What Is a Criminal Justice Degree?

TBS Staff Writers
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Updated January 3, 2024
Find the best, fully accredited online associate degrees in criminal justice and see all the opportunities available to students.

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The criminal justice field accepts graduates from all degree levels, including associate degrees for entry-level positions and graduate degrees for leadership roles.

Finding the right criminal justice degree requires candidates to analyze program costs vs. benefits, the school location, and the potential career options. Prospective students should consider the different program, degree, and delivery options to find the best match for their strengths, interests, and goals.

This guide provides links and resources on the criminal justice discipline. We rank the best criminal justice degrees and best online colleges, matching programs to your unique circumstances. TheBestSchools also explores related fields, including law enforcement, homeland security, or legal studies, along with the most popular career pathways and the latest news affecting the field.

Deciding to Pursue a Criminal Justice Degree

TheBestSchools strives to help each prospective student find their ideal educational pathway. In addition to our guide on how to choose a major, we offer several criminal justice-specific resources. For example, you can find a breakdown of the most common criminal justice courses, which can help you evaluate program curriculums and build your schedule.

Prospective criminal justice students can also identify potential career opportunities with the help of TheBestSchools’ resources. In addition to more traditional career pathways, there are some non-police careers to consider. Having a career path in mind before enrolling can help learners make more effective in-program choices.

Selecting a Criminal Justice Degree Program

Choosing from the many criminal justice degrees and programs can create challenges for prospective students. TheBestSchools wants to ease that process by hosting helpful guides that show each learner how to pick a college and what they can gain from the different college degree levels.

We also provide information on the types of criminal degrees and programs, the most popular online colleges, and the best online criminal justice degrees, along with guides on how to use our rankings. With the help of these resources, you can identify your ideal college, program, and type of study — such as in-person, online, or hybrid delivery.

What Are the Different Types of Criminal Justice Degrees?

The criminal justice field features different levels, types of degrees, and related disciplines. While not an exhaustive list, prospective students may encounter the following degree options at each level:

  • Associate: Associate of arts (AA) or associate of science (AS)
  • Bachelor’s: Bachelor of arts (BA) or bachelor of science (BS)
  • Master’s: Master of arts (MA) or master of science (MS)
  • Doctorate: Doctor of philosophy (Ph.D.) or juris doctor (JD)

These degree types and levels can lead to varying professional roles and career opportunities for graduates. Programs, majors, and specializations can also have a postgraduate impact. In addition to criminal justice majors, prospective learners can learn about programs in criminology and justice studies, as well as other related programs highlighted below.

Criminal Justice and Corrections Programs

Criminal justice students enjoy a great selection of program majors and degree levels. Criminal justice and corrections graduates can access some of the most desirable law enforcement and protective service professions. To help with the program selection process, TheBestSchools has created guides and rankings for some of the best programs available in the discipline.

We rank the best online associate degrees, bachelor’s degrees, master’s degrees, and doctoral degrees in criminal justice. We also rank some related programs, including the best online bachelor’s degrees in corrections and master’s degrees in criminology.

Finally, TheBestSchools lists some of the most affordable online bachelor’s and master’s degrees in criminal justice to help distance learners save money.

Associate in Criminal Justice

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Bachelor’s in Criminal Justice

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Master’s in Criminal Justice

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Doctorate in Criminal Justice

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Master’s in Criminology

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Law Enforcement

In addition to criminal justice degrees, prospective students can pursue law enforcement and other related programs. Though criminal justice programs may touch on law enforcement topics, law enforcement programs offer more focused training for learners aiming for specific protective services careers.

The following links highlight some of the best programs in this field, such as the best online bachelor’s degrees and master’s degrees in law enforcement. TheBestSchools also ranks the best online bachelor’s degrees and master’s degrees in cybercrime, along with the best online bachelor’s in crime scene investigation.

Bachelor’s in Law Enforcement

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Master’s in Law Enforcement

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Crime Scene Investigation Degrees

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Bachelor’s in Cybercrime

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Homeland Security

The Department of Homeland Security oversees national threat monitoring. Degrees in this field train learners in anti-terrorism, border security, and emergency management. While the training delves into similar legal and criminal behavior topics as a criminal justice degree, homeland security programs focus more on immigration and citizenship laws.

TheBestSchools has put together guides for the various homeland security programs, schools, and degree levels. We ranked the best online associate degrees, bachelor’s degrees, and master’s degrees in homeland security to ensure you know what programs are available and what they have to offer.

Associate in Homeland Security

Bachelor’s in Homeland Security

Master’s in Homeland Security

Prospective students who want to delve more into the law beyond a criminal justice program often look to legal studies programs. TheBestSchools offers several resources for this discipline, including rankings for the best online bachelor’s degrees, master’s degrees, and doctoral degrees in legal studies.

In addition to identifying the best schools and programs in this field, these links offer detailed program and career information. We also offer rankings and resources for the best online paralegal bachelor’s degrees — ideal for students with more specific law career pathways in mind.

Bachelor’s in Legal Studies

Master’s in Legal Studies

Doctorate in Legal Studies

Paralegal Programs

Associate Degrees in Criminal Justice

Criminal justice and related associate degrees provide students with a foundation for many entry-level careers and training possibilities. Graduates can pursue many law enforcement and legal careers, continue their training with bachelor’s programs in the same field, or specialize in subfields.

The following links explore this level of training and the opportunities it presents. We start with answering the question, what is an associate degree? We also rank best online associate degrees in criminal justice, and associate degrees in homeland security; providing specific program and career information for each option.

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Bachelor’s Degrees in Criminal Justice

With many criminal justice professions requiring a bachelor’s degree, this level of training draws plenty of interest from prospective students. TheBestSchools hosts several targeted resources to ensure that aspiring criminal justice professionals choose the proper program and pathway.

Readers can start their research with our guide that answers the question, what is a bachelor’s degree? From there, they may want to read about the best online criminal justice bachelor’s and the most affordable criminal justice bachelor’s degrees. With the help of these resources, you can save time and money and identify your ideal school or program.

Master’s Degrees in Criminal Justice

At the master’s level, criminal justice programs often become more specialized and focused, allowing learners to concentrate their studies. The advanced training can also prepare graduates for leadership roles and equip them with the research and academic skills to pursue doctoral degrees.

Interested students can start with our guide that answers the question of what is a master’s degree? TheBestSchools provides rankings of the most affordable criminal justice master’s and the best online criminal justice master’s degrees, as well. With these links, readers can find the most suitable program for their interests and financial needs.

Doctoral Degrees in Criminal Justice

While most graduates with a doctorate pursue teaching positions within colleges and universities, many other opportunities exist. Graduates can take on leadership positions within law enforcement or work in policy or research and development. They can also access careers in federal organizations.

To help guide prospective students, TheBestSchools hosts both general and program-specific doctoral degree resource pages. Readers can find out more about what the degrees offer with our what is a doctoral degree? guide. They can also identify the best online criminal justice doctorates and best online legal studies doctorates with our ranking pages.

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Paying for a Criminal Justice Degree

Paying for college is one of the most important issues for students. TheBestSchools helps learners by exploring the different college costs and college finances students encounter. We also host resource pages on available student loans and postsecondary scholarships.

Within the following links, readers can find ways to save money on their schooling and reduce their overall debt load. We provide information about finding loans and scholarships to help you pay for your education. Prospective students should also work with their school’s financial services teams to identify the most effective payment methods.

TheBestSchools’ College Finances Guide

How to Find Scholarships for College

What You Should Know About Student Loans

How Much Does College Really Cost?

Criminal Justice Careers

With widely applicable training, graduates from this field can access many different criminal justice jobs. In the following links, TheBestSchools aims to inform students about their future career options. For example, we provide information on the most popular career pathways available after completing criminal justice and law degrees.

In addition to information on common law and criminal justice jobs, TheBestSchools offers resources on FBI jobs, legal assistant roles, and paralegal careers. By knowing their professional opportunities and requirements, learners can ensure they take the appropriate steps to improve their chances of achieving their goals.

Latest News for Criminal Justice Students

Industry changes, news, and updates can have a major impact on education and future careers, and we aim to keep students informed. Through TheBestSchools’ magazine, readers can learn about the latest developments in education, financial aid organizations, and the criminal justice field in particular.

A Quick Guide to Criminal Justice Accreditation

All schools offering criminal justice degrees should have proper regional accreditation. Without this status, they cannot offer students federal financial aid, and their graduates may not qualify for future training or employment. Prospective students should only consider accredited schools.

While not mandatory, programmatic accreditation also has some benefits. The Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences, for example, recognizes some of the best bachelor’s and master’s programs in the field. Programmatic accreditation assures students and employers that the recognized programs have met a high set of industry standards.

Frequently Asked Questions

What Does a Degree in Criminal Justice Get You?

A criminal justice degree offers graduates access to various law enforcement and legal careers. This degree also provides a foundation for further studies in criminal justice or a more specialized field, such as law or cybercrime.

Is a Degree in Criminal Justice Worth It?

Yes. A criminal justice degree qualifies graduates for many protective services occupations, a sector that the Bureau of Labor Statistics projects will grow by 8% from 2020-2030.

How Many Years Does It Take to Get a Degree in Criminal Justice?

The length of study depends on the chosen degree. An associate degree in criminal justice takes approximately two years to complete. A bachelor’s requires four years, a master’s takes two years, and a doctorate can stretch to five years or more.

Header Image Credit: ajr_images | Getty Images

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