Best Online Associate in Criminal Justice Degrees for 2023

Associates Degree in Criminal Justice Career Options & Salary

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Overview of an Associates in Criminal Justice & Law

The criminal justice field has relevance for everybody, every day. Every state, city, town, and even neighborhood relies on police officers to help keep the peace. While we often wish we didn’t need them, police officers and the criminal justice system are woven into the fabric of our society. Public Safety is one of their top priorities.

To enter the criminal justice profession and become an officer, you can simply go through the police academy and (hopefully) land a job. So is a degree in criminal justice worth it? Yes. If you first start with a criminal justice associate degree, you might find that your on-the-job experience is heightened by your knowledge and you are able to advance your rank faster. For those already in the work force, leaving their job to earn an associate degree in person can still keep this career out of reach. However, you can earn your criminal justice degree online. These degrees are often available through online learning or hybrid programs, which include some online education and some in-person learning.

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    A criminal justice associate degree program is one that can help you launch a career in law enforcement in the American criminal justice system or help you build on your existing experience. An associate degree has many pros, but chief among them are the cost and the time to completion. Two-year degrees from community colleges typically cost less per credit hour and they only take two years to complete. Another pro is that online students can earn a criminal justice degree online instead of going on-campus. Many online and traditional associate degree programs are also partnered with baccalaureate programs so that you can make an easy transition to a four-year degree program when you are ready.

    In fact, even if your true goal is a bachelor’s degree program, if you start out at a local college, you will save money in the long run. You could also choose to take a criminal justice associate degree online. Then, once they have completed their associate degree, criminal justice students can join the workforce at the entry-level, pay off their loans, and then return to school with more experience. Both in-person and online associate degrees prepare students for more learning and employment.


    Though a criminal justice associate degree has many things to recommend it, there are downsides to an associate degree. One of the first is the fact that you will still need to complete a bachelor-level degree if you want to thrive in one of these criminal justice careers, such as crime scene investigation. Criminal Justice students might also find that their hard-earned online or in-person college credits don't all transfer to a four-year institution if they aren't careful.

    Your associate in criminal justice degree might also not be enough to make you competitive for jobs or promotions. These days, a bachelor’s degree is often considered to be the entry-level degree of choice. You might also find that an AS or AA degree isn't enough to qualify you for certain certifications. Further, if you wish to pursue a specialty area, such as cyber security, your two-year degree likely will not suffice.

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What are the Best Online Associates in Criminal Justice College Programs?


Purdue University

  • Tuition
    • In-State $9,992
    • Out-of-State $28,794
  • Net Price: $12,294
  • Retention Rate: 93%
  • Graduation Rate: 83%
  • Total Enrollment: 46,655
  • Undergrad Students: 35,706
  • Graduate Students: 10,949
  • Diplomas Awarded: 10
  • Grads Salary: $49,000
  • Student-to-faculty: 13:1
  • Purdue University

Indiana Wesleyan University

  • Tuition
    • In-State $28,184
    • Out-of-State $28,184
  • Net Price: $21,827
  • Retention Rate: 81%
  • Graduation Rate: 72%
  • Total Enrollment: 3,108
  • Undergrad Students: 2,677
  • Graduate Students: 431
  • Diplomas Awarded: NA
  • Grads Salary: $49,900
  • Student-to-faculty: 13:1
  • Indiana Wesleyan University

University of Arkansas

  • Tuition
    • In-State $9,384
    • Out-of-State $25,872
  • Net Price: $16,759
  • Retention Rate: 85%
  • Graduation Rate: 68%
  • Total Enrollment: 27,562
  • Undergrad Students: 22,825
  • Graduate Students: 4,737
  • Diplomas Awarded: 102
  • Grads Salary: $44,900
  • Student-to-faculty: 19:1
  • University of Arkansas

Regent University

  • Tuition
    • In-State $18,720
    • Out-of-State $18,720
  • Net Price: $14,785
  • Retention Rate: 77%
  • Graduation Rate: 61%
  • Total Enrollment: 10,483
  • Undergrad Students: 4,533
  • Graduate Students: 5,950
  • Diplomas Awarded: NA
  • Grads Salary: $41,600
  • Student-to-faculty: 19:1
  • Regent University

Bismarck State College

  • Tuition
    • In-State $4,731
    • Out-of-State $6,657
  • Net Price: $10,350
  • Retention Rate: 68%
  • Graduation Rate: 48%
  • Total Enrollment: 3,716
  • Undergrad Students: 3,716
  • Graduate Students: 0
  • Diplomas Awarded: NA
  • Grads Salary: $44,800
  • Student-to-faculty: 14:1
  • Bismarck State College

Trine University

  • Tuition
    • In-State $33,490
    • Out-of-State $33,490
  • Net Price: $24,686
  • Retention Rate: 84%
  • Graduation Rate: 61%
  • Total Enrollment: 3,573
  • Undergrad Students: 3,370
  • Graduate Students: 203
  • Diplomas Awarded: 3
  • Grads Salary: $43,300
  • Student-to-faculty: 17:1
  • Trine University

Campbell University

  • Tuition
    • In-State $36,740
    • Out-of-State $36,740
  • Net Price: $26,299
  • Retention Rate: 76%
  • Graduation Rate: 56%
  • Total Enrollment: 5,964
  • Undergrad Students: 3,720
  • Graduate Students: 2,244
  • Diplomas Awarded: 1
  • Grads Salary: $45,900
  • Student-to-faculty: 15:1
  • Campbell University

Ashland University

  • Tuition
    • In-State $23,060
    • Out-of-State $23,060
  • Net Price: $20,911
  • Retention Rate: 77%
  • Graduation Rate: 62%
  • Total Enrollment: 4,447
  • Undergrad Students: 3,148
  • Graduate Students: 1,299
  • Diplomas Awarded: 3
  • Grads Salary: $40,400
  • Student-to-faculty: 16:1
  • Ashland University

Mansfield University of Pennsylvania

  • Tuition
    • In-State $10,660
    • Out-of-State $13,226
  • Net Price: $12,010
  • Retention Rate: 78%
  • Graduation Rate: 51%
  • Total Enrollment: 1,784
  • Undergrad Students: 1,776
  • Graduate Students: 8
  • Diplomas Awarded: 6
  • Grads Salary: $38,600
  • Student-to-faculty: 17:1
  • Mansfield University of Pennsylvania

Peirce College

  • Tuition
    • In-State $15,060
    • Out-of-State $15,060
  • Net Price: $8,993
  • Retention Rate: 100%
  • Graduation Rate: 16%
  • Total Enrollment: 1,046
  • Undergrad Students: 947
  • Graduate Students: 99
  • Diplomas Awarded: 13
  • Grads Salary: $46,500
  • Student-to-faculty: 13:1
  • Peirce College
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Certificate vs. Associate

You might find that your school offers a variety of college degree options for your criminal justice education. Many will present you with the option of a certificate or a degree. A certificate is a tempting option, since they typically only take a year to complete compared with two years for an associate degree. However, certificates are rather limited in terms of their effectiveness on the job market. Further, if you later decide that you want to go back and earn a college degree such as a bachelor degree, you will still need to complete your core curriculum. Plus, you might find that certificate credits don't transfer to full academic programs of other college degrees.

What Criminal Justice & Law Associate Degrees are Available?

  • Associate of Arts in Criminal Justice
    An AA in Criminal Justice is a degree that will prepare you for the working world with an education that focuses on non-quantitative analysis. That is, you are more likely to be steeped in knowledge of theories than statistics.
  • Associate of Applied Arts in Criminal Justice
    AAA degrees are typically designed to prepare you for the working world. Rather than focusing on academic research and sources, an applied degree is focused on occupational information. Further, you are less likely to take core liberal arts curriculum that you can use at the baccalaureate level.
  • Associate of Science in Criminal Justice
    An AS degree is often indistinguishable from an AA. However, your coursework is likely to focus more on statistical data than non-quantitative theories. That is, this degree is more reliant on STEM information than its more philosophical cousin.
  • Associate of Applied Science in Criminal Justice
    This applied degree is much like an AAA in that it focuses on occupational information. The coursework is likely to focus more on statistics and hard data rather than philosophical discussions. Further, you might find that many of the courses for an AAS don't transfer to a four-year institution. Discuss this with your academic adviser.

Admission Requirements

To gain admission to an online or on-campus associate in criminal justice program you will need to have a high-school diploma, or the equivalent. Each program you research is bound to have its own admission requirements; most will want to see a minimum GPA of 2.0, but some will also consider applicants who have completed the police academy. In fact, if you have graduated from a police academy, you might be exempted from some courses.

On top of your past academic achievements, your program may require SAT/ACT scores, letters of recommendation, and a personal essay that details your goals for a CJ degree.

How long does it take to earn an Online Criminal Justice & Law Associates Degree?

An online associate degree in criminal justice is typically designed to take two years to complete. However, some programs have fast-track options for those who want to expedite their education. You can even find ways to fast-track yourself if there is no clear program for that.

In fact, it is a good idea to make a plan for a timely graduation before you even start school. Too many student become bogged down with outside concerns and prolong a two-year program for three, four, or more years. When you start out with a plan to make the necessary sacrifices for the sake of your long-term success, you will be happier in the long run.

Potential Careers in Criminal Justice & Law with an Associates

  • Police Officer
    Police officers work in one of the criminal justice fields with high public visibility in that police drive around their districts twenty-four hours a day and are called to investigate or break up all sorts of unruly or unlawful behavior. Police officers also work at desks at their police station for their local police departments.
    The average salary for this job is $54,000.
  • Police Detective
    Detectives are sworn law enforcement officers who work as a criminal investigator for their police departments. They typically work in uniform or plain clothes, and spend the day conducting interviews, collecting evidence and performing criminal investigations to solve crimes. They report to a supervisor on their department’s chain of command, and are usually assigned cases based on their rank.
    The median annual salary for a police detective is $66,020.
  • Private Investigator
    In this capacity, you will work with private clients to help them with a wide range of issues. Sometimes PIs specialize in missing persons cases, other times you might help investigate a murder for a grieving family. While private investigators perform many of the same tasks as police detectives, you’ll have the opportunity to specialize, you won't wear a uniform, and you'll have the option of working independently.
    The average salary for this position is $58,300.
  • Correctional Officer
    The job of correctional officers involves working with prisoners or others who are in the legal system or court system to some degree. You could work in a prison or other criminal punishment facility as a corrections officer or administrator, or you could be a probation officer.
    The median annual salary for this job is $40,600.
  • Security Guard
    This job description covers a wide range of actual duties. Some security guards spend hours walking through commercial areas or shopping malls and helping to deter and apprehend shoplifters. Others work in high-tech environments as private security and help guard items of high value, such as artwork or gold bullion.
    The average salary for a security guard is $33,300.
  • Police Sergeant
    After you've been on patrol for a while, and have amassed certain academic achievements, you might attain the rank of Sergeant. Your tasks will be more administrative and supervisory than a patrol officer and
    your salary expectations should include $69,600 as the national average.

Options to Advance

If you want to advance in law enforcement, there are many law enforcement positions available to you, such as crime scene technician, working in the department of homeland security or federal agencies, and many more. But first, you will need a few things. Chief among these is a stellar record as an officer. You will also need to show significant tenure and perhaps awards for outstanding service. One key element that will help you advance faster than experience alone is a degree. Even a two-year associate degree will help you when it comes time for raises and promotions. As you add more academic and professional credentials, you should find that your career is rewarding all of your efforts with status and financial gains.

Frequently Asked Questions

How are online programs in criminal justice accredited?

An online degree is usually accredited by the same organizations that accredit other programs. These are regional accrediting agencies that provide school-wide accreditation and are approved by the DoE or the non-profit Councils for Higher Educational Accreditation (CHEA). The Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences also grants programmatic accreditation to some criminal justice programs.

What does the curriculum of an associate in criminal justice cover?

As with most associate degrees, the majority of what you will complete during your time in school will cover general education courses that will help you finish a bachelor’s degree more quickly should you return to school later. However, there will also be core courses that will provide you with a preliminary introduction to criminal justice. This might include a variety of courses such as the following, though each program varies.

  • Introduction to Criminal Justice
  • Criminal Justice Ethics
  • Correctional Systems
  • Criminal Law
  • Criminology
  • Criminal Justice Ethics
  • And more

What is the average salary for someone with a criminal justice degree?

Whether you earn an Associate of Applied Science, Associate of Arts and Sciences, Associate of Science, or Associate of Arts, your average starting salary is likely to sit, on average, somewhere between $50-60,000 per year. Of course, this can increase with specialization, education, experience, and more. After all, an associate degree is just the tip of the educational iceberg; you’ll have plenty of options for improving your income prospects as you move through your career.

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