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Most Affordable Online Bachelor’s in Criminal Justice Programs 2021

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Most Affordable Online Bachelor's in Criminal Justice badge

Professionals who prevent and solve crimes must understand how the criminal justice system works. They also need the ability to communicate with people from different backgrounds. Successful criminal justice professionals are lifelong learners who complete professional development courses and stay current with the latest trends.

A criminal justice degree prepares individuals for entry-level positions in the field. After gaining experience, professionals often work toward more advanced roles. Applicants to bachelor’s programs typically need a high school or GED diploma. Students pursuing a criminal justice degree generally spend about four years mastering fundamental concepts and honing transferable skills.

Individuals with a degree in criminal justice can pursue a variety of careers. Popular jobs for graduates include police officer and private investigator. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), these positions offer median annual salaries of $65,170 and $50,510, respectively. The BLS projects faster-than-average employment growth for both careers from 2019-2029.

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What Can I Do With a Criminal Justice Degree?

Students earning a degree in criminal justice explore social change and theoretical analysis. Major courses focus on criminal justice topics, and learners develop skills in critical thinking, conflict resolution, and enhanced communication. These transferable skills can help criminal justice professionals switch careers and advance to high-level roles.

In addition to positions in law enforcement, graduates with a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice can become emergency management directors. These professionals help communities prepare for and respond to disasters, including natural disasters and technological emergencies.

A criminal justice degree can also appeal to mid-career professionals in the field. Police officers, firefighters, and corrections officers can obtain a bachelor’s degree to qualify for promotions and raises. Additionally, some employers offer tuition reimbursement programs to encourage workers to earn higher degrees. These tuition reimbursement programs typically require recipients to continue working for the employer for a certain amount of time after graduation.

Accreditation for a Criminal Justice Degree

Prospective students researching criminal justice degrees should ensure that each prospective school holds regional accreditation. The U.S. Department of Education (ED) charters six regional accreditation agencies to evaluate postsecondary schools. To receive regional accreditation, colleges and universities must meet high standards for academic quality. Many employers and graduate schools only recognize degrees earned from regionally accredited schools.

Colleges and universities that offer online programs should also hold national accreditation from the Distance Education Accrediting Commission (DEAC). DEAC compares a school’s online and on-campus programs to ensure that the institution’s online programs deliver the same rigorous education and learning outcomes.

To verify the accreditation status of any U.S. institution, learners can search the ED’s online database.


Question Answer
What job can I get with a bachelor’s in criminal justice? Graduates with a bachelor’s in criminal justice can pursue careers as correctional officers, probation and pretrial services officers, and insurance criminal investigators. Police officers and detectives may also need a criminal justice degree.
Is criminal justice a good major for the FBI? The FBI hires applicants who possess a degree in criminal justice or a related field. Other majors that can lead to a career with the FBI include cybersecurity, forensic accounting, and international studies.
Which is better, a bachelor of arts (BA) or a bachelor of science (BS) in criminal justice? A BS program typically involves more upper-division criminal justice coursework in policing in the U.S., while BA programs generally require additional general education courses. Either degree can qualify holders for criminal justice jobs.
How long does it take to get a BS in criminal justice? Full-time students typically earn their BS in criminal justice in about four years. Learners in accelerated programs often graduate sooner, while part-time students may require more than four years.

What Are the Requirements for a Criminal Justice Degree?

Admission requirements for criminal justice programs vary by school. However, applicants must typically submit high school or GED transcripts, placement test scores, and FAFSA results. New students may also need to meet with a counselor before registering for courses.

In addition to coursework, criminal justice students may need to complete a capstone course. During the capstone course, degree-seekers synthesize the knowledge and skills they learned throughout the program by conducting original research, creating an academic portfolio, or giving a presentation.

Courses in a Criminal Justice Program

Four-year criminal justice programs typically require general education courses, major coursework, and electives. While completing coursework, students hone transferable skills and develop skills necessary for criminal justice jobs. They may also specialize in an area of the field to become competitive for high-level positions.

Criminal justice curricula often include the following courses. However, academic requirements and course titles vary by school, so students should contact their prospective institution to learn about course availability and program requirements.

Introduction to Criminal Justice Concepts
Students typically take this course during the first or second year of their program. Topics may include crime prevention methods and the impact of criminal justice professionals on society. Learners may also examine criminal justice institutions at the local, state, and federal levels. Students analyze how these institutions interact and the roles they play in solving crimes. This course helps students develop foundational knowledge they can build on throughout their program and career.
Inequality and Crime
Criminal justice jobs require field-specific skills and an understanding of the challenges the criminal justice field faces. Learners explore how gender, race, and class influence how the criminal justice system treats Americans. Students examine the disparity between sentences for white Americans and those for offenders who belong to minority groups. Learners also analyze why individuals without financial resources often struggle to prove their innocence.
Professionals in the criminal justice field must understand victimization and its effect on individuals. This course explores various forms of crime, such as robbery, burglary, and sexual abuse. Students analyze short-term and long-term emotional and physical effects, secondary traumas, and community responses. Degree-seekers also examine how resources such as counseling can help victims recover. Coursework may also cover common motivations for committing crimes, including offenders’ relationships with victims.
Principles of Investigation
Police officers and detectives follow systematic procedures for examining crime scenes, interviewing witnesses, and collecting evidence. This class introduces students to investigative methods and explores the legal definitions of and restrictions on investigations. Learners prepare to apply the most effective investigative techniques for various situations. Students typically complete this course early in their criminal justice program.
Police Administration
This course focuses on police department operations and the role of police within the criminal justice system. Learners explore how the judiciary system influences police departments and how judges at various levels ensure the lawfulness of police officers’ activities. Students also analyze the history of policing in the United States and explore how citizen oversight helps prevent corruption. This course helps aspiring police officers understand their future work environment.

Certifications and Licensure for Criminal Justice Majors

Criminal justice professionals often need a state-issued license, depending on their position. Some careers also require certification. Private organizations grant certifications to individuals who meet specific academic and experience requirements. Licensure or certification requirements may also include membership with a professional organization, passing scores on one or more exams, and a fee.

Certified Criminal Justice Addiction Professional

This certification is designed for professionals who work with incarcerated individuals struggling with drug addiction. Candidates must have completed coursework in addiction and a 300-hour supervised practicum. Candidates must also pass the Certified Criminal Justice Professional Exam. Bachelor’s degree-holders need fewer hours of experience than candidates with only an associate degree or high school diploma.

Certified Financial Crime Specialist

The Association of Certified Financial Crime Specialists awards this credential to members and nonmembers who meet experience and education requirements. Candidates must pass a comprehensive exam, which covers topics including human trafficking and internal fraud. Members of the association, government workers, and students pay a discounted certification fee.

Firearm License

Requirements for possessing and carrying a firearm vary by state. However, candidates for a firearm license must typically take a course, pass an exam, and demonstrate proficiency with specific guns. A firearm license is valid 5-10 years, depending on the state, and renewal generally involves paying a fee and submitting paperwork.

Professional Organizations for Criminal Justice Majors

In addition to certifications, professional organizations often provide members with networking opportunities, professional development courses, and information regarding the latest criminal justice jobs. Some organizations also run mentorship programs and award scholarships. Undergraduate criminal justice students can explore the professional organizations below.

  • Alpha Phi Sigma This national honor society for criminal justice students offers membership to students in the field who excel academically. Members benefit from networking opportunities, an invitation to the annual conference, and exclusive scholarships. Membership applicants must attend a school with an Alpha Phi Sigma chapter and pay a fee. They need a minimum 3.2 GPA.

  • American Correctional Association ACA offers discounted membership rates for undergraduate students. Members receive a discount on ACA publications, along with access to professional development courses and networking events. The association maintains student chapters on more than two dozen college campuses, allowing students to build professional relationships with future colleagues.

  • American Society of Criminology: Founded in the 1940s, ASC advocates for research to create better public policy. Members receive three industry publications, and student members receive a reduced annual rate. Learners can also join one of the organization's subdivisions, which focus on disciplines including international criminology and victimology.

  • International Association of Women Police The IAWP advocates for the advancement of women's role in law enforcement and policies to protect women officers from harassment. Prospective members can join for free for 90 days, and student benefits include a subscription to the organization's quarterly WomenPolice Magazine. After becoming officers, members can join one of the IAWP's chapters.

Scholarships for Criminal Justice Students

Even students attending the most affordable criminal justice programs often need financial assistance to avoid significant student debt. Learners can apply for scholarships from private organizations to help cover the cost of their education. The scholarships below are a sampling of the awards available to criminal justice majors.

Alpha Phi Sigma Best Paper Scholarships

Who Can Apply: Alpha Phi Sigma awards two scholarships each year to criminology students who submit an essay on a criminal justice topic. Essays should incorporate external research, use MLA or APA format, and not exceed 15 pages. Applicants should submit their essay by January 15.
Amount: $500-$1,000

My Alarm Center Student Scholarship

Who Can Apply: High school seniors and college underclassmen can apply. Applicants must not have a parent who works for My Alarm Center. Candidates must submit two brief essays and their contact information. Applicants must apply by July 1, and My Alarm Center notifies recipients on August 1. Scholarship recipients cannot reapply.
Amount: $1,000

Sheryl A. Horak Law Enforcement Explorer Memorial Scholarship

Who Can Apply: This one-time scholarship supports learners who are preparing for a law enforcement career. Applicants submit three recommendation letters, a 500-word essay, a recent photograph, and high school or college transcripts. Students should apply by March 31, and scholarship winners receive recognition at a conference or local ceremony.
Amount: $1,000

Melissa Linville Criminal Justice Scholarship

Who Can Apply: Crimcheck offers this scholarship to high school seniors and college students. Applicants need a minimum 3.0 high school or undergraduate GPA, must be enrolled full time, and must submit an essay. The scholarship committee prefers applicants who demonstrate knowledge of and passion for the criminal justice field.
Amount: $500

Brian Terry Scholarship

Who Can Apply: The Brian Terry Foundation awards this scholarship to high school seniors and college students who are studying criminal justice. Applicants need a minimum 3.0 GPA and must submit two recommendation letters, official transcripts, and a personal statement. In addition to funding, scholarship winners receive leadership development training.
Amount: Varies

Most Affordable Online Bachelor’s in Criminal Justice Programs 2021

  1. Columbia Southern University

    Orange Beach, AL



    This extremely flexible, affordable online college offers cheap tuition rates, military tuition assistance, and no-cost textbook grants. The accredited Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice covers diverse areas of interest to future law enforcement professionals, such as Criminal and Constitutional Law, Judicial Processes, Race and Ethnic Relations, and Terrorism Incident Management. The CSU Academic Advising Center is particularly passionate about helping adult learners achieve their educational goals, demonstrated by the university's 94% five-year graduation rate for Criminal Justice and Political Science majors. Graduates are prepared with a solid foundation in the theoretical concepts, knowledge, and skills to be successful in positions in law enforcement, corrections, and courts, or to continue their education in graduate school. Best College Reviews currently rates CSU the fourth-best online college in the nation. Earning a cheap online criminal justice degree from CSU is sure to launch a successful career.

  2. Bellevue University

    Bellevue, NE



    Bellevue University's Bachelor of Science online college program in criminal justice offers students in-depth knowledge of the field through a comprehensive exploration of social issues, behavior analysis, legal and ethical principles, and policy development. This lays a strong foundation for a career in law, private security, corrections, or law enforcement. The accredited university offers classes in online, cohort, physical classroom and accelerated formats, providing students with plenty of avenues toward a degree. Bellevue's online bachelor's degree programs are ranked 18th in the U.S. News Top Online Education Program Rankings, competing with about 1,000 other schools. Furthermore, the university has been designated a National Center of Academic Excellence in Information Assurance Education by the National Security Agency and the Department of Homeland Security.

  3. Grantham University

    Lenexa, KS



    Grantham University strives to provide a relevant online college education that students can complete at a pace that's convenient for them. Criminal justice students graduate with practical, real-world insight into their field. The university's accredited online associate and bachelor's degrees programs prepare students for careers in local, state, or federal law enforcement, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Drug Enforcement Administration. Students learn how to analyze crime theory and concepts, as well as use analytical skills to solve problems and make decisions. Grantham also offers Criminal Justice students two concentrations: Homeland Security and Computer Science, allowing students some ability to customize their experience at GU. Military Times Edge recently named this military-friendly online college to the top 100 Best for Vets list.

  4. Thomas Edison State College

    Trenton, NJ



    Adult learners and law enforcement officials at Thomas Edison State College graduate ready to change or further their careers - or even to pursue graduate education. This top online college's Learner Support Center is in keeping with the school's mission to provide flexible, high-quality education for self-directed adults in its courses. Students in the Criminal Justice program develop critical analytical skills and become familiar with research and methods used in the field. Thomas Edison is accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education, and its alumni earn some of the highest pass rates for exams required in their professions. GetEducated.com named this affordable online college business program one of the Top 5 "Best Buys" in the nation.

  5. Granite State College

    Concord, NH



    The Bachelor of Science program at this accredited online college prepares students for a wide variety of careers in law enforcement, administration and business security, among other fields. The flexible format provides evening, online, hybrid and weekend courses, allowing working adults to pursue their education in a schedule most convenient for them. Students explore a variety of topics related to Criminal Justice, including criminology, state and federal constitutional law, advocacy, and research methodology. Granite State also gives degree candidates the opportunity to earn credit through academic testing and training programs like those offered in the military or the New Hampshire Police Standards and Training Academy. This affordable online college was named to U.S. News & World Report's 50 best online Bachelor's degree programs in the nation.

  6. Bemidji State University

    Bemidji, MN



    At this accredited online college, core courses and many electives are offered completely through distance education, with the majority being taught by full-time faculty members who are actively engaged in mentoring students. After taking course courses in the Criminal Justice major, students can choose from varied specializations: Corrections with Internship, Law Enforcement with Internship, Criminal Justice with Internship, and Criminal Justice (non-internship). The Criminal Justice Club offers students the opportunity to network with professionals and peers in the field, participate in justice system events, and volunteer their talents with local charities. Named one of the best Midwest universities for six consecutive years, this affordable online college offers not only a superior education, but also lets online Criminal Justice degree majors pay the in-state Minnesota tuition rate.

  7. Colorado State University Global

    Greenwood Village, CO



    The Colorado State University Global program is perfect for people who are passionate about law enforcement, enjoy helping people, and envision themselves as leaders. Busy students enjoy the flexibility of completing their coursework at this top online college in an eight-week class format while maintaining close communication with faculty and peers. More than a dozen specializations, such as emergency Management and Criminal Forensics, allow students to tie their education to their career aspirations. Students who maintain currently enrolled status at this affordable online college are also guaranteed zero tuition increases for the duration of the program. U.S. News has ranked CSU the #16 best online bachelor's degree program in the nation.

  8. Brandman University

    Irvine, CA



    At Brandman University, Criminal Justice majors study criminal profiling, analyze the correctional system that manages these criminals, and evaluate post-9/11 homeland security scenarios. Students can specialize in various areas within Criminal Justice, including Homeland Security, Corrections, Victims Advocacy-Social Justice, Forensics, Leadership, and Security Services. This very affordable online college program offers courses such as Constitutional Rights, Social Research Design, and Sociology of Deviant Behavior. Students gain an understanding of the legal system, learn valuable research skills, and understand how to apply theory. U.S. News & World Report named Brandman 41st in the nation for online Bachelor's degree programs, earning particularly high scores for student engagement and faculty credentials. Brandman has also been designated a Military Friendly School.

  9. University of Wyoming

    Laramie, WY



    The University of Wyoming's accredited online college offers a Bachelor's Degree in Criminal Justice that is interdisciplinary and a great fit for students interested in the fields of local, state, and federal law enforcement. Students may also opt for a pre-law emphasis to prepare them for law school or graduate education. Graduates of the program begin careers as court administrators, corrections officers, private security, military leaders, and many others. This completely online college program delivers content to students through Web-based courses, as well as audio and video conferencing. Hands-on experience is also available through a variety of internships at local criminal justice agencies. U.S. News & World Report included this affordable online college on its list of top-ranked national universities.

  10. SUNY Delhi

    Delhi, NY



    The Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice college online program accommodates adult students with busy lives. Named by U.S. News & World Report as the best college in the nation for online Bachelor's degree programs for its faculty credentials, student engagement, and peer reputation, SUNY Delhi offers students a top online college education. Highlights of the program include technological support and tutoring, relevant curriculum that covers all six areas identified by the Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences, and affordable tuition. Additionally, SUNY Delhi has been designated a military-friendly school. With excellent employment prospects in the field, criminal justice majors will be prepared to start careers in policing, investigation, probation, corrections, juvenile justice, and many other areas.

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