Online Associate Degree in Criminology

What You'll Learn & What's Next

An online associate degree in criminology opens up a variety of career possibilities and builds a solid foundation for continuing academic study at the bachelor's level and beyond. An associate degree qualifies its graduates for an array of entry-level employment options in law enforcement and government, the private security industry, and community and social services.

An associate degree translates into an immediate salary boost for many jobs. A recent study by the Center for Analysis of Postsecondary Education and Employment reports that completing an associate degree yields $4,640–$7,160 annually in extra earnings. Use this guide to find out more about online criminology associate degree programs and how the skills and competencies this degree yields can translate into potential careers.

What Will You Learn in an Online Criminology Associate Degree Program?

Most online criminology associate degrees require 60 credits of general education requirements and foundational coursework that provides you with the core skills, theoretical knowledge, and practical insights needed for entry-level jobs or for further education. While requirements and course titles vary from school to school, most programs share common features: teaching students about the social causes and effects of crime, analyzing crime-related data, and developing job-related skills and technical literacy.

Major-specific classes typically address criminological theories, concepts, and applications, constitutional law, criminal investigation, and computer and technological competencies. The following course descriptions give you an idea of what to expect from an online associate degree in criminology.

Common Courses

Introduction to Criminology

This prerequisite course introduces students to the study of criminal behavior, laws, norms, and social perceptions about crime and criminals. Course lectures and assignments focus on theoretical explanations of crime, social psychological determinants of crime, and related contemporary issues. The course also addresses policing and punishment, criminal justice reform, and the prevention of crime.

Juvenile Delinquency and Juvenile Justice

This overview of juvenile delinquency and the juvenile justice system prepares students for employment in law enforcement, probation services, and counseling. The course addresses the social construction of childhood and adolescence, theories of delinquency, approaches to punishment and rehabilitation, and the social and legal contexts within which delinquency occurs.

Constitutional Law and the Legal System

This course introduces students to the history and contemporary legal processes and practices of the American criminal justice system. Course content addresses key concepts like separation of powers, due process, equal protection, and freedom of religion. The course gives special attention to important Supreme Court cases.

Criminal Investigations

This course surveys techniques and procedures for the collection and analysis of crime scene data. Students in this course become familiar with appropriate field standards and best practices, including procedures for interviewing witnesses and suspects, collecting and preserving evidence from crime scenes, and conducting a basic forensic examination of evidence.

Community-Based Corrections

This course examines how mental health treatment, education and job-training, and work release initiatives can be incorporated into community-based corrections programs. Students learn about the growing reliance on community-oriented services, such as halfway houses, residential treatment facilities, rehabilitation centers, and other options that offer effective alternatives to incarceration in jails and prisons.

Core Skills

Top online criminology associate degree programs teach the job-specific skills most employers desire while providing a thorough understanding of criminal justice and court systems. These programs deliver a strong academic foundation in criminological theories, concepts, and principles. Career options open to associate degree-holders require highly developed oral and written communication proficiencies; critical thinking skills; the ability to connect interpersonally; and a sensitivity to racial, ethnic, and gender diversity.

Jobs in law enforcement, corrections, security, and social services entail working with the public in a variety of circumstances, including stressful and dangerous situations. Criminology training should prepare students to identify problems, observe and receive relevant information from many sources, and maintain objectivity. Courses in conflict resolution and mediation and the psychological and social contexts of human behavior help to prepare students to handle disputes, resolve grievances, and negotiate with others.

Whether you plan to enter a career in law enforcement and criminal justice or intend to continue your education in a bachelor's program, you should develop competencies in computer analysis and software applications for collecting and investigating evidence. The best online associate degrees in criminology emphasize scientific inquiry, technological applications, and quantitative research methods.

What Can You Do With an Associate Degree in Criminology?

An online associate criminology degree often appeals to students who want to enter the workforce and gain experience in the field as quickly as possible. This versatile degree equips students with skills that allow them to pursue a variety of career paths. A growing number of employers prefer candidates with at least some postsecondary education, and, for many positions in law enforcement, corrections, and social services, an associate degree represents the minimum educational requirement.

The listings below illustrates potential careers and salary prospects for associate degree-holders.

Potential Careers and Salaries

More than three million U.S. workers have found employment in protective service occupations, primarily with local, state, and federal government agencies, and in the investigation and security services industry. Associate degree-holders qualify for jobs as police and correctional officers, security guards, loss prevention specialists, and transportation and border patrol agents.

Online criminology associate degree programs also prepare their graduates for employment in fields beyond protective services, as paralegals, forensic security experts, caseworkers, and mediators. While advancement in some careers may require a bachelor's degree or higher, certifications, and/or job experience, an online associate degree in criminology provides an academic stepping stone to an array of employment possibilities.

Police Officer

Average Annual Salary: $63,380

Police officers protect lives and property. They respond to emergency and nonemergency calls, conduct surveillance, and uncover evidence for criminal investigations. Specific job responsibilities vary in each state and local law enforcement agency.

Paralegals and Legal Assistants

Average Annual Salary: $50,940

Paralegals and legal assistants help lawyers prepare for trials, hearings, and meetings. Their duties include organizing files, conducting legal research, and producing briefs and other legal documents. In addition to an associate degree, some employers require certification.

Private Detectives and Investigators

Average Annual Salary: $50,090

These professionals work with individuals, attorneys, and businesses who need their services to collect legal, financial, and personal information. Duties may include carrying out investigations, performing background checks, and conducting surveillance.

Correctional Officers and Bailiffs

Average Annual Salary: $44,400

Correctional officers work in jails and prisons, supervising inmates and inspecting facilities to maintain security and safety standards. Bailiffs supervise procedures in courtrooms, providing security for judges, attorneys, juries, and witnesses.

Security Guards and Gaming Surveillance Officers

Average Annual Salary: $28,530

These security professionals find employment in gambling casinos, corporate office centers, and shopping malls. They protect property against theft, monitor closed-circuit surveillance and alarm systems, respond to emergencies, and detain suspected violators.

Source: BLS

What's Next After an Online Associate Degree in Criminology?

Many students enroll in online criminology associate degree programs with the intention of earning a bachelor's in criminology or a related academic field. Whether seeking advanced career opportunities or planning further study in law or graduate school, students with work or family responsibilities may benefit from a flexible online bachelor's degree. The following section gives you an idea of some of the bachelor's degrees you can enter after completing an online associate degree in criminology.

Transferring to a Four-Year Degree Program

For many students, an online associate degree serves as a stepping stone to a bachelor's degree and beyond. An associate degree may reduce the overall tuition cost of earning a bachelor's and allow students the flexibility to work while attending classes.

Many schools maintain transfer agreements with community colleges that permit the seamless transfer of credits directly into a bachelor's program. Students who intend to continue their studies beyond the associate degree should work with an academic advisor, crafting a plan of study and choosing coursework that will transfer.

What Degrees Can You Pursue After Earning an Associate in Criminology?

Through theories and research, criminology examines the causes and effects of crime. The discipline also offers applications that translate into a variety of career possibilities and provides a grounding for further study at the bachelor's and graduate level and/or law school. An associate degree in criminology builds a strong academic base for several undergraduate degree programs, such as the ones listed below.

Bachelor's in Criminology

The most applicable undergraduate major for associate degree-holders in criminology, this bachelor's program looks at the causes and effects of crime, including not only the connections between U.S. law and social justice, but also the impact of crime on victims and offenders, families and communities, and society. A bachelor's in criminology equips students with a broad social science background and training in research methodology.

Bachelor's Degree in Forensic Psychology

This undergraduate major applies psychological principles to the legal and criminal justice systems. A bachelor's often serves as the first step to becoming a licensed forensic psychologist, which requires a doctorate and state licensure.

Degrees and Careers for Detectives

Detectives pursue undergraduate majors in an array of fields, including criminology, security management, and forensics. Private security companies increasingly prefer applicants with a bachelor's degree, and many law enforcement agencies require a bachelor's for advancement into detective roles.