What Is an Online Criminal Justice Associate Degree?

Oct 20, 2021

Best Online Associate in Criminal Justice Degree Programs

What is an Online Criminal Justice Degree?

Criminal justice is a social science that works to identify and explain patterns of criminal behavior, analyze society's ability to control crime. Many criminal justice degree programs utilize an interdisciplinary approach to combine legal studies, sociology, political science, psychology, forensic sciences, public administration, urban studies, philosophy, and more.

These areas are essential to understand for anyone who is pursuing a degree in criminal justice. Majors will learn about the legal and correctional systems in their country, ethical codes of behavior, and more.

Who Should Pursue a Criminal Justice Associate Degree?

Obtaining an associate degree in criminal justice is suitable for students interested in the law, who have great people skills and want to help people. They should also be calm and professional under pressure, as the job can be very stressful, and professionals often make tough decisions. Before attending an online program for criminal justice, students should fully understand the scope of the job.

Graduates with an associate degree can demand a higher salary. They can also use this degree as the first step toward a four-year degree in criminal justice, law school, or other related fields.

Pursuing a criminal justice associate degree gives students the opportunity to help others. Individuals protect people from criminal activity and brings justice to those wronged. There are also opportunities to act as a victim advocate. Victim advocates offer emotional support and rights information. They also help find the resources and assistance needed in filling out victim-related forms. Advocates also accompany victims through criminal justice proceedings.

An obvious must-have is an interest in criminal justice or the law. Admissions officers also like to see students who are genuinely interested in criminal justice, and could improve the chance of admission.

Application, Admissions, and Enrollment for Online Criminal Justice Associate Degree Programs

Applications and admission requirements vary by school, but typically there is a fee for applying to any university. The basic process of university applications ask for the student's demographics: name, age, residency, contact information, etc.

Applicants must have obtained a high school diploma or a certified GED and be able to provide official school transcripts. Many universities also require students have taken at least two classes on a world language in high school. Students who do not meet this requirement before admission would have to complete at least two courses in a world language before graduating.

Many online universities also offer open enrollment for online students. Open enrollment allows students to apply and enroll at any time to better fit their schedules.

Technical requirements for taking criminal justice classes online are pretty much a good computer and internet access. The computer should have speakers. If needed, it should have a headphone jack or Bluetooth connectivity for headphone use, microphone, webcam, and CD/DVD drive. Office software is also a must-have, whether it be Microsoft Office, Google Drive, or something else.

Students should also be proficient in basic computer skills such as sending and receiving email, downloading and installing software, finding credible resources, using search engines and familiarity with browser plug-ins.

How Long Does It Take to Get an Online Criminal Justice Associate Degree?

Length varies by school, but many associate degrees take up to two years to acquire as a full-time student. Some schools do offer accelerated programs that include summer semesters so that students could finish in eighteen months. In some cases, students can choose between the traditional 16-week course or an accelerated 8-week course. Students must generally complete sixty total credit hours to graduate.

Classes may also be asynchronous, meaning that the student can assess the class material at any time. However, some do require students to collaborate with peers or meet with professors during virtual office hours.

How much Does an Online Associate Degree in Criminal Justice Cost?

The costs of online associate degrees in criminal justice varies by school, but also on several other factors. Many universities charge a higher tuition for out-of-state students, whether on campus or online. However, other schools may charge a flat rate for online students regardless of state.

Technology fees are another factor to consider. Universities may charge online students a fee that does not apply to campus students. Universities may also charge application fees, textbook fees, or distance learning fees. Textbook costs also range depending on whether the student rents or buys the book, or if they get digital or paper books.

Based on these factors, costs can range from around $5,300 to $33,000 in total tuition.

Online Criminal Justice Associate Degree Coursework

There are three main elements to the criminal justice system in America: the courts, policing, and corrections. Most criminal justice programs will provide students with an understanding of these three components. Programs provide students with:

  • liberal arts and social sciences-focused education
  • criminal justice
  • corrections-specific training

Criminal justice programs balance the theoretical and practical aspects of criminal justice in adult and juvenile cases. There are many courses that one can take while pursuing a degree in this field, including:

  • criminology
  • law, policing, and corrections
  • ethics
  • security and police administration
  • incarceration alternatives
  • juvenile justice system
  • sociology
  • psychology

The exact courses that a student will take depend entirely on them, but they have many options available. Many required courses of criminal justice are related to criminology, psychology, political science, and sociology. Whichever career path the student chooses, they must understand the law, ethics, human behavior, and field knowledge to succeed.

What Are the Advantages and Disadvantages of an Online Criminal Justice Associate Degree Program?

Online programs, like campus programs, have their advantages and disadvantages. In terms of advantages, many online learners have found that the primary advantage is scheduling flexibility. In some programs, students can choose between the traditional 16-week course or an accelerated 8-week course. Some programs also offer open enrollment for online learners.

Many universities also offer lower tuition costs to online students. Online students save money by not commuting, using meal plans or on-campus housing. On the other hand, universities may charge additional technology fees to online students, especially if they have to borrow any equipment or software from the school.

Another advantage of an online education is that students do not have to live near or relocate to a top university to attend. Some universities do not charge online students out-of-state tuition, which is much higher than in-state students. This flexibility removes moving expenses and the cost of living in certain areas, saving students money.

What Can I Do With an Online Associate Degree in Criminal Justice?

Graduates of a criminal justice program may enjoy careers across a vast pool of choices. An associate degree qualifies a graduate for entry-level careers in criminal justice, including: correctional officer, bailiff, security guard, firefighter, forensic accountant, private detectives, private investigators, police officer, detective, cybercrime investigator, social worker and victim services.

Many also use a criminal justice degree as a first step to law school or other graduate programs. There are far more opportunities for graduates than listed here. Whether it is law enforcement, legal jobs, in the private sector, or psychology, there are many directions in which one could go.

Begin a Career as a Police Officer

Police officers enforce criminal laws and protect the public. They also investigate crimes, gather evidence from crime scenes, and talk to witnesses. Duties include:

  • testifying in court
  • executing warrants
  • patrolling areas
  • responding to distress calls

To become a police officer after obtaining an online associate degree, one would have to pass the law enforcement entrance exam and graduate from the police academy. The entrance exam given depends on the academy and jurisdiction, and applicants must achieve a passing score. The police academy is where applicants learn the most important aspects of being a police officer. It typically lasts six months and covers topics like search and seizure, criminal statutes, driver training, physical condition, firearms training and more.

The work environment can stressful and dangerous. Police work is physically demanding. Working around the clock is commonplace.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the projected employment percent change from 2019 to 2029 is 5% for the occupation. This is faster than average, which is 4%. The need for public safety is great and increases openings for more officers.

The median annual wage in May 2020 was $67,290.

Begin a Career as a Correctional Officer or Bailiff

Correctional officers and bailiffs manage individuals who are taken into custody by courts or correctional systems. Correctional officers supervise prisoners. Bailiffs ensure courtrooms run properly by guarding judges and juries, enforcing courtroom rules, and handling any courtroom documents.

Just like with police officers, working in a correctional facility can be stressful and dangerous. The injury and illness rate for correctional officers are amongst the highest of all occupations, due to confrontations with inmates. Shifts run day and night, weekends and holidays. Bailiffs' hours are determined by court sessions.

The BLS states that the projected employment percent change from 2019 to 2029 is -7%, which is on the decline. Correctional officer positions are determined by prison population levels and state or local budgets. Bailiffs are needed to courtrooms in order, and will continue to be needed.

The median annual wage in May 2020 was $48,000 for bailiffs. For correctional officers, it was $47,410.

What Is The Difference Between a Criminologist and a Police Officer?

The criminal justice field offers a large range of jobs, many which focuses on investigating and preventing crimes. Other opportunities feature collecting evidence and arresting suspects. These professions require strong writing skills to produce police reports or legal research documents.

With such a wide range of opportunities available for a graduate with a criminal justice degree, it can be challenging deciding which role is the right way to go. What is the difference between two positions in the same field?

Criminologists are generally categorized as sociologists. They research why crimes are committed and how they affect society. Criminologists write about their findings and can work for local, federal or state law enforcement agencies. The median salary for criminologists is $86,110.

Police Officers are more practical. They enforce laws and protect the public. Within the duties of police officers, there are even more branches. Officers could work in the K-9 unit, responding to suspicions of drugs in an area, join the SWAT team or work as a patrol officer. The median annual salary in 2020 was $67,290.

Accreditation for Online Criminal Justice Degree Programs

Accreditation is a status schools get when meet and maintain a high level of standards as they are set by an accrediting agency. Accreditation is important for graduates when searching for careers. Employers like seeing candidate that have graduated from an accredited university. The most widely known accrediting agencies are:

  • Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities
  • Western Association of Schools and Colleges
  • New England Associate of Schools and Colleges
  • Middle States Commission on Higher Education
  • Southern Association of Colleges and Schools
  • North Central Association

These are institutional accrediting agencies that cover the entire university. There are also specialized accrediting agencies that applies to specific vocations. Attending an online university with an accreditation in criminal justice is attractive to potential employers.

One specific accrediting agency to look for is the Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences (ACJS). ACJS is an international agency that seeks to promote education, research, and policy analysis in criminal justice for both educators and practitioners.

Transfer Options After Completing an Online Criminal Justice Associate Degree

Many use an associate criminal justice degree as a first step to law school or other graduate programs. Criminology, law, criminal psychology, and forensics are examples of common bachelor's degrees pursued after completing the associate program.

Criminal justice and political science degrees overlap in some areas. Criminal justice focuses on criminology, as well as legal procedures and principles of the courts. However, political science majors will specialize in political processes, legal procedures and government systems. A graduate with an associate degree in criminal justice may want to pursue legal studies in more detail.

When it comes to transferring credits, every school has its own policies. Not all credits are considered equal. Accredited online universities will usually only allow transfer credits from regional accredited universities.

GPA is also very important when transferring credits. If a student's GPA is less than 2.0, their credits might not count.

Some schools have articulation agreements that may make transfers easier. In these instances, the online school or community college has a partnership with another online school or university, allowing credits to transfer smoothly. Articulation agreements are important to consider when searching for an online university.

What are Other Criminal Justice Degree Paths/Options?

Criminal justice is a very versatile field, with many career opportunities available at every degree level. As with other fields, continued education provides new skills and often leads to a higher salary. However, further degrees can be a considerable expense in time and money, so prospective students should understand their ultimate career goals before deciding which degree to pursue.

Online Bachelor's Programs in Criminal Justice

A bachelor's degree in criminal justice leads to higher pay and advancement in criminal justice fields. Many leadership positions require a bachelor's. Students learn how to investigate crimes, utilize critical thinking and explore an understanding of the administrative aspects of criminal justice degrees.

Depending on what type of bachelor's program a student enters, the coursework will differ. Schools typically offer Bachelor of Science degrees in criminal justice, though some do offer Bachelor of Arts degrees. BA degrees are more broad, while BS degrees are more precise and technical.

With a bachelor's in criminal justice, graduates have access to a wide range of jobs and should focus their coursework to a chosen field. Possibilities include security, loss prevention expert, police officer, fish and game warden, and detective. Detectives and criminal investigators have an annual mean salary of $86,940.

Online Master's Programs in Criminal Justice

Just like with any other degree, master's degrees leads to higher pay and advancement in criminal justice, beyond that of a bachelor's degree. Obtaining a master's in criminal justice usually takes two years. A master's degree is essential for transitioning into practicing law or becoming a professor.

Options vary, but many programs offer behavior analysis, cybercrime investigation, federal law enforcement and other advanced specializations. FBI agents with a master's degree in criminal justice provide behavioral analysis of suspects and other individuals during interviews.

Students may also pursue criminal justice careers through law school. Students on this path must obtain a Doctor of Jurisprudence (JD) degree. They may then continue in law school to earn a Master of Laws (LL.M.), which allows students to focus on a specialization, including in criminal law or justice.

Online Doctoral Programs in Criminal Justice

Having a doctorate in criminal justice qualifies an individual to pursue leadership roles in criminology, science, and education. They can also enter high-level research programs. A doctorate in criminal justice is more about theory than practice, as students take courses in criminal justice management, theory, improvement of practices, and corrections crisis management.

Completion times vary, but obtaining a Ph.D. may take around four-years of full-time study. Students are also required to complete a dissertation. Graduates typically pursue careers as professors of criminal justice or public policy consultants.

Online Certificate Programs in Criminal Justice

Criminal justice certificates help individuals to further their profession and education. It provides the necessary knowledge and training that can be used in law enforcement, public policy, forensic science and government positions. Having a certificate in criminal justice can also help move towards a bachelor's program.

It can also open up positions such as border patrol agent, fraud investigator, private detective, parole/probation officer, corrections officer, and more.

Required coursework varies by school, but typically covers topics of corrections, judicial processes, criminology, and administration.

Scholarships & Financial Aid for Criminal Justice Online Associate Degrees

College is expensive. Online courses can be significantly cheaper, as students do not pay for on-campus housing or meal plans. Students also save time and money by not commuting.

While it differs among schools, students can still qualify for federal financial aid programs. Students can qualify for financial aid by completing a FAFSA or a Free Application for Federal Student Aid. This form helps the student determine if they are eligible for various aids and how much they could receive.

Scholarships are also available to online students. There are several ones that are specifically there for criminal justice majors. For example, the Captain James J. Regan Memorial Scholarship offers up to $500 to any applicant pursuing a degree in law enforcement or criminal justice. Looking for other scholarships can be easy, as many websites offer easy-to-read lists of scholarships relating to a specific major. Amounts awarded varies from as low as a couple hundred dollars to as high as $10,000.

Scholarship due dates range to just before the beginning of the semester, to even the following year. The FAFSA must be completed prior to the beginning of the semester.

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