Guide to Getting Your Online Criminal Justice Associate Degree

Become Team
Become Team
December 22, 2021

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A criminal justice associate degree teaches the theory and practice of the criminal justice system to prepare graduates for careers in law enforcement, corrections, and the legal system. You can use this degree to start in the field or continue your education for career growth. These fields offer lucrative pay, benefits, and growing employment demand.

For example, police officers earn an annual median salary of $67,290, according to the U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). While more than 800,000 officers and detectives currently work in the field, another 53,000 officers are expected to join the ranks through 2030. Likewise, paralegals and legal assistants can expect 15% employment growth through 2030, with an annual median wage of $52,920, according to the BLS.

Earning an online criminal justice associate degree prepares you to tackle the challenges, take on leadership positions, or continue your studies.

What Will You Learn in an Online Criminal Justice Associate Degree Program?

Your online associate degree in criminal justice includes courses in the American judicial system, theories and principles of crime prevention, and entry-level criminal investigation and procedures courses. General education courses ensure a well-rounded education that promotes communication skills and critical thinking.

Most associate degrees require 60 credits and about two years to complete.

Common Courses

U.S. Judicial System

Students learn how the U.S. organizes its court system. You'll learn about local courtrooms, the U.S. Supreme Court, and the role of judges, lawyers, and juries. The course covers civil and criminal courts and the theory of judicial precedent for decision-making.

Policing in the U.S.

The course covers basic policing terminology and discusses the role of police in society. Students uncover law enforcement history and various reform efforts and innovations through American history. Course assignments may explore current challenges of policing, such as the use of force and discretion.

Cultural Awareness in Criminal Justice

This course delves into law enforcement and minority group issues from a historical and contemporary perspective. Students evaluate data to determine if disparities exist in policing and discuss possible reasons.

Ethics in Criminal Justice

This course introduces law enforcement professionals' legal and ethical responsibilities. Case studies and current events provide opportunities to discuss ethical dilemmas law enforcement officials face.

Crime Scene Investigation

This course provides a foundation for understanding forensic science and identifying sources of information. Students learn the procedures and techniques to secure a crime scene and document evidence, including properly collecting and handling physical evidence and ensuring the chain of evidence. You’ll also learn about legal and ethical responsibilities and limits on crime scene investigations.

Core Skills Gained

An online criminal justice associate degree equips students with critical thinking, communication, and problem-solving skills while providing an understanding of the criminal justice system, the U.S. legal system, and fundamental investigative procedures.

What Can You Do With an Online Criminal Justice Associate Degree?

Your online associate criminal justice degree not only prepares you for exciting careers in law enforcement and the legal field — it also serves as the first step on your educational journey. Below, learn more about potential jobs and earnings:


Average Annual Salary: $70,000

A police officer's job is to protect the public by patrolling areas, enforcing laws, and arresting suspects. They respond to emergencies, gather evidence, and interview witnesses to possible crimes. While many officers serve as patrol officers, others specialize in specific law enforcement units, such as drugs or special weapons and tactics.

The number of police officer jobs available in 2020 was 795,000, with a job outlook increasing 7% between 2020 and 2030, according to the BLS.

Average Annual Salary: $52,340

A correctional officer's job is to ensure inmates' safety in jails or prisons. Correctional officers need a high school diploma and specialized training often offered by a state academy. An associate degree combined with experience may qualify individuals for federal or state facility jobs.

The number of correctional officer jobs in 2020 was 437,100, with the job outlook projected to decline 7% between 2020 and 2030, according to the BLS.

Average Annual Salary: $64,890

These technicians gather and document evidence at crime scenes that aids in investigations. They must ensure they follow procedures for collecting and storing evidence. They perform scientific analyses of samples that can help solve crimes. Many times, they must testify at trial regarding their work.

The number of forensic science technician jobs in 2020 was 17,200, with the job outlook projected to grow rapidly, 16% between 2020 and 2030, according to the BLS.

Average Annual Salary: $34,360

Security guards work in stores, office buildings, casinos, and communities. They help protect people and property by controlling access, providing regular surveillance, and monitoring alarms. They often act as the liaison to police and emergency services during an emergency.

The number of security guard jobs in 2020 was over one million, with the job outlook projected to grow rapidly, 15% between 2020 and 2030, according to the BLS.

Average Annual Salary: $56,610

Paralegals work under attorneys' supervision to investigate cases, research laws and court opinions, and file exhibits or other legal documents. Paralegals may work in law offices, corporate legal departments, or court systems.

The number of paralegal jobs in 2020 was 345,600, with the job outlook projected to grow 12% between 2020 and 2030, according to the BLS.

Average Annual Salary: $60,100

Private detectives and investigators work with private citizens and law enforcement to research and investigate everything from crime to personal matters. Private detectives also verify identities, find missing people, investigate cybercrimes, and search for financial or legal information. They offer many services, such as verifying people's backgrounds and statements, finding missing persons, and investigating computer crimes.

The number of private detective and investigator jobs in 2020 was 33,700, with the job outlook projected to increase 13% between 2020 and 2030, according to the BLS.

Transferring to a Four-Year Degree Program After Getting Your Online Criminal Justice Associate Degree

After completing your online associate degree in criminal justice, you can start a bachelor's program.

A bachelor's program will usually take two additional years, but you can access better pay or a more prestigious job. You'll need a bachelor's degree to work in some agencies like the FBI.

Consider concentrations or specializations in areas of juvenile justice, family violence, homeland security, criminology, or law. Many schools also offer certificate programs that build on the knowledge gained in an associate program and require less time to complete than a four-year degree.

Bachelor's in Criminal Justice

A bachelor's degree in criminal justice goes more in-depth on the topics you learned in your associate degree program. The credentials also lead to careers in counseling, forensics, and mediation. Most degrees require 120 credits.

Correctional Officer Careers and Degrees

Tasked with maintaining order and ensuring inmates' safety, correctional officers also need to understand the criminal justice system, applicable laws, and rehabilitation theories. A four-year degree or certificate program offers specialized training in addiction treatment, non-lethal force, or operations.

Law Enforcement Degrees and Careers

While many law enforcement careers only require a high school degree and on-the-job training, promotion opportunities often mandate additional education. Many departments also look favorably on military experience. Law enforcement bachelor's degrees focus on leadership, principles of crime prevention, advanced special weapons and tactics, or school resource officer training.

Become Team
Become Team
Contributing Writer

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