Best Online Law Enforcement Degree Programs

Our experts at BestColleges have ranked the best online bachelor's in law enforcement programs. Learn about courses, admission requirements, career opportunities, and earning potential. Figure out your path forward today.

portrait of Marisa Upson
by Marisa Upson
Published on May 13, 2020
Edited by Rebecca Long

BestColleges.com is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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Part of the broader criminal justice system, law enforcement includes professionals that safeguard our communities through policing and correctional services. An online bachelor's program in law enforcement can prepare students with the skills necessary to ensure public safety while upholding the law. Earning this degree offers greater advancement opportunities, increased earning potential, and a wider range of potential career paths for professionals.

Graduates can pursue careers in numerous areas of law enforcement, including police departments, federal and state agencies, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the U.S. Marshals Service, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. According to PayScale, individuals with a bachelor's degree in law enforcement earned an average annual salary of $61,000.

Most online bachelor's in law enforcement programs take about four years to complete. However, some online programs offer accelerated tracks, which can reduce the completion time. Tuition costs vary by type of school and a student's resident status and average $285-$460 per credit.

What Can I Expect From an Online Bachelor's in Law Enforcement Program?

Many professionals in law enforcement have a strong sense of justice and call to duty. Some graduates put their lives on the line to serve their communities. People who succeed in this profession often possess empathy, mental agility, and the ability to diffuse conflict.

Some programs offer a concentration in law enforcement under the broader major of criminal justice. Additional specializations include crime scene investigation, homeland security, emergency management, cybercrime, and corrections. These concentrations enable students to develop specialized skills and direct their education toward their career goals.

Most online bachelor's in law enforcement programs require 120 credits and take four years of full-time study to complete. Some online programs offer accelerated options that can reduce completion times. Many schools also offer part-time enrollment for professionals in the field pursuing a degree for career advancement.

Most programs also require or offer optional internships. Interns may complete hours of service in a criminal justice setting or gain experience with the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI), Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), or local law enforcement agencies.

Many online bachelor's in law enforcement programs culminate in capstone projects. Additionally, some schools gear their law enforcement program toward licensed police officers with several years of experience.

Still Looking for the Right Fit? Discover Similar Programs.

What Courses Will I Take in an Online Bachelor's in Law Enforcement Program?

Law Enforcement Leadership

This course introduces students to teambuilding and the responsibilities of supervisors in a law enforcement agency. Covered topics include motivation, coaching, working with difficult people, and conflict resolution.

Introduction to Criminology

This class explores criminal behavior and the possible causes. Students learn theoretical and rational explanations in order to examine the nature of crime. Additional topics include the role research plays in a criminal investigation.

Criminal Investigation and Forensics

This course addresses the fundamentals of criminal investigations. Students learn about evidence and the proper collection and preservation techniques, as well as the processes involved in making reports and statements, as well as collecting physical evidence.

Crime Analysis

This course focuses on collecting and analyzing data from various sources to predict and prevent future criminal activity. Students explore the different methods of data collection and the process of forming a crime analysis unit.

Ethical Decision Making

This course explores the ethical decisions police officers face daily. Covered topics include unquestioned assumptions, morality, the law regarding ethical violation, and prevention strategies.

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What Are the Admission Requirements for an Online Bachelor's in Law Enforcement Program?

While programs vary, most on-campus and online bachelor's in law enforcement programs maintain similar admission requirements. Some programs require some experience in the field, a certain number of transferable credits, and completed prerequisite coursework. The following represent typical admission requirements.

Application

Previously, most schools requested that students send their applications through the institution's website or online portal. Today, many colleges and universities utilize platforms that allow students to send one application to multiple schools. Many institutions also accept paper applications. Because the application process varies, make sure to check with each school.

Test Scores

While some schools request SAT or ACT scores, many online bachelor's in law enforcement programs do not require students to take standardized tests for admission purposes. Instead, some request them for proper placement in English and mathematics courses. When optional, students should consider whether their scores enhance their application.

Letters of Recommendation

Many schools require 2-3 letters of recommendation. These references should come from high school guidance counselors, teachers, or employers who can attest to a student's academic achievements or work ethic. Make sure to ask for letters of recommendation early to ensure they arrive before the application deadline.

Essays

Most schools require students to write an essay or personal statement. These documents allow colleges to get to know students and provide a more holistic approach to admissions. Schools may ask specific questions for students to answer in their essays. Generally, students discuss their interest in law enforcement and career objectives, as well as how the program facilitates these aspirations.

Official Transcripts

All programs require official high school transcripts or GED scores. Generally, schools require a minimum cumulative GPA of 2.0, while more competitive programs may prefer a GPA of 3.0 or higher. Most programs also accept transfer credits, with some accepting up to 90 credits, significantly reducing costs and degree completion time.

What Can I Do With an Online Bachelor's in Law Enforcement Degree?

Career Outlook

An online bachelor's in law enforcement program can prepare students to work at numerous law enforcement agencies, including the U.S. Secret Service, U.S. Marshals Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the FBI, and the DEA.

Graduates may pursue roles as police officers at the national, state, county, or local level. With work experience, degree-holders can advance up the ranks to detective, sergeant, and captain. Others go on to work as federal agents, fish and game wardens, or probation officers.

The Bureau of Labor and Statistics (BLS) projects 7% job growth for police and detectives between 2020 and 2030, resulting in about 67,100 job openings each year. These professionals earned a median annual salary of $67,290 in May 2020.

If you're still uncertain about your career goals, take a look at the most popular college majors.

Career Paths

Police Officer

Police officers protect the lives and property of the people in the communities they serve. Most patrol their area, respond to calls for assistance, and investigate crime scenes. While not always required, a significant number of applicants hold college degrees, and all must complete police academy training. Officers at the federal level must hold bachelor's degrees.

Median Annual Salary (May 2020): $67,290

Probation Officer

A probation officer supervises criminal offenders as part of their release process. They may monitor their location, recommend social service or rehabilitation programs, and conduct drug tests. Typical duties include assessing a probationer's progress, finding job training and housing resources, and testifying in court.

Median Annual Salary (May 2020): $55,690

Fish and Game Warden

Fish and game wardens work for state and federal agencies. These law enforcement officials protect and conserve wildlife and fish by patrolling areas and enforcing regulations. Their tasks may include educating the public, tracking poachers, performing search and rescue operations, and investigating accidents. They typically work in natural settings that may require navigating challenging terrain.

Median Annual Salary (May 2020): $58,040

Detective

Detectives gather evidence to solve or prevent crimes. They may utilize informants, surveillance, interviews, and interrogations to help develop a case and gather enough evidence to support arrests. Some specialize in homicide, narcotics, or cybercrime. Those with additional education and experience as patrol officers may have greater promotion opportunities within the detective profession.

Median Annual Salary (May 2020): $86,940

Crime Analyst

Crime analysts analyze data, including arrest records, crime reports, and police calls to establish patterns, and anticipate and prevent future crimes. They compile this data into reports to provide crime intelligence to law enforcement officers. Some employers may require applicants to be certified law enforcement analysts or criminal intelligence certified analysts. Professionals can achieve these titles via national certification.

Average Annual Salary (August 2021): $47,790

Law Enforcement Not For You? Check Out These Related Careers.

Continuing Education

While earning a bachelor's degree and gaining work experience qualify candidates for many roles in law enforcement, some professionals continue their education. A master's degree program can provide specialized knowledge in a field of interest and prepare graduates for leadership roles in that area.

Some common graduate degrees for law enforcement professionals include master's degrees in law enforcement administration, criminal justice, emergency management, and law enforcement intelligence and analysis. These graduate degrees can lead to advancement opportunities and greater earning potential. Additionally, some employers, particularly at the federal level, prefer candidates with higher degrees.

How Do I Choose an Online Bachelor's in Law Enforcement Program?

Cost

Tuition costs for an online bachelor's in law enforcement program typically range from $285-$460 per credit. In-state students attending public colleges usually pay lower fees, while private universities tend to charge more. However, some online programs charge students in-state tuition. Additionally, some programs offer fraternal order of police and active duty service member discounts.

Program Format

Many online bachelor's in law enforcement programs are geared toward working professionals and offer fully online asynchronous classes. Unlike asynchronous courses, synchronous learning requires students to attend lectures and classes at specific times. Other programs have part-time and accelerated options for busy students. And some schools offer hybrid learning formats, which require online and in-person commitments.

Location

Location can make a difference, even for those pursuing an online vs. on-campus degree. Some schools offer significant tuition discounts for in-state online students. Additionally, some programs have on-campus requirements, even though the majority of coursework is completed online. While most schools allow learners to complete their internships locally, some request students complete these experiences on-campus or near the school.

Accreditation

Proper accreditation ensures that a school adheres to the highest educational standards. Generally, look for programs in law enforcement from schools that hold regional accreditation. In addition to academic standards, regional accreditation ensures that other schools accept transfer credits. Currently, there is no widely-recognized programmatic accreditation for bachelor's in law enforcement programs.

Student Support

Many online bachelor's in law enforcement programs offer similar student support services for campus-based and online students. Look for programs that provide free online tutoring and career services assistance. Some programs also assign students advisors that can support you until graduation. Also, look for colleges with mentorship programs and assistance for internship placements.

2021 Best Accredited Online Bachelor's in Law Enforcement Programs

Rankings compiled by the the BestColleges Ranking Team

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University of Wisconsin Whitewater true View School Profile Whitewater, WI

UW-Whitewater offers a comprehensive selection of more than 40 online programs, including a law enforcement bachelor's degree completion program. Prospective students may "test drive" an online course for free before enrolling.

This hybrid bachelor's in law enforcement emphasizes communication, critical thinking, and analytical reasoning skills. The curriculum includes a major in criminology; students complete 36 major-related credits, exploring topics such as the U.S. correctional system, criminality and victimization, and key stages of the criminal justice system. Learners take online, hybrid, and face-to-face evening/weekend courses.

Participants who take courses year round can graduate in three years. Applicants must have an associate degree with a minimum 2.0 GPA and at least three years of work experience. The program prefers applicants who earned their associate degrees at UW-Whitewater.

Eastern Kentucky University true View School Profile Richmond, KY

EKU offers more than 40 online graduate, undergraduate, and certificate programs. A provider of law enforcement education for over 30 years, the university also oversees one of the only police studies programs in the United States.

The online bachelor's in police studies program at EKU is suitable for current and aspiring police officers and law enforcement professionals. The 120-credit curriculum includes coursework in crime patterns, contemporary policing strategies, and technology and ethics. Students complete courses in accelerated, eight-week terms.

EKU maintains a generous transfer credit policy, accepting up to 90 transfer credits based on previous experience. Students can enter the program at one of six start dates per year. EKU charges all online learners the same per-credit tuition rate, regardless of residency.

Metropolitan State University true View School Profile Saint Paul, MN

Metropolitan State serves more than 9,000 students through four physical campuses and an online division, which offers an online bachelor's in law enforcement with a track specifically designed for licensed peace officers.

The program's 120-credit curriculum includes courses like police culture, diversity in criminal justice, and criminology and public policy. Law enforcement students must complete at least 24 major credits in residence at Metropolitan State.

Applicants must complete at least 30 prerequisite credits and maintain a minimum 2.25 GPA to qualify. Metropolitan State accepts applications on a rolling basis and admits students throughout the year. Learners pay the same per-credit tuition rate for online courses, regardless of residency.

Tiffin University true View School Profile Tiffin, OH

Based in northern Ohio, TU operates multiple campuses throughout the state, a satellite location in Romania, and an online division that offers nearly a dozen programs. The university serves over 4,000 students.

TU's online bachelor's degree in law enforcement explores the political process, behavioral sciences, and law. The online program delivers classes through two terms per semester, and students complete a total of 121 credits. TU offers six start dates per year in January, March, May, July, August, and October.

TU does not charge an application fee for prospective students. The university also uses a generous transfer credit policy and offers tuition discounts to military students and members of the Fraternal Order of Police. Students pay the same per-credit tuition rate for online undergraduate coursework no matter where they live.

Baker College true View School Profile Flint, MI

Based in Flint, Michigan, Baker began offering online programs in 1996. The college now oversees more than 50 graduate, undergraduate, and certificate programs across eight academic schools.

Baker's online bachelor's degree in criminal justice features a concentration in law enforcement. Students complete core courses in ethics, criminal justice, and societal duty. The curriculum also includes 12 credits of police academy training.

Program graduates qualify for jobs within federal agencies like the FBI, the U.S. Marshals Service, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Baker charges all students the same per-credit tuition rate for online undergraduate coursework, regardless of residency.

Frequently Asked Questions About Bachelor's in Law Enforcement Programs

Is a bachelor's in law enforcement worth it? true

Today, approximately 30% of police officers in the U.S. hold bachelor's degrees, and over half have associate degrees. As policing strategies become more complex, trends indicate more officers will possess bachelor's degrees. In California, legislation is in the works to require law enforcement officials be a certain age or have a bachelor's degree.

Cal Matters reports that officers with bachelor's degrees receive fewer disciplinary actions and use lower levels of force. An on-campus or online bachelor's program is highly recommended for officers interested in advancing their careers and increasing their earning potential. Additionally, those looking to pursue positions in the federal government need at least a bachelor's degree.

What can I do with a bachelor's in law enforcement? true

Graduates with a bachelor's in law enforcement can pursue many different law enforcement positions in multiple agencies. A few of the many organizations that hire those with undergraduate degrees include the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the U.S. Marshals Service, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Border Patrol, and the U.S. Secret Service.

Graduates can also become police officers at the national, state, county, and local levels. Others find careers as fish and game wardens, FBI and DEA agents, detectives, federal air marshals, and probation officers. Some become secret service agents who protect government officials.

Are law enforcement majors in demand? true

Due to the vast nature of the criminal justice system, law enforcement majors may find varying levels of demand for different positions. The BLS projects 7% job growth for police officers between 2020 and 2030. This growth is about as fast as average for all occupations and amounts to 67,100 job openings every year.

Demand also varies by state. For example, California employs 74,310 police and sheriff's patrol officers, the largest number in the nation. Texas comes in second with 57,830 professionals, and New York follows with 55,590 of these workers.

How much money can I make with a bachelor's in law enforcement?

Salaries vary based on position, employer, experience level, and location. For example, the BLS reports that police and sheriff's patrol officers earned a median annual wage of $65,540 in May 2020, whereas transit and railroad police earned $72,580.

Of course, degree-holders pursue many other careers in law enforcement. Examples include fish and game wardens who earn a median annual salary of $58,040 in May 2020 and probation officers and correctional treatment specialists who made $55,690 during the same period.

What are the highest paying jobs with a bachelor's in law enforcement?

The highest-paying jobs for those with a bachelor's in law enforcement usually require some experience in the field. These include detectives and criminal investigators who earned a median annual wage of $86,940 in May 2020, according to the BLS. Detectives who work for the federal government boast even higher earnings, with an average annual salary of $111,880 during the same period. Those employed in California also receive higher incomes, with an average yearly wage of $111,480.

PayScale reports that FBI agents earned an average yearly salary of $65,690 in October 2021. The top 10% made over $100,000 per year.

Returning to college is a big commitment. Make sure you think through your reasons for returning and how you can make it happen. Many community college students plan to transfer to a four-year college, but few succeed. Closing the transfer gap is critical to closing opportunity gaps. Choosing the right college is a big decision. We break down the most important factors in determining which school is the best fit for you.

BestColleges.com is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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