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2023 Best Online Criminal Justice Degree Programs

By Michael McCarthy | Updated 3/15/2023
2023 Best Online Bachelor's Degrees in Criminal Justice Badge

Earning a bachelor's degree in criminal justice can open many doors. While some criminal justice majors find rewarding careers in law enforcement and corrections, others may choose to go into politics or law or work with people who have previously been incarcerated. Those passionate about criminal justice reform may want to pursue a career in policy advocacy or the nonprofit sector. These career options typically involve respectable salaries. For example, the expected median annual salaries for police officers and detectives — one potential career path — is $66,020, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

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2023 Best Online Bachelor's Degrees in Criminal Justice Badge
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Online Criminal Justice Bachelor's Degrees You May Be Interested In

2023 Best Online Criminal Justice Degree Programs

RankSchool Salary Score Median Starting Salary
# 1 #1 Union Institute & University 100 100 $114,947
# 2 #2 Fisher College 97 $73,807
# 3 #3 Reinhardt University 92 $56,089
# 4 #4 Wayland Baptist University 92 $55,876
# 5 #5 Central Christian College of Kansas 92 $54,338
# 7 #7 Columbia Southern University 91 $52,800
# 8 #8 Herzing University 91 $52,717
# 9 #9 Waldorf University 90 $50,817
# 10 #10 Southwestern College - KS 90 $50,283

#1 Union Institute & University

  • Salary Score: 100
  • Median Starting Salary: $114,947
  • Locations: Cincinnati (OH)
  • Accreditation: HLC

Union Institute & University (UI&U) is a small, private institution that offers a Bachelors of Science in Criminal Justice Management requiring 120 credits. The curriculum covers criminal justice management and criminal justice management information systems. Some core classes include Applied Ethics, Supervision in the Criminal Justice Field, and Criminal Justice Management and Administration. To graduate, students must complete all the criminal justice core classes as well as general education courses. Finishing this degree can take as little as eight months or four years. There are two optional concentrations: Homeland Security and Forensic Science. Students take the same amount of credits for both concentrations, but depending on their interests, students can take different classes. Graduates may pursue careers as police officers, public safety officers, and firefighters, to name a few.

At UI&U, students use CampusWeb to access their classes, which are completely online. Additionally, students have email, phone, and live chat options for technical support.

#2 Fisher College

  • Salary Score: 97
  • Median Starting Salary: $73,807
  • Locations: Boston (MA)
  • Accreditation: NECHE

Fisher College (FC) is a small, private institution that offers a Bachelors of Science in Criminal Justice requiring 120 credits. The curriculum trains students in ethics, the criminal justice system, law enforcement, and criminal court processes. Some classes include Criminal Justice Research Methods, Ethics and the Criminal Justice System, and Corrections in America. To graduate, students must complete all core classes, general education classes, and an internship, which can take up to four years with a full-time schedule.

At FC, students use Blackboard Collaborate to access their coursework digitally. Students can choose whether to access it fully online or attend classes in person.

#3 Reinhardt University

  • Salary Score: 92
  • Median Starting Salary: $56,089
  • Locations: Waleska (GA)
  • Accreditation: SACS COC

Reinhardt University (RU) is a small, private institution that offers a Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice requiring 120 credits. The curriculum covers everything from criminal evidence to current trends in law enforcement and victimology. Some core classes include Introduction to Forensic Science, Fraud Investigation, and Managing Criminal Justice Organizations. To graduate, students must fulfill all class requirements, including those required for the criminal justice major and general education courses. It can take up to four years for a student to graduate if they are going to school full time. Graduates may go on to pursue careers in cybersecurity or law, including roles like lawyers or judges.

#4 Wayland Baptist University

  • Salary Score: 92
  • Median Starting Salary: $55,876
  • Locations: Plainview (TX)
  • Accreditation: SACS COC

Wayland Baptist University (WBU) is a small, private institution that offers a Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice Administration requiring 124 credit hours. Students can choose from a forensics specialization or one in law enforcement, legal studies, or special victims and investigations. In general, the curriculum trains students in the administration of justice and criminal law issues. A couple of core classes include Interview and Interrogation and Forensic Psychology. To graduate, students must complete all coursework requirements, which takes approximately four years. Graduates may pursue a variety of career pathways that could lead to roles such as detectives, deputy marshals, or investigators.

At WBU, students use Blackboard to complete their fully online coursework.

#5 Central Christian College of Kansas

  • Salary Score: 92
  • Median Starting Salary: $54,338
  • Locations: McPherson (KS)
  • Accreditation: HLC

Central Christian College of Kansas (CCK) is a small, private institution associated with the Free Methodist denomination. It offers a Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice requiring 120 credits. The curriculum provides students with a more in-depth understanding of issues, such as terrorism and police administration. Some core classes include Patrol Operations, Corrections, and Sociology. To graduate, students must complete core classes, electives, and general education classes. It can take up to four years for a full-time student to finish their bachelor's degree. Some career opportunities for graduates include private investigators, staff attorneys, and crime scene investigators.

At CCK, students use Canvas, a popular digital learning platform, to access their fully online coursework and share in group discussions.

#7 Columbia Southern University

  • Salary Score: 91
  • Median Starting Salary: $52,800
  • Locations: Orange Beach (AL)
  • Accreditation: DEAC

Columbia Southern University (CSU) is a large-sized, private institution that offers a Bachelor’s of Science in Criminal Justice Administration that requires 120 hours. The curriculum is designed to teach students about criminology, management, security, and the theories and practices behind corrections. Some core classes for this major are Criminology, Victimology, Police and Community Relations, and Criminal Justice Organization and Administration. To graduate, students must complete all class requirements as well as a senior capstone project.

At CSU, students use Blackboard to access their fully online coursework.

#8 Herzing University

  • Salary Score: 91
  • Median Starting Salary: $52,717
  • Locations: Multiple Locations
  • Accreditation: HLC

Herzing University (HU) is a small, private institution that offers a Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice that requires 120 credits. There are two optional concentrations offered with this online degree: (1) Homeland Security and Counterterrorism and (2) Concentration in Management and Leadership. The curriculum discusses forensics, criminology, and law enforcement. Some core classes for this major include Criminal Law, Law Enforcement Security, Evidence Forensics, and Criminal Psychology. To graduate, students must complete all required classes, which include electives and general education coursework. In addition, a criminal justice capstone project or internship is also required for graduation. It can take students up to two and a half years or 32 months to finish this degree. Graduates may become crime scene investigators, detectives, or correctional officers.

At HU, students use Canvas, a digital learning platform, to access their coursework virtually.

#9 Waldorf University

  • Salary Score: 90
  • Median Starting Salary: $50,817
  • Locations: Forest City (IA)
  • Accreditation: HLC

Waldorf University (WU) is a small, private institution that offers a Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice requiring 120 credit hours. There are five different concentrations available for the student to choose from: (1) Cybersecurity, (2) Forensic Mental Health, (3) Forensic Psychology, (4) Homeland Security, and (5) Public Relations. The curriculum aims to impart students with knowledge about the theories and practices behind law enforcement, victimology, mental health, and crime. Some core classes include Judicial Process, Criminal Law and Diversity, and Ethics in Criminal Justice. To graduate, students must complete the core curriculum as well as classes that pertain to their chosen concentration and electives. This program takes four years for full-time students to complete. Graduates may become law enforcement officials and correctional officers.

At WU, students use Blackboard to complete their online coursework.

#10 Southwestern College - KS

  • Salary Score: 90
  • Median Starting Salary: $50,283
  • Locations: Winfield (KS)
  • Accreditation: HLC

Southwestern College (SC) is a small-sized, private institution that offers a Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice and a Bachelor of Science in Security Management, each requiring 124 credit hours. The curriculum for the former introduces topics that range from criminal law and policing to contemporary issues in the field of criminal justice. For example, some classes in the criminal justice concentration include Cybercrime and Criminal Investigations. The security management degree, on the other hand, covers project management, physical security systems, and emergency planning.

To graduate from either degree, students must complete concentration coursework, general education classes, and a senior capstone. It takes approximately four years for full-time students to finish. Those graduating with a criminal justice degree may choose to follow career pathways to become state troopers, FBI agents, or corrections officers, to name a few possibilities. Security management alumni may go on to become air marshals, emergency management directors, or computer forensic investigators.

At SC, students use Blackboard to access their fully online coursework.

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What Is a Bachelor's in Criminal Justice Degree?

Criminal justice bachelor's degrees typically cover a broad range of knowledge needed for a career in law enforcement, the courts, or corrections. Over the course of the degree, students take classes on criminal law, theories of behavioral deviance, legal ethics, and investigations. Faculty also emphasize soft skills that are useful in all fields, such as critical thinking, communication, and collaboration.

Online degrees in this field mainly have asynchronous courses with no regular class meetings. Some may have synchronous elements, such as live discussions over video or intensive periods where students meet on campus for a few days per year.

Looking for affordable criminal justice programs? Explore our rankings of the most affordable online bachelor's in criminal justice and affordable master's in criminal justice degrees.

Degree Requirements

Most colleges require you to complete 120 credit hours of coursework in order to graduate with a criminal justice bachelor's degree. These credit hours are split between general education and major classes. Bachelor's degrees are traditionally designed to take four years, but some students graduate college early, and most need more than four years to finish.

Some degree programs feature optional or required internships, externships, or other field experiences to give students practical work experience. These take place in person with approved employers.

Criminal Justice Courses

Criminal justice bachelor's degrees begin with introductory courses before moving on to advanced subjects. Many programs offer concentrations to help you specialize in a focused area of study, such as homeland security, management and leadership, or forensic psychology.

Criminal justice curricula differ by school, but the courses below are common offerings that you might find in a bachelor's degree program:

Criminal Psychology

Criminal justice students need to understand why people break laws, which is the focus of this class. Faculty introduce findings from psychology that are relevant to the field, along with methods for criminal profiling and the function of corrections in rehabilitation.

Introduction to Criminal Justice

This course serves as the basis for a criminal justice degree by spending time on each part of the justice system. Topics may include social contracts, public policy and funding, civil rights, and criminal versus civil procedure.

Law Enforcement Ethics

Professors introduce major ethical paradigms so students can apply them to hypothetical and real law enforcement scenarios. They might cover harm prevention, decision-making discretion, and the use of force.

Principles of Investigations

This class details the reasons behind and methods for conducting thorough criminal investigations. Lessons on evidence collection, record keeping, and chains of custody may be important for students intent on careers in any branch of the criminal justice system.


Most colleges prefer incoming students to start during the fall term, so college application timelines typically begin several months before. It's common to apply to college sometime between November and February for an autumn start to classes. However, some online schools feature year-round start dates, so check each school's website for details.

Most schools have similar application processes for candidates, which usually require them to submit these items: 

  • Official high school or GED transcripts showing a minimum GPA of 2.0-2.5
  • A letter of recommendation from a teacher
  • A personal statement on education and career goals
  • Official ACT or SAT scores, with minimums that vary by school (though some schools no longer consider these entrance tests)

College applications might cost $30-90 in fees, which are usually non-refundable.

What Can You Do With a Bachelor's in Criminal Justice Degree?

Criminal justice graduates have found work in all three components of the justice system: law enforcement, the courts, and corrections. Some of them have pursued graduate degrees along the way to improve their educational credentials. Below, we examine several paths you might take once you have a bachelor's degree in criminal justice.

Further Education

An advanced criminal justice degree may provide career benefits in your chosen field — in general, more education pays off eventually by leading to higher salaries and lower chances of unemployment. You have a few options for studying criminal justice at the graduate level, as detailed below:

Master's in Criminal Justice

A master's degree in criminal justice usually contains about 30 credit hours of coursework on advanced concepts in social science, justice administration, and research techniques. These programs often feature concentrations allowing students to specialize in their studies, with common options including crime scene analysis, forensic psychology, homeland security, and criminal justice management.

Doctorate in Criminal Justice

In the criminal justice field, doctoral degrees are mainly intended for candidates who want to do long-term research and college-level teaching. Very few practitioner jobs in criminal justice require a doctorate. Students typically take 30-45 credit hours of courses and spend several years writing a dissertation on an original research idea. 

Similar Educational Pathways

It's not uncommon for people to study a subject in graduate school that's different from but related to their undergraduate major. We've detailed a few possible choices here that are outside of straight criminal justice:

Master of Legal Studies Degree

Legal studies degrees are designed to give professionals advanced knowledge of U.S. law without specifically preparing them to be lawyers. Legal studies experts might work as administrators or managers in a variety of fields, as well as arbitrators or mediators in the civil or criminal justice systems. 

Juris Doctor Degree

Law school graduates generally aim to become lawyers. To do so, they need to complete a three-year Juris Doctor degree and pass the bar exam for their state, which are the main hurdles to attaining a law license. Lawyers work in many types of roles in for-profit law firms and businesses, government agencies, and nonprofit organizations. 

You might also consider a bachelor's degree in law enforcement or homeland security if you know which branch of the justice system you want to work in.

Criminal Justice Careers

Criminal justice graduates often focus on one arm of the justice system, though they may switch between fields in the course of their careers. Law enforcement roles include police officer, federal agent, and criminal intelligence analyst. Bachelor's-level court jobs include arbitrators, mediators, conciliators, and court administrators. Finally, corrections jobs that require a college degree are mainly in administration and management, including for individual facilities and wider administrative agencies.

See our Criminal Justice Career Guide for a detailed look at occupations for criminal justice students.

Financing Your Bachelor's Degree in Criminal Justice

College is an investment in your future that's usually loaded with upfront costs. This often leads to at least some student loan debt, which might take many years to pay off. In this section, we review some common costs, along with ways to offset them using financial aid.


The biggest cost of any degree is tuition. But tuition isn't the whole story; colleges also charge fees for a range of services that include technology upkeep, infrastructure upkeep, and building new facilities. 

Online students might have a different fee structure than in-person learners. In addition, public colleges sometimes charge in-state tuition rates for online programs regardless of where students live. This could lead to significant savings if you're attending a public school in another state. But this isn't always the case, so carefully review each school's costs before committing, including in a meeting with an admissions officer. 

Here are the average tuition and fee costs for the 2020-2021 school year:

  • Public: $9,400 (for in-state students; out-of-state tuition is much pricier)
  • Private nonprofit: $37,600
  • Private for-profit: $18,200

Financial Aid

Financial aid can take many forms, including gift aid that doesn't require repayment and loans that you must repay with interest. Gift aid includes scholarships — which might be awarded based on academic merit or financial need — as well as grants and work-study programs, which are both awarded by financial need. 

You should try to get all available financial aid because you can't receive what you don't apply for. The usual first step is completing a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to determine your eligibility for different sources of funding. Although this is a federal form, most state governments and colleges use it for the same purpose. Some states offer similar forms to students with undocumented immigration status who can't qualify for federal aid.

Work-study funds come from the federal or state governments, but grants and scholarships can come from a variety of sources. These may include federal or state departments of education, individual colleges, private foundations, or individual donors. Talk to financial aid advisors at schools you're considering to find out what's available for criminal justice bachelor's degree students.

FAQs About Bachelor's in Criminal Justice Programs

What Can You Do With a Criminal Justice Degree?

A criminal justice education may qualify you to work in entry-level positions in law enforcement, courts, or corrections. This could include working as police officers, government analysts, administrators, or managers in different parts of the justice system.

How Many Years Is a Criminal Justice Degree?

College administrators like to claim that bachelor's degrees take four years to complete, but the truth is that 64% of undergraduates finish their program within six years. There are many reasons for this; for example, some students choose to attend part time, and others receive leaves of absence in order to attend to personal matters.

What Is the Difference Between Criminology and Criminal Justice?

Criminology is the social science describing criminal behavior and the systems that oppose it. It takes insights from other social sciences, such as psychology and sociology. Criminal justice is more focused on the administration of the justice system. If criminology sounds intriguing, check out our page on the best online criminology degrees.

Is a Criminal Justice Degree Worth It?

A criminal justice bachelor's degree is probably worth the cost and effort if you want to work in any branch of the justice system. Criminal justice doesn't lead to the best labor market outcomes among college majors — graduates in some subjects earn higher pay and have less unemployment  — but more education tends to grant more stable careers in general. And if you're more concerned with doing something you love than with getting rich, then criminal justice is worth considering.

Bottom Line

Bachelor's degrees in criminal justice cover the different branches of the U.S. justice system through courses on criminal psychology, investigations, forensics, legal procedure, and ethics. Graduates sometimes pursue advanced degrees in criminal justice or related fields such as legal studies or law. Other alumni look to begin their careers in law enforcement, the courts, or corrections once they have a bachelor's diploma.

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