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Criminal Justice Degree

Learn what doors a criminal justice degree can open.

There are different types of criminal justice degrees available, depending on what type of career a student is preparing for. [©Jupiter Images, 2009]
©Jupiter Images, 2009
There are different types of criminal justice degrees available, depending on what type of career a student is preparing for.

A criminal justice degree provides students with a thorough understanding of the criminal justice system. It covers a wide variety of topics including the courts, law, corrections, police work, juvenile justice and the causes of crime. Students earning a criminal justice degree will have broad knowledge of how the criminal justice system works on the federal, state and local level.

There are different types of criminal justice degrees available, depending on what type of career a student is preparing for. A wide variety of classes make up the curriculum for a criminal justice degree. Students obtaining this degree have a range of career choices available to them.

History of Criminal Justice Degrees

The first criminal justice program in the United States was started in 1916 at the University of California, Berkeley, by August Vollmer. Other colleges followed suit and according to Education Guide Help, 729 academic programs in criminology and criminal justice existed in the United States by the 1970s. Today, an associate's degree in criminal justice is the most popular of all associate degrees earned in the United States. According to All Criminal Justice Schools, college graduates earn on average $15,000 more per year than those without a college degree, making criminal justice degree programs more popular than ever.

Criminal justice degree programs can be found in colleges throughout the country and are widely available as online degree programs.

Types of Criminal Justice Degrees

There are several different types of criminal justice degrees available. Associate degrees in criminal justice take two years to complete, and provide the basic knowledge a student needs to obtain an entry level job in the criminal justice industry. These programs often focus on a specific technical skill, such as crime scene technician or security guard.

A bachelor's degree in criminal justice is a four-year program of study. Students may decide between a Bachelor of Science or a Bachelor of Arts degree. The Bachelor of Arts degree is designed for students who plan to attend graduate or professional school, while the Bachelor of Science is generally more for students planning careers in law enforcement, judicial or correctional agencies.

Post-graduate degrees in criminal justice are also available. Students can earn a master's or doctorate degree. Individuals choosing to further their criminal justice education by earning a post-graduate degree open themselves up to promotional opportunities in the field, as well as faculty positions should teaching be a career aspiration. Individuals earning doctorate degrees in criminal justice do so to prepare themselves for careers in teaching and scholarship, policy-making positions and private or government research agencies.

Criminal Justice Degree Curriculum

Most criminal justice programs allow students to tailor curriculum based on future career goals. All programs have basic requirements, which typically include an introduction to criminal justice class as well as courses on the law, police, courts and corrections. In addition to completing the basic requirements, students choose elective courses to round out their curriculum. Some degree programs offer concentrations of choice within criminal justice programs. Students choose a concentration and complete coursework geared toward a specific career path. Criminal justice degree programs include courses in psychology and/or sociology, mathematics (including statistics), government, police science, investigations and terrorism.

Criminal Justice Careers

A criminal justice degree opens the door to many career opportunities at the local, state and federal level, as well as private sector law enforcement. Individuals earning a criminal justice degree can pursue careers in the following areas:

  • Juvenile Justice Centers
  • County Police
  • Park Police
  • State Police
  • Sheriff Departments
  • State Crime Commissions
  • Crime Labs
  • Court Systems
  • Liquor Control Boards
  • Narcotics Bureaus
  • Attorney General Offices
  • Department of Defense
  • Federal Trade Commission
  • Federal Bureau of Investigation
  • Department of Homeland Security
  • Veterans Affairs
  • Department of Transportation
  • Customs Agency
  • Food and Drug Administration
  • Immigration and Naturalization Service
  • Office of the Inspector General
  • Insurance Companies
  • Safety Officers
  • Private Detectives
  • Security Patrol Officers


Additionally, students earning a criminal justice degree, especially a graduate degree, can find employment teaching at colleges, junior colleges and technical schools.

Top Criminal Justice Programs

Every year, U.S. News ranks the nation's top colleges. The rankings help prospective students choose a college that is right for them. The top ranked undergraduate criminal justice programs include Syracuse University, Drury University and University of Louisville. Top ranked graduate programs falling under the category of criminology include University of Cincinnati, University of Maryland-College Park, SUNY-Albany, Rutgers and University of California, Irvine.

Prospective students can visit U.S. News to learn more about how the colleges are ranked and to see a complete list of rankings.

Resources for Criminal Justice Degrees

For those interested in learning more about earning a criminal justice degree, All Criminal Justice Schools provides a comprehensive list of criminal justice degree programs across the United States. The site provides information on brick and mortar schools as well as online degree programs.

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