Top Online Colleges for Criminal Justice

Criminal justice is a field of study concerned with crime and the systems set up to deter crime and punish criminals. As a result, this broad field encompasses law enforcement, courts of law, and the prison system. Criminal justice is a good fit for those who work in law enforcement, corrections, probations and parole, and related areas who would like to move up into a management position, as well as those who wish to transition into this area.

Accredited online colleges for criminal justice provide much-needed flexibility that makes it more convenient for working adults to take criminal justice classes and maintain their full-time jobs. The best online colleges for criminal justice are accredited by agencies that are recognized by the U.S. Department of Education and employ faculty who not only possess terminal degrees in their fields, but also bring diverse experience to the classroom.

Criminal Justice Course Work Basics

Top rated online colleges offer undergraduate and graduate programs in criminal justice. Undergraduate course work in criminal justice focuses on building a solid foundation in the history, science, and practice of criminal justice, alongside behavioral science courses that help students have a better understanding of deviant and criminal behavior. It also includes general education requirements in college writing, mathematics, natural science, and humanities. Bachelor’s programs may require or encourage an internship at a criminal justice agency, too. Undergraduate courses might include the following:

  • Criminology: In this course, students receive an overview of the different types and characteristics of criminals, crimes, and crime victims.
  • Police Administration: This course introduces students to the roles and responsibilities of administration in law enforcement, how police departments are organized, and how management is structured.
  • Introduction to Corrections: In this course, students learn how the corrections system in the U.S. works, with an emphasis on retribution, deterrence, and rehabilitation.
  • The Juvenile Justice System: This course explains how the justice system interacts with children and teens who break the law and children who are victims of crimes, with an emphasis on issues like child abuse and gang participation.
  • Ethics in Criminal Justice: In this course, students explore the ethical issues that arise when working in criminal justice professions, with an emphasis on issues like excessive force and police corruption.

Top online colleges for criminal justice are often best known for their graduate programs in criminal justice. These programs tend to emphasize a management perspective in criminal justice and help students have a deeper understanding of criminal justice research, policy, criminological theory, and ethics. They also allow graduate students to specialize in a specific area, such as policing, law, or corrections. Students often conclude their program with a master’s thesis or doctoral dissertation, which details their original research into a relevant area of criminal justice.

Careers for the Criminal Justice Graduate

Law enforcement and corrections are popular career paths for graduates of criminal justice programs offered by top accredited online colleges, though other career paths are available in social services and nonprofits involving juvenile offenders, probations and parole, victim advocacy, and more. Potential employers include police departments, sheriff’s offices, state and federal correction facilities, women’s and family shelters, domestic violence agencies, border security agencies, and private security companies.

Police and detectives need not have a degree to find employment, and typically receive their training through an academy approved by the department and on-the-job training. However, higher education is often encouraged in law enforcement, and many agencies provide financial reimbursement for college courses related to criminal justice, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

Police and detectives earned a median yearly salary of $55,010 as of May 2010, according to the BLS. Detectives and criminal investigators earned a median of $68,820, while police and sheriff’s patrol officers earned $53,540. Keep in mind, however, that these are national averages, and that one’s actual salary is determined by factors such as your years of experience, your rank, the size of the agency you work for, and overtime pay. Police and detectives can expect 7% job growth between 2010 and 2020, which is slower than average compared to other occupations.

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