Criminal justice degrees generally refer to two-year or four-year college degrees that train and certify an individual to work within the field. All criminal justice degree programs focus on preparing students for careers that involve criminal law. Popular careers for those with degrees in this field include police officers, legal assistants, investigators and FBI agents.

Online Criminal Justice programs offer a convenient and often affordable option for working students to pursue their degree without worrying about attending onsite classes. Degrees are offered at all levels, from certificates to doctoral degrees.

Top 10 Best Rated Online Criminal Justice Degree Programs

The Criminal Justice program at St. John’s University is a 126-credit program for students seeking careers in criminal justice. Minors include Business, Correctional Counseling, Court Administration and Criminalistics.
The University of New Haven Criminal Justice program is one of the oldest, largest and most well-known programs in the U.S. They offer concentrations in Corrections, Crime Analysis, Forensic Psychology and other areas.
Strayer University allows its program to be tailored to the individual student, with options to enroll online or on campus and to structure a bachelor's degree concentrating on homeland security, forensics or computer security.
Ashford University's bachelor's in social and criminal justice offers three focuses: homeland security, criminal investigations and corrections management. Faculty have higher degrees and real-life experience in their areas.
A University of Phoenix degree is fully customizable. Students can focus on cybercrimes, human services, criminal justice security or criminal justice management with a certificate, or pursue an associate's or bachelor's degree.
Everest Institute offers criminal justice bachelor's and master's degrees, as well as one-year diplomas in concentration areas. Programs are offered through a combination of in-class and online venues, depending on the program.

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Any institution that offers a criminal justice degree should be an accredited college or university, which means it's been evaluated and approved by a local or national accreditation organization. Colleges or universities may be classified as regionally or nationally accredited as well as non-profit or for-profit institutions.

  • Regionally accredited: Criminal justice degrees from institutions that are regionally accredited are generally well received by other colleges in the event that a student wishes to transfer.
  • Nationally accredited: Degrees from nationally accredited institutions are more likely to focus on vocational training.
  • For-profit: For-profit schools are institutions that are run privately where tuition can be spent however the organization sees fit. They are more likely to be nationally accredited.
  • Non-profit: Non-profit schools use tuition money from students to fund education. They are generally regionally accredited.


Before choosing a criminal justice degree program, it is important to determine what the overall cost will be.

  • Student loans: Students paying for their criminal justice degree through student loans should take interest rates into account.
  • Payment plans: Most institutions will allow students to make monthly payments on their tuition, however this may result in paying more over time.
  • Grants/scholarships: For those with grants or scholarships, verify that these forms of payment are accepted by the institution.


The location of the degree provider is important for those who will commute; however, the location of a learning institution can also affect cost.

  • Commute time: The time it will take to arrive at a school is important as long commutes can become expensive and time-consuming.
  • Out of state fees: Many educational institutions charge a higher tuition or a fee to those that live out of the area.
  • Online availability: A school may be located far away from a student's home but may have online programs available.

Online Vs. Traditional Learning

While some may prefer to attend a local criminal justice degree program, others may enjoy the convenience of attending courses online or a mixture of the two.

  • Online program: An online criminal justice degree program allows all course work to be completed through a computer.
  • Online and on-campus: Some institutions offer the option to take certain courses online and others on-campus.
  • Traditional program: A traditional program will require all criminal justice courses to be completed on-campus.

Degree Options

The type of degree a student decides to pursue affects the amount of time they'll spend in school. This will also determine the price and type of coursework that will be required.

  • Bachelors of Science Degree in Criminal Justice: This is the most common type of criminal justice degree which is offered by 4-year institutions.
  • Associate of Art in Criminal Justice Degree: An Associate of Art in Criminal Justice degree is a two-year program that also requires the completion of liberal arts coursework.
  • Criminal Justice Certificate: Criminal justice certificates are often the best option for those who have already completed a bachelor's or associate's degree and are seeking to enhance it with additional certifications.
  • Master or doctoral degrees: Graduate degrees are less common in the criminal justice field unless one wishes to hold an administrative job or teach college-level criminal justice courses.


The reputation of the establishment offering a degree is vital. It can provide insight on the curriculum, staff and employment outcomes of those who complete the program.

  • Professor qualifications: Researching the educational qualifications and work experience of the program's instructors will help determine if the program or institution is strong.
  • Employer recommendations: If your goal is to work with a specific employer, ask what programs they recommend and why.
  • Job placement: Exploring statistics such as how many graduates are employed as well as where they are employed can help a prospective student to make a decision about a school.

What are different types of criminal justice degrees?

Associate's degrees

Associate's degrees in criminal justice take two years to complete for full-time students. This degree is generally fitting for those who wish to pursue careers, such as legal assistants, where knowledge of the fundamentals of criminal law is all that is necessary.

Bachelor's degrees

Most students who wish to have a career in the criminal justice field opt for a four-year bachelor's degree. A bachelor's degree is often a requirement for most positions in the field including police officers and FBI agents.


A certificate in the field is a popular option for those that have already completed an associate's or bachelor's degree. Adding the certificate to a degree shows that a person has specialized knowledge and is qualified to work as an assistant in the field or an officer, depending on the type of certificate and previous education.

Master's degrees

A master's degree in criminal justice requires the successful completion of a bachelor's degree. A master's degree in criminal justice will allow those who obtain it to work in administrative criminal justice positions such as social work, positions within court or as criminal justice instructors.

Doctoral degrees

Those who pursue a doctoral degree in the field of criminal justice are often those wanting to teach criminal justice courses. A doctoral degree usually takes eight years to complete along with prior experience in the field.

Who's it for?

Young students

Young students who have just completed high school and wish to pursue a career in the criminal justice field will find a degree in criminal justice helpful. A bachelor's degree will be most beneficial.

Adult learners

Adult learners will benefit from a criminal justice degree if they wish to expand their employment opportunities.

Career changers

For those who are seeking to change careers, a degree in criminal justice can be helpful. Those who already have a degree in an unrelated field will likely benefit from a criminal justice certificate.

Company reviews

  • Ashford University

    Ashford University is a for-profit college that was established in 1918. In recent years, it has become well-known for its many online degree programs.

    • Online programs: Ashford offers a wide variety of online-based degree programs, including several in the field of criminal justice.
    • Regionally accredited: Ashford University is accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges.
    • Best for With its many online degree programs, it is ideal for adults or career changers seeking to balance an education with a busy lifestyle.

  • California State University, East Bay

    California State University, East Bay (CSUEB), is a regionally accredited university located in California. CSUEB offers more than 100 programs of study for students either online or on-campus.

    • Graduate, undergraduate and certificates: CSUEB offers a wide variety of degree options for those seeking an education in the criminal justice field.
    • Balances academics and real life experience: CSUEB focuses on providing students with real life experiences through internships and overseas studies.
    • Best for Young students located in California or career changers who are seeking a certificate.

  • Capella University

    Capella University is a regionally accredited, for-profit university that specializes in online education.

    • Offers degrees and certificates: Capella offers bachelor's, master's and doctoral degrees and certificates in criminal justice.
    • FlexPath programs: FlexPath is a unique program that is assessment based and allows students to complete as many courses as they are able to in a 12 week period for one rate.
    • Best for Those who are seeking advanced career training.

  • Carrington College

    Carrington College is a career-focused educational institution with 18 campuses located throughout the western states.

    • Regionally accredited: Carrington College is accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges.
    • On-campus: Carrington's criminal justice program is only offered on-campus.
    • Associate's Degree in Administrative Criminal Justice: Carrington's on-campus criminal justice program prepares students for careers as correctional officers, security guards or loss prevention agents.
    • Best for Adult learners or career changers who are seeking to enter the criminal justice field.

  • Everest Institute

    Everest Institute is a non-profit career college that focuses on providing students with the education and skills that they will need for their specific field. On-campus programs at Everest are regionally accredited while the online programs are nationally accredited.

    • Many degree options: Programs for a bachelor's or associate's degree, as well as diplomas for specific areas of criminal justice including private and homeland security are offered.
    • 9 month programs: Many training programs at Everest are completed within 9 months.
    • Best for Everest Institute is best for career changers or adult learners as the program is career specific, and credits may not transfer to other institutions.

  • Gardner-Webb University

    Gardner-Webb is a private Christian university located in North Carolina that was established in 1993. Gardner-Webb is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.

    • Bachelor's degree program: Gardner-Webb offers a bachelor's degree program in the field of criminal justice.
    • Online program: Those who wish to complete a bachelor's degree in criminal justice at Gardner-Webb must participate in an online program.
    • Best for Adult learners seeking to complete a bachelor's degree in a criminal justice program online.

  • Globe University

    Globe University is a career-training university. With small class sizes and one-on-one instructor availability, Globe University is ideal for those who prefer an intimate learning atmosphere.

    • Nationally accredited: Globe University is accredited by the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools.
    • Associate's and bachelor's programs: Both associate's and bachelor's degree programs are available at Globe University.
    • Small class sizes: Small class sizes allow students to receive personalized attention from instructors.
    • Best for Adult learners or career changers seeking an education specific to the criminal justice field.

  • Lamar University

    Lamar University is a rapidly growing university based in Texas. Lamar offers programs in the criminal justice field for bachelor's, master's and doctoral degrees.

    • Regionally accredited: Lamar University is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.
    • Newer institution: Lamar is a newer institution that is quickly gaining popularity among students and employers.
    • Bachelor's and master's degrees: There are opportunities for students to complete undergraduate or graduate degrees in criminal justice or criminal justice management.
    • Best for Those who wish to obtain a bachelor's or master's degree in criminal justice.

  • Monroe College

    Monroe College is an educational institution located in New York. Monroe College is a regionally accredited school that was founded in 1933.

    • Scholarships and awards: Monroe College regularly awards scholarships and awards to their students.
    • Online degrees available: Although located in New York, residents of any state can attend Monroe College through their online criminal justice programs.
    • Best for Young students or adult learners seeking an online criminal justice program.

  • New England College

    New England College (NEC) is a private higher education institution in New Hampshire. It is regionally accredited by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges.

    • Associate's and bachelor's degree programs: NEC offers programs for both associate's and bachelor's degrees in criminal justice.
    • On-campus or online: Both traditional and online programs are available at New England College.
    • Best for Young students and adult learners who wish to take online courses.

  • Nova Southeastern University

    Nova Southeastern University (NSU) is a traditional non-profit university that was founded in 1964. NSU is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.

    • State of the art facilities: NOVA campuses are equipped with top of the line libraries, technology and classrooms.
    • Several degree options: NOVA offers undergraduate, graduate and professional degree programs in the criminal justice field.
    • Best for Young undergraduate or graduate students who prefer traditional learning environments.

  • St. Johns University Criminal Justice

    St. John's University is a catholic university located in New York City. Founded in 1870, St. John's is a regionally accredited university.

    • Best for Young spiritual students who wish to learn either online or in a traditional setting.
  • Strayer University

    Strayer University is a university primarily for working adults returning to college. It is a regionally accredited institution that focuses on vocational training.

    • Online programs: Students at Strayer University are able to take classes at home or attend classes on campus.
    • Flexible programs: As Strayer University is aimed toward working adults, the programs are much more flexible than traditional universities as they offer a year-round schedule.
    • Best for Strayer University is designed with working adults in mind, therefore it is best for career changers or adult learners.

  • University of New Haven Criminal Justice

    Founded in 1920, the University of New Haven (UNH) is a private educational institution. UNH is a regionally accredited school offering criminal justice degrees.

    • Best for Young students who wish to attend a traditional university where on-campus housing is available.
  • University of Phoenix

    University of Phoenix is a popular university located in Arizona. The school is regionally accredited by the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools.

    • Online or on-campus: University of Phoenix offers classes in a traditional manner; however they are well known for their extensive amount of online degree programs.
    • Credit for experience: This institution provides college credits for past work experience.
    • Best for It is ideal for adults or career changers with busy schedules who prefer to take online courses.

  • Upper Iowa University

    Upper Iowa University is an educational institution founded in 1857. Upper Iowa University offers various options for criminal justice degrees.

    • Regionally accredited: The school has been regionally accredited by the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools.
    • Self-paced programs: Associate of Arts in Criminal Justice degrees are available through a self-paced program which allows students to complete coursework on their own schedule through paper or web-based programs.
    • Best for Adult learners or career changers with busy schedules.

  • Valdosta State University

    Valdosta State University is a 100-year-old state university located in Georgia. VSU is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

    • Regionally accredited: Valdosta State University (VSU) is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.
    • Online or on-campus: Those participating in a criminal justice degree program at VSU have the option of a traditional college experience or a more convenient online program.
    • Best for Young students or adult learners who wish to pursue a bachelor's degree in criminal justice.

  • Walden University

    Walden University was established more than 45 years ago. It is a regionally accredited school that focuses on educating adults.

    • Online programs: Walden's online programs are designed to fit the needs of busy adult learners by offering flexible start schedules.
    • Grants, scholarships and tuition savings: Walden offers a variety of ways for adult students to save money on tuition.
    • Best for Adult learners or career changers who wish to complete their criminal justice degree online.

11 – 18 Best Rated Online Criminal Justice Degree Programs