Online Criminal Justice & Criminalistics Degrees

An online criminal justice degree may allow on-the-go adults the chance to study advanced theory, practices and research in criminal justice, criminalistics and criminology. A multi-disciplinary field, criminal justice is dedicated to the study of law enforcement, courts and corrections. It includes several facets. These include the government systems that uphold social control, the policies that prevent or lessen crime rates, and sanctions for offenders.

online criminal justice degreewritten by Rana Waxman

At the graduate-level, the study of criminal justice also covers topics in and about the administration of justice. Students are likely to take courses that discuss forensic science, criminal justice reform, criminal behavior, judicial process and constitutional law - all in a convenient, online classroom. With many potential concentrations and areas of study, an online criminal justice degree may allow students to explore their interests and keep their lifestyle.

Earning Your Criminal Justice & Criminalistics Degree Online

An online criminal justice degree may provide flexibility to the working professional. Distance learners often get to take their criminal justice classes when it is convenient to them, and may watch live and recorded lectures. Coursework typically parallels that of traditional programs. It may even be taught by the same faculty as the brick-and-mortar school counterparts. Plus, to stay motivated, students may be required to take part in discussions through online forums or video conference.

Most online criminal justice degrees can be completed almost entirely online. However, some universities require a short internship. Students might be able to satisfy this locally, or with federal agencies such as the U.S. Secret Service. Other online criminal justice degree programs may entail a short residency. These brief stays on campus introduce students to

their cohorts and faculty. Also, they may help guide students’ research and orient them to their program.


Fraud investigators need to be grasp laws, legal codes, the financial markets, banking and human behavior.i

What Is an Online Criminal Justice Degree?

An online criminal justice degree program is a course of study that may lead to a graduate certificate, masters or doctorate degree. Students who pursue a graduate degree in criminal justice and criminalistics often choose a program that mirrors their career pursuits. This might be in corrections, financial crime, forensic psychology, or criminology and criminal justice. The diversity in this dynamic field makes it one with many distinct branches and areas in which to anchor a research interest.

Online Masters in Criminal Justice & Criminalistics Programs

Online Masters in Criminal Justice and Criminalistics programs are often aimed at current criminal justice professionals who want to pursue managerial or supervisory roles. Applicants to some programs need to hold a bachelors degree from a regionally accredited college or university and hold a minimum 3.0 GPA. Other programs may require a major or minor in criminology, criminal justice or a social science. Work experience in the area chosen might be needed as well.

Online masters students can typically expect a blend of upper-level courses in criminological theory, best practices and research methods. Some masters programs require a thesis or a capstone project in the students’ chosen area. To that end, most online criminal justice schools offer areas of emphasis. Options might include legal studies, terrorism, corrections, incident management, forensic science, criminal behavior and more. There are also several types of masters degrees awarded, each with different approaches and objectives. So it will help you to think about your goals and read through school syllabuses to find one that matches your needs.

An online Master of Science (MS) in Criminal Justice is often an in-depth exploration that covers managerial techniques, law, ethics, technology and policy. In some schools, the degree consists of 30-36 credits and entails both core courses and electives. Examples of core courses might include the topics below.

  • Criminal Justice Research Methods
  • Advanced Statistics for Criminal Justice
  • Criminological Theory
  • Ethics and Criminal Justice
  • Criminal Justice Policy
  • Professional Writing for Law Enforcement

Other classes might cover policy design and the role of the criminal justice executive as an agent of change. Also, it is likely students who do choose a focus area will have a course of study that reflects this theme. As an example, students who pursue a concentration in terrorism studies might take courses in threats and strategies, risk assessment, and homeland security. Those who pursue a crime analysis track might be required to take courses in law enforcement intelligence analysis and policy and process.

In terms of electives, these are usually chosen to refine a professional avenue or identity. They are typically selected from any available online criminal justice graduate courses the school offers, unless approval is required. Terrorism in Israel, hostage negotiations, homeland security, forensic science and courtroom psychology are some possible choices.

The online Master of Public Administration (MPA) in Criminal Justice typically covers executive leadership and organizational behavior in the public sector. In some online schools for criminal justice, the MPA is a 36-credit program that may allow mid-career students to complete fewer credits. Students may have to take a series of core courses along with focused courses that match their chosen area of emphasis (e.g. emergency management, homeland security, fire services). Core courses tend to cover ethical theory, strategy, public policy and organizational theories for the public sector. Criminal justice MPA topics might include justice administration, as well as justice and public policy.

An online Master of Business Administration (MBA) in Criminal Justice Management is likely to address business and law enforcement leadership. In some schools, the MBA is a 36-credit program that explores managerial theory, organizational leadership and business communication. Core online MBA topics tend to cover marketing, economics, managerial accounting, finance and strategy. For those who major in criminal justice, topics could include an overview of the criminal justice system, theories of crime control, criminal justice leadership and applied criminology law.

Online Criminal Justice & Criminalistics Doctoral Degrees

Online doctoral degrees in criminal justice and criminalistics provide the highest level of study in the field. Most programs are rigorous, and require an in-depth research project into one facet of criminal justice. Also, the completion of a dissertation. Students typically take a core set of classes in quantitative and qualitative analysis, research skills, and criminal justice topics. These intense programs may suit individuals who aspire to teach criminal justice at the post-secondary level, conduct advanced research, or hope to pursue executive criminal justice positions in settings such as federal agencies.ii

Applicants to many online criminal justice and criminalistics degree programs may need to have work experience and/or a masters degree in their field. Due to the diversity of program options – from business administration to social work and psychology - there may be many acceptable academic backgrounds.

The online PhD in Criminal Justice is a terminal research degree in the field. Distinct from a professional doctorate, the PhD tends to require students to contribute original thought or theory to their discipline. To that end, students usually take courses in critical analysis, research methods and design, along with dissertation seminars.

In terms of core courses, some online criminal justice schools require students to take a total of 96 credits (based on the quarter semester). These might cover professional practice topics such as leadership and current issues in criminal justice. They may also include criminal justice theory, analysis of crime data, and criminal justice policy. Many criminal justice PhD programs entail an area of emphasis, as in the examples below.

  • Corrections
  • Criminology
  • Higher Education

Online criminal justice PhD programs can also be found as research degrees in other fields, such as social work, public policy and business administration. These are academically equal to a PhD in criminal justice, however, the point of view will reflect the main discipline.

The online Doctor of Business Administration (DBA) in Criminal Justice is a professional doctorate where the focus is on applied research. Equal academically to a PhD, the goal of students’ research is to address challenges, and solve problems in the field. As a result, it may be a good choice for executives who want to develop new strategies, take in current trends, and expand their ability to lead.

Some online DBA programs entail about 54 credits, of which several required courses revolve around business topics, management theory, strategy and finance. For their criminal justice courses, students may examine issues such as juvenile delinquency, organized crime, gangs and drug smuggling. Doctoral students might also engage in a discussion of issues central to the U.S. correctional systems, law enforcement practices and criminal profiling.

Online Graduate Certificates in Criminal Justice & Criminalistics

An online graduate certificate in criminal justice might enhance the knowledge of current or future criminal justice and law enforcement professionals. Applicants typically need to have a bachelors degree for a graduate-level certificate program.

Online graduate certificate programs in criminal justice and criminalistics may be ideal if you seek a short program focused on career development or knowledge in a single area of study. In some online criminal justice schools, certificates range from 15-27 semester hours (about 5-9 courses), but expect this to vary. Also, some grad schools may allow credits earned from an online certificate program to be applied to a masters degree within their institution. While content varies, course topics might explore criminal behavior from biological, psychological, and sociological points of view. See examples of other possible courses below.

  • Criminal Justice Theory and Application
  • Police Administration
  • Leadership
  • Criminal Profiling
  • Victimology
  • Crisis Management
  • Criminal Law

This is just a sample of potential courses. Certificate programs vary so contact schools directly and read program descriptions to learn more about what might be available to you.

Personalize Your Online Criminal Justice Degree

One of the possible ways to compare online criminal justice degree programs and schools is by the fields of study available. Concentration areas also vary if your interest lies in criminal justice, corrections, criminal psychology or criminology. Do you want to focus on public safety, financial crime, crisis control, criminal behavior or crime causation?

Online Corrections graduate programs: Online students who focus on corrections may study and develop law enforcement skills to help manage global risks and disasters. Often designed for criminal justice professionals, coursework might examine leadership practices, the problems of repeat offenders, and health care practices. 

Online Criminal Psychology graduate programs: A focus on criminal psychology might be offered through a forensic psychology, behavioral sciences or criminology program. These programs tend to examine the biological, psychological, and social factors that impact criminal behavior as well as the criminal mind-set. Topics of study might delve into areas such as cybercrimes, criminal investigative analysis and profiling, terrorism, and victim advocacy. Students maybe exposed to various psychological approaches and their usefulness in dealing with offenders.

Online Criminology graduate programs: Sometimes grouped together, criminology and criminal justice reflect different degree and career fields. Criminology is the study of criminal behaviors, ethics, leadership and crime causes. It often includes aspects of sociology, psychology and biology. In fact, some degrees in this field are offered as Doctor of Psychology (PsyD) in Criminology. Since criminologists study the social context of crime and crime rates, criminology courses may explore a variety of topics. These might cover the biological bases of behavior, family systems theories, types of criminal behavior, the correctional system, and methods of rehabilitation.

Are Online Criminal Justice Programs Accredited?

Students may want to choose an online criminal justice degree program that is offered by a regionally or nationally accredited institution. This type of approval speaks to whether a school meets and/or exceeds standards. It addresses student outcomes, fiscal stability, faculty and curriculum. Another tier of approval may be found by professional accreditors. These vary per academic discipline.

Find Online Criminal Justice Graduate Programs

The field of criminal justice and criminalistics is a diverse and dynamic field with many options to tailor academic pursuits to match present and future goals. To find the online criminal justice degree that suits your unique needs, refine your search by subject.

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