Students who want to work in the fast-paced world of criminal justice need to know what it takes to earn an online degree in the field. Find out what degrees are available and what careers are made possible by attaining them.

Online Legal Degrees

Students pursing an online degree in law or criminal justice typically learn the fundamentals of the legal system and how the criminal justice system works to keep citizens safe. In these programs, course work tends to cover wide range of subjects that pertain to public policy and its implications on society. Individuals who earn a degree in law and criminal justice online may qualify for employment as a paralegal, corrections officer, or detective, although some positions require additional training.

Online Legal & Criminal Justice Degrees

Students working toward a criminal justice degree online have the advantage of being able to study and complete course work at their own pace and convenience. Curriculum typically combines online courses with hands-on applied learning in order to provide students with a balanced educational experience. Students will also study the theoretical and practical aspects of crime control and learn to apply them to real life situations.

Depending on the particular career path that is chosen, curriculum in this field may vary. For instance, individuals working toward a career in criminal justice or corrections may be required to complete hands-on training and physical conditioning in addition to online classroom instruction. On the other hand, students may be able to complete the requirements needed to become a paralegal by taking only online courses.

Legal & Criminal Justice Degree Types

Schools may offer online degrees in law and criminal justice in a number of specializations within the criminal justice and legal field. Some of the most popular concentrations include homeland security, corrections, paralegal studies, and forensics. Examples of available degrees include:

  • Associate Degree in Criminal Justice - Students who want to gain quick entry into this field may want to pursue an associate degree in criminal justice. These programs can typically be completed in two years of full-time study, and expose students to the basics of maintaining law and order and protecting life and property. Associate degree programs in criminal justice may also include a comprehensive study of the national criminal justice system and law enforcement agencies. Some of the courses offered include criminology, constitutional law, criminal procedure, and criminal research.
  • Bachelor's Degree in Criminal Justice - A bachelor's degree can typically be completed in four years of full-time study, and students in this field typically work toward a Bachelor of Science. Bachelor's degree programs typically delve deeper into the study of criminology and the criminal justice system with an emphasis on the theories, laws, policies, and practices that are associated with criminal behavior and its consequences. A bachelor's degree is generally required for individuals who want to work as a probation officer.
  • Master's Degree in Criminal Justice - Students who want to gain employment in the highest levels of the criminal justice system may want to pursue a master's degree. Although a graduate degree typically isn't a requirement in this field, earning a master's may help individuals gain a competitive edge when it comes to accelerating their career. Master's degree programs can be completed in two years of full-time study or less depending on the program and school that is chosen. Students can expect to gain the skills needed to thoroughly analyze criminal behavior, learn theories of social control, and apply principles of leadership to the workplace setting.

Related Careers

Students earning criminal justice degrees online have the opportunity to pursue employment in a diverse group of workplace settings including police stations, correctional facilities, and in the field. Those working toward an online legal degree may be able to find employment in a law office or courtroom setting. Some of the potential career opportunities in these fields include:

  • Police and Detectives - In order to protect lives and property, police officers often put their own lives at risk. Typical job duties include responding to calls, investigating crimes and collecting evidence, filling out detailed reports, and enforcing the laws dictated by their district. Although postsecondary education isn't always a necessity, police officers generally need to graduate from their agency's training academy and complete on-the-job training in order to gain employment.
  • Paralegals and Legal Assistants - Paralegals typically work as support staff for lawyers and may be responsible for various administrative tasks including maintaining and organizing files, conducting legal research, and drafting documents. Most paralegals work for law firms, corporate legal departments, or government agencies. These professionals are generally required to have an associate's degree in paralegal studies or better in order to gain employment in this field.
  • Probation Officers and Correctional Treatment Specialists - Probation officers are typically required to earn a bachelor's degree and pass oral, written, and psychological exams. These professionals work as an extension of the local police force, and are generally in charge of supervising offenders as they progress through the various stages of the criminal justice system. In addition to monitoring offenders, probation officers evaluate their needs and suggest treatment options that may promote the individual's rehabilitation and progress.

Law & Criminal Justice Industry Trends

Thanks to the continued demand for public safety, individuals in these fields can expect some job growth in the coming years. However, employment outlook for careers in law and criminal justice may vary due to population growth or decline, as well as the criminal activity in a particular area. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS.gov, 2012) projects growth in the following careers over the next decade:

  • Police and Detectives - 7 percent nationwide from 2010 to 2020
  • Paralegals and Legal Assistants - 18 percent nationwide from 2010 to 2020
  • Probation Officers and Correctional Treatment Specialists - 18 percent nationwide from 2010 to 2020

"Correctional Officers," Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2012-2013 Edition, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/protective-service/correctional-officers.htm, April 26, 2012
"National Criminal Justice Reference System," https://www.ncjrs.gov/
"Paralegals and Legal Assistants," Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2012-2013 Edition, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/Legal/Paralegals-and-legal-assistants.htm#tab-1, March 29, 2012
"Police and Detectives," Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2012-2013 Edition, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/Protective-Service/Police-and-detectives.htm, March 29, 2012
"Probation Officers and Correctional Treatment Specialists," Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2012-2013 Edition, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/community-and-social-service/probation-officers-and-correctional-treatment-specialists.htm, March 29, 2012

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