Both on-campus and online criminal justice degrees provide a pathway for students who want to protect public interests and citizens in their communities. Although many students may pursue a criminal justice degree to start their career as a police officer or detective, it is important to note that there are a wide range of career options available in this field. For example, some students opt for online criminal justice programs that prepare them for careers in criminal justice administration or the court systems, while others choose to pursue degrees that help them secure employment in our correctional or prison systems. When it comes to criminal justice careers, there are a number of options to consider.
Online Criminal Justice Degree Programs
Educational requirements in this field vary widely. For example, requirements for police officers and detectives depend heavily on the exact job opening and department, with common requirements ranging from a high school diploma to a bachelor's degree. In most cases, police and detectives undergo most of their training in private police academies sponsored by their respective departments.
Meanwhile, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that correctional treatment specialists and probation officers almost always need a bachelor's degree to gain employment, although a select few will also need a master's degree. Most also participate in a training program sponsored by their state or local government, in addition to undergoing rigorous mental and physical assessments.
When it comes to online criminal justice degrees, the options are plentiful. The following table includes the most common online degree options available:
|Degree||Timeline for Completion||Applicable Careers|
|Certificate||Typically six months to two years||Police officers, security guards and gaming Surveillance Officers, private detectives and investigators, correctional officers|
|Associate's degree||Typically two years of full-time study||Police officer, security guards and gaming surveillance officers, private detectives and investigators|
|Bachelor's degrees||Typically four years of full-time study||Private detectives and investigators, probation officers and correctional treatment specialists, correctional officers, security guards and gaming surveillance officers|
|Master's degrees||Typically two years of full-time study after earning a bachelor's degree||Probation officers and correctional treatment specialists|
Criminal Justice Career Outlook
Although potential growth and salary can vary widely due to your geographic location, the future looks bright for careers in criminal justice. Although job growth may be limited somewhat by state and local governments, the BLS reports that the ongoing demand for protective service occupations should steadily increase. The following table illustrates some of the most popular career options in this field along with the average salary and potential growth for each during the next decade.
|Career||National Annual Mean Wage, May 2014||Projected National Growth 2012-2022|
|Security Guards and Gaming Surveillance Officers||$28,080||12%|
|Private Detectives and Investigators||$52,880||11%|
|Correctional Officers and Jailers||$44,910||5%|
|Probation Officers and Correctional Treatment Specialists||$53,360||-1%|
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2014
Overall, the BLS predicts that employment for all protective service occupations nationwide will increase 8 percent from 2012 to 2022, or almost as fast as the average for all occupations combined.
Choosing the Right Schools
When researching online criminal justice programs, there are a few things to keep in mind. First of all, it is important to verify that the school you hope to attend is, in fact, accredited. If you are having trouble locating this information, you should contact the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) or the U.S. Department of Education (USDE). Either agency can provide you with up-to-date accreditation information on any school you are considering.
Additionally, it's important to verify what kind of support online criminal justice programs offer before signing up. In most cases, you'll want to make sure you have access to instructors via email or message boards, as well as ample opportunity to communicate and collaborate with your peers. It is also important to verify whether your chosen school can help you become certified in your specific career, if needed.
Not all degree programs are created equal; it is crucial that you compare your options side to side. As you conduct your research, remember to compare pricing on each degree program you are considering. The difference between comparable degree programs can be staggering, which is why it is crucial to arm yourself with as much information as you can.
Correctional Officers, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/protective-service/correctional-officers.htm#tab-1
May 2014 National Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates, Bureau of Labor Statistics, http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes_nat.htm
Police and Detectives, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/protective-service/police-and-detectives.htm#tab-1
Private Detectives and Investigators, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/protective-service/private-detectives-and-investigators.htm#tab-1
Probation Officers and Correctional Treatment Specialists, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/community-and-social-service/probation-officers-and-correctional-treatment-specialists.htm
Security Guards and Gaming Surveillance Officers, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/protective-service/security-guards.htm#tab-1