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Should I earn my criminal justice certificate online?

Do you work in the Criminal Justice system, or are you planning to work in the criminal justice system in the future? If the answer to either of those questions is “yes” then it’s quite likely that at some point in your career you’ll wonder if earning a professional certificate in the field of Criminal Justice is a worthy endeavor.

Most of us have heard the conventional wisdom stating that the ticket to a promotion or to a desired career advancement is by earning a master’s degree in the field within which you’re employed. There’s no arguing that, but is a master’s degree always your only option?

Not always. There certainly are situations where a master’s degree isn’t the only answer to the questions at hand regarding the best way to advance your criminal justice career. Perhaps you’re just trying to stay up to date on the issues and innovations that are impacting popular criminal justice careers in areas like law enforcement, corrections and criminology. There has to be a way to stay up to date with the latest criminal justice goings-on without committing to a master’s degree program, right?


Pursuing a master’s is a huge time commitment and working professionals, especially those in law enforcement, don’t have always have the time – or the need – for a graduate degree.

In the past, when it came to developing employees, criminal justice agencies and organizations relied on sending one or two individuals off to a criminal justice oriented leadership development program, such as the FBI National Academy for executive development. Unfortunately, that approach is often not the most effective way to develop leadership capabilities at scale within the criminal justice system – exclusive programs like those mentioned above simply cannot scale to the level of demand for ongoing learning opportunities that is present in the criminal justice field today.

And, of course, criminal justice leadership programs like those mentioned above are the types of programs that focus strongly on leadership development, rather than focusing on providing meaningful and actionable insights into the rapidly changing and evolving criminal justice issues that impact society, law enforcement, domestic and international security concerns, as well as more general crime-related and public safety concerns.

Luckily, a new type of graduate experience is emerging for criminal justice professionals who want alternative credentialing opportunities that provide them with the specialized knowledge they wish to acquire. This is where criminal justice certificates enter the picture.

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So, what is a criminal justice certificate and what are the advantages of earning one?

Sitting halfway between a bachelor’s and master’s degree, a criminal justice graduate certificate offers the same type of education found in a master’s program, but in an abbreviated and significantly accelerated format. As a result, completing a criminal justice certificate program is much faster (and more affordable) than obtaining a master’s degree.

In some cases, you may only need to take four criminal justice courses to complete your certificate, and some programs can be finished in as few as six months. For someone with job and family priorities to consider along with their studies, that’s a huge advantage.

There also may be ways to help you pay for a criminal justice certificate. Similar to bachelor’s and master’s degree programs, financial aid may be available for graduate certificate programs. Additional tuition reimbursement may be offered through your employer. You should also check with your HR department to see what options are available to help pay for your criminal justice certificate – you might be able to take advantage of internal tuition assistance programs that you aren’t aware of currently.

There are other things to consider when thinking about earning a certificate in criminal justice. To make it easy, we’ve compiled a list of five important things for you to keep in mind:

  1. Be sure to earn a criminal justice certificate that also gives you college credit

Not all certificate and continuing education programs are college credit compatible. A major benefit of earning college credits in the criminal justice field is that those college credits could save you time and money down the road if you decide to further your education with academic credentialing in the criminal justice field. By earning college credits for your certificate now, those credits can often be transferred directly toward a master’s degree down the road, if that’s something you think you might pursue in the future. 

  1. Choose a criminal justice certificate program that’s offered online

Online courses are the norm these days rather than the exception, as online education offers maximum flexibility when it comes to finishing your certificate when it’s convenient for you, given your other responsibilities at work and at home. Distance education has matured quite a bit in the past 15 years, and as such the online learning environment is equipped with cutting-edge technologies and tools that have been designed to help you achieve success in all aspects of your criminal justice studies. And don’t worry about not having access to your professor or instructor - most reputable and accredited online programs make it a point to keep you closely connected to the professors who are teaching your Criminal Justice courses. 

  1. Choose a graduate certificate program that is offered online by an accredited institution

To earn accreditation, schools and universities must meet a host of standards and regulations from strict accrediting bodies that ensure you’re earning a quality credential. By attending an accredited institution, you can feel confident in the expertise of the faculty, as well as in the effectiveness and relevance of the curriculum. Should the need arise, credits you’ve earned are usually transferable to other institutions, too.

  1. Your criminal justice certificate courses should be taught by professors who have experience in the criminal justice field

Before choosing a criminal justice certificate program, do some research and take a look at the faculty who will be teaching your courses. Some institutions may have instructors who have never worked in the field and teach only what they have learned in a classroom. On the other hand, professors with real-world knowledge can add significant value to what you learn in the classroom based on their own professional experience in the criminal justice field. This is obviously your most desirable learning environment, as these instructors have built a strong academic foundation to teach from and can couple that by connecting it to their experiences in the field. This enables you to learn more effectively – all while helping you translate theory into practice.

  1. A certificate program in criminal justice should be designed and built with robust tools that help you succeed in reaching your goals

Research suggests that adult students learn best when they understand how their coursework directly applies to their chosen professions and fields of study. That’s why it’s important that a certificate program utilizes innovative teaching methods that simultaneously engage you with your coursework while connecting what you learn to real-world experiences you’ll encounter throughout your career. Look for a program that has these kind of tools built into its courses, like this Criminal Justice Leadership certificate curriculum that exposes students to an actual case study involving a Pill Mill trial. Courses like this are designed to provide perspective and insight from all participants in the case, including judges and prosecutors.

If you’d like to talk with our admission advisors about our criminal justice certificate, or about the careers and financial outlooks that are associated with it, please fill out our contact form now. We’ll be in touch shortly to answer any questions you may have!

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