpful for assessing prisoners, investigating civil court defendants, and the like.
  • Judicial Administration. This tackles different governance principles, particularly the due process in criminal proceedings and appeal processes. The course involves an in-depth discussion of statutory law as well as state and federal constitutional laws.
  • Correctional Systems and Practices. A course that focuses on the theory of correctional systems, rehabilitation systems, as well as alternatives to institutionalization. By the end of this course, students should have a better understanding of the role of the correctional system in the criminal justice system.
  • Sociology. This course places emphasis on the study of social relations and sociological theories. With this, criminal justice majors can gain a better perspective on the societal problems that contribute to crime.
  • Constitutional Law. Criminal justice students can go on to become law enforcers, with the majority of them (134,259) employed as police officers in 2019 (DataUSA, 2020). As such, a foundational knowledge of the constitution is needed. With this course, they will tackle concepts such as constitutional amendments and interpretation, due process, and the like.

Source: DataUSA, 2020

Things to Look for in an Online Bachelor’s Degree in Criminal Justice

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:

Reputation

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:

  • Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA). An association of over 3,000 degree-granting higher education institutions. As a national accreditation agency, they work closely with the Department of Education to assess schools and programs to see if they hold up to industry standards.
  • Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences (ACJS). An international association that was established in 1963. It currently serves as the leading accrediting body for criminal justice education programs.

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)

Available Concentrations

Criminal justice is a multifaceted field of study. During the course of their program, students may choose from a variety of specializations. Examples include:

  • Cybersecurity
  • Homeland Security
  • Forensic Investigation
  • Intelligence Analysis

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.

Financial Aid or Scholarship Options

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:

  • Captain James J. Regan Memorial Scholarship. A scholarship created in honor of the National Technical Investigator’s Association Captain James J. Reagan. This scholarship is intended specifically for high school seniors who are interested in pursuing law enforcement.
  • Sheryl A. Horak Law Enforcement Explorer Memorial Scholarship. A merit-based scholarship involving a $,1000 one-time scholarship. It aims to help law enforcement explorers who possess a good academic record and leadership ability.
  • My Alarm Center’s Scholarship Program. A scholarship program for students taking up law enforcement, criminal justice, law, or related fields. Here, applicants must submit a security-focused essay in order to get a chance to win a $1,000 scholarship.

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Prepare for an Online Degree in Criminal Justice

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.

 

References:

  1. Bergson-Shilcock, A. (2020). The New Landscape of Digital Literacy. National Skills Coalition. Retrieved from https://www.nationalskillscoalition.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/12/05-20-2020-NSC-New-Landscape-of-Digital-Literacy.pdf
  2. DataUSA (2020). Criminal Justice & Corrections. Retrieved from https://datausa.io/profile/cip/criminal-justice-corrections
  3. Hanson, M. (2021). Financial Aid Statistics. Retrieved from https://educationdata.org/financial-aid-statistics
  4. Kerr, E. (2020). What You’ll Pay for an Online Bachelor’s degree. Retrieved from https://www.usnews.com/higher-education/online-education/articles/what-youll-pay-for-an-online-bachelors-degree
  5. Kogan, V. (2021). Do employers value online learning?. FutureLearn. Retrieved from https://www.futurelearn.com/info/do-employers-value-online-learning
  6. Naresh, B. & Rajalakshmi, M. (2020). A Conceptual Study on Employer Perception towards Hiring Employee with Online Degree/Certification. International Journal of Information and Communication Technology Education 16 (3). Retrieved from DOI: 10.4018/IJICTE.2020070101
  7. PayScale (2021). Bachelor’s Degree, Criminal Justice Salary Retrieved from https://www.payscale.com/research/US/Degree=Bachelor%27s_Degree%2C_Criminal_Justice/Salary
  8. Univstats (2021). Tuition Comparison Between Best Criminology Schools. Retrieved from https://www.univstats.com/comparison/criminology/cost-of-attendance/
  9. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (2021). Police and Detectives. Occupational Outlook Handbook. Retrieved from https://www.bls.gov/ooh/protective-service/police-and-detectives.htm
  10. Witherow, K. (2020). Demand For Online Studies Skyrockets, But Here Are Students’ Biggest Concerns. Educations.com. Retrieved from https://institutions.educations.com/insights/demand-for-online-studies-skyrockets-but-here-are-students-biggest-concerns
  11. Zupek. R. (2010). Employers on online education. Retrieved from https://edition.cnn.com/2010/LIVING/worklife/03/29/cb.employers.online.education/

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