Best Online Criminal Justice Degrees & Schools

Learn about undergraduate and graduate online criminal justice degree programs, including common courses, specializations, and how to afford your program. Also, explore different criminal justice careers. Schools offering Criminal Justice degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

Best Online Schools and Degrees in Criminal Justice

We've put together the following list to aid your search for the best online criminal justice degree programs. The following schools all offer different levels of online criminal justice degree programs, both undergraduate and graduate, offer specialization options, and offer online support services for students.

1. Saint Leo University

Location Undergraduate Tuition & Fees (in-state; 2018-2019) % Receiving Financial Aid
Saint Leo, FL $23,020 100%

Saint Leo University offers an online Bachelor of Arts in Criminal Justice degree with optional concentrations in criminalistics or homeland security. This university also has an online Master of Science in Criminal Justice degree with specialization options in behavioral studies, corrections, or forensic science, among others. The MS in Criminal Justice also features a traditional 2-year or an accelerated program option. At Saint Leo University, online students can find support through professional student advisors, and they have access to career services and student community organizations.

2. Sam Houston State University

Location Undergraduate Tuition & Fees (in-state; 2018-2019) % Receiving Financial Aid
Huntsville, TX $8,296 89%

At Sam Houston State University, you'll find an online 120-credit Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice degree that features coursework in cybercrime, forensic science, and victimology. Sam Houston State University also offers an online 36-credit Master of Science in Criminal Justice degree that is designed for working professionals. The university makes sure that all online students have access to services they need, including learning tools, tutoring, mentoring, career services, academic advising, and even an online bookstore.

3. University of Massachusetts - Lowell

Location Undergraduate Tuition & Fees (in-state; 2018-2019) % Receiving Financial Aid
Lowell, MA $15,180 91%

The University of Massachusetts - Lowell offers an online Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice degree program that accepts up to 90 transfer credits and features diverse coursework in law, criminology, profiling, and emergency management. This university also has an online Master of Science in Criminal Justice degree program that can be completed in about 18 months and doesn't require the GRE for admittance. As an online student at the University of Massachusetts - Lowell, you can get advising help by phone, Skype, chat, or email, and there are plenty of financial aid scholarship opportunities, including for freshman, transfer students, and graduate students.

4. Eastern Kentucky University

Location Undergraduate Tuition & Fees (in-state; 2018-2019) % Receiving Financial Aid
Richmond, KY $9,666 99%

Eastern Kentucky University has two online degree options in criminal justice, including a Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice and a Master of Science in Justice, Policy, and Leadership. Both online degree programs feature accelerated 8-week terms, and with 6 start times throughout the year, you can begin earning your online degree whenever you want. On top of that, Eastern Kentucky University offers free online tutoring and career assistance and will pair you with an online personal advisor who can guide you from enrollment to graduation.

5. Southern New Hampshire University

Location Undergraduate Tuition & Fees (in-state; 2018-2019) % Receiving Financial Aid
Manchester, NH $31,136 75%

Southern New Hampshire University offers an online Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice degree program that accepts up to 90 transfer credits and doesn't require SAT or ACT scores for admittance. This university also has an online Associate of Science in Criminal Justice program that accepts up to 12 credits from police, corrections, or parole academies. Last, there is also an online Master of Science in Criminal Justice degree that features two concentrations: one in counterterrorism and one in public safety administration. Southern New Hampshire University offers online students a wealth of help, including an online writing center, tutoring services, IT support, academic advising, and online library.

Rank School Name Location Undergraduate Tuition & Fees (in-state) % Receiving Financial Aid
6 Herzing University-Minneapolis St. Louis Park, MN $14,000 97%
7 University of Colorado Colorado Springs Colorado Springs, CO $8,523 84%
8 Arkansas Tech University Russellville, AR $7,254 95%
9 Purdue University Global-Davenport Davenport, IA $14,343 25%
10 New England College Henniker, NH $37,914 95%
11 University of Maine at Fort Kent Fort Kent, ME $8,115 95%
12 Indiana Institute of Technology Fort Wayne, IN $26,900 100%
13 Missouri Southern State University Joplin, MO $6,503 95%
14 Chaminade University of Honolulu Honolulu, HI $25,374 99%
15 Troy University Troy, AL $8,908 94%
16 East Carolina University Greenville, NC $7,188 81%
17 Wichita State University Wichita, KS $8,270 89%
18 Roger Williams University Bristol, RI $34,522 100%
19 Portland State University Portland, OR $9,105 84%
20 Herzing University-Brookfield Brookfield, WI $14,000 100%
21 Central Washington University Ellensburg, WA $8,072 90%
22 Southeast Missouri State University Cape Girardeau, MO $7,418 96%
23 University of Oklahoma-Norman Campus Norman, OK $11,538 95%
24 Blue Mountain College Blue Mountain, MS $12,584 98%
25 DeSales University Center Valley, PA $37,400 100%

All statistics provided by the National Center for Education Statistics, tuition based on 2018-2019 school year's school ranking methodology categorizes and assesses data from schools and other reliable sources, such as the U.S. Department of Education, and weighs the information based on quality, cost, value and other factors critical to students' academic decisions.

Overview of Online Criminal Justice Degrees

Criminal justice is a field that encompasses the enforcement of laws, the prosecution and defense of various criminal cases, how to protect victims and witnesses, and the process of developing new laws. There are four levels of online criminal justice degrees (associate, bachelor's, master's, and doctoral degrees), and we will discuss each one in depth below.

Associate Degree in Criminal Justice

Online associate degree programs in criminal justice are designed to be completed in 1.5-2 years, require about 60 total credits, and can be completed entirely online. Programs of this kind give you a foundational knowledge of the field and feature focused online coursework in criminal justice as well as some general education courses.

Online programs at this level offer a lot of flexibility and are designed to offer a quick path to earning a degree, whether for criminal justice professionals already working in the field or those who are interested in getting a job in criminal justice. To speed up the process of getting the degree, some colleges accept transfer credits and/or offer credit for police and other law enforcement training toward their online associate degree.

Bachelor's Degree in Criminal Justice

Online bachelor's degrees in criminal justice take about 4 years to complete with a minimum of 120 total credits required. During your online program, you take general education coursework in social sciences, math, life sciences, history, and composition as well as major-related coursework in criminal law, the justice system, and criminal behavior among other topics.

These online programs could also offer specific concentrations or specializations options in:

  • Homeland security
  • Criminology
  • Corrections
  • Police administration
  • Human services

If you choose a concentration, then you are required to complete specific coursework within that field. For example, the homeland security concentration could include coursework on legal issues in counter-terrorism and terrorist organizations.

Also, while these bachelor's programs consist of online coursework, some may offer real-world opportunities, such as internships with local police departments or federal agencies or field placements within courts or state law enforcement agencies. Usually, these real-world experiences are optional but encouraged for those with no experience in the criminal justice field.

Master's Degree in Criminal Justice

Online master's degrees in criminal justice are graduate-level programs that could require anywhere from 30-36 total credits and are for those who already hold a bachelor's degree in any field. Depending on the specific university or program, it could take anywhere from 15 months to 2 years to complete your online master's degree when you attend full time. Some online programs offer accelerated options or shorter 8-week terms that help you finish your degree faster.

These programs feature online coursework that is exclusively in the realm of criminal justice with courses ranging from criminology to policy making. Like online criminal justice bachelor's degree programs, some online master's programs offer concentration or specialization areas, such as in the subfields of:

  • Criminal investigations
  • Emergency management
  • Cyber crimes
  • Behavioral science

Usually, these online programs do not require a thesis, but some may require a final capstone course where you demonstrate the skills and knowledge you have learned in the program.

Doctorate in Criminal Justice

A PhD in Criminal Justice is the highest-level criminal justice degree available and is for those who want to specialize in the field and who already hold a master's degree in any field. Along with a general program option, most online PhD programs also offer specific concentration areas, such as

  • Homeland security
  • Juvenile justice
  • Behavioral science
  • Emergency management
  • Global leadership

Your online coursework will feature core classes and electives that center on your chosen specialty area as well as classes in such subjects as statistics, quantitative reasoning, qualitative methods, and research methods.

Along with online coursework, PhD in Criminal Justice degree programs also require that you complete a dissertation, which is an involved research project on a subject in the field of criminal justice. Some online PhD programs could require a limited number of on-campus residencies where you meet with faculty, receive guidance on your dissertation, and defend your dissertation. These online programs take about 2.5-3 years to complete when attended full-time.

Common Coursework for Online Criminal Justice Degree Programs

Your exact coursework in any criminal justice degree program will depend on the type of degree you are earning and your specific program's curriculum. However, there are some common subjects and courses that span all the different degrees from the associate degree to the PhD.

Theories of Crime

This is a course that examines the different theories about the causes of criminal behavior, including psychological, biological, sociological, and economic factors. You might also study the issues and problems relating to these theories as well as the current theories within the criminological field.

Judicial Process

This course explores all aspects of the US court system, including local, state, and federal courts, and it can teach you about the different phases of the judicial process from the initial completion of a crime to the appeals process. You may also study the different roles within the court system, such as the function of judges, lawyers, and law enforcement agencies.

Ethical Leadership

A course on ethical leadership explores the principles and concepts of ethics and morality and how to apply them to the law enforcement and criminal justice systems. This class is designed to help you develop your own ethical leadership standards and qualities as well as how to make ethical decisions in the realms of risk management and budgetary constraints.


In this course, you can study the historical development of policing as well as current issues in the field. You might also explore the different responsibilities of police officers, including patrol techniques and the use of discretion on the job. Last, you could learn the way that police departments are organized and how they operate.


Courses on terrorism usually examine terrorism in terms of both domestic and international terrorism, the history of terrorist acts, and current terrorist threats, including the possible use of weapons of mass destruction. You might also study the after affects of terrorist acts and strategies for preventing them.

What You Can Do with a Criminal Justice Degree

With a degree in criminal justice, you can choose from a variety of careers in law enforcement, corrections, or the emergency management field. Most of the careers below recommend you hold at least a bachelor's degree.

Police Officer

Police officers are tasked with general law enforcement duties, including responding to calls for emergencies and non-emergencies, completing patrol routes, conducting searches, and arresting suspects. Police officers can also work in special units, such as canine corps or special weapons and tactics (SWAT). Some police departments and federal agencies require that you have a college degree.

In 2018, police officers earned a median salary of $63,380, and the number of jobs is expected to increase by 5% between 2018-2028.

Probation Officer

Probation officers help assist and monitor those on probation. Generally, probation officers meet with probationers to assess their progress and create a rehabilitation plan. They also help their clients find resources and may have to test for drugs or participate in court proceedings. Typically, probation officers need to hold a bachelor's degree.

Probation officers earned a median salary of $53,020 as of 2018, and employment is expected to increase by3% from 2018-2028.

Correctional Officer

Correctional officers work within jails or prisons where they supervise inmates, enforce rules, conduct inspections, search inmates, and transport inmates. To work in a federal prison, you must hold a bachelor's degree or have supervision or counseling experience.

Correctional officers earned a median salary of $44,400 in 2018, and the number of jobs is expected to decrease by 7% from 2018-2028.

Emergency Management Director

Emergency management directors are primarily responsible for planning for and responding to natural disasters and other types of emergencies. The duties of an emergency management director include creating preparedness plans, organizing response training, coordinating resources and equipment, reviewing and assessing damage, and applying for federal disaster funds. A bachelor's degree is the basic educational requirement for this profession; however, the job requires years of experience in law enforcement, fire safety, or in military. You might also be required to obtain state certification.

In 2018, emergency management directors earned a median salary of $74,420, and the number of jobs is expected to increase 5% from 2018-2028.

Salary information provided by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, May 2018

Choosing the Right Online Criminal Justice Degree Program


If you are sure about the career you want to pursue, then you will want to choose a program that offers a specialization that matches your career choice. For example, if you want to become a police officer, you may want to choose a program that offers a law enforcement or police administration specialization.

Residency Requirements

Although some online criminal justice degrees can be completed entirely online, others may require on-campus residencies or other in-person requirements. If you aren't able to visit campus or complete an internship, then you will want to make sure that your chosen program can be completed in a 100% online format.

How to Get Financial Aid for Online Criminal Justice Degree Program

To help you afford your online criminal justice degree, you can apply for several types of financial aid, including loans and scholarships.

Federal and State Financial Aid

The first step you should complete is filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) from the U.S. Department of Education. This application determines your eligibility for government loans, including direct subsidized and unsubsidized loans and Direct PLUS and Graduate PLUS loans, as well as grants.

School Specific Scholarships

Check with your university regarding any specific scholarship opportunities that you qualify for. Most universities offer a range of different scholarships for all degree levels, including those for incoming freshman to graduate students. Some scholarships will be merit based while other could be for military service or for those returning to school.

Employer Tuition Assistance

Universities sometimes work with private employers and organizations to offer tuition assistance. For online criminal justice programs, some universities work with local police departments and/or security organizations, so if you work for a partner organization, you could qualify for a reduced tuition rate or another type of aid.

To continue researching, browse degree options below for course curriculum, prerequisites and financial aid information. Or, learn more about the subject by reading the related articles below:

  • 1. Degree Options:
The schools in the listing below are not free and may include sponsored content but are popular choices among our users. Tuition and costs will vary across programs and locations. Be sure to always request tuition information before starting a program.

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